§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Debate on Second Reading resumed.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, it is not often that one has the opportunity of congratulating a Lord Chancellor on his maiden speech, and I am very glad to have the unique privilege of doing so. Many of us in this House have had the opportunity of knowing the noble and learned Viscount, as I shall hereafter call him, and we are aware of his ability to put a case in a lucid and fair way. We have not been disappointed this afternoon. It is, of course, traditional in this House that a maiden speech should be short and non-controversial. The noble and learned Viscount has broken both traditions. It is also traditional for those who congratulate a speaker on his maiden speech, and for those who follow him, to make no references to his speech in other than kindly terms. I have to say, with great regret, that, although I hope to be kindly, I intend to be critical. I hope that the noble and learned Viscount will not think that I am being discourteous on that account.
I suppose that if the noble and learned Viscount had been able to choose the subject of his maiden speech he would not have selected this particular one. This Bill is a most complicated measure, and most difficult to expound without trying—as he certainly did not do—the patience of this House. Still less is it a Bill which can really be justified. I noticed throughout the noble and learned Viscount's speech that he referred to the possibility that the Bill might not work, and that it might have to be amended in due course. I can assure him at the outset that that is the view of a great many people who have had the opportunity of considering it. Those of us who have tried to understand this Bill—and it is an exceedingly difficult process—have been somewhat handicapped by the very big changes that have taken place at each stage at which the Bill has been considered in another place. The Bill which we have before us is very different from the Bill which was first introduced; it is different from the one which went through the Committee stage, and also different from the one which went through the Report stage. We are now threatened once more with an 460 avalanche of Amendments, many of which may be drafting but which will, nevertheless, require a large amount of study, in order that we on this side of the House may discharge our duty by satisfying ourselves that they are nothing more than drafting.
Having said that, my Lords, one finds oneself in some difficulty about dealing with the technical matters in this Bill. One does not know to what extent alterations are going to be made. We have been told, for instance, that it is proposed to make an Amendment to the Bill which will meet the unhappy case of Mr. Pilgrim. I should like to say at once that everyone in the country must have been disturbed by this case, but this Bill had got a very long way before it occurred to the Government that something ought to be done to meet a case of this kind. Throughout the stages through which the Bill passed in another place, representations were made—though they may not have been made in reference to this particular case—as to the likely effects of this Bill on cases of that kind. However, I am glad that it is now proposed to do something to meet an unhappy case of that nature. I should like to make only one comment about that case. There was an unhappy combination of circumstances, but one of those circumstances was undoubtedly the fact that this unhappy person must have been influenced by the talk of clever people who went about saying that the dividend on the £300 million would be a few coppers in the pound; that it was not worth while making a claim, and that it was certainly not worth the expense of employing professional assistance. It is probable that that was one of the reasons why no claim for loss of development value was made.
The noble and learned Viscount gave what I thought was a very fair background picture of what has induced the Government to introduce this measure. I want to join issue with him at once on the dominating reason for this Bill. He put it that the financial provisions of the 1947 Act had failed, and that the imposition of development charge had resulted in development being discouraged; and, although he did not say so in terms, I gather that the Government felt that a payment of £300 million should not be made, particularly because there were 461 claimants who had no intention of developing and therefore had not suffered, and would not suffer, any loss. I submit that that decision was, to put it no higher, premature. The 1947 Act never had a chance of being properly operated. There is no evidence that it was holding up development. The fact is that throughout the operation of the 1947 Act there were more people wanting to develop than there were opportunities of developing.
I am sure that the noble and learned Viscount will agree with me that there was keen competition for licences to build, and land which had a licence to build attached to it could fetch high values. There is no evidence at all that anybody who wanted to develop his land had been deterred by the development charge. Moreover, complementary to the development charge was a claim on the fund which, the noble and learned Viscount has admitted, would have been 16s, in the pound of admitted claim. Therefore, there was no great hardship in the development charge, the purpose of which, as the noble and learned Viscount will remember, because he was a party to the original decision to impose a development charge, was to create a fund, paid for by those who were successful in obtaining permission to develop, to enable compensation to be paid to others who were not successful and who were not able to develop because it was not in the public interest that they should do so. The House will realise that decisions on planning should always be based on public interest. If a person is refused permission to develop, it is not necessarily because there is anything inherently wrong with the development he proposes; it may be simply that it is not considered desirable, in the public interest, that he should carry out a particular development in a particular place or in a particular manner. The financial provisions of the 1947 Act provided a fund out of which an innocent would-be developer who was refused development permission would receive compensation out of the development charge payable by those who succeeded in getting permission to develop.
It is possible that, in preparing his brief, the noble and learned Viscount has paid me the compliment of reading the speech 462 that I made on the Second Reading in March, 1953, of the Bill which put an end to development charge and abandoned the payment of £300 million. I stated the case then at greater length than I propose to do this afternoon. Nothing that has happened since then has changed my view, and I am more than ever convinced that, whatever the imperfections of the 1947 Act may have been—and I do not for a moment dispute that certain defects would emerge—they could have been met by amending the Act. In the speech that I made then I made a number of suggestions. I suggested that we could have gone back to the proposal that, if necessary, the development charge which was put forward by the Coalition Government (perhaps here the noble and learned Viscount will permit me to say that he made a slip in saying that no percentage of development value was agreed upon as a development charge: in the White Paper he will find that the proposal was 80 per cent.) could be 85 per cent. or 75 per cent. That was one amendment of the Act which would have been perfectly feasible. There was some criticism of the fact that there was no appeal against the assessment of development charge. There could have been an appeal. I think that in the light of experience it was found that some decisions of the Central Land Board were rather trivial, and that they had levied payments which were irritating and possibly cost more than they were worth in ultimate results. But Amendments could have been made in these respects. Generally, I think it would have been sensible to try, at any rate, to amend the 1947 Act before rushing in to abolish the financial provisions altogether.
In reading some of the speeches of Mr. Harold Macmillan, I cannot help thinking that he has acquired an obsession about development charge. He speaks about it with fury, compared with which his general remarks are calm and even friendly. But the result of that has been, in my view, that the Government have acted in undue haste and have been compelled to put forward a measure of this kind because they are up against time. This Bill has to go through by the autumn of this year and they have had to bring forward an ill-digested, inequitable and anomalous Bill, which will satisfy nobody, including those people who are the strongest critics of development 463 charge. The other day I had a conversation with a gentleman who is familiar with this subject, a man who deals with it professionally and who was an opponent of development charge. He told me, quite seriously, that he would rather have the 1947 Act, with all its imperfections, than have this Bill as a substitute. I think that noble Lords will find that that will be the position throughout the country. It would not surprise me if they found that that was the position in this House, in the limited debate which we are to have.
I do not want to go into the technicalities of this Bill, because we shall have some opportunity of doing that on Committee stage, but I think it would be as well if I pointed out to the House some of the anomalies from which the Bill, as it stands at this moment, suffers, Let me say, in passing, that those who will be responsible for seeing this Bill through, both in this House and in another place, are not the people who were originally responsible for it. The Minister of Housing and Local Government has gone—he has washed his hands of it. His Parliamentary Secretary has gone. To my deep personal regret, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simonds, has gone. I have often crossed swords with him in this House, and he was always a most courteous opponent, as I am sure the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, is going to be. I do not know what is the position of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who I believe is going to reply; what his future is in connection with this measure, I do not know. But, speaking by and large, the Captains and the Kings have departed and they have left Mr. Duncan Sandys to clear up the mess—and in my view, this Bill really is a mess.
The Bill affects a large number of landowners; we are on common ground there. I had the curiosity to look up the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, on the Second Reading of the 1947 Bill, and I noticed that he was exceedingly friendly to that Bill at the time, although he had a number of criticisms to make. One of the things which he said with which I profoundly agree was that there are millions of landowners in this country to-day—people who own either a house or a piece of land—and the vast majority of them are 464 small people. I would say this to noble Lords opposite, as well as to my noble friends who sit behind me: that in this Bill we are dealing not only with the large landowners of this country, but with a vast number of small people. The large landowner normally can look after himself, but the small man finds it difficult. Therefore, these anomalies to which I am going to draw attention are anomalies as a result of which the small man is going to be for the greater part the victim.
