§ 3.40 p.m.
§ House again in Committee.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has covered the ground admirably in his summing-up of this group of Amendments. However, I feel that a few words might be not inappropriate from one whose family has had considerable experience of providing land for public purposes. Up to date, when someone, great or small, has been required to provide land for public purposes, he has always known the purposes for which it has been required—it may have been for housing, schools, construction of roads, road widening, the making of sewers or a multiplicity of other reasons. In our own case we have parted with land very reluctantly because it has been first-class agricultural land, which it is a great pity to see disappear under bricks and mortar. But we have never attempted, nor have most other landowners, to resist such acquisition, knowing that the purposes for which the land was required were absolutely necessary.
If this Bill goes through unchanged, what will be the effect? As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has said, the rights of the individual will be 498 destroyed altogether, and this could be described by no milder word than "totalitarianism". If the people of this country, the owners of property, great or small, realise that this is a matter which will affect not only the large landowner or big builder but equally every single property owner, I think there will be considerably greater agitation in the country than there has been at the present time; because castle and cottage, farm and factory, garage and garden will all be in equal danger.
Hitherto, as I have said, people have not resisted acquisitions by public authorities because they have been satisfied with the purposes for which the acquisitions were made. But now that that is no longer to be case, an enormous amount of will be stirred up. It is surely rather remarkable that a Government returned for the ostensible purpose of bringing about democratic Socialism should actually be swinging completely in the other direction, because measure after measure that has been introduced has been of a totalitarian character, this unnecessary measure more so, and the abuse which these Amendments seek to remedy to an even greater extent.
One can well imagine Hitler, Goering and Goebbels sitting in their permanent home in the nether regions, raising their glasses of liquid flame in a respectful, admiring toast to their political successors in this country, their political heirs, who are seeking to bring about by Parliamentary chicanery the totalitarian conquest of this country which Hitler himself could not do by force of arms. We have no need to look far for neo-Nazis in this country: there they are opposite us on the Government Benches.
§ LORD MITCHISON
I should be extremely sorry if any adherence to the subject matter of the Amendment had prevented the noble Earl from making that very amusing speech. I got a great deal of pleasure out of it, and I am sure I am not the only noble Lord who did so. But had we not better see what the Amendment does—and with the Amendment I include the subsequent Amendments—because the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, never told us? He said many things about the Bill, but very little about the Amendment, and I suggest that it might be as well to see what we are doing.
499 Clause 6 is of course a major clause in the Bill, and an Amendment on the lines proposed to-day was very rightly described in another place as a wrecking Amendment. This, of course, is a wrecking Amendment. I mention this because only about ten minutes ago the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, told us that he was not going to introduce any wrecking Amendments. I thought he might have waited until we got over this one, when it might have sounded a little more plausible.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
May I reply to the noble Lord? I said in the course of my speech that I did not intend to be intransigent. What I was concerned to do was to get introduced into the Bill a description of the purposes for which the Land Commission would be able to acquire land compulsorily after the second appointed day. That seems to me to be a positive action, not a negative one.
§ LORD MITCHISON
On that matter I prefer the description which was given in another place. I regard this as a wrecking Amendment, and I hope I may he able to convince those of your Lordships who care to follow the clause that it is indeed a wrecking Amendment. The immediate Amendment we are discussing is simply a paving one to remove the first appointed day. Later on there is another to remove the second appointed day. They are all minor matters. As I see it, the substantial Amendment here is Amendment No. 4, which on page 6, line 3, is to leave out from "section" to the word "to", so that the clause would read:Without prejudice to the last preceding subsection, the Commission shall not have power by virtue of subsection (1) of this section to acquire any land compulsorily except for one of the following purposes, that is to say—so and so. What has been removed? What has been removed is a reference to the second appointed day. The Bill provides for two stages in the proceedings of the Commission. It does this for the purpose of enabling the Commission to cope with the administrative beginnings and, no doubt, difficulties which are certain to occur at the beginning of a difficult and, I entirely agree, complicated measure like this. There can be no reasonable doubt about that.
500 What the Bill does is to state in subsection (4) the following purposes as purposes which must be fulfilled in the first period. What the noble Lord wants to do is to extend the limited powers of the first period over the whole operations of the Commission—that is to say, he wants to take the preparatory period and limit the Commission to what, according to the Bill, can be done then. That is the effect, as I see it, of this series of Amendments. If I have it wrong, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, will be good enough to correct me, because I did not gather from the explanation he gave to the Committee that that was what he intended, but that seems to me to be the effect of the Amendment.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
The noble Lord virtually invites me to speak again. These Amendments certainly remove the concept of the second appointed day. I am moving them because I am anxious to extract from the Government what are the additional purposes which the Land Commission are expected to carry out after the first appointed day, and why they cannot be specified in the Bill.
§ LORD MITCHISON
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has confirmed what I said. He wants to take out what he calls the content of the second appointed day. That is the whole main purpose of the Bill. The period between the first appointed day and the second appointed day is a transitional one during which the powers of the Commission are to be limited to certain purposes, and those are the purposes set out in subsection (4) of the section we are discussing. That states the objects of these Amendments and therefore the noble Lord who made that eloquent speech just before I rose was, of course, perfectly right: this is an attack on the whole object of the Bill, a Bill to which your Lordships gave an unopposed Second Reading the other day. I know your Lordships' practice is not to dispute Bills by way of Second Reading but to prefer to do it by a wrecking Amendment. I call this a wrecking Amendment because it seeks to remove the whole purpose of the Bill, except for the transitional period. I should like to recall to your Lordships one other matter. A good many years ago there was a Bill 501 to nationalise iron and steel: your Lordships did not turn it down on Second Reading but you effectively destroyed its chances by a wrecking Amendment.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
But if it was a wrecking Amendment why did the Labour Government in the House of Commons accept it?
§ LORD MITCHISON
And it is because I do not want that kind of thing to recur that I should like the powers of this House to be reviewed. I have been provoked into saying that by the noble Lord, who always says, "We are perfectly all right; we never misuse our powers". Let us see what you are doing in this Bill. I repeat, and I think I have reason for repeating, that the effect of this Amendment would be to destroy the whole object of the Bill. Now let us just see what the object is so far as this clause is concerned.
§ LORD NEWTON
Would the noble Lord allow me? He has referred on several occasions to "the main purpose of the Bill": would he tell us what this is?
§ LORD MITCHISON
If your Lordships have not read the Bill or the White Paper or the Explanatory Memorandum, what is the use of sitting here and discussing this?
§ LORD MITCHISON
I can give it, if noble Lords wish. I will read the seventh paragraph of the White Paper and I am reading it only because I have been asked to do so. I hoped that your Lordships, before coming down to discuss the matter, would have looked at the purpose of the Bill for yourselves, because it is here, stated quite clearly.
In the Government's view it is wrong that planning decisions which are public decisions about land use should so often result in the realising of unearned increments by the owners of the land to which they apply,I do not know whether it is wrong, in the view of noble Lords opposite, that desirable development should be frus- 502 rated in the hope of higher prices. Would your Lordships endorse that practice?
