§ 2.49 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT rose to move to resolve, That it is desirable that Her Majesty's Government should establish the principle that those whose land or other property has been requisitioned or acquired for Government purposes and who have been dispossessed, shall have the right, if they so desire (save in cases of dispossession owing to bad husbandry), to resume possession of the property, which has been compulsorily taken from them, when it is no longer required for the purposes for which it was requisitioned; and, if not, that the property should be offered for sale at public auction; and, further, that the full market value of property, designated for compulsory purchase by any public authority, at the time of the service of notice of designation, shall be payable to the owner of that property at the time of the execution of the notice.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, may I begin by making a personal statement? As I was unable to be here on the day the House reassembled, I should like to ally myself with what was said by many noble Lords about a very old friend of mine. This is the first opportunity I have had, because of ill-health, to say how delighted I am to find the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Kilmuir, sitting on the Woolsack. I am certain that we shall have a very happy time with him as Lord Chancellor. Before I leave that subject, may I say, also, how we shall all miss our old friend who has been so charming to us for three years, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simonds.
§ To come now to the Motion which stands in my name, the war has been over for nine years, but we are still suffering from legislation and war-time measures which were necessary then, but 728 which I feel are quite unnecessary in peace time. I am afraid that the reason we are suffering from them, to a certain extent (I hope that noble Lords on the opposite side do not object to my saying this), is that the policy of the Socialist Government, it has always seemed to me, is to interfere with the freedom of the people of this country on every possible occasion; that has accentuated the situation in which we now find ourselves. In fact, so far as I can see, we are now living almost in a sort of Soviet State; under the sort of conditions that we should expect to find there.
§ LORD TEVIOT
No doubt the noble Lord will have an opportunity, later on, of giving his reasons why he does not agree with what I say. In my view, we must return to our people the right to live their own lives, so that merit and thrift shall be rewarded in all walks of life. That is not the case to-day, and there are many obstacles in the way of that coming about. Anybody can criticise, but I have tried in my Motion to set down a constructive view of the opinions which I hold. I want to persuade the Government to give a lead in the return to our people of a freer life. The Common Law used to protect the ordinary citizen of the country but, so far as I can make out, that is not so any more: Orders in Council simply override any protection which the Common Law used to give us. On one occasion I ventured to put down a Prayer to annul an Order in Council. But supposing that we were successful in getting an Order in Council annulled, how would that benefit us? As I understand it, an Order lays on the Table of both Houses for forty days, and then, within a day or two of its being annulled, another Order in Council is laid which says practically the same thing. So we get nowhere by annulling such an Order.
These things are deep in the minds of the people in the country. Your Lordships are aware that there is great publicity in regard to this subject. It will be known to your Lordships that I had this Motion on the Paper a considerable time ago, but I postponed it, for the reason that in another place there was to be a debate which might have gone a long way to do what I wished to be done. But that did 729 not happen. Therefore, I had to postpone the Motion until after the Recess. There are many instances, about which no doubt all your Lordships know, of what are considered injustices and hardships, owing to the present state of affairs; in fact, your Lordships will no doubt have noticed that there are few days when we do not see something of this sort in the Press.
I will not weary your Lordships with many instances, but I should like to read part of a letter which I have had from a Member of your Lordships' House, who I am sorry is not here to-day. He handed over his property to his son some years ago, and on certain of the property a Ministry had, as he puts it, "cast covetous eyes." This is what he says:They go ahead to-day in complete secrecy, and the owner is the last person always to be told of their intentions. Invariably I have first heard of the project through the Society for the Protection of Rural England. We then ask for information and the procedure is always the same. We are told to communicate with some office, usually in Cornwall or Wales. We are then promised further information, but of course it never comes.That letter is from a member of your Lordships' House who is a considerable landowner I could only wish that he were here to-day to tell you about it himself. There is a further case which shows the sort of thing which happens. Certain land was requisitioned by a Government Department. The land was not used for the purpose for which it was requisitioned but, without a by-your-leave, the owner suddenly found that it had been sold to a carpet manufacturer. This sort of thing has got to stop. It is outrageous that the citizens of a free country should suffer from these conditions. So far as I can see, there are far too many tribunals, commissions, boards and committees exercising far-reaching powers over the lives of our men and women.
The Motion is in comprehensive terms and speaks for itself, and I can never see the object in talking on things that are quite plain. Now that we have an opportunity, I feel that we should deal with this matter exhaustively. I hope the Government will take a sympathetic view in regard to the present situation, and will do all they can to meet the many hardships and difficulties in which 730 so many of our citizens find themselves. As I have said, there it is set out in the Motion: that, should a property have been acquired or requisitioned, the first person who should have the right to have it back, in the event of its not being used for the purpose for which it was acquired, or if it has been used for that purpose but the use is abandoned, is the original owner. I do not think that is asking a great deal, and it seems to me that it should convey to everyone fair dealings to the citizen involved. There is another case of an aerodrome which was abandoned in the process of being built, and the original owner never got his property back. That is all I am going to say about the first part of my Motion.
I now come to the second part of my Motion referring to designation. I will say only a few words on that, because there is a noble Lord present to-day who is, I believe, to make his maiden speech, and he has something to say on this subject. However, as I have put it down, I feel I should say a word. It must be perfectly obvious to your Lordships that once your property is designated for compulsory purchase it ceases to be of any value at all in the market. Supposing that it happened to one of us here, what chance has he to sell?—none whatever. Therefore, I hope that something will be done, so that a man shall not be robbed of the value of his property because it has been designated for compulsory purchase. That is happening all over the country, mostly I think with local authorities, though I imagine that the Government could do the same if they so desired. In any other business, if you are going to take an option on anything you have to pay for it. This sort of thing must meet with the sympathy of all fair-minded men and women in the country. I hope that the Government will take this Motion seriously, and will do all they can to meet the views I have expressed. I notice that there are two Amendments to my Motion on the Order Paper. Although I do not propose to speak on those Amendments now—I understand that I shall have an opportunity after I have heard the noble Earl who is to move those Amendments—I should like to tell your Lordships that, so far as I am concerned, I do not propose to accept them. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.3 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL had given notice of two Amendments to the Motion—the first to leave out "it is desirable that Her Majesty's Government should establish the principle that" and to insert: "the public interest in maximum food production shall remain the paramount consideration in the disposal of land acquired compulsorily by Government Departments and subject always to that consideration."; and the second to leave out all words after "auction".
§ The noble Earl said: In moving the first Amendment which stands in my name, I should like to say how glad I am to find that the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, is well enough to address us with his usual provocativeness and strength of conviction. With your Lordships' permission, I would make one other introductory remark. This is the first debate we have had with a bearing on agriculture since the Recess, and I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, on his first Government appointment and to wish him every success in a post which always carries special responsibility when it is held by a Member of your Lordships' House. I must admit that I am disappointed that there is to be no representative of the Ministry of Agriculture taking part in this debate. At the same time, I am quite sure that the noble Earl was right in deciding not to speak until he is more firmly in the saddle. I know the complexities of the Department, and I have every sympathy with him.
§ Your Lordships may remember that on the last day before the Recess, I asked the Government a Question about their policy regarding the disposal of agricultural land. As the reply given on that occasion by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was not satisfactory, from our point of view, I then said that I would raise the matter again as soon as possible after the Recess. As the Resolution of the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, was already on the Order Paper at that time, I thought it would be a convenient peg, if I may so describe it without disrespect to the noble Lord opposite, on which to hang our views. This procedure will also save the time of the House, because there will be no need for a separate Motion. I think I may perhaps claim for my Amendment that it makes clearer than the noble 732 Lord's Resolution that we, at any rate, should like the Government to state much more fully than was possible in reply to a Question their reasons for this change of policy, and to explain, so far as they can at this stage, its practical implications.
§ The Crichel Down case was, of course, fully debated in another place before the Recess, and the Government have taken the action which they think fit in relation to this particular case. I do not propose—and in this respect I shall follow the example of the noble Lord opposite—to raise this matter again this afternoon. But what I think has not been properly discussed in either House up to now is the new policy in relation to the disposal of agricultural land precipitated by the Crichel Down case, by the Inquiry and the subsequent action of the Government in relation to Crichel Down. I use the word "precipitated," because, although the change in policy was not announced until after Sir Andrew Clark's Inquiry, I have no doubt at all—and I have little doubt that the Ministers will confirm this—that the whole problem has been under consideration by the Ministers for a long time past.
§ The object of the first Amendment—and I propose, if I may, to speak to both Amendments together, in order to save your Lordships' time—is to give your Lordships an opportunity to discuss a carefully considered and deliberate change of policy in relation to the disposal of agricultural land, which, of course, will have lasting effects, both on individual rights and on agriculture generally. I think your Lordships will agree, if I may start by a rather general statement, that in deciding about the disposal of agricultural land acquired under compulsory powers, any Government, whatever Government may be in power at a particular time, would have to bear two main considerations in mind. One is the interests of food production, and the other is fairness to an individual owner whose land has been taken by the State. I do not, for my part, regard these two claims as being in the least contradictory or irreconcilable; but how they are to be adjusted must always depend on the public interest, and the Government of the day have the responsibility of deciding what the public interest requires.733
My main complaint, if I may express it immediately, about the noble Lord's Resolution is that it does not mention the interests of agriculture at all. I followed his speech very carefully and heard him say quite a lot, I am sure with a good deal of justification, about hard-ships and difficulties for individuals. But I did not hear him say one word about the paramount need for increased food production and the need for the consideration of agricultural interests in deciding about these matters. My complaint about Government policy is of rather the same kind. I agree, of course, that the Government, in this change of policy, recognise the importance of agricultural efficiency—a fact which seems possibly to have escaped the attention of noble Lords opposite—but it appears to me that, in spite of this recognition of agricultural interests and the part they should play in these decisions, the new policy entirely subordinates agriculture to the shibboleth of private ownership. I take it that the late Minister of Agriculture was speaking for the Government when he made the following statement in another place—I venture to read his words:
It is no part of this Government's philosophy that the State should own or manage any land suitable for sale.
The Minister then went on to describe how this principle of Government philosophy will be applied to land at present managed by the Agricultural Land Commission, and the various modifications which it would entail in existing policy.
I must confess that I was a little surprised to find that noble Lords opposite regard themselves as members of a Government of philosophers. Hitherto, they have always blamed us for being the philosophers. We have been told again and again that we apply the principle of public ownership regardless of economic efficiency. I remember distinctly that this was the kind of objection raised by noble Lords opposite when we introduced the Bill for nationalising iron and steel. Yet now, apparently, this doctrinaire interference in industry is all right, provided that it comes from one Party. I had hoped that this policy might have been given a new slant by the new Minister of Agriculture, whose ability in other fields we all recognise to be outstanding, but his statement at the Conservative Party Conference at Blackpool seems to have been no
more than a simplification for a rather less sophisticated audience of the Party doctrine expounded by his predecessor in another place. May I quote two sentences from the report of the address which he gave at that Conference:
It was against Government policy for the State to own and manage agricultural land unless there were special circumstances, and the Government believed that that job could better be done by private enterprise. They proposed to sell all agricultural land which the State was holding wherever it could sensibly be done.