Let us take, for instance, the case of an owner of land whose land is going to be acquired compulsorily—and with the great activities of local authorities this is not a remote contingency, but a serious possibility that every owner of land must consider. There are three possibilities. This man may have a claim (I believe the jargon in the Bill is "an unexpended balance of an established claim," but we will call it a "claim" and we shall know what we mean) against the State. In that case he will get the existing use value, plus the amount of his claim, with interest—one-seventh to be added. That, in itself, will in the normal case be substantially less than he could get if he were able to sell his land freely on the market. So there may be a considerable divergence there, merely by the accident of the fact that a person owns a piece of land which is acquired in the public interest.
However, this unfortunate person may not have made a claim, for one reason or another—possibly because he had not a claim in 1947, although he may have one at the time when it is proposed to acquire his land. I believe the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack pointed out that increases in value of land—that is, development value, by and large—take place sometimes because of the activities of the community; but sometimes they may occur because of the enterprise of the individual owner. Let us assume that there are cases of that kind, where the value of the land has increased since 1948 owing to the enterprise of the individual owner. If that person's land is acquired, he gets nothing for the enterprise for which he has been responsible; he gets merely the existing use value. So it is possible to have three different values in respect of similar type of land. It is essential—this 465 applies all the way through—that people should feel that they are all in the same boat: that there should not be one kind of treatment for one owner, another kind of treatment for a second and another for a third. If the land is similar land, as it may well be, surely the payment to the owner ought to be the same amount. It should not be possible for there to be these great divergences of value as between the three.
Now let us look at it from the point of view of the planning authority. They have an extremely difficult task, in any case, in implementing their plans, but this Bill will result in their having to introduce extraneous factors which really have nothing to do with planning, in deciding which land they are to acquire. I do not know whether the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack saw a letter in The Times a few days ago from the Chairman of the Hampshire County Council. He explained that his council had had before them the question of acquiring a piece of land adjoining, I believe it was an old people's home. They wanted to extend this home. It would have led to efficiency; the accommodation was urgently required; they could have run the enlarged home with the same overheads; and it would have been generally advantageous to the community to acquire this land. They found that there was no unexpended balance of an established claim attached to the land. Nevertheless, the market value of that land would be £5,000; and the existing use value was something under half. The council came to the conclusion that it would be unfair to the owner of that land to acquire it and pay only half the market value. I give all credit to the local planning authority for taking that view and not desiring to inflict hardship on an individual owner; but the result of that is that the community suffers. What they are going to do about extending the old people's home, I do not know; but it may well be that in the result the community will have to pay more than they would otherwise have done, and will not get the advantage of being able to enlarge the old people's home in the natural way.
But there are other local authorities: they are not all built the same way, and they are not all so sensitive about a possible injustice to an owner. There may 466 be another local authority desiring to acquire land compulsorily, which will deliberately seek out land upon which there is no unexpended balance of an established claim—that is to say where no claim has been made—so that they can acquire that land at the existing use value. They may deliberately go out of their way to seek land which is less desirable for their purpose but which nevertheless attracts no compensation to the owner by way of claim, and they will acquire it at the existing use value only. There, again, that is not planning; it is carrying out their duties purely on the basis of the purse. Noble Lords who sit opposite me who have experience of local government will know that there are local authorities of both kinds: the one that will be sensitive about an owner and not desire to impose loss upon him, and the other that will go out of its way not necessarily to inflict losses on the owner, but at any rate to get the land in the cheapest possible way, I would submit that both kinds are undesirable, and both are the direct consequences of this Bill.
Now I wish to draw the attention of the House to another set of circumstances. Suppose there are two adjoining owners of land, neither of whom has a claim. One is given permission to develop his land, and thereby the value, of his land may be substantially enhanced, and the other is refused permission. Here again, the grant or refusal of permission may have nothing whatever to do with the inherent merits of the land itself. It may be entirely due to the particular circumstances in which the piece of land is located, or it may be entirely due to the effects of a development plan for which the owner has had no particular responsibility. In the second case the owner has possibly lost a considerable amount by reason of the refusal of permission to develop. The two owners will find it exceedingly difficult to understand why one of them should be presented with a considerable bonus on the value of his land, by reason of his being granted permission, while the other is to suffer considerable loss by being refused. Here again, no compensation is provided for the person who is refused permission, and there is nothing charged to the owner who is given permission. I want to put it quite simply to your Lordships: Do you not think that 467 every owner would be willing to pay a charge if it were properly explained to him that it was made in consideration of his being given permission to develop and would go towards creating a fund to compensate the owner who had been refused permission to develop, assuming, of course, that the refusal was on proper grounds? After all, that is, in a nutshell, the principle of compensation development which this Government have abandoned.
Let me now draw the attention of the House to two more anomalies. Under Clauses 19 and 20 of the Bill compensation is given to owners of land who have an established claim and who are refused permission to develop. But under the next two Clauses, Clauses 21 and 22, those benefits are, to possibly a substantial extent, taken away. This is not pure technicality, and I would invite the House to look at Clauses 21 and 22 of this Bill which deprive an owner who has an established claim of his right to compensation. I do not object to all of them, but if your Lordships will look at subsection (2) of Clause 21 you will see that it says:Compensation … shall not be payable in respect of the imposition … of any condition relating to—(a) the number or disposition of buildings on any land. …Just think what that means. It means that if an owner wants to build twelve houses to the acre on his land and the local authority say, "No, you may put one house to the acre," then he loses his claim to compensation. One house to the acre may be perfectly useless. Generally speaking, it would be quite uneconomical to build one house to the acre, but a local authority desiring to be dishonest, or, at any rate, to avoid paying compensation, need only grant permission to build on a piece of land a number of houses which is quite uneconomical, and which therefore amounts to a refusal. But in form it is not a refusal, and the owner loses his claim for compensation. Paragraph (d) of Clause 21 (2) refers tothe use of any buildings or other land. …The authority may impose a condition that the buildings may be used only for one purpose—a purpose which may be of no value to the owner at all—and if they do he loses his claim to compensation. These are more than Committee 468 points, because what the Bill gives to the owner with the one hand is largely taken away with the other.
I will draw the attention of the House to Clause 22, "No compensation if certain other development permitted." The noble and learned Viscount drew our attention to this matter. He said that if an owner wanted to build a factory but was allowed to build a house, he would get no compensation. I would ask the noble and learned Viscount (I know that he cannot reply at this moment) whether he thinks that is fair. Does he really think it equitable that an owner of land should be told, "You cannot have bread, but you can have a grain of barley. You cannot build what you want to build, but you can build something entirely different, which is of far less value, but, by virtue of that, you get no compensation"? I hardly think that the noble and learned Viscount, with his great sense of fairness, would justify an action of that kind. We shall come back to that at the Committee stage, but I refer to it at this moment as an anomaly, and a serious anomaly.
May I draw the attention of the House to one more anomaly. There are many more, and I could go on for a long time, but I also do not wish to try the patience of the House. The amount of the unexpended balance is the claim that has been approved, together with one-seventh. There will be some owners who will apply to develop their land, and some owners who will have their land compulsorily acquired or have had it acquired, and who will want to make their application in the immediate future. There are others who may not propose to develop for a long time—perhaps ten or fifteen years. There is a provision in the Bill that application to develop may be refused and the owner lose compensation on the ground that the application is premature. I frankly fail to understand how it can be premature when there is an established claim which has been settled in respect of that land. Therefore, in such a case the owner may have to wait a long time before he is allowed to develop.
Whatever the period, whether it is to-day that compensation becomes payable or in ten years' or twenty years', or, as far as I can see, in fifty years' time, the owner will still get the 1947 value of his land, plus the amount of the established claim. The value of the land may 469 have risen manifold in the meantime. He still gets the same, whether it is to-day, or whether it is in the far distant future. These are some of the consequences of abandoning what was a generally accepted principle, the levying of development charge and the payment of compensation either from a global sum or by some other method. If one accepts the principle that development charge has to go, if one accepts the principle that there will no longer be a payment for the acquisition of development value generally, then I suppose that one of the consequences is that compensation must be made to certain people who have acted in good faith on the strength of assurances held out to them—probably at the date of the passage of the 1947 Act—that they would be receiving a payment out of the £300 million in five years.
I suppose the Government, having once determined on their downward course in this connection, have no alternative but to introduce a measure of this kind, but my purpose in explaining to the House what I regard as some of the consequences of it is to show that they did embark on this course without proper consideration of these consequences. In my judgment, they will do immense damage to the cause of town planning which every member of this House professes to have at heart, and I believe most people really have. I can think of no worse way in which they could have damaged town planning than by introducing a measure of this kind. It is incapable of substantial improvement. If you really want to do away with some of the injustices with which I have dealt, you will have to take this measure back. I doubt whether Her Majesty's Government will, but I should like to prophesy that in the not too-far-distant future somebody, possibly the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, or possibly his successor, will be standing at that Table introducing a new measure for the repeal of this one, to undo the evil which I think this Bill will do.