§ LORD MITCHISON
In a moment.The two main objectives of the Government's land policy are, therefore:—(1) to secure that the right land is available at the right time for the implementation of national, regional and local plans;Would your Lordships object?(2) to secure that a substantial part of the development value created by the community"—Ah! perhaps this is what is getting your Lordships—returns to the community and that the burden of the cost of land for essential purposes is reduced.My Lords, those are the objectives; they are in the White Paper.
§ LORD MITCHISON
One minute; just let me finish. I will gladly allow the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, to interrupt me in a moment, but I should just like to ask whether it is the view of noble Lords opposite that those objectives are wrong. Because this is the method which the Government of the day have chosen, and I hope rightly chosen, in order to achieve those objectives, and when I say this is a wrecking Amendment I mean that it is designed to wreck the method which it is intended to use to reach those objectives. There is the question of letting a citizen have firmer rights of hearing, and of doing this or that. Any question of private rights is not, as I see it, a matter for amendment at this stage or for discussion under this Amendment. Some other Amendment is required for that. Now, on the distinct understanding that I have not finished, I give way to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
I would never have supposed that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, had finished yet. He has read out the two objectives of this measure. The second one, the betterment levy, is not reached until Clause 27 and at present we are only on Clause 6. As to the first one, what I have been seeking to do throughout this discussion is to elicit from the Government why 503 it cannot be secured within the purpose defined in subsection (4) of Clause 6, the purpose which is authorised from the first appointed day onwards, ofsecuring the carrying out at an early date of material development which, in the opinion of the Commission, ought to be so carried out".What is there beyond that? That is what I am asking the Government to tell us.
§ LORD MITCHISON
This is a confusion between the method and the object, and, looking at the clause the noble Lord is now discussing, all I can say is that what he intends to do is to remove all the teeth from the Bill, except for a very short period. That is to say, there is a short period now during which those teeth are hidden, or restricted, or whatever is the right word for teeth, and he would have the first period continue indefinitely. He would thereby deprive the Government of the day of the powers which are stated in the Bill for the objective I have mentioned. No argument was adduced about this. There was no suggestion that there should be some other limitation, or anything of that sort. It was simply intended that it should be the very limited objects that are set out in subsection (4).
If one is going to look at that, one ought to consider what the Commission are doing. They are acquiring compulsorily any land which, in their opinion, is land suitable for material development. There is a definition later of "material development" and it is one of some importance. What is suggested here? Is it wrong or tyrannical that a public body, the Land Commission, set up for this purpose, should be able to enforce their opinion that certain land is suitable for material development? It is perfectly obvious that in doing it the Commission have to take into account the intentions of the Government of the day in various respects. They have to take into account, in the words of the passage I have just read, "national, regional and local plans".
All that is intended; and then it is said (or it may be said), "If they have to do all that, why cannot somebody else but the Land Commission take the land?". We have not come to that yet, and I would merely make this observation: that it was stated below, and quite rightly so, that there were a number of perfectly obvious cases in which the existing powers would 504 not be sufficient for that purpose, and it seems to me quite sufficient to say that the whole procedure must be subject to planning permission. That is exceedingly important—it was not mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor—and, being subject to planning permission, it must also be land suitable for material development in the opinion of a Commission appointed for the purpose. I find nothing tyrannical in that. After all, we have had planning permission in this country for many years. It has tended to get rather tighter instead of rather looser. We may complain about methods of administration and things of that sort, but the principle of the thing is well established. It is not the case nowadays that the man who owns a piece of land is at liberty to use it as he pleases, to sell it when he wishes, to dispose of it any other way as he wishes; he is subject all the time to the control of the use of land which is imposed at present by the planning machinery.
The difficulty about the planning machinery is that up to date it has been essentially a negative piece of machinery. It could prevent people from doing things; it could not ensure that they did something. A man might get leave under the planning machinery to develop a piece of land in a way which might be for the benefit of the whole community as well as himself, and having got it he might choose not to do it and there was no power to make him do it, except so far as the local authorities had limited powers each within their own area and for their own purposes. I simply say to those who support this Amendment that it is perfectly obvious that, when you have a Bill with a main purpose and a transitional period before it, if you seek to remove the main purpose and to apply the powers appropriate for a transitional period during the whole currency of the Bill you are attempting to wreck the Bill.
I do not want to impugn the perfect holiness of this Bill in any way, but I am a little uneasy and I should like to ask the Government about one thing. It has been suggested that the Land Commission can acquire land without stating the purpose for which they wish to acquire it. The Government will know as well as anybody else engaged in the development of land that in many cases land is ripe and ready 505 for development and verbal undertakings have been given that it should be held for a certain purpose—for example, if an important factory wishes to extend, that is the land they are going to get, and that is all arranged. These things are not secret in any way, but there are no deeds covering them. If the Land Commission can come along and say they want to acquire a piece of land and do not want to say what it is for, it puts the owner to some expense and trouble if he wants to carry out this verbal undertaking, and it may be quite unnecessary because they may want it for the same purpose. Why should the Land Commission not say the purpose they have in view? That is the important point. I do not care about the rest of the Amendment.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I am really astonished at the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison. I need hardly say that as an opponent of this Bill I heartily welcome it. It is very good indeed that it should be stated by an influential Socialist that the main purpose of the Bill is to give compulsory powers of acquisition without any disclosure of the purposes of acquisition, that there should be no limitation of any sort. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, went from one Amendment to another, and it is quite in order because we are considering a number of Amendments together. When my noble friend, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said it would be for the convenience of the Committee to consider these Amendments together I think that was agreed by noble Lords in every quarter of the Committee.
§ LORD KENNET
I should interrupt at this point to say that, for myself, I would regard the consideration of Amendments to Clause 7 at this point as a mere matter of convenience and consequential upon the consideration whether or not we should knock out the whole concept of the second appointed day. I think noble Lords would be well advised to keep their arguments on Clause 7 until we reach it.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I do not differ from what the Minister has said, but when it was said it would be convenient for the purpose of argument to take these Amendments together, in order to raise the question of what were to be the powers after the second appointed day, my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor 506 did not attack the whole conception of a second appointed day. He asked for the disclosure of what were going to be the purposes of acquisition after that date. The criticism of my noble friend, as I understood it, was that in the Bill as it stands there is no limitation whatsoever on the purposes for which land can be acquired after the second appointed day. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, says that is absolutely all right, that is the whole purpose, and they do not propose to state the purpose.
§ LORD MITCHISON
With great respect I did not. I pointed out two particular matters, and I shall be very grateful if the noble Lord will keep to the point and answer them. The first is that the land has to be land which in the opinion of the Commission is suitable for material development. That is the first limitation. And the second limitation is the whole of the subjection to planning machinery. That is a very important part of the Bill. It is all very well to get up and say that the Bill leaves the Commission free to do anything they like; but, saving the noble Lord's presence, I did not say it, and if I had said it, even if it was I who said it, it would still be complete nonsense.