The Press reported that this statement was received, not unnaturally in such a gathering, with "loud cheers," followed by "renewed cheers," and concluded by "prolonged applause."
§ I do not want to describe the new policy unfairly, and I hope that I shall be corrected if I unintentionally misrepresent it, but what I think it means is this. It is the intention of the Government to restore by sale to private owners all agricultural land now owned by the State, whether it has been acquired compulsorily (that is, of course, what we are dealing with, but it is part of a wider genus), or by consent, unless, as the Minister stated, there are "special circumstances" which justify its retention in public ownership. I take it that, as I have not been corrected by the Front Bench opposite, that is a correct summary of the position. The "special circumstances," into which I will not go now, were outlined by the Minister when he referred to these circumstances in the course of his speech in the Crichel Down debate in another place.
§ For my part, I deeply regret this doctrinaire application of private ownership to agriculture. Noble Lords opposite may deny that they are doctrinaires and say that experience has shown that private ownership is necessarily more efficient in agriculture than public ownership, but they have not produced one tittle of evidence to support this view. Do they maintain that the Agricultural Land Commission or the Commissioners of Crown Lands manage their properties less efficiently than do private landowners? If they do, I think we are entitled to know in what respects these bodies have neglected their duties. If they do not, surely the omnicompetence of private owners is just a dogma, like so many others we hear in the course 735 of political discussions. I do not believe there is any evidence that the present balance between private and public land is fundamentally wrong, or detrimental to agriculture. Indeed, the Government themselves seem to have been unaware, during the first three years of their existence, of the obliquity of holding so much land. Why did not they express their present opinion at an earlier date? They could have stated their intention of reversing the policy of managing public land after it had been approved during the time of the late Labour Government or during the period of office of its predecessor. But they did not act as soon as they had the power to act during the present Administration, nor did they pledge themselves to act in this way when they were in Opposition. I suggest that this belated conversion shows that they were satisfied with our policy until the doctrinaires in their own Party began to complain.
§ I am afraid that this sudden reversal of policy in relation to the disposal of agricultural land is bound to shake the confidence of farmers and to make them wonder how soon to expect a further dose of Party politics from the other side. So far as my Party is concerned, I should like to say this. We have not changed our views at all about the broad lines of agricultural policy. We still regard the essence of a sound policy, whether in relation to management or to farming, to be the largest possible increase in the production of corn and livestock. For that purpose, we believe in guaranteed markets and a reasonable stability for agricultural prices. We shall not, in any circumstances, follow the doctrinaire example of the present Government. We are not doctrinaires in any way, although we are often accused of holding such views in relation to the nationalisation of agricultural land. Whether we sell land now owned by the State or acquire land by purchase in private ownership will always depend on what we judge to be the best way of serving the public interest in food production.
§ I should like to comment briefly on the proposed sale of land now managed by the Agricultural Land Commission and to ask the Government, if they are able to do so, to give us a little more information. Have the Government any evidence 736 that the Agricultural Land Commission have not been managing their properties as efficiently and with as much sense of responsibility as any conscientious landowner? For example, have they received any complaints from the tenants? Have the Agricultural Land Commission been criticised by any of the county agricultural executives for bad estate management? Has any of their properties been placed under supervision? Have the Commission been operating at a loss? According to their last annual report—it is not the new one; I imagine that the new one will appear at any moment now—which goes only to March, 1953, and the statement of accounts there, the Commission did not make a profit but managed to "break even" that year. Of course, the Government will have much more recent figures but, if there is no evidence of this kind—I have asked a number of perfectly reasonable questions relating to obvious tests of the efficiency of the Agricultural Land Commission—then, surely, the decision to sell these properties cannot have been based on considerations of agricultural efficiency.
§ My second point is this. Was the decision to sell these properties of the Agricultural Land Commission taken after the tenants had been consulted? If they have been consulted, it would be useful to know whether most of them approve or disapprove. After all, the farmers on this land are the most important people, from the standpoint of food production. If they are dissatisfied, food production will suffer. Of course, I do not know anything about the views of the Land Commission tenants, but I would venture a guess, based on the sale of private estates of rather the same type. Most of the Land Commission's property is marginal or hill land, farmed by small men with very little capital. It is not the sort of land that is attractive as an investment, and if the small farmers have to raise a mortgage in order to buy their land, they are likely to be short of working capital and left without any cash margin to tide them over bad years. Your Lordships, many of whom own properties of this kind, will I am sure agree with this account of their position.
§ It was interesting to note, as I have no doubt that many noble Lords noted at the time, that when the late Duke of Devonshire's properties in Derbyshire were sold, the Derbyshire branch of the 737 National Farmers' Union protested against the high level of death duties which had obliged their owner to part with them. After all, this is perfectly natural and understandable. What a farmer, especially a small farmer, really needs of a good landlord is someone who can afford to spend money on repairs and improvements, and who has sufficient sense of responsibility when he has the money, to do so. This is exactly what the Agricultural Land Commission has been doing, so far as I am aware—although the noble Lord opposite may be able to give information that has not reached me—and has been doing very successfully since it was set up in 1948. I fear, judging from what is happening now, very generally, that any purchaser, whether he be the tenant himself or another farmer, will be unlikely to have sufficient funds to be able to equip and maintain these marginal farms at a high standard of efficiency. Most private landlords find it extremely difficult to maintain their properties at the level of efficiency at which they would like to maintain them. I am sure your Lordships would agree with that.
§ The next question I should like to ask the Government is whether they have yet decided how many farms are to be sold; how much land is going to be sold and whether any of the farms that are going to be sold are farms that are already improved or farms that are still requiring major improvements. I noticed in the last Annual Report that about 110,000 acres, or nearly half the land managed by the Agricultural Land Commission, consists of bare land or land in need of capital equipment. I very much hope that when the noble Earl or the noble Marquess replies, he will be able to say that land requiring major improvements will not be sold, because I am perfectly certain that the Agricultural Land Commission is in a much better position than almost any other landowner to finance such major improvements. The decision to sell was announced by the Minister in July, in his last speech, but no land has yet been put on the market. I imagine that the Government must have some idea by now of the amount of land involved.
§ Finally, I should like to know how soon the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Functions and Organisation 738 of the Agricultural Land Commission will be ready—the Minister announced the appointment of this Committee I think at the same time—and whether this Report will be published. I hope the Report will be published because it will help us to form a judgment about the work of the Land Commission. Your Lordships may say that I have rather emphasised the needs of agriculture. I have done so intentionally, because I am sure that many of your Lordships will put the other requirement, the need for justice to landowners, most forcibly and much more cogently than I should be able to do. But may I conclude with these words. We all want to see—and this applies to any Government—a British Government disposing of agricultural land in a way that is fair to individual landowners and in the best interests of agriculture. If noble Lords opposite, when they reply to this debate, can satisfy noble Lords on this side of the House that their new policy meets both these requirements, I shall certainly ask leave to withdraw my Amendments. My Lords, I beg leave to move the first Amendment standing in my name.
Lines 1 and 2 of the Motion, leave out ("it is desirable that Her Majesty's Government should establish the principle that") and insert ("the public interest in maximum food production shall remain the paramount consideration in the disposal of land acquired compulsorily by Government Departments and subject always to that consideration of.")—(The Earl of Listowel.)
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (EARL DE LA WARR)
My Lords, I am sure I am speaking for all your Lordships in saying that we are most grateful to both noble Lords for having raised these important matters. They are matters that are very much in our minds at the present moment. But both noble Lords have strayed a little far. I know that one of the great strengths of your Lordships' House is that we really have no Rules Of Order, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I adopt the only protection that Ministers sometimes can adopt, of not following noble Lords into all the extremely attractive avenues into which they have tried to lead us.
There is this essential and fundamental point that the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, has raised. He has raised a point of 739 conflict that I think worries us, and has worried us all through the ages—namely, the conflict between the interests of the community and the rights of the individual. On the one hand, we all know that in the past this country has misused and, to some extent, abused great areas of its land through lack of planning. Undoubtedly, there is a need for public services to be able to acquire land in a reasonable manner, in order to be able to carry out the statutory duties that have been placed upon them. There is also the question of the extent to which private owners should or should not benefit from public expense. On the other hand, there is the other side that is concerning us, I think at least as much, and it is one which certainly is concerning the noble Lord, Lord Teviot—namely, the extent to which the juggernaut of the State should be allowed to trample upon the rights of the individual. My Lords, there is the conflict, and naturally the words "Crichel Down" and "Pilgrim" essentially come into our minds as we mention this conflict. The problem must be faced, and I think we all feel that debates such as this in your Lordships' House can be of real value and of great importance and assistance to Governments who have to try to deal with such a question.
The Motion that is before us in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, deals with two separate and distinct points—first, what is to be done about land that has been requisitioned or bought compulsorily for Government purposes and is no longer needed; and secondly, the question of the price to be paid for land that is bought compulsorily. In the first part of his Motion the noble Lord referred to land which has been requisitioned—that is taken over temporarily by Government Departments—as though it were the same as land that had been bought outright. That is not the case, because requisitioned land has only been temporarily borrowed and almost always goes straight back to its former owner without question; therefore, I assume the noble Lord is mainly thinking of land that has been bought rather than requisitioned. Before leaving this question of requisitioning, may I give noble Lords figures concerning the amount of requisitioned agricultural land which has been returned? During the war, the acreage 740 of that type of land rose to about 500,000 acres. By 1949, it was down to 300,000 acres; by 1951, it was down to 60,000 acres and to-day it is 20,000 acres. In addition, about 12,000 acres have been bought outright. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, will admit that these figures indicate at least some retreat from the conditions of the Soviet State.