I have spoken of inequity and so on, and there is one other matter to which I would refer in conclusion, and that is the continued complexity which arises in dealing with matters of this kind. Complex Bill after complex Bill is passed. The ordinary member of the public is quite unable to understand them. I hope I am not offending your Lordships when 470 I say that most members of this House will find it very difficult indeed to read this Bill and understand it. Professional people have to advise on it, and they will find it exceedingly difficult. And yet millions of people are affected by it. Is it not time that we put an end to all this legislation and tried to bring this matter down to simple proportions, so that the normal person can not only understand it but can feel that town planning is not something which he has to fear because of injustices, but is something which he can welcome as being in the public interest?
§ 5.4 p.m.
My Lords, I hope it will not be disrespectful for me, as a Back Bencher, to congratulate the noble and learned Viscount on his maiden speech. It would be impertinent and obviously unnecessary to follow that up with the usual conventional remark that "We hope we shall often hear him address us." I would say, particularly in connection with this Bill, that we feel grateful for the fact that it will be expounded in Committee by someone with his great, lucid powers of exposition.
When new town planning legislation is proposed, those of us of all Parties who have to administer legislation are prone, I think, to wonder, first, whether it will mean our starting all over again, secondly whether it will cost us a lot of money, and, thirdly, how long that particular Bill will last. I feel glad that with this Bill there is no reason why we should have to start all over again. I am grateful to the Government for having at least the intention of continuity of policy. It is true, as the noble and learned Viscount has pointed out, that the Minister could do many things with his reserve powers. He could make us redraft our plans extensively. But, even if there had not been an assurance given to-day, I believe that no Minister would so stultify all the work that has been done.
Nevertheless, I am concerned at what I might call unintentional interference with the work of the planning authorities. It might sound a minor point, but I have some fear that our officials, instead of completing town maps and doing other such needed work, will be turned on to filling up forms and answering questionnaires about compensation. I 471 feel this, particularly since some clauses of the Bill seem almost designed to invite applications from applicants who do not necessarily want to build but want to establish their claim to compensation. That is actually going on now. But a much more troublesome aspect of this compensation question will arise on compulsory acquisition, where the authority has to buy the land at a price below, and possibly much below, the market price for all other transactions in land.
I do not want to exaggerate the difficulties and the hardship that this will cause, so let me say at once that I believe that a large number of acquisitions will be made without any hardship at all, particularly where land that is acquired belongs to large landowners. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has pointed out, large landowners may lose on the swings but they will gain on the roundabouts. I myself am a landowner and might, by modern standards, be described as a large landowner; but I am not at all apprehensive about the Bill from the point of view of my own interest. I am also a town planner. In that capacity I am most concerned about the position of the small owner, the man who has a few acres, perhaps only a building plot. Where property is divided up like that, the man who owns the swings is not the same as the man who owns the roundabouts. I must confess I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said on that matter, although I was a little surprised to find him emerging as the landowner's champion.
I believe that where land of this sort is acquired, there will occur cases which to the man in the street and to the average member of the planning committee will appear grossly unjust, which will attract a great deal of publicity, and which may well bring discredit on the very name of town planning. The most obvious case of this sort was the unfortunate Pilgrim case already quoted. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor made a statement which may have an important bearing on that kind of case. It is difficult to judge without seeing its exact wording, but the fact remains that, even with the addition of that provision, as I understood it, a prudent purchaser, exercising all care, might find himself in exactly the same position as did Mr. Pilgrim.
472 May I perhaps illustrate my point? I know of some land near a large town which in the last two or three years has been extensively developed, partly by local authority enterprise and partly by private enterprise. New values have thus been created and land is there changing hands for ordinary private transactions at about £1,000 an acre. All this has happened since 1948, and the Part VI claim on such land would therefore be negligible. Let us suppose that a prudent man wanted to buy land in that area. He would want to make sure that he could use the land for building, and so before buying it he would say that he must have a planning consent. I submit that if a man is given an official document, duly delivered, stating that he can build, he will have some right to imagine that he will be able to build. But that might not be in the least true. The very day after completing his purchase on the strength of a town planning consent, the Post Office or some other Government Department, or even the local authority that gave him the consent, would be legally entitled to serve a compulsory purchase notice on him, and the price which they would have to pay, even including the claim, if there were one, would be perhaps £50 an acre as opposed to £1,000 an acre.
If a man invested £500 on purchasing half an acre of land on the strength of a planning permission—not at all an unreasonable supposition—he might the next day have a compulsory purchase notice served on him, and the land might be taken from him for £25. That is the law as it stands to-day, and it seems to me very hard. It is admitted by the Government that it is hard, because they themselves have provided à clause—namely Clause 34, which was mentioned by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor—to protect prospective purchasers against just that sort of thing. But that clause protects only purchasers who acquire land after the passing of this Bill, and for the considerable number of people who have already bought land on the strength of planning consent there is at present no protection in the Bill.
Reference has been made to the fact that the double price for land also affects buildings, and the case has been quoted of the building which the Hampshire County Council wanted to buy and which 473 they found they could buy only by inflicting what they thought would be hardship on the owner. Of course, that is what will happen; the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was perfectly right. Despite the fact that hardship may be rarely caused, local authorities will have to exercise the greatest vigilance in the case of every compulsory purchase notice. If they think that a particular case will give rise to a public scandal they will withdraw and, if they can, will go elsewhere. That is the only discretion that they have. They have no discretion about the price; nor, if the case goes to appeal, has the Minister any discretion to alter the price. Where land is difficult to get, perhaps in a built-up area, they may not even have this discretion. I qualify what I have just said by saying that the announcement made this afternoon about the Minister's ex gratia payment may affect this matter, but equally it may not. As I have said, one's comments on that point must be reserved. But I would add that although local authorities are often supposed to act in a soulless way, I venture to think that if they had not shown considerable discrimination over the past two years there would have been many more Pilgrim cases than there actually have been.
Other powers are conferred on local authorities by this Bill where considerable discrimination will have to be exercised if hardship is to be avoided—for example, the power in certain cases to defer compensation because of pre-maturity. Compensation can be deferred up to ten years. That seems to fall rather hardly on elderly people who may have bought land to erect a house and may not have ten years to live. I suppose it will be said that it is up to us, the local authorities, to avoid using this power harshly. What is paradoxical is that these powers are all designed supposedly to help local authorities. Perhaps I should be expressing gratitude for that. But what the Government appear to be saying in substance is: "To help you in your difficulties we will give you powers that you can, we admit, use very harshly and unjustifiably. But if you use them in that way, that is your decision."
It used to be said of the 1947 Act that it was a highly complicated way of repealing the Eighth Commandment, which, if my theology is correct, says:Thou shalt not steal.474 By this Bill the Government are not repealing the Eighth Commandment, but they are putting it out to local option, which is to be exercised by planning committees. Speaking for myself, I find this an embarrassing and somewhat unwelcome responsibility. I should much prefer to administer the laws, and I hope that it will be possible in this House to make them more just than they are. I welcome the assurances on that point given by the noble and learned Viscount. Unless this Bill is amended, I fear that its life will not be very long. I agree that the anomalies that it produces will not get better with the passage of time, but will get worse, because as building moves up into new areas, and as values are thus created, less and less land will have any claim attached to it, and the disparity between the market price and the compulsory purchase price will grow. Frequent changes of the law are very unsettling, and always leave behind them a wake of partially solved problems which have to be laboriously tidied up at great expense. I have always hoped that eventually town planning would become a non-Party issue since, ultimately, it resolves itself into putting a building here rather than there, and I cannot see that any great Party issues should be involved.
For that reason, I candidly admit that I regret that it has been found necessary so radically to depart from the 1947 Act, which was an ingenious piece of legislation vitiated by the absolute determination of the Party opposite to use it to extract all profit out of transactions in land. In that, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, they were so successful that transactions in land diminished. I know the noble Lord denied that, but I well remember a very strong protest by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, who accused landowners of a conspiracy to avoid putting land on the market. Certainly, although the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, may not have desired to use the 1947 Act for that purpose, a great number of his supporters found that the great charm of the 1947 Act was that it would deprive landowners of their ill-gotten gains. I had hoped that a reduced development charge, used purely for compensation, would eventually have become acceptable to us all as one of those dismal impositions which, like the rates, we all 475 pay with very bad grace, and the theory of which few of us, except those who make a hobby of such study, worry about.