I think it was complete nonsense, although the noble Lord said it. The point I was endeavouring to make was the same point as was made by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor, that the purposes for which land could be acquired after the second appointed day should be stated in the measure. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, if he wishes, can say that it is already adequately stated, and that may be the reply of the Minister when it comes. But certainly it is not an improper point for the Opposition, or indeed for any member who supports the Government, to take: that when extensive powers of compulsory acquisition are being given there should be some proper limitation on the exercise of those powers. My noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor thinks that the limitations, if contained in the Bill at all, are wholly insufficient. It is no good the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, saying "Ah, but look at the White Paper". Nobody knows better than the noble Lord that 507 the White Paper has been wholly superseded by the Bill. We are not now interested in the White Paper; what we are interested in, and debating in Committee, is the Bill. It is no good his giving various legitimate purposes that the Bill may be designed to secure. The point is what is in the Bill.
My noble friend, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has made out a formidable case for saying that, after the second appointed day, we are left wholly ignorant of what are the purposes for which the land can be compulsorily acquired. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, says, "That is absolutely right; that is the whole purpose of the Bill. Why should you be interested in wanting to know why the land is compulsorily acquired?". The citizens of this country are very much interested in seeking to know why the Government should be at liberty compulsorily to acquire their land. I welcome most heartily the disclosure of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison. Now we know where we are.
§ LORD MITCHISON
I rise again only to say, for the second time, that I did not use the words attributed tome, or any such words. I said something entirely different. I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has misunderstood—I would not say that he has misrepresented me.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
Would the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, answer the question put to him? Does this Bill in fact, as we believe, remove the right of the individual to know why his land is going to be compulsorily acquired; and, if so, why?
§ LORD SILKIN
Perhaps I can help at any rate to clarify the situation. This is a paving Amendment. It is intended that there should be an Amendment to Clause 7, in due course, and I think it is impossible to discuss this Amendment without considering the Amendment to Clause 7. Clause 7 (4) provides, among other things, thatso much of any regulations made under the Acquisition of Land Act as requires a notice relating to a compulsory purchase order to specify the purpose for which the land is authorised to be compulsorily purchased, and …so much of Schedule 1 to that Act as 508 requires any notice relating to such an order to specify the purpose for which the land is required. shall not apply.In other words, it is quite clear (I hope we are on common ground) that after the second appointed day the Land Commission will not be required to state the purpose for which the land is to be acquired.
There may be good reasons for this. It may be essential, if the Commission are to be able to carry out their purpose, that they should not be required to state that purpose. But I think the Committee are entitled to have an explanation of it. That is the purpose and object of a Committee stage. Obviously, this is something that could not have been raised on Second Reading; but I think that the Committee should have a clear explanation—and I am keeping an open mind on it—as to why it is proposed that after the second appointed day it should not be necessary for the Commission to give any reason for the compulsory acquisition of land.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ LORD KENNET
Let me first of all compliment, as my noble friend did, Lord Mansfield on the discrepancy between the content and the manner of his first intervention. The width of the discrepancy was itself a pleasure to me, and I am sure to many other noble Lords. Let me turn at once the substance of these Amendments. If I say that I think noble Lords opposite are making rather heavy weather of it, I know that they will profoundly and sincerely disagree. But I think, in practice, they are probably making rather heavy weather of it. It all depends how you look at this matter.
In Clause 6 there are three things which we have been discussing. First of all, there is the list of the conditions relating to the land, without the existence of one of which the Land Commission cannot take it by compulsory purchase order. Secondly, there is the list of the purposes for one or more of which the Land Commission must take the land before the second appointed day. Thirdly, there is the question of whether or not the Land Commission must declare the purpose for which the land is being acquired. Strictly speaking, only the first two of those arise under this clause. I rather regret that, in our enthusiasm, we have run over into Clause 7, because the 509 Amendments to Clause 7 do not necessarily go with these Amendments. It would be open to your Lordships to negative the Amendments to Clause 6, yet pass the Amendments to Clause 7. As noble Lords opposite will not be surprised to hear, I think they would be best advised to negative the Amendments on both. But the discussion has ranged rather widely, and let us accept that.
Let me start at the other end. In this question of the declaration of purpose, if the Land Commission were bound always to declare their purpose we have to consider what effect that would have if the Land Commission wished to change the purpose for which they had acquired the land in the first place. If they have declared their purpose, then I suppose one must imagine further complicated procedure in order to allow them to change their mind.
§ LORD KENNET
Not necessarily "Hear, hear!" I am coming to the point about this in a minute. Things move fast in the development world, in terms of months rather than of years. But it is not invariably so that the Land Commission would get, or that one would expect the Land Commission always to get, every detail right in the plans they wanted to effect or cause to have effected on land which they acquired. One would be hampering the Commission a great deal more than noble Lords opposite think. I know that they—and I respect their sincerity on this—think they are protecting the subject, but I assure them that to introduce a duty for a declaration of purpose in any detail would be hampering the Land Commission quite severely, and might hold up the whole thing.
§ LORD DERWENT
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but would he explain the phrase "in any detail" because it rather affects the argument?
§ LORD KENNET
Because once you start laying duties on bodies you have to give them some definition of precisely what they have got to do; otherwise they are perpetually in doubt as to whether they have done it, and people will keep suing them. It is a familiar problem in legislation: when imposing a duty, how general can you be. I think we should probably not be right to be too general 510 if we did impose such a duty, and for that reason it would be undesirable.
More important than that, I think, was the repeated challenge of Lord Brooke of Cumnor, to say what are the further purposes beyond the four for which the Land Commission might desire to have compulsory purchase powers. I can think of one—I can, in fact, think of many, but I take it that noble Lords opposite are not seriously worried that the Land Commission are going to take over people's property in order to build brothels, gambling hells, or even missile sites. I take it that this is not their worry. We are thinking about what sensible, respectable, publicly declarable purposes the Commission may have.
Let me indicate one. It could be that the Commission would wish to assemble land rather slowly, and that would be not land which, in their opinion, should be brought forward for development at once. It might be land which in the Commission's opinion should be brought forward for development not at once—however that is to be interpreted—not immediately, but over a slightly longer period. I would remind the Committee that if the Land Commission are to do everything at once, convulsively in broad sectors of action, then this will mean a much higher incidence of compulsory purchase orders. It will mean far more compulsion. If, on the other hand, in a given place at a given time the Commission feel that they can go more slowly and secure this bit of land now for use later, when the other land is available, we might see a much lower incidence of compulsory purchase orders. It would allow an element of flexibility which is not allowed under the four conditions which we have in phase one of the Bill.
I will be quite frank, and say that it could be that the Land Commission, and indeed a Government, will think of other things during the operation of phase one. But the Land Commission are going into action tied to four purposes only. One may ask: why are the four purposes there at all? Well, of course, they were put in to give the Commission some guidance about what sort of jobs they ought to tackle first. I know that the Minister has powers to give the Commission instructions about what they ought to do, but sooner than leave all that to instructions to be issued to the Land Commission by the Minister after or on the first 511 appointed day, the Government thought fit to lay it all out on the line in Clause 6 in order that Parliament should be able to debate not only the creation of the Commission and their powers, but also what are, in effect, the first set of instructions to the Commission about how they are to work.