May I come to the point which I feel really concerns noble Lords and, indeed, most of us: the very different question of the disposal of land bought for a Government purpose and no longer needed for that purpose. In principle, Her Majesty's Government agree with the noble Lord; indeed, their new policy was announced in another place on July 20. Perhaps I may briefly recapitulate what was then said. It was laid down that in future agricultural land compulsorily bought by one Government Department which can still be used for agriculture will not be transferred to another Government Department unless that other Department has compulsory purchase powers and can justify using them for buying the land. Noble Lords may at first sight be surprised that we should ever permit land to be transferred to a second Government Department after the original acquiring Department no longer needs it; but if we did not allow transfers in this very limited type of case we might have the rather absurd situation in which one Government Department would release land only for it to be at once compulsorily acquired by another Government Department. That would seem very like a cat-and-mouse game played at the expense of the unfortunate citizen in the rôle of the mouse, the cat being national and local officials who would be quite unnecessarily employed in the transaction. But where there is no fresh need justifying the use of compulsory powers such land will be sold and will generally be offered back to the former owner or his successor unless there is some proper reason against doing so. In that event, it would be sold by public auction or some other suitable method, public auction being the most likely.
I have tried briefly to explain the distinction between requisitioned land and land that has been compulsorily purchased, and also to give some broad outline of the new policy as regards land which has been bought compulsorily. There may be certain special cases where 741 the new procedure cannot apply. The noble Lord in his Motion has recognised one. I thought the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, was a little unfair to the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, for Lord Teviot in his Motion did use the words: "save in cases of dispossession owing to bad husbandry." In general, however, it can be taken that agricultural land will be offered back to the owner unless there is some very proper reason for not doing so. That is, indeed, the policy now being pursued by all Government Departments.
Perhaps I should say something on the scope of this problem. We may not be sufficiently clear in our minds how exceptional this sort of occurrence is likely to be, particularly in the future, as we get further and further away from the war and have fewer and fewer of the relics of war—requisitions and purchases, for instance—to deal with. Government Departments buy land, as opposed to requisitioning land, only when they feel very sure that they will need it permanently. Such cases can therefore occur only where circumstances change suddenly and a Government Department finds it no longer needs some land originally purchased for permanent retention. This does not in any way affect the very important principle which the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, is bringing before your Lordships' House, but it may be useful to be clear in our minds as to the scope of the problem.
I will now turn to the second part of the Motion. First, regarding the designation of land for compulsory purchase under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, noble Lords will know that a plan has to be prepared by a local planning authority. That plan designates land as subject to compulsory acquisition for public purposes. The Minister of Housing cannot approve such a designation unless he is satisfied that the purchase is likely to take place within ten years generally or within seven years for agricultural land. That is to say, the designation procedure cannot be used to keep a threat of compulsory purchase hanging indefinitely over an owner's head. This is the point which the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, raised and which concerns a great many noble Lords. Many will feel that ten or even seven years is an extremely long time. If so, no doubt they will join the noble Lord in addressing themselves to this 742 point. Anything noble Lords say will naturally be extremely carefully considered, and although I cannot give any undertaking to introduce legislation now I should be safe in saying that we, happily, in this country do not live under the laws of the Medes and Persians. Noble Lords will want to bear in mind that it takes a very long time to plan some of these schemes, and it is also surprising how long it takes to give everyone affected by the schemes plenty of time to object at varying stages. In certain cases there are great numbers of objectors who want to intervene at different stages. Whether ten or seven years is the right period will no doubt be the subject of expressions of view by a number of your Lordships. Certainly, it would often be in the interests of owners themselves rather than of a Government Department that adequate time should be given for the making of objections. However, as I say, we shall be hearing your Lordships' views on that point.
This, I think, brings me to the question of how compensation should be assessed. That is a point which is touched upon in the second part of the noble Lord's Motion. Although many people have been worried for a long time about the uncontrolled use of land in the 19th century, I do not think it was until 1932 that the first attempt was made to control the use of land. A number of further attempts followed, working up to Lord Silkin's effort in 1947—his Town and Country Planning Act. This Act provided that land should be bought at existing use value. In theory, of course, this was the same as market value, because the Act tried to remove development value from the hands of private owners, so that all private land transactions should be based on existing use value. But, as your Lordships know, it did not entirely work like that. As the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor told us the other day in the course of his speech, we had two prices for land: one was the price paid by public authorities, and the other the price paid, as I think the noble and learned Viscount said, "under the counter."
That is the situation which this Government inherited and which we are trying to deal with in the new Town and Country Planning Bill. The noble and learned Viscount explained this fully, and 743 I do not see how I can usefully or properly add much to what he said—namely, that when the Bill becomes law, compensation for compulsory purchase will be improved from "existing use value only" to "existing use value plus the claim with interest." In addition, as the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor told us last week, a further payment will be available in certain cases where a claim under the 1947 Act could have been made but was not made. The now famous Pilgrim case was one of the "no claim" cases. People like Mr. Pilgrim fall into three groups: first, those whose land has already been bought either compulsorily or by agreement under shadow of compulsion; second, those whose land is still being bought; and, third, those whose land will be bought after the present Town and Country Planning Bill comes into operation. The new Bill will deal with those in Group 3.
For people in Group 1, I am afraid that nothing can be done, for we cannot introduce retrospective legislation. What, if anything, can be done for people in Group 2 at the time the Bill becomes law—incidentally Mr. Pilgrim was in this group—will depend largely on circumstances. One possibility is that if the process of acquisition has not gone too far, or work has not been done on the land, the local authority might start again under the new Act, and so bring the additional payment provision into play. Or, if the process has gone too far in that category, the local authority might apply to the Minister to sanction the expense of a supplementary payment. I can only assure your Lordships that applications of that character will be very sympathetically considered on their merits by my right honourable friend. As your Lordships already know, the case of Mrs. Pilgrim is being dealt with on that basis.
I am not sure that in dealing with this question of the price to be paid I am really acting as I should. After all, the subject was fully debated in your Lordships' House on the Second Reading of the new Bill only a week ago, and the Government's proposals received the full approval of the House. Of course, there remain the concluding stages of the Bill, and it would seem to me that then, rather than now, we should discuss 744 possible variations which your Lordships may feel it is necessary or proper to make. I certainly feel that I should not go any further than I have already done on that point.
Perhaps I may now deal briefly with Lord Listowel's Amendment. Let me say at once that I do not quarrel with what I think he really wants to say, but I do not like the way he said it. For that reason I am afraid we cannot accept his Amendment worded as it is. Of course, we are all agreed that we have to go on making the best possible use of our land. There is no question of our being able to let up in that direction. That is almost too obvious to need saying. But, as worded, the noble Earl's Amendment speaks of "maximum production" and "the paramount consideration." I think he is disregarding the need for making the most of our resources. He is disregarding the real problem which exists to-day in relation to our food supplies. Surely, to-day, we have to think of the cost and the quality of production as well as how much we produce, and I do not think anyone now would contend that we should work on the old war-time basis—namely, that cost did not matter and quantity was the only thing that did. Our aim then was maximum production irrespective of cost. A policy of maximum production irrespective of cost or quality would certainly not commend itself to us as the right policy for this country to follow to-day. I am afraid, therefore, that we cannot accept the noble Earl's Amendment, worded as it is.
I wish to say to him very firmly, however, that the need for efficient food production, and for making the best possible use of our land, will continue to be one of the main considerations that the Minister of Agriculture will take into account when dealing with the resale of land that has been compulsorily acquired. The noble Earl has asked me two or three specific questions about the disposal of land that is managed by the Agricultural Land Commission. As he said he is already aware, the Minister wants to sell agricultural land he owns whenever it is sensible to do so. I think I should ask the noble Earl to keep those words in his mind. The Minister hopes to be able to say more upon this topic in the near future, and I do not think your Lordships will expect me to anticipate 745 the statement which he will make. One thing I can say is that we are entirely satisfied with the Commission's management of land. We are satisfied that their work in this connection is of a very high standard. Land owned by the Ministry is to be sold not because the Commission do not manage it very well but because this Government believes that, in general—and I am speaking in no doctrinaire sense—agricultural land is best managed by private enterprise. The noble Earl asked me whether any land that the Commission were farming was under supervision. The Commission do not do much direct farming, and when they do they farm as well as they manage. Of the tenants on land which is under their control, only two are under supervision. Both of these cases are exceptional and do not reflect in any way the management of land by the Commission.
I am aware that there are a number of points upon which I may not have touched, but I have tried to deal as fully as I think your Lordships would wish me to do with the points that have been raised. As the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack undertook—and I repeat his assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Teviot—a close watch will be kept on this problem of compulsory purchase price. I am afraid I cannot promise more than that. I assure noble Lords that my noble Leader, who is to speak later in the debate, will deal with any points I have left over.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Earl for his reply, but I did ask whether he could say anything about the timing of the Report of the two-man Committee inquiring into the work of the Land Commission. If he cannot reply, perhaps another Government spokesman will be able to reply later on.
§ 3.53 p.m.
LORD HARDINGE OF PENSHURST
My Lords, although I have been a Member of this House for ten years, this is the first time on which I have ventured to address your Lordships. Indeed, I was hoping to follow the example of a former noble Lord whom I had the pleasure of hearing make his maiden speech at the age of ninety-four, but the Motion of 746 the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, has roused me to premature activity, and with all trepidation I ask your Lordships for the indulgence which you so generously show to maiden speakers.
The purpose of my intervention, which will be brief, is to support the Motion, in particular the last part, which refers to the acquisition of land by Government Departments and other statutory bodies. The Crichel Down Inquiry revealed a number of weaknesses in the system of land disposal, and I venture to think that there are just as many weaknesses in the system of land acquisition, to which attention should be paid. I was glad to hear the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, say that something of that kind might happen. Most of us agree that, in normal circumstances, the interests of the individual must give way to the requirements of the public and the wellbeing of the community; but the person who is affected is entitled to expect a fair deal, and if the State feels obliged to remove somebody's home from him, it should not subject him also to other financial or material loss. That, I believe, is what is happening in a great many cases to-day.
I am thinking particularly of the system of designation. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, referred, rather lightheartedly I thought, to periods of seven or ten years. That is a very long time. I feel that some other solution should be found, and I think it probably could be found. The ideal solution would be for the State immediately to buy out an owner after the designation order has been made, but I understand that there are great administrative, and no doubt political, difficulties about such a course. In the circumstances, I think that the compromise put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, is probably the best that we can hope for.
There is another type of case which, so far as I can make out, would not be covered by any such guarantee—I refer to those cases where detailed plans have to be laid before Parliament and approved before they can be put into operation. I myself have had a slight experience of this sort of thing with the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. I was the owner of a small property in the North of Scotland, and one day the Board's surveyors appeared and revealed that the scheme which they were surveying would involve the flooding of my 747 house, my stalker's house and all my ancillary buildings. Of course, the market value of that estate vanished: it became entirely worthless. At the same time it was impossible to get any kind of compensation until the whole detailed plan had gone through its many phases and was finally laid before Parliament and received the confirmation of the Secretary of State. In my case, though I co-operated in every possible way, that process took seven years. All that time, of course, the property was quite unsaleable; and, curiously enough, during all that time I was expected to go on paying rates and taxes on the property, although circumstances compelled me to abandon it three or four years ago. I can speak about this matter now with all propriety because the survey was made in 1947 and about a month ago I received payment.