Although the Government have not found it possible to come to terms with the 1947 Act on financial affairs they have certainly taken steps which have put land on the market, and so made possible a great wave of private enterprise building which they have so successfully encouraged, as we must all acknowledge. The cost of doing that, however, has been the creation of a number of anomalies which may eventually kill the Bill. If, therefore, some of us suggest Amendments to it, we hope that they will be sympathetically received, because we intend only to prolong the life of the Bill. But where the Government, with their great resources, have so far completely failed to find a way out, it is unlikely that Back Benchers will be able to do so. My real hope is that Her Majesty's Government, who are humane, will now have had time for second thoughts and that the real revisionary work of this House will be done by them. I am greatly encouraged in that hope by the speech made by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I should like to commence by congratulating the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor on his maiden speech, and also on his elevation to the Woolsack. He and I first met a good many years ago at a court-martial at which, I am glad to say, neither of us occupied the position of prisoner. Since then, until lately, we have been associated in questions regarding Wales, and, as noble Lords will know, I have often intervened on Welsh matters in this House, often critically of the Government but never critically of the real work and interest displayed by the then Minister for Welsh Affairs, the present Lord Chancellor. He did all he possibly could to further the interests of Wales, not always with success, not always perhaps in the direction we should have liked, but always with the intention of doing so, even if sometimes the performance left something to be desired.
476 I want to support my noble friend Lord Silkin in the complaint which he made that we are very largely working in the dark, a complaint echoed in some respects by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage. We do not know what Amendments to the Bill the Government propose to put down. We believe that they are substantial; we have had an intimation to that effect from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. It is difficult for us to levy any detailed criticisms without knowing what final form the Bill is likely to take. We ourselves were intending to put down a number of Amendments to try to remedy a Bill which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, has so truly said, will probably have to be withdrawn and redrawn before a not too distant date. We were going to try to remedy many of the obvious mistakes and to fill in many obvious gaps which this badly drawn Bill displays.
The Bill is another example of how lucky the Conservative Government, and the Conservative Party, under the guidance of the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, are, Suppose that to-day there had been in this country a Labour Government. How the Press would have fulminated at some of the things that are happening! How the distinguished, and, of course, entirely independent, potentates of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and the Bar and even the Church, would have foamed at some things that are happening, not only in the domestic but in the foreign field, over the marketing of agricultural products, especially pigs, over foreign affairs, over defence matters and, last but not least, over various aspects of this Bill!
There are two main points, to which other speakers have drawn your Lordships' attention and to which I propose to draw your attention in support. The first is the question of compulsory purchase, illustrated by the case of Mr. Pilgrim. On the question of compulsory purchase the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, damned the Bill without even faint praise. To other parts of the Bill he gave some praise, but he gave none at all to this very important part of it. On compulsory purchase, in cases like that of Mr. Pilgrim, we are told that there is to be an ex gratia supplement and that an Amendment is to be moved to that effect. An ex gratia supplement is a very different 477 matter from a right in law: it is a payment, not compensation. There are many people, by no means only members of the Labour Party, who thought that Mr. Macmillan, in his speech to the Conference at Blackpool, was specious and misleading in his statement on the case of Mr. Pilgrim.
The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has said to-day that the case of Mr. Pilgrim came under the 1947 Act, and therefore, by implication, we were led to assume that the present Government are blameless in that case and others like it. In fact, of course, this Government have had three years in which to deal with the shortcomings of the 1947 Act. Yet they have done nothing about it until to-day—indeed, they have not done it even to-day. They have merely given notice that they will do it at a later stage of the Bill, if your Lordships agree to give it a Second Reading—as no doubt you will—to-day. If it is equitable now to deal with cases like that of Mr. Pilgrim, it has been equitable during the last three years. Really, the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, and the other members of the Government, cannot ride away on that horse. Just after they were returned to power, they were constantly defending their own Acts by informing the Horse that those Acts were the same as ours. Having fought an Election to get rid of us, and Paving damned all our works, for the next year or two they defended all the propositions they made by saying that they were the same as ones which we had made. We have now gone past that stage, and they must take the consequences of their own government during the last three years.
The second main point to which I intend to refer has already been discussed by my noble friend Lord Silkin, in a particularly powerful speech—the question of the lack of compensation where development permission is refused. This, of course, will be a very serious matter for a number of people. Under our Act, in such cases there would be compensation. Under this Bill, the Conservative Government, having removed the development charge, have also removed any question of compensation where a public authority sterilises the land for some reason and refuses development permis- 478 sion. I do not think the public understand this at all. I do not think they understand for instance, that if, because a Green Belt, or something akin to a Green Belt, is constructed or declared in a certain part of the country, not only will developments proposed by a person who owns or has bought property for that purpose near the Green Belt be sterilised but no compensation will be paid to the owner.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I am very much interested in what he is now saying. Can he explain in what way the present Government's proposals alter the position laid down in the 1947 Act? I do not follow his reasoning on this point.
§ LORD OGMORE
Under the 1947 Act, the persons affected would have made a claim and got compensation as a result of their claim. As things stand at present, there will be no such claim for future sterilisation of the land. The fund having gone, there can be no claim on the fund. Take the case of a small man, a small owner of land—
There never has been a claim in respect of the land since the 1947 claims were settled. All this would have arisen under Lord Silkin's Act.
§ LORD AMHERST OF HACKNEY
He had a claim under the 1947 Act, and he would have, it seems to me, a claim under this Act.
§ LORD OGMORE
Certainly not. In respect of future developments he would have no claim whatsoever under this Bill. He might well have had a claim under the 1947 Act. It is obvious that noble Lords have not really appreciated this point. Even if they have studied this Bill, they have not appreciated that under it there will be no claim whatsoever for any sterilisation.
I will go on to take the case of a small factory owner, or a man who proposes to build a small factory. He intends to develop certain land as part of the factory premises, but along comes a declaration to make part of the country a Green Belt or something of that kind. He will have no claim for compensation whatsoever 479 as the land will be sterilised. He will not be able to erect his factory, and there will be no compensation. I repeat, he will get no compensation. I do not think that the public understand that fact; I do not think that the Conservative Government have explained that point to the public: that where a man has spent, it may be, a large sum of money in acquiring land which, as the result of public policy, a declaration of public interest by the Government or by a local authority, he is prevented from developing in the way he wishes, there will be no compensation. Lord Silkin made this point and made it very clearly. The noble Viscount, Lord Gage, touched upon this but he did not develop it.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (VISCOUNT WOOLTON)
What will the man have lost?
§ LORD OGMORE
In all probability he will definitely have lost the value of the land other than the agricultural value. If he has bought it for the purpose of erecting a factory, or something of that kind—it might be for putting up a block of shops or a row of houses—and he is unable, by reason of the policy of the local authority or of the national Government, to use it for the purpose for which he has bought it, then the only purpose he can use it for is an agricultural purpose. So he will have lost the difference between the value of the land as an industrial hereditament and its value as an agricultural one. I do not think that the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, understands that, in view of his interjection just now. And I am certain that a great many other people also do not understand it. It should be understood by everyone that that is the effect of this Bill. Certainly, I so read it, though I am subject to correction by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who is going to reply and who has had the benefit (which I have not had) of the advice of Parliamentary Counsel and the like. But according to my interpretation, that is the effect of this Bill. If that is so, I think that the country should be told of it, and the people should be told of it by the Ministers. And they should be told that there may be serious losses to persons who have bought, quite legitimately and quite openly, land for special purposes.
480 This applies especially to Wales, because in Wales vast areas of land are constantly being taken over for some purpose or other. I fully agree with the policy that there should be a National Park, but there is also a policy, with which I am not in full agreement, that certain areas should be taken over and certain villages submerged to provide water supplies for English cities. But whatever the result or the reason may be, large areas of land in Wales are constantly being taken over for purposes of one sort or another; and the land is sterilised. In consequence of the operation of this Bill, the Welsh people will undoubtedly suffer losses in the same way as English folk, in cases where their land will be sterilised and they will get no compensation. My noble friend Lord Silkin, I think, put up a very practical proposition when dealing with this. He made a suggestion which I thought an excellent one, and I suggest that the Government should consider it. As I understood it—though it is rather difficult to take in exactly all the implications of a speech dealing with such a technical matter—Lord Silkin proposed a solution of the problem which would enable compensation to be given in certain circumstances of this kind to people who have suffered in this way. There are other matters with which we shall deal by Amendment, if necessary, when we have seen the Government Amendments—and they are important matters. It may be said that they are largely matters of machinery. They may be matters of machinery to some extent, but very often matters of machinery and procedure go to the root of important legal principles.
