HL Deb 08 March 1960 vol 221 cc893-902

4.8 p.m.

Order of the Day read for the Bill to be considered on Report.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now received.—(The Earl of Dundee.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 2:

Provision of premises and sites

2. For the purposes of this Part of this Act the Board shall have power, in order to provide or facilitate the provision of premises in any development district for occupation by undertakings carried on or to be carried on there or for otherwise meeting the requirements of such undertakings (including requirements arising from the needs of persons employed or to be employed therein),— (a) to acquire land by agreement or, if so authorised, compulsorily;

LORD MESTON moved in paragraph (a) to leave out "or, if so authorised, compulsorily." The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Amendment standing in my name. I should really apologise to Her Majesty's Government for not having put down this Amendment on the Committee stage, because it is essentially a matter for that stage. However, I can only say that such is the speed of legislation in modern times that one is liable to be rather overtaken by it. The object of the Amendment is to delete the compulsory purchase powers from this Bill. I want to be frank about this matter. If the compulsory purchase powers in the Bill are essential in order to create more employment, then indeed there is no ground for the Amendment.

The question really arises whether these compulsory purchase powers are essential to the Bill. I think your Lordships would all agree with me in principle that any extension of compulsory purchase powers should always be used with great jealousy. The position in the present case is that where land is zoned for industrial development, and an industrial development certificate is obtained, there is in practice no shortage of willing sellers at fair market value. Furthermore, it is always open to the Government to present to Parliament a special Bill to acquire land in a particular area. I feel that the need for this procedure will probably be so very occasional that no compulsory powers need be included in the Bill. There is a great deal more that one could say, but I have tried to put the salient facts as shortly as possible. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 41, leave out ("or, if so authorised, compulsorily").—(Lord Meston.)


My Lords, I hope the Government will not accept this Amendment, because by doing so they might nullify the whole purpose of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, said that there will be few cases, if any, in which it will be necessary to acquire land compulsorily. In that case, I presume that the Government will exercise their powers in very few cases. Moreover, in every case where it is sought to exercise compulsory powers, the owner of land has the opportunity of making objection and a public inquiry will be held. It will be for the Government, or whoever seeks to acquire the land compulsorily, to prove that acquisition is essential. If they do not prove that they should acquire the land, I hope they will not succeed in obtaining the order.

But there will be cases where it will be necessary to acquire land for the purpose of carrying the functions of this Bill into effect. If we are to offer industry factories in special areas, we must have the land on which to build the factories, or land to offer to industrialists on which they themselves can build. While it is hoped that in most cases it will be possible to acquire this land by agreement—and I am sure nobody wishes to exercise compulsory powers for the sake of exercising them—there will be cases where that will not be possible. If the purposes of this Bill are to be carried out, the authorities must have the power to acquire land compulsorily in those cases, subject to the safeguard that a public inquiry will be held where there is objection, and if the case is not made out, then the order will not be obtained. I hope that that is the kind of case the noble Earl was going to make himself. I thought I would say it for him and to some extent save him the trouble.


My Lords, the effect of this Amendment would be to deny the Board any power to acquire land compulsorily for the purpose of providing industrial or commercial premises in listed places. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said, that would destroy the purpose of the Bill, and I am grateful to him for making my speech for me in advance. We cannot, of course, accept an Amendment of this kind. It is no part of our policy to use compulsory purchase powers indiscriminately, and the noble Lord was right in saying that there have been few occasions on which they have been exercised. In fact, there has been only one effective exercise of the compulsory purchase orders conferred in the Act of 1945. On two occasions these powers were resorted to with the agreement of the landowners in order to overcome conveyancing difficulties. That was simply a technical procedure. In a fourth case compulsory purchase proceedings were initiated, but the land was subsequently acquired by agreement. Although, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, we do not want to exercise compulsory powers for the sake of using them, and although they have been employed only in rare cases, the fact that they are there in the background may provide a motive for large numbers of landowners to negotiate who would otherwise refuse to sell. That is the real reason why we are imposing these powers in the Bill.