Another slightly disturbing feature about cases of this kind, and certainly about the Hydro-Electric Board, is that there is no tribunal or individual to whom one can appeal, or before whom one can lay one's grievances, although nobody could have been kinder or more sympathetic than the noble Earl, Lord Home. But he always made it clear that as the Minister had to function in a quasi-judicial capacity, he could no nothing about expediting the work of the Hydro-Electric Board. Therefore, I was left entirely at their mercy; and I must say that they seemed to be strangely indifferent to the hardship they were causing me. I have no doubt that there are many other people in exactly the same position as myself, and I feel that some solution ought to be found for this problem also. I wonder whether, in cases of this kind, it would not be possible for a definite interval to be fixed after which the full compensation terms would be paid, so that people were not kept hanging about waiting for payment for so long.
All this leads to a very big question, which is the relationship between the individual and the State. I do not switch on the Third Programme as often as, no doubt, I ought to, but I made a point of listening a little time ago to an address given by Professor Hamson, of Cambridge University, on the Crichel Down Inquiry. In his address he drew atten- 748 tion (and here, if I may, I will quote his words) to thedesperate state in which the normal subject, the ordinary citizen, you and I, find ourselves to-day in England when confronted with the powers vested in a Minister, powers which actually are exercised by the delegate of a delegate of a delegate, or by a collective anonymity which has as little soul as it has human face.He added:The capital revelation of the Crichel Down Inquiry is how entirely defenceless the normal citizen is in England to-day against a Ministry acting within the ambit of its enormous powers: powers which give to a single Ministry a more arbitrary dominion over our liberties and our property than was ever claimed by any Stuart King.That is a forthright statement, but I do not think it is a grave exaggeration. The professor then went on to remind us that in France there exists a tribunal known as the Conseil d'Etat, which is there for the express purpose of hearing complaints made by private individuals against Government officials. He went on to say:We"—that is, the subjects—require the redress of such of our grievances as may by impartial inquiry be found to be just. We demand the possibility of justice even against a Government Department acting within the ambit of its powers. It is of the bare possibility of this justice that there is in England to-day the gravest default.My Lords, I feel that that puts the case in a nutshell. It may well be that, in the course of time, if interference with the individual increases, as it very likely will, the people will wish for some kind of tribunal corresponding to the Conseil d'Etat to be set up. But that is looking some way ahead, and I certainly do not expect the Government to contemplate setting up a Star Chamber to-morrow especially for this purpose. I do, however, consider that the proposal contained in the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, provides an alleviation of what is at present a real injustice, and therefore I warmly support it.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, first it is my pleasure and privilege to congratulate the last speaker on an excellent maiden speech. I sincerely hope that we shall hear him on many future occasions, and that he will not delay his next speech until he reaches the age of ninety-four, 749 otherwise I am afraid that many of us will not be here to listen to him. He has spoken from experience, and a somewhat bitter experience, and for that reason I hope that the Government will take full cognisance of what he has said. As I say, we hope to hear the noble Lord again on many future occasions.
I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has dealt with one or two points arising from the Motion before your Lordships. On reading the Motion, it appeared to me that there might have been some confusion of mind, particularly in regard to the first part, in which the words "requisitioned" and "acquired" are mentioned. I am glad that the noble Earl has cleared up these points about requisitioning. During the war I had a good deal to do with requisitioning, and we always held the belief that when property was requisitioned full compensation would be paid to the person from whom it was requisitioned, either the owner or the tenant, and that eventually, unless the property was acquired by the State, it would be returned at the end of hostilities, or at some later date, to the person from whom it had been requisitioned.
The question of acquiring opens up a different field altogether, in my view. In a short speech I want to support my noble friend Lord Listowel, who has moved an Amendment to the Motion. Up to the present time this discussion has been on friendly lines, and I have no hesitation in saying that when a matter of this sort comes before your Lordships' House the discussion is always conducted on those lines. The subject before your Lordships this afternoon is of great importance to this country. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, on bringing it before the House, because it has given the Government an opportunity of adding to the statements which we have already had of the policy which they are preparing to carry out, so far as returning land acquired by the State, for the purposes of the State, to the original owners is concerned. It has been said by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, that the Government are concerned with efficient production from our agricultural land. That may be so, but in my view the holding of land by the Government, or by a Government Department, should mean the maximum of production from that 750 particular land. At the present time, we in this country must hold as our first priority that we should use our land efficiently; that we should retain its fertility and produce the greatest volume of foodstuffs that we can. We often talk in this House in terms of defence, and are concerned with the massing of the weapons of war. To-day we must be concerned with the massing of vast food stocks and fool supplies in this country.
With regard to the return of property to the original owner we cannot exercise a rigid rule. I hope that the Government—and I feel certain that they will—will treat every case upon its merits. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, referred to the question of the transfer of land from one Department to another, and told us that, as a general rule, there could not in future be a transfer from one Government Department to another. I should like to put the point as to what will happen in the case of a county council which requires smallholdings. If a property held by the Government is about to be returned to the original owners, or their successors, is there to be no transfer at all to the county council, through the Minister of Agriculture, or to any other Department, in order that that particular property may be used for the purposes of smallholdings for which it may be desirable that it should be used? With the terrific demand in this country at the present time for smallholdings, I think that if there is any land in Government hands which could be used for that purpose, it should not be offered back as a matter of ordinary routine to the original owners.
There is another point which I wish to put to the Government. What control I have the Government over the original owner of the property, or a successor, that if the property is handed back it wilt not be sold for some other purposes not compatible with efficient food production and agricultural use? It is quite possible, so far as I can understand, for the original owner to resell to anybody he wishes; so the State may be releasing from State ownership lands of which we as a nation can make use, handing them back to a private individual who is not concerned with what I say is the prior need, the efficient production of food. In conclusion, I want to say just this—because I promised to be brief. I am certain that not only we on this side of 751 the House but Members of the Government also, are concerned that we should do nothing to frustrate anyone from conferring what I believe is the greatest benefit that many of us can bestow upon this nation; that is, putting our hands to the efficient and maximum production of foodstuffs for the nation.
§ 4.13 p.m.
My Lords, as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, speaks for the Government, I hope that I may be allowed to challenge the remark with which he began his speech, that there were no Rules of Order in this House. As your Lordships know, there are Rules of Order which are contained in our Standing Orders: they are also contained in the longstanding customs of the House, which have not been written down. And, it is a regrettable fact that they are often broken, sometimes with impunity.
Coming to the Motion, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, for his maiden speech, because he said a great many things that I wished to say, and he said them a great deal better than I could possibly have put them. I hope there will be many occasions when he will do me the same service. Looking at the Motion introduced by my noble friend Lord Teviot, there is one phrase which I should like to see inserted. That is at the end of line 6, where I should like to insert the wordsat a price based upon the price paid for it.When land is compulsorily bought, it is bought on a valuation by the district valuer, who is an Inland Revenue official and who is bound, of course, by the directions that he receives from his head-quarters. I am going to urge that in some ways he is not a valuer at all, although I know that he keeps himself in touch with markets. I am going to say one or two things which suggest that he is not always a very good valuer. To give your Lordships one case, my mother, unfortunately, died in 1940, and I succeeded to her house in Gloucester Place. It was the only house which had not been badly bombed, and I returned it for death duties at a nil valuation. The district valuer refused to accept that, and said that the house must have a market. I inquired, both of him and on the market itself, what that market would be, 752 and I was told that if I would pay three years' rent I might get the house taken off my hands—that is to say, the market price of the house was minus three years' purchase. As your Lordships know—those of you who are conversant with the leasehold law of England—that would not have relieved me entirely of liability in respect of that house. I therefore answered the district valuer that, if he would show me the market, I would sell in that market and pay duty on what I received. The controversy went on for a considerable time, and I think they thought that I might leave them in a worse difficulty, for eventually that suggestion was accepted.
I am connected with an institution which is nation-wide and which does work that would otherwise have to be done at far greater expense by Her Majesty's Government. We twice had to remove during the war, and at the end of the war we tried to re-establish ourselves in quarters which were fit and proper for carrying on our undertaking. We tried to acquire first one property, then another; but in every case we were unable to do so because the district valuer put on the property a price far lower than that at which we expected and were willing to purchase, and at which we could have made the property useful. In every case, therefore, being so bound, we were unable to purchase, and had the mortification of seeing those properties acquired, in every case. I think, by other institutions which were not so bound.
The other day I became anxious about expressions of opinion on valuations by great authorities in this field, and I was so perturbed that I went to the Surveyors' Institute, of which I am honorary Fellow—I passed some of their examinations in my youth, in connection with this business of valuation. I asked the highest authority I could see whether the principles of valuation had been altered, or whether the Institute still held to the old principles of valuation: that any man who is a competent valuer values with respect to a market, and that if he puts a value on anything he will indicate the market in which that value can be obtained. The one thing a good valuer hates is valuing a hypothetical subject. The answer I received was: "It is perfectly true that principles of valuation have not changed, but from time to time 753 Parliament has by Statute arranged certain assessments which are called valuations, and we are often asked to value properties on these rather difficult bases and under these rather difficult hypotheses. None of us likes doing it, but we have to do it because these assessments are required by Statute." I have protested against that practice in Bills since 1935, when I protested against the form in which the Sheep Stocks Valuation (Scotland) Act was ultimately carried by my noble friend Lord Thankerton. I had the Surveyors' Institute fully behind me at the time when I made the protest.
These valuations must be regarded rather in the nature of assessments than of valuations. It is perfectly true that Parliament, by Statute, calls them valuations—I think to put a better colour on the matter—but these official valuations are largely in the nature of assessments. Therefore, I think that my noble friend Lord Teviot's Motion would be improved by the addition of words to the effect that, where a man's land has been acquired at an assessed price, he should be entitled to regain his land at a price based upon that assessment and should not, unless he so desired, have to go into the market and buy it at auction. For that reason, I entirely support the last part of what my noble friend has put in his Motion. I should he very glad if it could be made possible, when people have land requisitioned, that they should receive the full market price.
There is one other point that I should like to mention. It has already been brought up to-day; it was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, and deserves attention—I refer to the great injury that is done to any proprietor or any subject when a local authority or a Government Department shows signs of wishing to acquire land. Let me give your Lordships an example. In a case that came to my attention the other day, a local authority sent for a person whom they thought was the proprietor of a house and they said, "Do you wish to sell your house?" He said, "No, I do not. I bought that house, which is a suitable house, in order that, when I die, I may be sure that my wife has a home in which to live." So the local authority said "Oh, well, we want it." The owner of the house said, "Well, I do not see how I can ever feel safe 754 again." The local authority said, "Oh, well, go away. We will not press you at this time."