That being so, I think the Committee ought to accept the corollary to that namely, that that which has been laid out on the line for discussion before the first appointed day, before the Bill is law—and many months before—is probably not the best formulation of the purposes to which the Commission must be tied from now to eternity. It could be that the Commission will find that they want to do other things. It could be that the Government will find that they want the Commission to do other things. There is no plot about this. There is no possibility of plot. I beg noble Lords to put out of their heads the idea that the Land Commission are proposing to go stealthily around the land, lying and grabbing for the sake of God knows what ideal—I cannot imagine what it would be. But this is not a situation which need cause us to lose a moment's sleep. The Land Commission are going to operate quite publicly. They will do most of their deals by agreement, and the compulsory purchase law of this country—and I respect Lord Brooke of Cumnor's wish to safeguard it—is pretty well tried. Later on, under Clause 8, I shall have some more things to say about this of considerable interest to the Party opposite.
These four provisions are put there for Parliamentary debate and we cannot expect them to last for ever. So when the Government of the day, presumably jointly with the Land Commission, find it is time to vary these provisions, what do they do? They come right back to Parliament. The Order for the second appointed day is subject to Affirmative Resolution. The opportunity to debate the working of the four conditions is not now. It is after a certain period when the Land Commissin have been working under the four conditions. We can then see how the system has been working and, if the Government think that those four conditions are too restrictive, then they will ask Parliament for specific approval for their amendment.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I am listening with great attention to the interesting speech of the noble Lord, but am I not right in assuming that the Order for the second appointed day just fixes the date? It does not determine what shall be the powers thereafter. The powers thereafter are what are now in the Bill. Therefore, the mere question of a debate on the date surely will not give us any power in this matter at all. May I add that I did not suggest—and I hope I shall never have to—that Ministers at present have wholly improper ideas of how they are going to work this Bill. What we are concerned with is what the Bill makes possible.
I wish the noble Lord could make one point clear. He has been talking as if the Land Commission will act in future entirely on their own behalf. I think they will have the power to act as agents for other bodies, such as statutory undertakers. The noble Lord was very soothing—
§ LORD KENNET
Is the noble Lord speaking on the point about the second appointed day, on which I was interrupted?
They have no such powers now. Their powers are confined to what is stated in the Bill. I agree that this point might be taken later.
§ LORD KENNET
I should be grateful to the noble Lord if he could take that point later. I was in the middle of a piece of argument when I was interrupted by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. I think, with great respect, Lord Conesford is legally quite right, but in practical terms I think he is mistaken. If I come to Parliament and ask Parliament to approve an Order which will give me powers considered many months or a year before, then if Parliament does not like the powers I am asking for it will refuse me the Order. This is why we have done this by Affirmative Resolution.
To conclude, I hope that what I have said may have removed some objections, doubts and cavils in the minds of noble Lords opposite. If not, let me say that I must agree with my noble friend that this Amendment to Clause 6 is a wrecking Amendment. I appreciate the sincere concern from which it arises, but it is a fact that if the Amendment were passed 513 as it now stands it would make a nonsense of a lot more of the Bill than I think noble Lords opposite realise, and that quite a major revision of the Bill would have to ensue. In view of the forthright statement by Lord Brooke of Cumnor that he was moving the Amendment only in order to extract from the Government some view of what another purpose might be beyond the four; and in view of the fact that I have offered him another hypothetical purpose I would ask the noble Lord whether he would agree to withdraw the Amendment. If the Opposition are determined to insist on these points, or part of them, I would rather they did so at a later stage when possibly some contact can have taken place on, if I might put it in a Party sense, minimising the wrecking effect of the Amendment which they now propose.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
I should like to intervene for one moment in order to reinforce what my noble friend has said on this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has made one of the most sweetly reasonable speeches that I have heard even him make in this House, ideally suited to the temper of the debate and aimed at reducing the anxieties of the House. But it was such an able speech that your Lordships will have realised that it did not answer any of the objections which were raised by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor. I am not sufficiently well acquainted with all the details in this Bill to say with certainty what would or would not he required in some Order or Resolution which may be brought forward at some future date. What I am quite sure of, as a matter of principle, is this: what matters is what is put into the Bill today. Anything that happens in future will be conditioned by what is laid down in this Bill. Supposing we pass these clauses without amendment and then some Order is produced later on, we shall be told, "You have passed the main principle. This is strictly in accordance with it".
Time and again it has been said on both sides of the House, "If you want to be sure about a thing put it into the Bill." All we get is undertakings from Ministers—"You know what reasonable people we are." The noble Lord is a very reasonable person. If he were just 514 going to administer this Bill—and I know that he will progress a great deal further than his present office—but if he had to do so now in his present office as Parliamentary Secretary, he would have to do what he was told. It is the powers that matter. I certainly would not entrust the Commission with these powers. I am sure the noble Lord would be very reasonable about it. I am equally certain that if the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, were running the Commission he would be entirely unreasonable. He told us to-day, with great frankness, that the whole purpose of the Bill is to enable the Commission to go and collar any land they can, anywhere, for any purpose they may have in view.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
I hope tomorrow the noble Lord will read what he said. Certainly I was listening very closely to his speech—in fact I had a hearing aid to help me—and I could not find any limitation upon the powers that he would exercise. We know quite frankly what his views are in this matter. I think it is all the more reason, now that we are legislating, that we should put the thing down in the Bill. The Minister in charge of the Bill, Lord Kennet, said he thought that my noble friends on the Front Bench were making rather heavy weather about this business. Well, I daresay Ahab said that Naboth was making rather heavy weather about his vineyard. But the powers which Ahab exercised did not do him much good in the latter end.
§ LORD MITCHISON
I rise for the third time—I am sorry that ear trumpet has been so inefficient—just to make clear what I did and what I did not say. I did not say that there was no limitation whatever on the powers of the Commission to take land. On the contrary, I said—I think three times—that, first of all, it had to be land that they considered suitable for material development, which I think is a real limitation; and, secondly—and this is a very important consideration which all noble Lords opposite never think fit to mention—that there have to be certain conditions about planning permission. Naboth no doubt had a very nice vineyard, but it certainly was not scheduled for industrial development. There is a difference, after all.
515 I wonder whether I could ask the noble Lord who is the Chairman what is the right course. Are we going to have an opportunity of discussing Clause 7 separately?
§ 4.31 p.m.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
Unfortunately for the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, he is not the character in the Hunting of the Snark who said:When I say a thing three times, it is so.But that is fortunate for everyone else. The highly laboured explanation of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has left me more apprehensive than before, as there slipped out of the Fascist legislative bag one more mangy cat—namely, the admission that the Land Commission would probably spend their time collecting odd pieces of land for purposes totally unspecified. I can only compare that to the famous South Sea Bubble Company, which was founded to make great profits but nobody was to know how. I cannot see that any good purpose can be served by concealing the purpose for which land is going to he acquired for public reasons. After all, it is not a question of the value of the land going up and someone making extortionate profits. Everyone knows that the value of the land will be determined by a very upright body, the district valuers, and that no landowner can demand more than they arc prepared to give. All in all, one can only look at this as a secret and decidedly underhanded attempt to bring on the nationalisation of land—at least, of building land—although that is what at the moment Her Majesty's Government seem very strenuously attempting to conceal.