I would refer your Lordships, in conclusion, to Clauses 26 and 27 of the Bill, which give the Minister power to review decisions where compensation has been claimed. He is, of course, the authority if there is an objection to the decision of the local planning authority. Clause 27 says:Before giving a direction under the last preceding section, the Minister shall, if so required by the local planning authority to whose decision the direction relates or by any person who made, and has not since withdrawn, a claim in respect of that decision, afford an opportunity for that authority or person to appear before, and be heard by, a person appointed by the Minister for the purpose.481 As is usual, and to a large extent necessary in these matters of delegated legislation, he is the final authority, the Pooh-Bah who appoints the judge and jury too, as one might say. Your Lordships will notice that in this clause there is no suggestion that persons who object to the decision of the local planning authority have to be heard, at the same time. There is no suggestion that they should have the same information and opportunity of expressing their views. In the interests of natural justice and good administration we think that these matters should be laid down in the Bill, and not left thoroughly vague and, indeed, in the discretion of the Minister, or often, as we know only too well, in the hands of civil servants acting on his behalf. We view this Bill with great misgiving. We feel that it would have been much better if the Government had made the necessary amendments to the 1947 Act, and we believe that the Government and the country will run into an enormous amount of trouble when they try to operate this Bill.
§ 5.42 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations, even in absentia, to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor on his maiden speech. I think noble Lords on this side of the House were surprised at the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that the imposition of the development charge was an agreed measure, that everybody in the country thought it was rather a good thing and that it was the greatest pity to depart from it. I think that is urging what would not be agreed from these Benches, because during the last Government the Conservative Party opposed the Second Reading of the noble Lord's Town and Country Planning Bill for the very reason that they disagreed with its financial provisions. I submit that he cannot come here in 1954 to say that the scheme was an agreed one.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord has in mind the White Paper Control of Land Use. This is a document which was issued by the then Minister of Town and Country Planning, Mr. W. S. Morrison, and which sets out proposals which are not very different, certainly not different in principle, from those which were incorporated in the 1947 Act. It is for that reason 482 that I say the principle of the 1947 Act was agreed at the time, and I thought the noble and learned Viscount said the same.
I cannot agree with the noble Lord, even after his statement, that the Conservative Party ever agreed with the financial provisions of the 1947 Act. Be that as it may, I agree very much with the noble Lord when he said that we should find means of giving similar treatment to all owners of land. He made that a considerable point. This will be a different Bill when the Government have made their Amendments to the draft which was first introduced in the other place. Noble Lords will have been grateful to hear the Government's pronouncement this afternoon, that in cases of hardship, where notice to grant an order for compulsory acquisition is served, the Minister will have power to make an ex gratia payment. That goes a little way, but it does not concede what many of us feel is only right and just in the case of compulsory purchase orders. I should like to refer to that point in greater detail later.
I have an interest as a claim-holder—that is a new word in this Bill for somebody who has a claim for loss of development value under the 1947 Act—but I hope that I shall be allowed to speak about claims, because I imagine that many noble Lords who will speak this afternoon will also be claim-holders. When the 1947 Act was passed, it was recognised that with the many conflicting claims on the limited amount of land available, control land use was inevitable. The Conservative Party have a policy which they have declared as being parallel to this, a policy of a property-owning democracy, of widespread ownership, large and small. The difficulty is to see how these two policies, of control of land use and widespread ownership, can be co-ordinated.
May I deal first of all with large owners. Your Lordships have already heard and, of course, know that large owners have professional full-time advisers, permanent land agents or surveyors whom they call in to advise them in making out their claims. They have done so, for in one of the papers on this subject I find that no fewer than 800,000 claims have been made for loss of development value under the 1947 Act. 483 This first class is protected. They have their safeguards and pay a great deal of money to be well advised. But what of the small owners to whom the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred? How did they deal with this question when the Act was passed? The vast majority of them simply did not understand it. I am certain that there are many small institutions and landowners who, in spite of the propaganda in the Press and on the B.B.C. and by the Central Land Board, under the chairmanship of Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, simply did not see that they were going to lose something. And they did not see it for this reason: that they were not land developers. They were what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has called, single plot holders. The man or woman or club who owns a house or an acre is not a developer of land.
Those people did not put in claims for loss of development rights. They did not foresee that the time might come when a local authority might arrive and say that they wanted the land to build a new police station or fire station or when the local education authority might arrive and say they were going to build a school. And who is to blame them? I submit that nobody is to blame. Recently I have seen speeches made in which it has been said that small owners were lazy or indolent or failed in some fiduciary capacity in not putting in claims for loss of development value by the appointed date in 1948. I suggest that that is a complete misunderstanding of the nature and outlook of small landowners. They do not look on the matter in that light. I am convinced that there are many small landowners who simply did not know that they were going to lose anything by not putting in a claim. Now, of course, they are feeling a sense of great injustice at what sometimes amounts practically to confiscation of their property.
It is against that background that I would commend your Lordships to examine the proposals contained in the Bill. I am sure your Lordships would agree that at every stage the Government should do everything possible and proper to protect the individual who is threatened with a compulsory purchase notice. The least that Parliament can do at this stage is to protect, or put into a 484 better position, people who have suffered loss. Parliament, I suggest, exists for the purpose of redressing grievances, and this is a sore grievance. I have here many instances where local authorities, and county councils in particular, have been unwilling to complete a purchase through a compulsory purchase order because they knew that the owner of the plot had no claim against the loss of development value. In the county of Hampshire they amount to thirteen cases, and in the county of Somerset to somewhat fewer. It is no good for the Government to say that there are very few of these cases, because I have quoted only two instances. They add up to a considerable number.
What is the result? The result is that the counties concerned have not proceeded with their intention to purchase, and the public interest has suffered because the counties have been unable to acquire the most suitable sites for carrying out their statutory duties. Your Lordships will have read the letter in The Times from the Chairman of the Hampshire County Council, to which reference has already been made. He is perfectly definite on the point that the yacht club in question was the most suitable site for the extension of an old people's home. However, the council concerned would not acquire it, because the existing use value was rather less than half the market value. That is a position which is eminently unsatisfactory from the point of view both of the local authority and of the owner. That is a position into which we have got at the present time.
§ LORD MANCROFT
May I interrupt the noble Lord? Is he suggesting that this is a new situation that would not have arisen in 1947 as well?
This is a matter that has been arising gradually all the time, and as claim land is being gradually used up, demands for compulsory acquisition will fall more and more on non-claim land, and it is in respect of such land, when it is taken, that people suffer.
I believe that there is a fairly simple solution to the problem, and it is this. Where a notice to treat for a compulsory purchase order is served, and the owner of the property has not made a claim for loss of development value under the 1947 Act, then he should be given 485 the right—not an ex gratia payment, but a right—to substantiate, if he can, a loss of development value. That is a simple device, and I believe it could be clearly understood. I feel that it has several merits. The first is that it would put the person who had not made a claim and was served with a compulsory purchase order on the same footing as the man who had made a claim. Originally in another place we were told that there very few of such cases, but to-day the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack told us, if I understood him correctly, that there are a good many. It is obvious that we should have to deal with what I would describe as quite a large number of these cases. My proposal would have the further advantage that if there were only a very few of such cases, then there would be little work to be done. With only a few people who did not claim trying to substantiate their claims, then neither the district valuers, the local authorities nor anybody else would be put to much trouble. But supposing mere are a large number of claims, then I say that the work must be done, because justice demands that it should be done.
This question has been gone into from the valuation side. At one time it was said that there was a difficulty in assessing claims to-day for loss of development value in 1947 because of the passage of time. I should like to quote from a letter written by one of the most skilled and experienced valuers employed by county councils. He says that… at the present time the same valuation department"—that is to say, the department that deals with valuation and loss of development value—are charged with the duty of casting their minds back to 1939 … to fix values for rating purposes"—that is eight years before 1947. I suggest that if the valuation departments can cast their minds back to 1939 for rating, then they can cast their minds back to 1947 for loss of development value. In addition, there is a mass of data available in respect of admitted claims since the passing of the 1947 Act. Therefore, this does not appear to be an insuperable difficulty. It is work that can be done, and I submit that it is 486 work that should be done, even at some inconvenience to the valuation department.