Here is a proprietor of what was a very pleasant and desirable house. Of what value is that house in the market now? There has only been question and answer; there has been no overt offer to buy; and yet, if he sells the house, he sells it under the threat of compulsory requisition by the local authority. There is no place that I know to which he can have recourse for compensation for the loss in which that short conversation has involved him. I think that is an utterly unsatisfactory state of things. I could go on and make the situation sound even worse than I have done, but I prefer to leave the matter there. I think that that is enough to show that the situation with regard to compulsory acquisition and acquirement of property by Government Departments and local authorities is not satisfactory and should be amended. In particular, I should very much like Her Majesty's Government to set up a Commission of competent people to inquire into the whole practice of the official valuation of lands and heritages. It would be a most interesting inquiry, and I think there would be some extraordinarily interesting evidence.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat will allow me to join with him and with the noble Lord who preceded him in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, on, his excellent maiden speech. I know what an ordeal such occasions are. My own is vivid in my memory. I sincerely hope that he will listen to the pleas of the noble Lords who have followed him and not keep us waiting another ten years before we have another excellent contribution from him. When I first saw both the Motion and the two Amendments on the Paper. I must say I came to the conclusion that there were grouped together in these documents quite a number of different propositions of totally different values. For that reason I rather hope that, after the excellent debate we have been having, this matter will not be put to a vote in either sense.
May I first deal, as is sometimes convenient, with the Amendments? The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, made what perhaps 755 he will forgive me for saying was a very handsome speech in support of a very shabby Amendment. The strength of the case of my noble friend, Lord Teviot, as I understand it, is ultimately a plea to the moral sense of the nation. Quite honestly, that was accepted in the speech of the noble Earl, and I think it would be fair to say so; but, in answer to the Amendment as it appears on the Paper, I am bound to say that one does not answer a plea for justice by a cheap, popular, economic slogan. I speak for myself, at any rate, without in any way derogating from the need for maximum food production in this country, and I should say that the paramount consideration in dealings between the Crown and the subject ought to be a consideration of justice, and that, even if sometimes it costs a little food, in ordinary circumstances, justice and morality should prevail.
If the wording of the first Amendment were accepted, that would not be the case, although I frankly concede that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in his speech adopted a very different and, if he will allow me to say so, far more honourable attitude than the words to which he had committed himself in print. There is, if I may say so with respect, something, else wrong with this Amendment. We can be the victims of slogans. Primarily, this is not an agricultural debate because, with all due respect to the noble Earl, a great deal of this land, perhaps even the greater part of this land, is not agricultural land at all; but, even in regard to agricultural land, you can talk too much about maximum production. What one has to aim at is the best use of the land having regard to all kinds of considerations, of which maximum production is only one.
May I pass on from that to criticise something which the noble Earl said. It may or may not be the case—we will differ about it—that the State is a good landowner for the purposes of securing good agricultural use of land; but you are not going to get that, one way or the other, by the utilisation of the Agricultural Land Commission. Primarily, the Agricultural Land Commission is a body to pick up from other Government Departments which have acquired agricultural estates of doubtful value for different purposes, such as bombing ranges (as 756 was the case in Crichel Down) properties which require rehabilitation and which therefore are not particularly good instruments for the best agricultural use of land. If the noble Earl is going to tell us that the State ought to own agricultural land, that is something about which we shall differ, but I am sure he will agree with me, on reflection, about this: that we cannot rely very much for agricultural production on the utilisation of the discarded remnants of Government-acquired properties which were originally acquired for purposes quite different from agriculture.
I come to one final observation about the first Amendment. I think we are all rather bedevilled by the Crichel Down case which excited us all very much but was the cause of much darkening of counsel at various times. The real truth about maximum food production in agricultural land, as I see it, is this. The late Minister of Agriculture did a very real disservice to clear thinking on the subject when he suggested that by keeping a thing in the hands of public authority you were really serving the purpose of maximum food production. The plain and absolute truth about that case, and most others, is that the Government, when they find themselves in possession of land, ought to act as a prudent landowner should, and in that particular case they ought to have offered the land to those who wanted to buy it. If they had done so, the gentleman who instituted the inquiry, Commander Marten, would have got his land without all this nonsense, and it would, in fact, as everybody can see who has read the Report, have redounded to the best agricultural use to which the land could have been put. The mistake which was made in that case, and I think is made in the Amendment, consists in supposing that two Government officials having lunch together in Pall Mall and inventing some perfectly fantastic experiment of erecting expensive farm buildings on a rabbit rundown, will ultimately produce more food than the neighbouring landowner who, in the ordinary course, would have paid good money to the Crown for getting the land back. Really that is all I have to say about the Amendment.
I now turn to the Motion of my noble friend Lord Teviot. I hope he will allow 757 me to say that I think it was a mistake, as I think the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr said, to combine in one proposition requisitioned land and land compulsorily acquired by purchase, because it seems to me that quite different considerations apply to those cases. In the case of requisitioned land—that is to say, land taken temporarily for the purposes of the war emergency or the transitional emergency which succeeded it—there must be an almost absolute moral duty on the part of the Crown to return it to the subject when it is no longer wanted for the emergency. I was glad to hear the noble Earl accept that as a principle; but I do think he has been slightly misinformed as to the extent to which that duty is being disregarded in the case of requisitioned land. I could give details of an example, which I will not do, solely because I advised about it professionally and therefore I do not want it to be identified; but I can give details of an example which I will describe in general terms having regard to the changes in Government policy from time to time.
A valuable estate, which consisted not primarily of agricultural land but of a dwelling-house of great historical interest and cultural amenity, was requisitioned for war purposes somewhere about 1943, against the protest of the owner at that time, it so happening that the owner had designed to give this house either to the nation or to some other public body on the occasion of his death, so that it would become a part of the national heritage. The war passed on and came to an end. A change of policy was announced after the war by the Government of the day. At that time I can remember, because I was in another place, that the change of policy was welcomed as a step forward. They said they were going to discontinue the requisitioning of new tracts of land, and in order to help them to that end the Government announced a policy that when one Government Department ceased to want land already in requisition they would first offer it to all the other Government Departments to see whether they wanted to continue it in requisition before it was handed back to the owner.
Of course, in a sense that was a very real step forward, because everybody else was delivered from the danger of new requisitioning; but it imposed a real hardship 758 on the owners of land whose properties were already in temporary requisition, supposedly for the purposes of the emergency. And when you are dealing with a situation in which the end of the war is nearly ten years away, to find properties of that kind of distinction or value still under requisition—that is to say, not compulsorily acquired, but still under requisition for temporary purposes—is something more than hardship; it is something like an injustice. In this particular case, it was more than an injustice; it was a very damaging thing to the national heritage, because during the period of requisition it so happened that the authorities thought it right to grant the local authority of the district the right to erect on part of this valuable and historic property a sewage farm which it will be very difficult and rather expensive to get rid of when the Government come to discharge the duty of derequisitioning the land and handing it back to its former owner.
I say to the Government—I understand they do not seriously dispute it in principle, because the noble Earl was generous in what he said about this—that the time has now come to bring requisition, as such, to an end. Requisition was designed for a temporary emergency. Let them either purchase land under their compulsory powers, if they want to keep their hold on it, or else derequisition it and give it back to the owners. It is not really any longer tolerable that owners who had their land requisitioned at some point of time during the war should go on suffering an added hardship and injustice in order to preserve the rest of the community from liability for the requisition. The thing must be wound up one way or another, and I hope that the Government will give us some hope that they will do so.
That leads me to the very different question of land which is the subject of compulsory acquisition. There, I must say that I am much less at one with my noble friend Lord Teviot than I am on the question of requisition. I do not want to enter into the ethics of compulsory acquisition, but some noble Lords this afternoon have talked as if it were something new. One must bear in mind that the compulsory acquisition of land for various public purposes has been part of the law of this country since the Lands Clauses Act, 1845. The ground has been fairly well dug over in the 109 years since 759 that Act was passed, and successive Statutes, including the Acquisition of Land Act, 1919, have told us something about the method of assessing compensation.
I do not think there is very much more to say about it than those successive Statutes have told us. When land is compulsorily acquired by purchase, the idea is to dispossess the owner entirely and permanently, and, ordinarily speaking, the purchase has that effect. In the case of Crichel Down, which again tends to darken counsel, the purchase was made long before the war, in 1937, for use as a bombing range; and at the time when that was done I have no doubt that nobody expected the land to come back to agricultural use. The great majority of compulsorily acquired properties do, in fact, become public property, and stay public property for an indefinite period, perhaps for centuries; and to talk in connection with that kind of transaction of leaving a residual right in the hands of the compulsory vendor or his successors in title to something over and above the compensation which he received at the time of purchase, seems to me to be approaching perilously near to the impracticable.
Even if it were practicable, I doubt whether it would be desirable; because when you come to consider the right of the original vendor, it is much more like a right inherent in the ownership of the estate, rather than something which is inherent in the vendor himself. Commander Marten's right in Crichel Down, if it was a right, would have been just as good from the moral point of view if he had bought that property from the vendor as it was because he happened to succeed by inheritance and marriage. As I see it, the right consisted in the fact that it was really insane that the land at Crichel Down should go to anybody else but the adjoining owners, and it was doubly insane because the adjoining owners were perfectly prepared to pay a fair price for it. It did not consist of some abstract, moral right in the original vendor to get back that of which he was compulsorily dispossessed an indefinite period of years before.
Therefore, frankly, I think that no Government will be successful in granting as a right, the right to repossession of 760 land compulsorily acquired, once and for all under the Lands Clauses Acts, the Defence (Land) Acts, the Acquisition of Land Act, 1919, or any of the subsequent Acts.
What emerges from this discussion is that when, for some reason or other, the Government wants to get rid of that land, it should, instead of inventing some fanciful reason for keeping it in Government ownership, act like any other sensible owner who wants to get rid of land. I am not wedded, as the Motion is, to public auction. It is not in every case a proper way to get rid of land of which you want to dispose. In the case of Crichel Down it would have been much more sensible to write to the adjoining owners. When the Government wants to get rid of land, let it dispose of it to the highest bidder at a reasonable price, and not fancy that, because it is the Government of the country, it has a greater responsibility than an ordinary responsible landowner would have in the circumstances. That is the source from which all this nonsense seems to derive: the idea that these casually acquired pieces of land have some magical property so long as they are in the hands of the Administration, and not when they are sent back to private ownership.