Clause 14 of the Bill provides the usual safeguards for landowners by applying the provision of the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946, and the proper statutory procedure must be followed. Compensation on the basis of current market value must be paid in accordance with the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Acts. Moreover, Clause 14 (2) also precludes the Board from exercising compulsory purchase orders at all if the land in question is already being used in a way which provides substantial employment in relation to that use. The Board can acquire land directly only for the purposes of the Bill. It cannot acquire land just on the chance that it may want it, and then hold it for some other purpose. I think everything reasonable has been done to protect owners' land against unfair treatment. I consider that the power of compulsory purchase is necessary to the Bill, and I hope that your Lordships will not agree to accept this Amendment.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his reply. If there had been a betting shop in the little village where I live, I would have gone there and taken a bet of 100 to 1 in favour of the noble Earl against myself. Nothing remains for me but to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 28 [Repeals and transitional provisions]:

LORD SHEPHERD moved, after subsection (4) to insert: () Any locality in relation to which an application for a loan or grant under the Distribution of Industry Acts, 1945 to 1958 has been made and neither granted nor refused at the commencement of this Act shall be deemed for the purposes of this Act to be a development district until the said application has been granted or refused".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Meston, I must apologise to the Government and to the noble Earl for bringing forward a new Amendment at this stage of the Bill. I am doing so in one last effort to relieve some hardship which will be incurred by the passing of this Bill in those areas which were once covered by the previous provisions, and which are now excluded. I am sure the House will appreciate that when this Bill was discussed fully in another place the Government had not then disclosed the localities or the areas which the Bill would cover. Another place was given to understand that at least 14 per cent. of the insured population would be covered by the Bill, but we now find that it is not 14 per cent. but is down to 12 per cent. We discover, when we go through the list, that many areas which have hard, small pockets of unemployment are excluded.

The Minister, speaking in another place, recognised that there were many borderline cases; that there were localities which just fell on one side of the line that was drawn by the Government. They had pockets of unemployment, but they were excluded because of the line drawn by the Government. He mentioned a number of them. There was Dunfermline, Tyneside, Plymouth and Hull. Then take Scotland: there are 100,000 unemployed in Scotland, and I understand that, under these provisions which we are being asked to pass, only 70,000 people will be covered. Therefore, 30 per cent. of the entire unemployed in Scotland will not be covered by this legislation. But we appreciate that it is too late; the Government insist that this Bill shall go through and that we must at this stage accept the list the Board of Trade have produced. But on the Committee stage the noble Earl spoke of the flexibility of the Bill, and I am now asking the Minister, at this late hour, to be flexible.

I am asking him to include in this Bill the areas which came under the previous legislation where the local authority were in negotiation with companies to start new industries or extend existing industries. It is the case that on quite a number of occasions industry and local authorities have been in consultation. We all know that consultation takes a fair length of time. But the applicants under the previous legislation have now been informed that, because of this legislation, their applications must be refused. I think this is extremely hard. I appreciate that the Government must draw a line somewhere, but there are these borderline cases; there are cases which are covered by the previous legislation, and if the noble Earl is sincere in talking about this Bill being flexible and in saying that the Government are going to be flexible in its application, I believe there is a very great case for the Government's saying: "All right, in the case of those areas where there is unemployment, where the local authority has started negotiation prior to the passing of this Bill those applications, if accepted, should be put to work and new industry brought to those areas." I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 16, line 22, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Shepherd.)

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, in supporting the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Shepherd, I feel that there is no question of these cases being borderline in the sense of the facts. They are borderline only in the sense of a time limit, the limit being the coming into operation of this Act. When this matter was raised in another place a few days ago, the Parliamentary Secretary made it perfectly clear that a number of applications were under consideration—"active consideration", I think was the term used—under the existing legislation, and he indicated that it was expected that some of those would be refused and some accepted under the existing legislation before this Act comes into operation. Therefore, it is merely a question of how quickly the Government Department works; it is not a question of the individual merits or demerits of a particular application which may be under consideration. As I see it, therefore, the Amendment moved by my noble friend will be entirely in accord with the spirit or: this Bill and surely entirely in accord with the Government's intention to provide special facilities in all those cases. Some may be pockets of unemployment in larger areas where these conditions do not generally exist.