§ LORD HASTINGS
May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, one question? He made it very clear that the purpose was the administrative convenience of the Land Commission. He did not say it was vitally necessary for the purposes of the Bill to have these powers: it was administratively convenient. Does he really think that the administrative convenience of his Government, or any Government in the future, should be allowed to override the basic rights of the private citizen to know why his land is 516 going to be compulsorily purchased, in order that he may be able to make a relevant objection? Is there any reason why any Government should ever be allowed, for administrative convenience, to override what is a fundamental principle of human rights?
§ LORD KENNET
I think, if the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, looks at Hansard tomorrow, he will see that the words "administrative convenience" were used in a discussion on the Question. Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill? I did not use those words in this context. Secondly, the question of objections falls to be discussed under Clause 8, and we have already gone pretty wide. Lastly, may I remind the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, before he uses his automatic majority to amend this clause, that the Amendment is in his name and that he used the words, "I move this Amendment only in order to extract from the Government what might be some other reason beyond the four for which the Land Commission might use compulsory purchase powers", and that I have given him another reason beyond the four.
I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that any majority in this House is by no means automatic. I have been listening to everything that has been said and holding my mind absolutely free, and I think most noble Lords have, too.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
In a fairly long Parliamentary experience I have never heard an Amendment, described by the Government as a wrecking Amendment, discussed in such a cheery spirit on both sides as this has been. I think that this is a good omen for our subsequent proceedings. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has just given your Lordships a somewhat free paraphrase of words I used when I moved the Amendment, but what I want to do is to examine how far he has taken us. He sought to separate the concept of the second appointed day from the concept which is embodied in subsection (4)of Clause 7: that the Land Commission need give no reason why they wish to acquire certain land compulsorily. I hope I made clear in my opening speech that my main concern here was to protect the individual who is faced with a compulsory purchase order and is handicapped in 517 fighting that by the body who are seeking compulsorily to acquire his land refusing to give any reason why they want to acquire it.
When I asked the noble Lord to state the additional purposes which the Land Commission might have over and above those in subsection (4) of Clause 6, he said at first that he could think of one and then he said that he could think of many others. Then he named the one: that being that the Land Commission might wish to assemble land slowly for long-term development. I should have thought that that was within their powers under paragraph (b) of subsection (4) of Clause 6, which says that the Land Commission, from the first appointed day onwards can acquire land compulsorily forsecuring that the land is developed…as part of an area which, in the opinion of the Commission, ought to be developed as a whole".That seems to me almost precisely the purpose for which the noble Lord said that the Commission would require second-appointed-day powers. I hope the noble Lord can do better than that.
We are genuinely anxious to have defined further the additional purposes. We are not challenging these purposes. We are not challenging the general idea underlying subsection (4) of Clause 6, that the Land Commission should have power to acquire land compulsorily for reasons which go far beyond the purposes for which compulsory purchase can be carried out nowadays. If we were challenging that, this Amendment would be a wrecking Amendment. I accept that. I am not anxious to quarrel unnecessarily or prematurely with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, as he knows. But I really feel that unless the noble Lord can give us an assurance that when we come to Clause 7 the Bill will be altered, so that the Land Commission will be required to indicate the purposes for which they are seeking to acquire land compulsorily, we must divide on the appropriate Amendment. However, I am quite prepared, if your Lordships think fit, to withdraw my Amendments to Clause 6, which will leave the concept of the second appointed day in the Bill, and then we can go further when we come to Clause 7, or at a later stage in the Bill, as to what these purposes will be and whether the Land Commission will be required to state them.
518 I was not greatly impressed by the noble Lord's argument that the Land Commission, having acquired land compulsorily for one purpose might wish to use it for another purpose. Frankly, it seems to me that there is something dishonest in acquiring land compulsorily for one purpose and then switching one's intention. It can be done in certain circumstances, if I remember the law rightly, when a local authority which has acquired land compulsorily can satisfy the Minister that, though the land is no longer required for the original purpose, it is required for another purpose for which it also has compulsory powers—
§ LORD PARGITER
Would the noble Lord forgive me for one moment? Suppose that, after the land is acquired for the purpose specified in the planning arrangement already provided for by the local authority within the development plan, the planning authority itself alters the development plan by agreement to some other concept which is generally accepted, under the conditions that it is proposed should be applied because the land was acquired for a specific purpose, the Land Commission would not readily be able to use it for another purpose notwithstanding that planning permission had been given for a different, and probably better, purpose.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
This seems to me to be a matter which we might well examine further. What I do not think is fair is for the Government to ask your Lordships, because certain difficulties will arise if the Land Commission change their minds at a later stage, to excuse the Land Commission from giving any indication of their purpose on the occasion when they are originally purchasing the land. That is what I am contending for. As I say, I am ready to withdraw my Amendments to Clause 6, provided that the Government will help us further on subsection (4) of Clause 7 or, alternatively, I hope we shall have an opportunity to divide on it. Having said that, I beg to withdraw Amendment No. 1.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Since I put down Amendment No. 2 it has been represented to me that the Bill gives more protection to local authorities than that proposed in the Amendment. The point is that if 519 the Land Commission took some course of action which was not agreeable to a local authority then the local authority would have power to appeal against that decision to the Minister, who would then judge the case in his judicial capacity, whereas if the Minister were to take the initiative in the first place that protection would go. I think there is force in that argument, and I therefore do not propose to move my Amendment.
§ 4.43 p.m.
LORD ILFORD moved, in subsection (3), to add to paragraph (e):
and the local authority as defined in section 1(1) of the Housing Act 1957 or section 1 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1950 consent to such acquisition.
§ The noble Lord said: This Amendment deals with land which has been declared a clearance area. Your Lordships are aware that the authorities who are authorised to make a declaration of this sort are normally the local housing authorities. The land which is the subject of these declarations is, of course, in most cases occupied by unfit houses and sometimes other buildings. The intention of the local authority is to carry out a slum clearance scheme. The Bill seems to me to produce a rather startling result. The Land Commission have no power to acquire this land until the housing authority make a declaration. The declaration made by the authority then clothes the Land Commission with the necessary powers to acquire the land compulsorily, and the local authority which made the declaration and whose intention it was to carry out a slum clearance scheme may be prevented from doing so, and the land may be used for some other purpose.