That leads me to the last point in the Motion, the question of compensation. Here there are two entirely different questions for consideration. The first is the ordinary measure of compensation which ought to be paid to owners of compulsorily acquired property. That ought to be the full price and I cannot see any reason why it should ever be anything else, although I venture respectfully to question the phrase "market price," which is much more suitable to commodities than to particular tracts of land. You cannot always have a market in anything so individual as a particular landed estate. The full value as between willing seller and willing purchaser must always be the test. It ought to be, and it is under the Acquisition of Lands Act and other Acts. Then, superimposed on that general proposition, comes the special question of the designation of land, sometimes, as we have heard, for seven, sometimes for ten, years under the Town and Country Planning Act. Until recently there certainly was a very real grievance in the restriction of compensation to the existing use value. Again a 761 recent case tends to darken counsel. The Government in this particular matter has been both reasonable and generous, and I certainly do not want to say anything which would make it less probable that the dependants of the unhappy man who lost his life should get adequate compensation from the local authority; but it seems to me that a good deal of unjustified attack was directed towards that local authority. After all, we were told that they did not know the significant fact: that the land had been acquired from a private vendor at a price which, having regard to the lapse of claim, it certainly ought not to have commanded. Had that fact been known, I can well conceive that the local authority would not have pursued its compulsory purchase at all and this man's property would have been safe to him. It is altogether unjustified to call a local authority "robbers" because they were in fact paying under a compulsory purchase the price which represented the actual value of the property owing to the lapse of the claim.
My Lords, is it not the case that the local authority wished to pay more than the current use value and referred the matter to the appropriate Department, and was refused permission?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think in fact they wanted to, after they discovered the facts, when it was too late to go on. I am glad my noble friend interrupted me, for that makes the case for that authority still stronger. In Parliament, where one is absolutely privileged, one wants to speak with a great sense of responsibility, but I must say that the person who really went wrong in that case was the person who sold the land in the first place, with a lapsed claim, at a price which the land could have legitimately commanded only had the claim not lapsed. I do not suggest it was done other than innocently, but that was the origin of the fault. Let no one who shares, as I do, the feeling of noble Lords that the individual is very much at the mercy of the State, allow that kind of feeling (which is legitimate and justified) operate to commit an injustice against local authorities or undermine the confidence which people legitimately feel in their integrity and fairness when they are fully apprised of the facts. For those reasons, I fully 762 sympathise with all that is in my noble friend's Motion and agree with the wording of most of it, but I hope that when the matter has been fully discussed the Motion and Amendment will not be pressed to a Division.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, when this debate started I felt that we were about to listen to one of the old-fashioned Party political issues, in which we could have slanged one another and given our respective points of view. One felt that this was to be a debate between landlordism and the use of commodities grown on the land. Fortunately, as one would expect from your Lordships' House, this debate has reached a very high level, certainly very much higher than I had thought it would, and is one, therefore, in which we must be careful in the points of view expressed. I felt that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House might have been rather embarrassed by the fact that a noble Lord on his side raised this particular issue and would have preferred that the matter were not raised at all. Front our point of view there appears to be little to be said. I am glad that emphasis has been laid on the difference between requisition and compulsory purchase.
The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has given an instance that is almost parallel to an experience of my own, A very large and ancient house, with extensive grounds, given by a former Member of your Lordships' House for the purposes of an adult residential college, was requisitioned at the outbreak of war. One would have hoped that by now it could have been de-requisitioned. Her Majesty's Government spent something like £500,000 on that estate, destroying the amenities by the erection of a large number of un-slightly buildings that were necessary for war purposes at the lime. Then the body which originally requisitioned the building either derequisitioned it or had it requisitioned from them by some other Government Department. This other Department then ceased to occupy it, and we were told that the whole building was ready for complete derequisition. One would have imagined that would have meant that the whole of the estate and buildings would be restored to the original users and that the place would be put into its original condition. But, 763 for reasons which we are told are less substantial than the original, a good part of the building still there is needed and therefore the derequisitioning has been only partial. The body occupying this college have said that, in the circumstances, they will raise no objection: they recognise a national need. So at the moment, while the owners are still using the college and a small part of the surrounding grounds, the greater part is still requisitioned and remains a very bad eyesore.
On the compulsory purchase and acquisition of properties, perhaps we are apt to overlook the fact that local authorities are not happy at having to resort to compulsory action. It is not a cheap method of acquiring property: it is a very complicated and time-absorbing method. They would prefer that bargains should be arrived at by mutual agreement, because in the long run the actual purchase price is arrived at, not arbitrarily by the local authority but by valuers who presumably are in touch with market conditions and who put upon the property a price which may be lower than the original seller wished but is certainly higher, in most cases, than the local authority wish to pay. So that, in that sense, compulsory acquisition by a local authority is not something which they wish to undertake; it is something which is forced upon them by the fact that, owing to resistance—and not merely monetary resistance; not infrequently there is sentimental resistance to parting with certain properties—they have to go through this long and complicated procedure.
When we come to the question of the growing of food, whilst it may be true that the position to-day is a little less difficult than it was in 1952, as has been said in another place, I think we ought always to bear in mind that, in addition to the pressing need to grow as much food as we can in our own country for our own consumption, there is within the country a conflict between the needs of industry and the needs of agriculture, so far as the use of land is concerned. Therefore, very careful consideration is needed as to when land should be sterilised because of industrial needs, and when land should be used for the purpose for which 764 we prefer it should be used. I sometimes think that we have to be reminded that the primary purpose of growing food is not to sell it but to eat it. While it is true that that demands a certain system of distribution, we should never lose sight of the fact that we in this country are so vulnerably placed in the matter of food growing that we should be doubly careful as to whether or not we can cease Ito use our land for that purpose.
Does it matter whether food-growing land is returned to private ownership or is retained by the Government? I am not saying that the Government should go ahead now and either confiscate or purchase all the land that it is possible to use. That is a problem which might be discussed at some future date. What I say is this: that in so far as the Government to-day do, for various reasons, own a very large amount of agricultural land, they should retain the ownership of that land and should, like any other owner of land, see that it is cultivated and developed by the best possible type of agriculturists, in order that the best use and the maximum produce of that land can be enjoyed by the people of this country. That does not seem to me to be an unreasonable kind of request to make. I feel that if that attitude were adopted towards land already owned by the Government a good deal of this Party political conflict would disappear.
§ 4.55 p.m.
My Lords, it is not my intention to detain you for more than a brief moment. There is but one general point that I should like to make. It is one that has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, towards the end of his excellent maiden speech. To my mind the most remarkable feature of the Crichel Down Inquiry was that the Inquiry ever took place at all. Such inquiries, as your Lordships know, are extremely rare. So that, to me, the lesson of the Crichel Down affair is its demonstration of the powerlessness and defencelessness of the ordinary citizen against the despotic and arbitrary powers which are to-day wielded by Departments of State. There is nothing in the Crichel Down Report to suggest that what transpired was not in the normal course of business, and there is no reason whatever to suppose that the Report does not give a 765 perfectly fair picture of the manner in which matters of this kind are ordinarily handled in Government Departments.
The fact that the Report is exceptional does not mean that the facts it reveals are in any way exceptional. The Ministry of Agriculture deal annually, I imagine, with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of applications concerning land development; and it is, I should say, a reasonable guess that many of these must have been dealt with in a manner very similar to that in which the Crichel Down affair was handled. And are the Ministry of Agriculture unique in Whitehall? Is it not fair to suppose that the methods of other Government Departments are similar in their nature? Does anyone, in fact, doubt that the Crichel Down affair, from being an isolated phenomenon, is a fair and typical example of bureaucracy in action?
So it seems to me that this Resolution, inasmuch as it merely advocates the declaration of a certain line of policy, tends in a manner to obscure the more fundamental issue. The remedy which it seems to me is required is that it should somehow be made possible for an ordinary citizen to bring before some impartial body the act of a Government Department and require its public justification. We have entered upon an age of public control, but it does not seem to me that we have made any adjustment of our legal and constitutional processes to protect the rights and liberties of private citizens in the new circumstances which now prevail. There is in this country no process or machinery of any kind by which a member of the public can, as of right, test by judicial process an act done—or misdone—by a Ministry, pursuant to powers granted by Parliament. This, it seems to me, is a fundamental circumstance which requires to be remedied.
The only thing that an aggrieved citizen can do when a Government Department seeks to confiscate his land is to have his case heard at an inquiry at which the confiscating Department, as well as being defendant, is also arbitrator. Such inquiries cannot be described as judicial proceedings. Indeed, they are merely part of the administrative process—as, indeed, they were described by the noble and learned Lord then sitting on the Woolsack, when these matters were debated in your Lordships' House some 766 three or four months ago. There is no appeal from such inquiry, and in the last resort the aggrieved citizen can only have his Member of Parliament ask a Question in another place. But a Minister cannot be cross-examined on the Floor of the House—and it is not difficult for the Department which is attacked to draft plausible replies to Questions and supplementary questions. The private citizen to-day is defenceless against a bureaucracy which for the past thirty years and more has steadily accumulated vast arbitrary powers—for let us make no mistake: those who wield these powers are the same as those who draft the Statutes which originate them.
I shall be reminded that the public interest must be paramount. I agree. But surely the public interest is concerned also with preserving the freedom of the subject under the rule of law. I shall be told of the many difficulties and impracticabilities of making it possible for a private citizen judicially to challenge the legitimate actions of the Executive; but as the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, reminded us, in France a citizen can do that very thing. And I believe it to be no less than the urgent requirement of the day that in this country we should evolve some equivalent machinery for deciding disputes between Government Departments and individual citizens. If we do not, the liberty of the subject under the rule of law, hardly won through past centuries, if it does not disappear will be certainly and strangely diminished. I beg to support the Resolution.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, I do not want to traverse again the ground that has already been extremely well covered by my noble friend Earl De La Warr, but I feel that it is only right that I, as Leader of the House, should give some guidance to the House, if I can, with regard to the Motion and the Amendment which are before your Lordships this afternoon. In one way, it has been rather a curious debate, for the Government have been in the somewhat interesting, and mildly uncomfortable, situation, familiar to those who have engaged in war, of being sniped at both from in front and from behind—and what is more, so far as I can see, for 767 diametrically opposing reasons. In front, there has been the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who, if I understood him right, feels that on the whole the Government have been rather too tender with the interests of the private owner—at least, so far as I can see, that is the only relevance of his Amendment to the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teviot. And behind us, there is the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, and his friends, who think that on the whole the Government have not been quite tender enough with the rights of the private owner. Finally, in the centre, there is the Government who, I hope it will be agreed, represent the happy mean.