I would point out to the noble Earl that for a variety of reasons—changes in industry, automation and the like—there have been changes of quite recent character in the incidence of unemployment in particular areas. Therefore, some applications have been made recently by local authorities in whose areas the conditions justifying such applications did not exist some little time ago. It is not that they have been dilatory; it is that the conditions which have prompted such applications have only recently arisen. There are some cases—not only Lancashire—where pits are to be closed within the Coal Board's programme. Quite definitely, as local authorities are becoming aware, that will lead to serious unemployment in small areas where alternative employment is not presently available, nor likely to be unless there is Government help. If such an application has been lodged, then it is surely mere justice, and indeed far-sightedness, for the Government to say that it will not be refused, and excluded from assistance under the terms of this Bill, but will, in accordance with the provisions already made in the previous subsection, subsection (4), be considered. If the applications are no good then they are turned down in accordance with the terms of this Amendment. But if they are all right, they can be approved and will not be arbitrarily excluded. It is therefore an act of simple justice and common sense, and I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment.


My Lords, I sympathise very much with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in wishing to raise this matter, even at this late stage of the Bill, and I certainly appreciate that it would be hard luck on a firm if it put in an application only to find that the application fails not through any lack of merit but simply because the place has been de-listed, taken off the list, before a decision has been arrived at. It was with that in mind that my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary announced in the House of Commons on February 3, more than a month ago, that D.A.T.A.C. was not taking on any new applications since it already had enough in the pipeline to occupy it until the appointed day, which we expect to be at the beginning of April. Administrative arrangements have been made to deal as expeditiously as possible with all outstanding applications from the places in question, and it is expected that very few, if any, of those received before February 3 will be outstanding on the appointed day. In fact, I hope there will be no cases which will lapse, except perhaps for a few which may not have been accompanied by sufficient information to enable the Committee to deal with them expeditiously.

The position resulting when the Bill becomes law will be this: that all outstanding applications for D.A.T.A.C. assistance will lapse (if there are any outstanding) because the Distribution of Industry Acts will be repealed and the Treasury's power to grant assistance will come to an end. Of course, where a former D.A.T.A.C. place is one of the new development districts, no difficulty arises. The Board will be prepared to treat any outstanding cases, if there should be any, as new applications made to the Board under the new Act and will deal with them on that basis. The problem arises only on former D.A.T.A.C. places which are not development districts. In those cases the Board will have no power to deal with outstanding applications, because the Board can exercise their powers only in places in which high and persistent unemployment exists or is threatened; and ex hypothesi this is not the case in those areas in question. But, as I have said, I hope there will not be many cases which will lapse for that reason.

If I may take up in conclusion the final point of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, he said that although it had been generally accepted that the new development districts would comprise about 14 per cent. of the working population, those contained in the first list comprise only about 12 per cent. The noble Lord will remember he asked me about this point on Second Reading, and I replied that this was not half a list waiting to be completed in a few weeks; that it was a complete list, but one which could be revised from time to time. Of course, it could be revised by including new districts without leaving out any old ones. It is conceivable that it might be brought up—there is nothing sacrosanct about 14 per cent.—to 14 per cent. in course of time without anybody dropping out; or it may be that somebody would be dropped out and that the replacements would exceed the number of workers who were dropped out, so that it would come up to 14 per cent. But that does not mean that the districts which were then brought in would be those which were in the D.A.T.A.C. list and which have now been left out.

They might equally well, and perhaps even probably, be other districts—possibly some districts containing the balance of 30,000 unemployed in Scotland which the noble Lord mentioned. We do not know that: the test will simply be whether they have a high and a persistent unemployment or whether high unemployment is to be expected. I think it is true to say that this measure will be flexible. It may be flexible either in the sense of leaving out areas which may no longer need help and bringing in others, or bringing others in and leaving nobody out. But the people who are brought in would not necessarily be those who were under D.A.T.A.C. and are not in the first list of development districts under this Bill.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Earl for his courteous and detailed reply to the points that were raised by myself and by my noble friend Lord Stonham. I was pleased to hear that in his view and from information he has, there will be few districts in the D.A.T.A.C. areas in the course of negotiation which may—not so much suffer but lose the opportunity of bringing in new industry because of the Bill. There may be a few of them. But will the noble Earl undertake, before the Third Reading of this Bill, to approach the Minister concerned and try to impress upon him the strong feeling on this side of the House that those areas which are on the borderline, which were in the D.A.T.A.C. areas and in which the local authorities have worked hard to bring in industry, should have their applications treated with the greatest sympathy?


Yes; I will certainly make those representations.


Then I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.