§ I should not like to say that this provision is resented by the local authorities, whose views I am sometimes able to express in your Lordships' House, but the local authorities feel disappointed that where a rehousing scheme is contemplated, as is the case in most instances, they may be prevented from carrying it out by the intervention of the Land Commission, which may have quite different views as to the use of the land. The local authorities feel that before the Land Commission exercise their powers of compulsory acquisition the consent of the local authority should be obtained.520
§ It is, after all, usually the intention of a local authority when they make a declaration of this sort to carry out a comprehensive housing scheme. Their intention ought not to be defeated by the fact that the first step which they take in that direction vests the Land Commission with power to acquire the land compulsorily. In those circumstances, I am proposing that that should happen only with the consent of the local authority concerned; and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give me some encouragement that something of that nature will be done. I beg to move.
Page 5, line 44, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Ilford.)
Before proceeding with this I should like to know, on a point of order, whether the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, thinks that this particular Amendment coincides with my next Amendment, which is to leave out paragraph (c) of subsection (4), which I mentioned on Second Reading and which he said he would prefer to deal with on Report although he wished me to develop my point now. It is rather the same point as that of my noble friend Lord Ilford, but I am in the noble Lord's hands.
§ LORD KENNET
I am grateful to the noble Viscount for giving me the opportunity of advising him. Yes; let us take them together, if that is procedurally correct.
As I have said, I raised this point on Second Reading, and the noble Lord said he would prefer to deal with it later. I said I was particularly concerned with these schemes of comprehensive redevelopment, to which my noble friend has referred. They are often very difficult, they can be very controversial, they can be very speculative and they always mean locking up a great deal of money for at least ten years. I think this is borne out by the Government, who have issued a circular, to which I referred, in which they call attention to the number of schemes in the pipeline, several hundred, and say that, if they were all implemented forthwith, it would place far too great a strain on the finances of the country. They foreshadow some sort of rationing scheme. At the same 521 time, in the Local Government Bill a 50 per cent. grant was foreshadowed for these schemes.
I welcome this approach, which seems to me a very workmanlike approach, but I would call attention to the fact that never once in this matter of comprehensive redevelopment are the Land Commission mentioned, either in the Local Government Bill or in the circular. However, when we come to the Bill we find that apparently the Land Commission are given powers parallel to those given to the local authorities. I have always found in life that if you give two people the same job to do there is very likely to be some confusion, and, indeed, that if it is an unpopular job it may not get done at all. I feel that this matter, which I was proposing to raise on Clause 3 but which has already been raised by my noble friend Lord Ilford, requires some very careful examination.
It seems to me that one interpretation is that local authorities can apply to the Commission for assistance; and this is borne out by the Second Reading speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who talked about the Land Commission normally coming into this as a result of an invitation from a local authority. That might equally mean that, in abnormal circumstances, the Land Commission might come in uninvited.
In any event, I think that some local authorities may well interpret this in a way in which the Government, perhaps, do not entirely anticipate. I think some of them may well say that if the Land Commission are going to do all this work, let them get on with it; let them designate the area and get the district valuer's valuation for the purchase price of this area (which will probably take them about two years); let them discover from the Government whether they can have office or industrial content (and they will be very clever if they can find that out); let them find the private enterprise who will share in the work of redevelopment, if they can, and let them finance the operation because they might say that their ratepayers are in a somewhat mutinous state of mind. I think that the nakedness of the Land Commission will be exposed because, with their present resources, I do not think the Commission will be able to do any redevelopment at all.
522 I would suggest that in present circumstances, to avoid this confusion, it ought to be made crystal-clear, first, that the responsibility for these schemes rests fairly and squarely, as it does at present, on the shoulders of the local authorities; and, secondly, that if the Government wish us, the local authorities, to work in with the Commission they should at least lay down some procedure by which we could make that application and some of the conditions they wish to apply. I hope very much that the Government will make clear at the outset that if there is any question of superseding a local authority—and this is the point that my noble friend made—if there is any question of putting in the Land Commission to do the job of a local authority, that step should be taken by the Minister using his default powers, which are very extensive and quite well known. I think that if the Commission themselves try to play the part of "Big Brother" to the local authorities that will create a good deal of hostility, and may cause deadlock.
Although I think this is very unlikely to result, because of the temporary lack of resources of the Commission, I think it would be as well if the procedure could start off on the right foot. For that reason I support the sense of my noble friend's Amendment, and I put my own Amendment under the same head.
§ 4.53 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My noble friends Lord Ilford and Lord Gage have spoken in general terms on this particular paragraph of the subsection. If I may, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, a rather detailed and technical point, about which, I am afraid, I have not given him notice. If he cannot reply this evening, it will be entirely my fault. The point is that, as I understand the Bill as it stands, the Land Commission will have power to acquire land compulsorily once a resolution making the area a clearance area has been passed by the local authority. What usually happens in these cases is that the local authority passes a resolution to make a certain area into a clearance area and the property in that area falls into two categories: first, slum property itself; secondly, other property 523 in the area which is either housing, but not unfit housing, or, alternatively, property of some character other than housing. In either case the two ancillary types of property are required, not because they are slums but because a properly shaped area for redevelopment is needed.
When it comes to the ordinary slum clearance compulsory purchase inquiry, under the Housing Acts, what happens is that the people whose houses are slums which have been declared to be slums by the local authority have their land coloured pink on the map, and all the other areas required to be compulsorily acquired so that the area can be of a suitable size and shape are coloured grey. Almost always there is a great deal of discussion about whether one or another property—it is usually always a house—should be pink orgrey. The difference is this: if it is pink, the compensation is based on site value only, whereas if it is grey it is based on market value. Therefore the people who own those houses take a good deal of trouble to persuade the confirming authority—the Minister of Housing or in Scotland the Secretary of State—that, instead of being slums, their houses are required in order to make a proper shaped area. That is sometimes a very difficult process, and it certainly arouses a great deal of hard feeling in certain cases among owners of the property concerned.
What is going to happen under this Bill? As I understand it, the resolution will have been passed declaring an area to be a clearance area. I do not know whether at that stage the local authority will have made up its mind which properties, in the terminology I have used, are pink and which are grey. These are the colours that are used on the map. If the Land Commission come in when this sort of decision has been made, and put a compulsory purchase order on the whole of the land, is the decision whether the compensation is going to be site value or market value going to depend on what the original decision of the local authority was as to the classification of the land, or will there be an opportunity for the person who owns one of these houses which is a little marginally one way or the other, to say, at the compulsory purchase in- 524 quity promoted by the Land Commission, that his house is not a slum and is required only as ancillary to those that are slums? This will make a great deal of difference, and I think it most important to know how this procedure will operate, because the ordinary Housing Act procedure will not be followed if this Bill is implemented under paragraph (e).
It may be that there is no gap here, and that there is a perfectly sensible explanation. If there is I should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, if he can either tell me this afternoon, or perhaps communicate with me later and give me some guidance on this matter, which is one that has not previously been raised on the Bill.
§ LORD KENNET
I will deal with the last point first. When the noble Viscount began expounding this interesting but not unfamiliar problem of "pink" and "grey" houses, I had two courses of action open to me. One was to look through the Bill to see whether I could find an answer; the other was to continue listening to his arguments. I chose the latter course, and I shall have to let him know later who looks after this matter in the case which he has described.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
I am not unfamiliar with the Bill. I do not think there is anything in it which will be of help; but I may be wrong.