I should like, if I may, to revert to these two propositions. First of all, I should like to say a word about the Amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, which reaffirms that "the paramount" purpose of agricultural policy is the production of food. That may well seem to most of us a self-evident proposition. Why does mankind cultivate land at all? Why has it done so since prehistoric days? So far as I can see, except for the modified pleasures of horticulture, the only reason why land is cultivated is to produce food. In the broadest sense of the term that is not only the main but the sole purpose of agriculture. I should have thought that none of us, in whatever part of the House we sit, would dispute that. But even so, I suggest that by the use of the expression "the paramount" applied to agricultural policy in 1954—as the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, quite rightly pointed out—the noble Earl is over-simplifying the subject. If, as his Motion seems to say, this is the only consideration which has to be borne in mind, it ignores entirely the economic factor. Of course, to produce the maximum amount of food is a comparatively simple affair, so long as we need not concern ourselves with prices.
As we all know, that was the position in the days of the war, when we had no other sources of food available and had to produce ourselves or die. But now, I believe, and I am sure most noble Lords will agree with me, the situation has become a good deal more complicated than it was then. Now, when it is possible to obtain food from abroad, from our Commonwealth and Empire and from foreign countries, the question of con- 768 summer choice inevitably comes in. It is still vital for us to produce as much as we possibly can. On that, so far as I can see, whatever Party is in power, there can be no weakening. It is as important to-day as ever it was at any time in out history. But it is equally necessary to safeguard the interests of the consumer, so far as we possibly can. In fact, we must aim at the maximum production of food, at the price at which people can buy it. That, quite briefly, must be the object of our policy.
This brings me to the relationship of Lord Listowel's Amendment to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Teviot. I thought it evident from the noble Earl's speech that he considered that the efficient production of food was best achieved by the land being under public ownership and control. Otherwise, so far as I can see, he would not have wished to amend Lord Teviot's Motion at all. That consideration I take to be the relevance of his remarks about the land held by the Agricultural Land Commissioners. His purpose was to prove that land was better farmed in public hands. If he had produced figures—
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I am sure the noble Marquess does not wish to misinterpret what I said. I did not suggest that the land was better farmed, I suggested that it was as well farmed in public hands.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
What the noble Earl has to do is to prove that it is better farmed. If he could produce figures to show that the capital expenditure was less and that the yield was cheaper and greater when land was owned and administered by the Agricultural Land Commissioners than on similar land which was privately owned, no doubt these would be facts which we should all of us have to take seriously into account. But he produced no such figures, and nothing, so far as I know, produced either in the Crichel Down Inquiry or elsewhere supports his case. Indeed, I frankly believe that there is no evidence to that effect.
In this connection I thought it significant that there was one notable omission from the noble Earl's speech and from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wise, who followed him. I listened to every word of their speeches, and so far as I could hear, although the word "efficient" constantly occurred, the word 769 "economic" never passed their lips. I did not hear it mentioned in the course of the whole of their speeches. Yet, as we see it, that is the essence of the whole matter. We believe that people who manage or farm their own land, with their own money, are more likely to be economical than people who have no such direct personal interest in the matter. We all know this from our own lives, and we believe it to be equally true in broad questions of policy. Therefore, what we are doing is the result of no mere philosophic shibboleth, as the noble Earl has suggested. We believe that it arises from something which is inherent in human nature and consistent with all experience. Noble Lords opposite may not share that view, but the present Government, holding it as they do (and I would make this statement as definitely as I can) believe that agriculture is better administered, and that food is more cheaply and efficiently produced in private hands than it is in public hands. Where, therefore, land has passed into public hands and is no longer needed for the purpose for which it was acquired in quite different circumstances from those which prevail to-day, it is our intention to restore it as and when we can.
In connection with this matter, I should like to answer one or two questions put by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. He asked whether land in public hands that needed equipment would be given that equipment before it was sold. The answer is, Yes; it would not be sold until it was properly equipped. The noble Earl also asked the number of acres at present under the control of the Agricultural Land Commission. The answer is that they have about 220,000 acres under their control, and about half of this is already fairly well equipped and suitable for sale. Finally, he asked when the two-man inquiry into the Agricultural Land Commission was going to report. I have made every effort I can to get an answer to that question in the time that has elapsed since it was asked, but I have been unable to do so. All I can say is that I will report what the noble Earl has said to my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, and if there is any further information that I can give him, I will let him have it.
Up to now, I have been speaking to your Lordships about what I would call the first leg of our policy in this matter. 770 The second is this. We also believe that when land has been taken from a private owner, compulsorily, for a specific purpose in the course of a national emergency, as in the cases we have been discussing, the owner, or his successor should have a special opportunity to receive it back, if he wants it, when the State no longer needs it for the purpose for which it was required. I did not quite agree with that point in the otherwise admirable speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. Personally, I believe that there is a certain moral issue raised by this matter. That is a matter of opinion; but I believe that there is, and I think I represent a large body of opinion in the country. I feel that the view that the noble Viscount took, though perfectly logical, was perhaps a little too legal for this particular issue.
I have tried to describe briefly the broad policy of the Government in regard to these matters, and I think it has been confirmed by recent events. On this broad policy, I gather that there is really no difference between the view held by the Government and that held by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, who tabled this Motion. For his Motion says:… that Her Majesty's Government should establish the principle that those whose land or other property has been requisitioned or acquired for Government purposes and who have been dispossessed, shall have the right, if they so desire (save in cases of dispossession owing to bad husbandry), to resume possession of the property, which has been compulsorily taken from them, when it is no longer required for the purposes for which it was requisitioned.In passing, I would say that I do not intend to refer any more to requisitioned land, because that was fully dealt with by my noble friend Lord De La Warr. I would only say this. I entirely agree with what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, that it is most important that those lands and properties which have been requisitioned should be restored as quickly as possible. I understand that that is now completely recognised by the Departments concerned, and (although I think it would be a mistake to underestimate the difficulties of doing this in every individual case; there are bound to be delays in certain cases) I can assure your Lordships that strenuous efforts are being made to accelerate the process.
But if I now turn to the land which has been actually acquired by the Government, I would repeat that if any 771 Member of your Lordships' House will refer to the statement made by the late Minister of Agriculture in another place on July 20 of this year he will find that the relevant portions of that statement and the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, are almost identical. There must, of course, be, as my noble friend Lord De La Warr has already pointed out, certain exceptions to the rule. There are exceptions to every rule, as we all know. But these particular exceptions are limited and framed to deal with special circumstances. There is the case of land which was acquired from a landlord because it was neglected, and he obviously was not fit to manage it. Clearly, it would not be good public policy to hand that land back to that man. On that point I gather that the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, and the Government are at one; that was the one exception that he himself made in his Motion.
§ LORD TEVIOT
Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Marquess. I am not clear on this point. The late Minister of Agriculture said that the land would be returned, provided that no other Government Department wanted it. That is what I am worried about.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I have not quite finished. I am going to develop the point a little further, and I was only dealing with one particular exception. Secondly, there is the case where the Government have spent large sums on the land, and in doing so have so altered the character that it has really become unfit for agriculture. I can give your Lordships a simple example. Supposing the Government acquired from a landowner five acres of ground in order to build a war hospital and spent several million pounds on that hospital. Clearly the owner could not expect to have his land back with the hospital on it. The same considerations apply to an equal extent to cases like airfields, and matters of that kind. Finally, there is the case—I think this is the point in which the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, is interested—where a Department which has acquired land does not itself need it any more, but where the land is needed by another Department which has compulsory powers. That is merely a question of practical convenience. It would, of 772 course, be possible for the original Department to hand back the land to the owner, and for the second Department, using its compulsory powers, immediately to take it away again. But I should have thought that that was not only clumsy, but more irritating to the owner than any other procedure that could possibly be adopted.
The noble Lord, Lord Wise, asked a question in this connection with regard to land needed for smallholdings. I believe the answer to the noble Lord is this. If the Department that wanted the land for these smallholdings had compulsory powers to acquire it, then it could acquire the land straight from the holding Department; but if it had not compulsory powers, then it would have to buy the land in the ordinary way.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think that in that case the land would go back to the owner, and it would be for the owner to decide what he wished to do with it. If he did not need it for some special purpose of his own, and it was obvious that the local authority did, I should have thought that the owner would be wise to pass it on. But the acid test is whether the Department has compulsory powers for a particular purpose or not. These are the main exceptions: they are limited in character and, so far as the restoration of land to its former owner are concerned, they are, so far as I know, the only differences—if, indeed, they are differences—between the policy of the Government and that of the noble Lord, Lord Teviot.
§ EARL JOWITT
There is a good deal of land which has been the subject of voluntary bargaining, I should imagine. I feel, with regard to that type of land, that it is a different proposition altogether. There I cannot see why any moral question arises at all.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Obviously, land voluntarily acquired does not come into the matter at all. There is what I may call the twilight case, of land which is acquired under the threat 773 of compulsion. I think that would come under the rule I have been describing, but there would have to be definite evidence of a threat of compulsion. In both cases the former owner, or his successor, if he can be discovered and if he can substantiate his claim, will be offered the property back.
As the House knows, under this scheme of the Government the price at which the land is to be offered will be assessed by the district valuer. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, is not happy about this; he has doubts, I believe, as to the capacity of the district valuer for this particular job. In my experience, district valuers are extremely competent people, and I should not like anything to go out from this House that threw any doubt upon that. However, I will explain why the district valuer was chosen. In the war, when this land was taken from the owner and acquired by the State, the valuation was made by the district valuer; therefore, it seemed reasonable and proper that the same machinery should be used when the land was being transferred back from the State to the owner. I think that would be regarded as the natural procedure to adopt.
I have dealt up to now with the main parts of the noble Lord's Motion, but there is, as your Lordships know, a tail to it, in which he says:… and, further, that the full market value of property, designated for compulsory purchase by any public authority, at the time of the service of notice of designation, shall be payable to the owner of that property at the time of the execution of the notice.That is the tail of the Motion and, as so often, I suspect that it is in the tail of the Motion that the sting resides. At any rate, as I understood it from the noble Lord's speech and the speeches of other noble Lords who followed him, it is there that their main preoccupations are to be found, at any rate on this side of the House. The noble Lord's complaint against the present procedure, if I understood him right, relates, first, to the price which the owner receives and, secondly, to the delay he suffers in getting his money. Now, so far as the delay in getting his money is concerned, there are probably many of us in all parts of the House who have considerable sympathy with the object which the noble Lord seeks to achieve with regard to the desirability of ensuring that the owner 774 waits as short a time as possible before he gets his money. That obviously seems fair.