The valuation expert I am quoting said that he was still of the opinion that the suggestion that the non-claim holder should be given a right to substantiate a claim if he could is both practicable and desirable. It would do justice to the individual concerned and would avoid the criticism that falls on all local authorities when obvious hardship is inflicted upon any individual by proposed compulsory purchase. I have spoken on this point at some length, because in many ways it is a subject which interests and has disturbed the public far more than any other, shall I say, more technical clauses of this Bill.
I believe that a change of heart is required by the Ministry in charge of these Bills. I believe that during the course of the last few years they have, in effect become the masters and not the servants of the State, or of the individuals who are affected by their decisions. Your Lordships will remember that during the course of the summer we had a debate on a Motion moved, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, regarding the public representation of the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Agriculture at public inquiries. Since that debate, both points that were pressed, and pressed very earnestly by noble Lords from these Benches, have been granted. The Ministry of Transport are now represented at public inquiries into development plans where the lines of trunk roads are concerned. The Ministry of Agriculture are showing considerable change of heart, and I believe it is possible that even the Land Commissioners will be represented at public inquiries in the near future where the agricultural aspects of the inquiry are the mast important. That deals with two of the great Departments which deal with land and with the possession of land. What used to be the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and is now Housing and Local Government is the third. I sincerely hope that they, too, will consider more closely the effect that many of their provisions and decisions have on the private lives and property of many individuals among the smaller owners of property in this country.
It is getting late, and there are many clauses in this Bill which are better debated 487 on the Committee stage than on Second Reading, but in passing I should like to mention Clause 21 which has already been dealt with. Many of your Lordships think that this period of ten years of deferment because development is premature is too long and should be shortened. We propose at the next stage to put down an Amendment to that clause. Clause 34 has also been mentioned. It deals with the protection of prospective purchasers, and has been criticised from the other side of the House. I am not at all sure that in its present form it is acceptable to noble Lords on this side of the House. Clause 68 is also a clause which, perhaps, can be improved in Committee. It deals with the functions of the local planning authority as the originators of the county development plans, and it proposes that the county districts should be able to make representations to the Minister without any reference to the county planning authority. We think that that is not a good suggestion. We think that it will lead to confusion, and perhaps it will be improved by agreement at a later stage.
Finally, I should like to touch upon a point that has already been mentioned by at least two speakers. The Government have been warned by the weighty opinion of professional valuers that ultimately the proposed system of two values in land will not work. It is not part of my case to argue on one side or the other, except to say this. The 1947 value of land has been accepted. I believe that the late Minister in another place said that the axe fell on development value in 1947. That is the date beyond which there is no recall. If you lost your development value then, it will not recur in the future. If that principle is accepted—and I am rather inclined to think that it should be—then this question of the second value of land does not rightly arise. I believe that there is an element of betterment in some open market prices which should not be allowed to affect what I call the 1947 standard of values. Therefore, I submit that the present Government proposals on that point should be supported. A case may arise, in years to come, of some increase on the 1947 value, but I do not believe that it has arisen yet. I apologise for detaining your Lordships for so long, but this is an important matter, and one 488 which has aroused widespread public interest. I trust that in Committee considerable improvements may be made to this Bill, which, in view of what the Lord Chancellor has told us this afternoon as to his intention of putting down further Amendments, is yet very much unknown.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ LORD AMHERST OF HACKNEY
My Lords, I feel that it is extremely presumptuous of me, but I should first like to congratulate the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack on a not unexpectedly capable maiden speech. This Bill is an important and urgent measure, and until we pass it there are a large number of people who are suffering considerable hardship, waiting for their claims to be paid. Therefore, we must pass it as speedily as possible. That does not mean that we should not give it the most careful scrutiny in this House and, perhaps, make a considerable number of Amendments. There are three main essentials in planning. The first is to encourage development; the second is to control development, and the third is to ensure that adequate compensation is paid to anyone whose interests are injuriously affected—in fact, that the planning Bill must be fair.
I think that the most important thing is to encourage development, and that is what the 1947 Act failed to do. After all, unless it encourages development all the other parts of the Bill are unnecessary. You do not catch a salmon by throwing stones; you put a nice tempting fly over it. You do not attract a developer, who has, after all, to risk a great deal of his capital in the development, by putting a great many obstacles and uncertainties, such as development charge, in his way. Therefore, I feel that, by the abolition of the development charge and the removal of those unpopular uncertainties, this Bill goes a long way towards encouraging development. Secondly, having encouraged your development, you have to control it. There, I feel that the 1947 Act was, as one would well expect, extremely successful. It gives the local authorities all the powers that they can possibly need—and they are necessary powers—to control that development. In its financial provisions, the Bill should also allow the local authorities to carry out their proper function of regulating the planning, because, obviously, if planning decisions are to 489 be affected by lack of local authority finance then planning will fail.
But most important are the rights of the individual. There, I feel that Parliament has a great duty to perform. It is no excuse to say that people are no worse off than they would have been under the 1947 Act, because, under the 1947 Act, if one casts one's mind back to the debates on that Act, the £300 million was a fund for the more or less ex gratia payment for hardship; it was not in any way designed to meet the actual amounts of the claims that were expected. The setting up of the fund was an act out of the goodness of the Government's heart. But we feel differently on those things: we feel that the person has a right to his just claim. Under the arrangements proposed in this Bill, although I do not disagree fundamentally with them, there are a number of anomalies which at a later stage we must try, so far as we can, to put right. Let me cite one particular case. Suppose there are two people with similar houses and one house is, say, let on a ten-year lease, with a covenant in the lease that it is to be used as a private house only, and the other is a house with vacant possession. Let us assume, for instance, that the claim on those two houses for loss of development value is the same in each case, £100. In the first case, the tenant obviously has not a claim, because he is not able to develop. The freeholder cannot develop for ten years, so that in fact his claim is the present value of £100 in ten years' time which, for the sake of argument, might be £50. The second man's claim is for the full £100. In ten years' time, if a local authority were to acquire those two properties, in the first case they would pay £50 and in the second £100. It seems to me that the man who received only £50 would have a justifiable sense of grievance.
Another case where I feel there is a certain amount of anomaly is in regard to minerals, although I do not want to go into any great detail. Obviously, the changing into existing use value in the case of minerals is very much slower than it is in the case of any other form of development. If you build a factory it will be there within two or three years, and if anybody comes to acquire the land, he has to pay the full developed value. But, with regard to minerals, compensation for which I understand is 490 also, in the case of compulsory acquisition, to be based on the 1947 claim, the minerals are valued, say, ten years before they are going to be worked; and although in fact their value is increasing as the time for their working comes nearer, if that land is compulsorily purchased that fact is not taken into consideration, and the owner gets only what those minerals were worth ten years ago. If a person who is intending to work those minerals and has acquired them, has to purchase the rights elsewhere, he will obviously have to pay considerably more than he would get in compensation. I feel that here there is a possible case of grievance. Under Claue 21, too, which has been mentioned as the "good neighbour" clause, it may happen that a factory settles itself down in a nice rural area and then, as so often happens when a factory is put down in an area, houses get built round it. If the factory, which after all was there first, wishes either to extend or to do various things, it may find that stopped, on the ground that extension is against "good neighbourliness." It receives no compensation whatsoever, and that again seems to me not quite as it should be.
Another case that has been mentioned many times is that where people have failed entirely to pat in a claim; and obviously they are excluded. But I cannot see—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, will pay attention for a moment—if we are all so worried that people are excluded because they have not claimed by a certain date, how the noble Lord can argue, as he did in his speech, that at any time when that land became sterilised under the 1947 Act a person could claim, though under the present Bill a person cannot claim. They cannot claim in either case—I think I am right in saying that.
§ LORD OGMORE
I think the noble Lord is probably right. This is a very difficult subject. But undoubtedly, if that had been the case and we were still in office, we should have remedied that position in regard to future land.