§ LORD ILFORD
May I intervene? The answer, I think, is that it depends on what authority the land is allocated to.
§ LORD MITCHISON
I will not take up the time of the Committee by providing what I believe is the answer; but it is to be found in Sections 42 and 43 in the Housing Act 1957.
§ LORD KENNET
The two series of Amendments before us both concern this question of the relationship between the Land Commission and the local authority on development questions. I should like first to speak about Lord Ilford's Amendment. The effect of adopting it would be to subject a purchase by the Commission, where there was no other "planning decision" as set out in Clause 6(3) on the land except that it is part of a clearance area, to the consent of the local authority. I think I would beg the Committee to put out of their mind any thought that the Land Commission 525 are going to go roaring around the country either concealing their true intentions and "bagging" land for improper purposes or preventing the local authorities from doing jobs which they do already very well. The whole purpose is to supplement the local authorities' powers, duties and functions: at the very most to complement them, but in no sense ever to be a substitute for them.
There will, I think, be no dispute between local authorities and the Land Commission over who shall purchase this or that development area or clearance area; and when a local authority wanted to purchase such an area, whether it was planning to use compulsory powers or not, I cannot see any reason why the Commission should want to nipin and do so first. There may be circumstances—
§ LORD ILFORD
Suppose the Commission may desire to adopt quite a different use for the land, which the local authority does not want.
§ LORD KENNET
Then it would be subject to planning permission, which is in the hands of the local authority. One might imagine a case where there was a discussion between the local authority and the Land Commission—say that the Land Commission has one great development scheme and the local authority has another and in between there is an area ripe for development. It might then be difficult to decide which should make the purchase.
This leads me on to the Amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Gage. I am glad we are able to take these two Amendments together, because they face in opposite directions to an interesting extent. Answering the point of the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, about the recent Ministry circular on central area redevelopment, I may say that this had nothing to do with the Land Commission one way or the other. It simply reflected the present economic stringency and would have been sent out in any period of economic stringency, whether or not there was a Land Commission in the offing. It was to ask local authorities to exercise all the caution and discretion which they possibly could in putting forward plans for new central area redevelopment, and to tell them something about the criteria being adopted by the 526 Minister in deciding which to approve, and when.
I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, was mostly worried about the danger that local authorities might lie back and leave all initiatives to the Land Commission. First of all, the Commission do not detract from the powers of local authorities at all. The powers which local authorities already have to buy land for re-development, and indeed, to carry out the redevelopment, continue absolutely unaffected by the Bill. The Land Commission's powers supplement them. The difference is obviously that the Commission are a national body which, for a variety of reasons, will have powers to buy land for development, and obviously there may be circumstances in which it would he more efficient for the Commission, who have acquisition as their particular, and indeed primary, role, to buy land on behalf of a local authority. Naturally, one would not assume that any body would buy land on behalf of any other body which did not want it. That would be a ridiculous risk to start facing at this stage.
The interests of the other public authority—in this case the local authority—are fully protected by the existing law and by provisions in the Bill. The Land Commission cannot use the power in Clause 6(4)(c) without approval either of that public body—that is the local authority—or of the Minister; as, if I remember rightly, the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, himself pointed out in an earlier intervention. In practice, it is likely that the Commission will use these powers only at the invitation of the other body, in this case the local authority. As a matter of fact, an informal invitation that the Land Commission should act on behalf of a group of local authorities has already been received and will be waiting for the Land Commission on the first appointed day. I think the pattern we can see developing is that the Commission will do certain jobs which, as I said in an earlier discussion on this point, local authorities are too small or inconveniently placed, or have insufficient powers to do for themselves.
It comes down to this. On this question of the relationship between the two things, the national body and the local body which has these powers, it is difficult to devise the right system. The 527 Government believe that they have the right system, and they are confirmed in this belief by the fact that the two sets of Amendments we are considering seem to be based on opposite preoccupations. If I understood him aright, I think the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, was worried mainly that the Commission would go barging around, whisking projects from under the noses of local authorities which were all set to undertake them, and would thereby annoy local authorities and not gain anything; whereas on the opposite side, the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, was worried that the local authorities would say, "Here is a great, big, beautiful, powerful Land Commission. Nobody can expect us to do anything ever again", and would lie back, and would say to the Land Commission, "You do it, won't you". One can see both points of view, but they are conflicting, and I hope the Committee will agree that it will be best to leave Clause 6 as it now stands, as indicating an acceptable middle course between these two worries.
It all sounds too good to be true. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has done much to lessen the—I would hardly call it "fear"—concern of the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, and myself. It might be that a local authority would take an attitude of intertia or hostility if the Commission started to throw their weight about, but what I think we should have, and I put it to the noble Lord as a reasonable thing to ask, is a little more clarity. There is a great deal of confusion. The noble Lord talks as if we can settle it all over a cup of tea. The Government ought to take a more responsible line. They must lay down, by regulation or by circular, if you like, some indication of what we can really expect, what kind of assistance we can expect from the Commission, if we want their assistance. As I said, the sort of assistance we should very much like is financial assistance, and I do not believe for a second that the Commission can give it. But I should like to see something down on paper.
Perhaps during the passage of the Bill the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will make a further statement which will clarify the position a little. I am talking about rather major considerations. Here we 528 have these very large schemes. Take what I suppose is one of the most obvious which, fortunately, does not occur in very many places in England—that of Piccadilly Circus, which has been under consideration for over ten years. We all have our little "Piccadilly Circuses" in our own small ways, and we are all very concerned about how we are to tackle these jobs and afford the money; whether this is the right time to do it and so forth. We have this circular which promises a rationing scheme, and I think that in a way it is too slack to leave the matter in this position: that we sit down with the Land Commission and hope it will all work out for the best. The Government should give us a little more clarification and assistance.
§ LORD KENNET
On the point about information, of course the Government will provide a ceaseless flow of information about everything, from policy directives and regulations to gentle advice. I am not sure that now is the time for me to try to tell the Land Commission and local authorities how to get on together. We are discussing a concrete Amendment to a concrete clause in a concrete Bill. Perhaps I should tell the Committee that the Government are going to issue not one but more than one—I am not sure whether it will be three or four—explanatory statements about the Bill, each one for a different kind of readership. Whether it would be appropriate to talk about relations with local authorities in these statements I am not sure, without reflection. Probably it would, and I will see to it that, when prepared, these papers fully cover the point made by the noble Lord.
§ LORD ILFORD
With reference to what the noble Lord. Lord Kennet, has just said, I should have thought that he could give us an assurance that this question of the apparent conflict between the Land Commission and local authorities, where an area has been declared a clearance area, will be the subject of one of the pamphlets of which he spoke. I do not think that it is beyond the wit of the Minister to indicate the sort of circumstances in which the Land Commission may act in reference to local authorities, and vice versa. If something of the sort were done, I think it would go a long way to relieving local authorities of apprehensions they feel at the moment 529 But the local authorities have no wish to live otherwise than in harmony with the Commission. In these circumstances, though the noble Lord has not given me very much, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
LORD KENNET moved to add to the clause:
( ) In relation to planning permission granted on an outline application (that is to say, an application for planning permission subject to subsequent approval on any matters) the reference in subsection (3)(a) of this section to the development authorised by the planning permission shall be construed as including all development for which planning permission was granted on that application either with or without any requirement as to subsequent approval.