Some examples of very hard cases have been quoted to-day. But the problem is not so easy to solve as it may previously have appeared to some of your Lord-ships. As I think the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, explained, the fact that a local planning authority has designated an area as subject to compulsory acquisition, does not necessarily mean that that area is in fact going to be compulsorily acquired. A most elaborate process of inquiry has to take place, most of which consists of safeguards which were inserted by Parliament in the interests of the owner or owners of the land. The Minister has to be satisfied that the acquisition will take place within a maximum of ten years or, in the case of agricultural land, seven years, from the date on which the plan was approved. That requirement was inserted to ensure that the threat was not held over the owner indefinitely by the local authority. Then the Minister—I have no doubt the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, remembers this; we went through it all at the time of the original Town and Country Planning Act—has to hear objections by those opposed to the scheme and, if necessary, there must be a public inquiry before the development plan is approved.
Nor is that all. Even when the Minister has decided to confirm the designation, and at the further stage when the making of a compulsory purchase order is reached, there, too, there is, I believe additional provision for fixing a time limit, hearing objections and so on. It is only after all these opportunities have been given to the owners to make their case against the scheme, if they wish to do so, that the acquiring authority serves a notice to treat. It is at that point, when the decision has finally been taken, that the assessment is normally made of the compensation which is to be paid.
I have tried to explain as shortly as I can to your Lordships the extremely complicated machinery. All those safeguards were approved by Parliament, not in the interests of the State but, I would repeat, in the interests of the owners and others in the area. The noble Lord, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, who made so admirable a maiden speech to your Lordships this afternoon, described, if I may 775 say so, the very tough experiences which he had in connection with this aspect of compulsory purchase. I am quite sure that there was none of us who did not feel the deepest sympathy with him. He will correct me if I did not rightly understand him. I think that he suggested that the owner should be bought out on the day of designation by the local planning authority. But if that were done before the owner had an opportunity, if he wished to do so, to make objections and before the Minister even had time to approve a scheme, I am quite certain that there would be a good many noble Lords who would come down and protest in this House at the lack of consideration with which that owner had been treated.
I am told that in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, one of the main difficulties was that he was not the only owner involved. He was one of eight, and the others wanted something quite different from what he did. He wanted to clear out—and I do not blame him in the circumstances—but they wanted to hang on as long as they possibly could and they therefore made as many objections as they could. That particular example shows how terribly complicated it is to find your way through the difficulties of this very thorny question of compulsory purchase.
The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, as I understood it in his Motion, put forward rather a different proposal for dealing with this case. He suggested that the valuation should be made on the day of designation, and payment should be made at the time of the execution of the notice of proposal. But, of course, that would entail involving the local authority in a most complicated process of valuing property before any decision to buy that property had been taken at all. This, it might fairly be argued by some people, would be unsatisfactory from the point of view of the other party to the transaction—that is, of course, the community who has ultimately to pay.
I do not think for a moment that the present procedure cannot be improved. I have personally always been doubtful about the length of time—seven years for agricultural land and ten years for other land—which can elapse between the giving of approval of the scheme and the actual acquisition of the land. I 776 think I am on record in saying that in the House in the days of the last Government when they introduced their original Bill. But we do not live, thank heavens! as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said this afternoon, in the land of the Medes and Persians. Our laws are not immutable, and though, of course, there can be no question of altering this or any other provision of this kind by an Amendment to the Town and Country Planning Bill which is at present before Parliament—because it would not come within the scope of that particular Bill—yet it could always be amended in a later Act if it proved unduly onerous in a large number of cases. That is what Parliament is for—to watch legislation to see whether it can be amended and improved. And the same considerations would apply to the question of facilities for appeal to which the noble Lord, Lord Broughshane, referred in the speech he has just made.
What, however, I am doubtful about is whether any of the actual alternatives which various noble Lords have asked the House to support to-day would provide an ideal or even a better solution for this most difficult question. In their present form they might well, for reasons which I have tried to explain to your Lordships, cause as many difficulties as they cured. For that reason, I certainly could not recommend your Lordships to support those proposals though, of course, they will, like everything else that has been said in this debate, receive careful study by those who are concerned with these matters.
Finally, I come to the question of the price paid for the property which is compulsorily acquired. That, of course, is equally a question on which differing views could be held. Some may approve the machinery which is contained in the present Town and Country Planning Bill as the best that can be devised at the moment. There may be others, like the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, who, I think, believes that it could be improved. I say frankly that I do not propose to go any further into this subject to-day, for I do not believe it is the proper occasion. As your Lordships know, the Bill of which this particular machinery forms a part is not only at the moment before Parliament, but is actually before your Lordships' House. It passed its Second Reading last week, and it is to have its Committee stage next week. That is the 777 occasion, if any noble Lord wishes, for him to make his views clear on that particular point. But this is, of course, a matter of great complexity, vitally affecting a major Government Bill, and for your Lordships to take up a hard and fast attitude to it now on a private Member's Motion without waiting for next week's debate, without considering what will be said by the Government spokesman in charge of the Bill, would surely be odd, difficult to defend and. I think, not in accordance with that outlook which has always actuated your Lordships' House and, I hope, if I may say so, always will.
During the course, I am afraid, of quite a large number of years now I have had the privilege of leading your Lordships' House or of leading in Opposition, and it has fairly often fallen to my lot to advise the House, or my supporters at any rate, on the course they should adopt on this or that issue; and always, I think, I have given in essence the same advice—not to do anything rash or unconsidered. That is specially true on questions on which it may be suggested, however wrongly, that our personal interests are involved. Were the matter to go to a vote on this particular question to-day, I could only recommend your Lordships, for reasons which I have tried to explain to the House, to reject both the Amendments and the Motion; but, in view of what I have said, I hope that that will not happen and that the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, having ventilated the subject and produced an extremely interesting and important debate, will withdraw his Motion. For, if he were to press the matter further, I cannot but think that he might do serious injury to your Lordships' House in the country.
Before the noble Lord replies, may I be allowed to correct a misinterpretation that the noble Marquess placed on my speech? My complaint was not that the district valuers, were incompetent; my complaint was that, under the rules laid down by Parliament, or perhaps under the regulations, they are compelled to do their work in an unreal atmosphere and condition. In my instance of the institution trying to rehouse itself, it appeared to me that the district valuers were rather compelled to put the "break-up" value on these properties in which, as the facts showed, there was quite a lively market.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I believe that the moment has arrived when I am entitled to address your Lordships again for a few moments in regard to the Amendments and also to the Motion. If the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, will bear with me, I am not the least surprised that he does not agree with my views. He demonstrated in his speech the policy that the Socialist Party are always pursuing—that is, the nationalisation of land and everything else. That is the policy for the, nationalisation of the means of production; evidently, the noble Earl has that in mind. Therefore, my suggestion, a liberal one, is anathema to the Socialist Party. The noble Earl seems to think that I ought to have said something about agriculture, but I was not touching on agriculture. Of course, I agree with a great deal that the noble Earl has said: we must do everything we can to produce all the food possible. And when we look back on the time of the First World War and the Second World War, I think that the agricultural community stood up to the situation in an amazingly strong way. They did help us through difficult times. After all, agriculture, as all of us who are in it realise, is a terrific gamble. A month or two before the harvest, you think you are going to have a wonderful harvest, and yet you may have a terrible harvest and end up with a serious loss.
I was a little sorry that the noble Earl, in his first Amendment, did not touch very much on my Motion. However, I agree with part of it, although I was not going to accept it because it was outside my Motion and what I had in mind. I am glad that the noble Marquess said just now that this question of economics comes into the matter, for the noble Earl appeared not to refer to that. One has to be very careful about maximum production. One can overdo the maximum; one can go in for big crops and so strain the land. It is the good average production that I want to see, so that the land can carry on in any circumstances producing crops which are needed by the country as a whole.
With regard to what the noble Marquess said on my Motion, I should like to ask a question. I do not think perhaps he quite understood what I meant in the latter part of my Motion. Does he realise that, from the moment 779 that a property, whatever it is, is designated for compulsory purchase, that property is unsaleable? A particular owner may have in mind to-day that he wants to sell this property. Then along comes an authority, designates it for compulsory purchase and he is completely "done in." He cannot do anything at all about it—because, after all, nobody is going to buy a property that has this threat of compulsory purchase hanging over it. That is why I put in those words. I hope the noble Marquess will ask the Government to see whether they cannot obviate that distinct and real grievance that an owner has, unless it happens to be only part of his property that is affected, or unless he is so well off that it does not much matter to him. However, as I say, we have that state of affairs from the very moment that designation takes place. An owner then has a property that is worth nothing to him, perhaps for seven or ten years. That is why I wanted to stress that aspect. I hope the Government will try to solve that serious grievance which is undoubtedly felt by a great many people—I see that the noble Marquess nods his head.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I shall be only too delighted to bring this to the attention of my right honourable friend the Minister. It is a very real problem. What I tried to do in my speech was to explain to the noble Lord the immense complexity of the issues involved.
§ LORD TEVIOT
I listened with great attention to what our noble Leader said, and I feel that he has, at least by inference, come a very long way towards what I was aiming at and what I was asking for. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, listening to the noble Marquess, I confess that I wished I had consulted him before I put down my Amendments, because his drafting was a great improvement on mine. We all come to these debates with open minds, and in my case this process resulted in the conviction that my Amendments had been extremely carelessly drafted. May I point out to 780 the noble Marquess that, when I spoke of "efficiency," I meant "economic efficiency" and, in discussing whether or not the Agricultural Land Commission should be allowed to continue to manage their public land, when I expressed the view that the test should be the efficiency they showed in management, I meant "economic efficiency."
The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, made a reassuring remark when he said that the Minister would soon make a statement—in another place, presumably—about the Agricultural Land Commission and the sale of land. He used the words "in the near future." That is a somewhat well-worn Parliamentary expression and can be interpreted in many senses. I sincerely hope that in this case it means days or weeks, rather than months, because I am sure he will agree that this policy goes back quite a long way; that uncertainty is undesirable for farmers, and that the sooner those of them who will be affected know where they stand, the better. I was also glad to hear from the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, a glowing tribute to the efficiency of the Agricultural Land Commission. That was really my case this afternoon. My case was simply that if the Agricultural Land Commission are doing their job, then why give this land to someone else? We have always been told that if an industry is efficient it should not be interfered with. We cannot help regretting sometimes that the Government do not appear to practise what they preach.
This debate this afternoon has certainly satisfied my highest expectations. We have had this important subject of the disposal of agricultural land discussed by many noble Lords. There was an interesting maiden speech from the Cross Benches, and some valuable contributions from the Back Benches, on both sides of the House, in a vein of serious consideration of the whole problem, without any personalities or trivial Party arguments; and this was certainly the best that I had hoped for in putting down my Amendments. There is always some consolation in defeat—and of course my Amendment will be defeated—but I observe that the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, will be in exactly the same boat and will lose his Resolution also. 781 In the circumstances, I shall ask your Lordships leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.