§ LORD AMHERST OF HACKNEY
If I may be so bold as to say so, had the noble Lord's Party remedied that they would have undermined and wrecked their whole conception, because surely the whole conception of the 1947 Act was that, once and for all, all the development value was extinguished Now the 491 noble Lord is saying that, had his Party been in office, where the development value in a certain area arose, then they would consider new claims. That seems to me a most extraordinary statement, but perhaps he may be right. My Lords, it is difficult to legislate for every possible contingency, but I feel that it is the duty of the Government to protect their citizens. I am quite sure that, although we agree that very strong powers must be handed over to local authorities, we must see that justice is done. I am sure that there is no defect in this Bill so fundamental that it cannot be put right at the Committee stage.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ LORD LUKE
My Lords, I, too, should like to pay my humble tribute to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. I shall not keep your Lordships more than a few minutes and, though I fear I am going to join the general chorus of criticism, I will confine my remarks to only one aspect of this Bill, that dealing with open spaces. I am well aware that debates have taken place in another place on this particular subject, but I speak rather urgently on behalf of the National Playing Fields Association and upon the way in which I think the playing fields movement will be affected by this Bill. I think it will be generally agreed that the 1947 Act was favourable to the provision of open spaces, but I fear that this Bill will, in general, be less favourable—indeed, the noble and learned Viscount said in his opening speech that certain open spaces will tend to become more expensive. I should put it rather wider than "certain open spaces." I am well aware that under Clause 50 the payment of grants will help, but we feel that this does not go far enough. I will not weary your Lordships with any figures but I hope to be able to give them on Committee stage. I also think that the injustice of the present provisions is implied and admitted in the new Bill, in that in Clause 52 there is a method of dealing out exceptional treatment for land contracted to be acquired for open spaces before November 18. 1952.
My Lords, I said I would speak very briefly, and I will, but I want to say this: I cannot understand the attitude of Her Majesty's Government at the present time towards recreational facilities and playing 492 fields. They have arranged for a double disadvantage to their increase in the country; they have arranged, for the last two years, that there shall be no grants from the Ministry of Education towards playing fields. My noble friend Lord Mancroft knows that point very well, but I make no apology for making it again. Secondly, I contend that playing fields will be worse off if this Bill is passed without amendment. The proposed grants under this Bill are very tidy, and there are, I understand, to be no exceptions; but I suggest that we are having tidiness without equality, and it seems to have been forgotten that recreation grounds, because they are non-remunerative, do require special treatment, and that incentive is necessary. To quote the noble and learned Viscount once again, he said at the end of his speech "We are hoping to secure better development on the ground." I am afraid I must say that in regard to playing fields that is not the case. I hope that when these promised Amendments are revealed something lucky will come out of the bag; if not, I am afraid that I shall have to put down my own Amendments to give effect to what I have just said.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ LORD MILNER OF LEEDS
My Lords, I hope I may be permitted to add my few words of welcome to the noble and learned Viscount who now adorns the Woolsack. He and I have known each other for many years—indeed, since years ago we appeared in what I think we still call the inferior courts. With all your Lordships, I welcome him very much to his present position and wish him a happy occupancy thereof.
I do not propose to keep your Lordships very long, but I think it may not be considered premature or indelicate if I point out to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that so far we have not had any enthusiasm from any quarter of the House for the present Bill; indeed, almost every speaker has, without exception—and not least those who have spoken on the Government side—criticised the Bill and made holes in it from one end to the other. I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, seemed to gain some consolation from the fact that, as he thought, planning was not being interfered with and would proceed; but I am sure he 493 will not have overlooked the fact that quite a number of steps have to be taken by those who propose to plan in the future which had not to be taken in the past. Planning permission has to be obtained, information of one sort or another has to be obtained, and in effect a clearance from local authorities has to be obtained before any single developer will either buy land or take any steps towards development. I submit to the noble Lord that his hopes should not be placed so highly as he evidently thinks will be the case.
My noble friends have said most of what needs to be said from this side of the House and I should like only to cross one or two t's and dot one or two i's. I have always felt, and I am sure that most of your Lordships feel the same, whether you agreed with the policy of my noble friend Lord Silkin when he was in office or not, that at any rate his Bill, the 1947 Act, as it became, was logical and presented a complete scheme, in that landowners, purchasers, lawyers and others, knew where they were under the Act. As has been said by most speakers, the present Bill is most complex. It is, and will be, extremely difficult for owners, purchasers and landowners, and not least for their solicitors, to know precisely where they are. The truth is that this Bill introduces an element of uncertainty, if not indeed confusion, which is most undesirable.
May I now turn briefly to one or two of the clauses to which some reference has been made and on some of which the Law Society hold strong views. They are not, of course, concerned with policy. The matter of policy is not one for them, nor do they seek to interfere with the policy of Her Majesty's Government, but they feel that attention should be called to possible difficulties, hardships and injustices which may arise under certain parts of this Bill. A good deal has been said about Clauses 21 and 22 and I would invite those noble Lords who have not yet read those clauses to do so and try to imagine cases where, contrary to those clauses, compensation will be payable. The clauses say compensation will not be payable in so many cases and it is difficult to find cases where compensation may be payable. Clauses 26 and 27 deal with the Minister's powers of direction when he reviews planning decisions. This clause as the noble Lord, 494 Lord Ogmore, mentioned, is not at all clear, and it is essential, as both my noble friends have stated, that it should be clear whether a planning authority and an applicant will be heard at the same time (as I presume they will) and have opportunities of being legally represented, and of cross-examining and being cross-examined.
In the course of my professional work I have come across one or two very unsatisfactory cases. In one case quite recently, after an inspector had his inquiry—I do not know whether or not the report had been made to the Minister—a corporation had written behind the backs of all concerned to the Minister. The Minister quite properly disclosed a copy of the letter sent by the local authority, but there was, of course, no opportunity of cross-examination, and some things were said in that letter which were not strictly accurate. Above all things, these inquiries should be public and reports should be published with the reasons for the Minister's decision based on the report of his inspector. Incidentally, while it is not strictly relevant to the matter before your Lordships' House, I may say that there is great delay in obtaining the Minister's decision on town planning matters. My own city of Leeds has been waiting since June, 1952, for the Minister's decision on the development plan for that city. Admittedly, that is a big problem, but two years and three months is too long to keep people waiting in suspense, people who want to know whether the development plan in all its varied detail is to be approved or, if not, amended, and in what respects. I hope that some steps may be taken, either by increasing the number of inspectors or in scale other direction, to expedite the Minister's decision in that and similar cases.
One of the most important points arises under Clause 34. On this, the Law Society feel rather strongly. Noble Lords are aware that the object of that clause is to protect prospective purchasers by enabling their solicitors to ask a local authority whether or not that local authority is aware of any proposal to purchase the land in question compulsorily within five years. There is no sanction or compulsion on a local authority to reply at all, nor is it clear whether the local authority may reply at once or has to await the expiration of twenty-eight days. Clearly, 495 it is in the interests of everyone concerned and, indeed, a matter of natural justice, that where a local authority does not reply within the appropriate period, then a prospective purchaser should be entitled to assume that the local authority has no proposals before it for purchase and that he may, therefore, complete his purchase or whatever he is proposing to do. He should be able to rely on the fact that there has been no reply as an assurance that the local authority is not proposing to purchase and that, if it did purchase within five years, he would be entitled compensation. I hope the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will agree to an Amendment to bring about the state of affairs that if a local authority does not so reply, then the prospective purchaser may deem that there is no intention to purchase the property compulsorily. A good deal might be said on that clause which is very unclear throughout, but I will spare your Lordships further criticisms which may perhaps be offered on the Committee stage.
The Association of Municipal Corporations have brought to my mind (I have not consulted my noble friends on this matter) the point that it would be perfectly proper for a fee to be paid to the local authority for the information asked for. Provision is made in the Bill for a fee to be paid to the Central Land Board for certain other information and a small fee for the local authority for making inquiries and for replying would not seem unreasonable. Clause 48 deals with the provision of information as to unexpended balances of development values. The Law Society have pressed the appropriate Ministry to establish a complete register in regard to that. The Minister has not found it possible to agree but has made some provision for giving a certain amount of information of a nature which must of necessity be required by purchasers or their legal advisers. That provision is really not complete; there is no guarantee of accuracy, or indeed any provision whereby the Central Land Board has to answer any question put to it within any specified time. I much hope Her Majesty's Government will improve the procedure in that respect.
The question of retrospective land charges seems most objectionable. An innocent purchaser may thereby be 496 landed with a considerable financial responsibility of which he knew nothing. I hope an Amendment on that point will be agreed. It appears clear that as the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will be putting down a number of Amendments on behalf of the Government, and we shall have a number of Amendments also, considerable time will be required on the Committee stage of this Bill. I hope Her Majesty's Government may be willing to shorten that time by agreeing to some of the Amendments which in due course we shall hope to table in your Lordships' House.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, it now falls to my lot to conclude this debate by offering a few observations in support and in praise of this excellent Bill. In case we become involved in any controversy, let me say that there are two points on which we are all agreed. First, this Bill is not as simple as it looks; second, that very much light was shone into dark places by the most lucid, cogent and brilliant speech from my noble leader in this debate, the Lord Chancellor. I am certain that we all regarded it as the beginning of yet another brilliant chapter in a brilliant career. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, made some friendly references to my present position, and for those I thank him. I listened to him, as we always do in this particular context, with great attention, for the noble Lord is almost the Patron Saint of Town and Country Planning. The name of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is, to town and country planning, what whisky is to soda, and what Rolls is to Royce. It was said of Queen Mary of not particularly pleasant memory, that she always maintained that when she died they would find the word "Calais" written on her heart. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, when his day comes—and long may it be postponed!—I expect there will be found written on his heart: "Unexpended balance of established development value."
Lord Silkin raised one point with which I cordially agree and upon which, I think, every other noble Lord who spoke in the debate has touched. That is the complexity of this Bill. It certainly is a most dreadfully complex measure. Shortly before we came into the Chamber to-day 497 one noble Lord outside remarked that not only was the Bill one of which he understood only one clause—that is Clause 71 (5), which says that it shall not extend to Northern Ireland—but also that he was completely unable to understand the Explanatory Memorandum. It is easy to go on poking fun at this Bill, as indeed it is about all measures of this sort, butt would remind Lord Silkin that his own 1947 Act was no nursery rhyme to read. Nor, indeed, can any Bill be which is connected with Town and Country Planning. This Bill has not been made complicated for the fun of it. In defence of the Parliamentary draftsman I must say that most elaborate precautions have been taken to try to make it as simple as possible, and no more complicated than is absolutely necessary. But because we are doing what is colloquially called "unscrambling," because we are dealing with the past, because we have got to legislate for the future, because the law relating to the land, as Lord Ogmore, Lord Milner of Leeds and Lord Silkin have already remarked, is intrinsically complicated, this is bound to be an extremely complicated measure.
I appreciate the difficulty mentioned by noble Lords opposite, and also by Lord Hylton—that of putting over the very personal provisions of the measure to people of humble learning and quite modest attainments. On previous occasions when Bills dealing with land have been brought forward, or landlord and tenant Bills, such as we have had before us in the last two or three years, the Government have been at great pains, and have taken advantage of all the means available to them, by propaganda, radio, the Press and so on, to make those points more readily comprehensible to people who are going to be personally affected. But success was not complete. Nor, indeed, was it in the case of the, 1947 Act. There were, as there were, bound to be, people who "did not know about it," who did not understand, and who failed to make claims. But for reasons well known to your Lordships we cannot go back to that now. We shall be only too happy to look into suggestions made by noble Lords who have spoken, including Lord Hylton and Lord Amherst of Hackney, for "getting over" to the public this difficult and very complicated measure. It is indeed a very complex piece of legislation, and it is 498 not easy to convey to those concerned, who in many cases must be simple people, the full effect of it.
It is, of course, easy to criticise, and several noble Lords have criticised this Bill while not going out of their way to accentuate its many admirable qualities. Unless you produce some solution of the problem, we are going to have many Amendments to this Bill, both those put down in the name of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor and, as we have now been told, by noble Lords on the Benches behind me and on the Benches opposite. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, rather deplored this, I thought. He gave me the impression that he thought we were working in the dark and that he did not like the prospect of all these Amendments. When I recall past days when he has grumbled bitterly about not having Amendments put down, I find it difficult to understand his present attitude. I shall be interested to see how he reacts to the Amendments when the Committee stage is reached. It is true, as he says, that he has not yet seen them. Obviously, we are going to have a lot of work in dealing with a Bill of this nature, but it is clearly right that we should devote a great deal of attention to it. There are bound to be certain anomalies and certain hardships, but if we were to legislate for the prevention of every anomaly which has been mentioned by noble Lords on the Benches opposite, and by Lord Gage, Lord Hylton and Lord Amherst of Hackney we should have a Bill four times as long as the present one. We must try to iron out some of the principal difficulties.
Your Lordships have yourselves stated that many of the points made in the course of the debate have been in reality Committee points. That is so, and therefore I will not trespass upon your Lordships' patience at this late hour by attempting to answer many of them, even if I could. Two points clearly stand out. The first is what I might term the "Pilgrim case" type of point, and the other is that of compulsory purchase hardship. This latter was particularly referred to by the two noble Lords who are sitting behind me. My noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack has already given an undertaking that an Amendment will be put down to deal with such cases as the Pilgrim case and 499 analogous points. I hope that your Lordships will wait until we have that Amendment before us, and then perhaps we can discuss that matter in greater detail. I promise your Lordships that I will look carefully into the points which have been raised by noble Lords who have spoken about the hardships of compulsory purchase. Several noble Lords have raised this matter, and it is clearly the Government's duty to examine it very carefully again. Without withdrawing in any way from the ex gratia policy already stated, I will certainly give Lord Hylton and other noble Lords an undertaking to examine very carefully the points which they made and to advise myself more thoroughly upon them.
I will not go into details of the various points now, but will content myself with a reference to one main objection that Lord Silkin has raised. He naturally does not like the Bill because it is opposed to one or two major principles of the 1947 Act. I can assure Lord Silkin that we are not upsetting the 1947 Act just out of spite of him. We are not producing this Bill because we wish automatically to overturn what the previous Government have done. We are introducing this measure solely because we are convinced that his Act will not work. Lord Silkin, of course, differs from me on this point. He differed from me in the last debate, and I do not doubt that he will differ from me again. I know only too well that nothing I can say will convince him that we are right and that the Act of 1947 was not working. I can assure him that a very large number of people agree with the Government that that Act was not working. He is opposed to our abolition of the development charge—I think someone said in this connection that the previous Minister of Housing and Local Government "got into a fury" over the idea of development charges. That is not so. My right honourable friend did not like the development charge, any more than do most other people. He regarded it, as most other people do, as a tax on enterprise and a tax on initiative. That is how it has grown to be regarded.
I should like to know only one thing from Lord Silkin—perhaps it is an academic question, but he did not give the answer to it in his speech. I must 500 confess that a great deal of what he said went over my head, because he is so knowledgeable on these matters, and those rare occasions when I understand a point made by him are, I fear, due to the same cause which sometimes enables me to understand a remark made in French—namely, that it is made in bad French. What I want to ask him is this: Would he reintroduce development charge if he should ever find himself Minister of Housing and Local Government again? Can he imagine that a large number of supporters of his Party at the hustings would be willing to put into their election addresses their faith in development charge and that the result would be the winning of many votes for the Party? I do not think the answer is in much doubt. I believe that we have to go on with this Bill, despite Lord Silkin's objections, as being the best way possible of repairing—I will not say the damage, for that would be unkind, but the misadventures into which his Act has landed the planning of our country.
The Bill is only a machinery measure, and it follows very closely the White Paper of 1952, which your Lordships debated exhaustively, and the decision which your Lordships took in 1953. It contains no surprises in main principle. It may be that in a number of points of detail we can improve it. It may be that there are matters which we can amend and change. Certainly this Government would not dream of suggesting that a Bill of this complexity is not capable of improvement, but it is based on these two principles, which I maintain are accepted principles: first, the abolition of development charge, which I believe nobody would ever dare to bring back; and, second, that the £300 million fund will not be paid out as originally intended but only when claims make that necessary. We have preserved the power and strength of planning, on which we are all agreed. That is not touched in the Bill. We have accepted the principle of "good neighbourliness," on which we are all now agreed. Nobody can call this Bill a Bill to benefit the landlords. It is not a charter for landlords, but for bona fide developers. This Bill contains workable plans which will work on the ground, and it is the plan that will work on the ground, rather than the plan that looks well on paper, by which a Bill such 501 as this has to be judged. The last Act has been judged and, I am afraid, found wanting. This one will be a help in the development of our land and in creating wealth on that land. I do not suggest that this is the perfect Bill, but I would suggest to your Lordships that its basic principles are sound and that with your Lordships' help it can be made into a first-class Act.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.