§ The noble Lord said: At the Report stage in the House of Commons the present Clause 99(3) was inserted because it was evident from comment in the legal Press and elsewhere that there was confusion in the minds of the public about the meaning of the words "authorised by planning permission", which were used in various places in Part III of the Bill. Clause 99(3) made it clear that these words meant that any detailed planning consents necessary under an outline planning permission must have been obtained before any work done was authorised by that planning permission. Clause 99(3) was drafted to apply to the whole of the Bill, because otherwise there would be room for confusion. We have now realised, however, that the Amendment has had more severe repercussions on Clause 6(3)(a) than was expected and has made it clear that the Commission would not be able to buy land where the planning permission was in outline and the necessary detailed planning consents had not been obtained. The present Amendment puts this right by ensuring that, in this paragraph, a planning permission without such detailed consents having been obtained is sufficient. I beg to move.
Page 6, line 38, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Kennet.)
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
We are grateful to the Government for having introduced this Amendment, which clarifies the position, and I understand that when we come to Clause 99, that 530 also is to be appropriately amended. I think that we on this side may have something more to say about Clause 99 and its effect on the remainder of the Bill, but I certainly have nothing but welcome for the present Amendment.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 6, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ LORD WADE
I should like to offer a few observations before we leave Clause 6. It seems clear from the clause and the subsequent clauses in Part II that, apart from the levy, which we shall discuss later, the Bill is primarily concerned with the buying and disposing of land, and so duplicating the compulsory purchase procedure. I regard this as very unfortunate, first, because it has led to this legislative monstrosity, the Land Commission Bill, and secondly, because it is diverting attention from the real needs.
Let us consider some of these in relation to local authority development, which has already been referred to in the debates on some Amendments. I am thinking particularly of the development of town centres. There are imperfections in the development of our town centres. In some cases, development is on too small a scale. In some cases there is too much piecemeal development. In some cases, local authorities have had to rely on private developers. There are some good private development firms, and I am not criticising these but others are not so good. They are bound to think of development in terms of rent that can be obtained, and are often not able to go into a development on a sufficiently large scale.
Again, local authorities have not always the expert advice they need in terms of architecture and planning. The real need is for finance and first-class professional advice. It does not necessarily follow that these will be provided by the setting up of a Land Commission with these powers of acquisition. There is a strong case for a development corporation, which would be concerned with helping and financing development and providing expertise. This idea has been advocated for many years by my Liberal colleagues and it is here perhaps that we part company with the Government.
531 We believe that there is a real need for finance, as has been made clear by other noble Lords who are knowledgeable on the subject, and for more expert advice, and I do not think that these powers of acquisition are going to help us very much.
So far as private builders are concerned, there is undoubtedly a shortage of land, particularly in areas like the South-East of England. This is due to population drift and we shall cure that only by altering the movement of population. But there are cases of the holding back of land which might be useful to private builders. I do not think that any of the proposals in this Bill are going to help very much in this matter of the holding back of land. If anything, the levy will deter people from putting land on to the market. I do not think that the powers in this clause are going to help.
Finally, it is clear from the comments already made that the great uncertainty is how the Land Commission will work out in practice. We have had helpful observations from the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, about how he sees the situation at the present moment, but we do not know what is going to happen in future. It may be that the Land Commission will do very little, but it is possible they may attempt to build up a big empire. We need to look at this aspect with great caution and to remember that the Commission will not be meeting the most important needs.
§ LORD KENNET
I was most interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said, especially about architectural advice and finance. These things, as I expect he knows, are near to the heart of our Ministry, and have been long before the Labour Ministers ever got there. We think that we are doing not too badly in many ways and we are planning to do better than we do now. These are not matters that can be dealt with by the Land Commission, who are a body for the acquisition and development of land, and not for giving advice or finance to help other people who are doing that. These things are better done by other State organisations and other private organisations.
§ Clause 6. as amended, agreed to.532
§ Clause 7:
§ Compulsory purchase orders: normal procedure.
§ (4) In relation to a compulsory purchase order which is made on or after the second appointed day—
- (a) so much of any regulations made under the Acquisition of Land Act as requires a notice relating to a compulsory purchase order to specify the purpose for which the land is authorised to be compulsorily purchased, and
- (b) so much of Schedule 1 to that Act as requires any notice relating to such an order to specify the purpose for which the land is required.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved to leave out subsection (4). The noble Lord said: I have already stated my objection to this subsection, when we were discussing the group of Amendments, including this one, at an earlier stage. This is an Amendment to leave out the subsection which frees the Land Commission after the second appointed day from any duty of specifying the purpose for which the land is to be compulsorily purchased. My noble friends and I are vehemently opposed to any provision by which a person may have his home, his house or his land taken away from him by a public body which is under no obligation whatsoever to state the reason why it wishes compulsorily to purchase that house or land. We are vehemently opposed to it, and I am sure that the vast majority of the British public is, too. I beg to move.
Page 7, line 40. leave out subsection (4).—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)
§ LORD CHAMPION
We discussed this Amendment on the moving of the first Amendment on the Marshalled List to-day. I must say that when I saw the Amendment I thought that it was consequential on earlier Amendments, and that what happened on the first Amendment would necessarily decide what happened to the other Amendments which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, mentioned at the outset of his speech on Amendment No. 1. The fact is that we are here, I imagine, going to take a decision as to the use of this second appointed day procedure. I rather think this is the case, because otherwise the 533 noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, would not have moved this Amendment, which, as I say, appears to me to be consequential.
The noble Lord and his friends do not like the powers which we propose in this Bill to grant to the Land Commission after the second appointed day, and they want us to stick throughout the life of the Land Commission to the powers as they will be in being between the first and second appointed days. I am sure that we are at one in what. I have now said.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
I think I may be able to help the noble Lord, Lord Champion. My Amendment here is a narrow one. I was at an earlier stage asking the Government if they would explain what additional purposes the Land Commission might have in mind for compulsory purchase after the second appointed day; but I am, for the purpose of this Amendment, assuming that there are certain purposes not specified—and we may have to return to that on the Report stage. This Amendment does not in any way destroy the second appointed day; it does not in any way destroy the possibility of there being further purposes for which the Land Commission may be seeking to secure. All that this Amendment does is to require that the Land Commission will state in their notice of compulsory purchase the purpose for which they desire to purchase the land compulsorily.
§ LORD CHAMPION
This makes it much easier for me. I merely have to reply, it seems to me, on a technical point, and not over the wide dispute previously discussed. Subsection (4) is in the Bill for a technical reason. After the second appointed day the Commission's powers compulsorily to acquire land are unfettered by the need to show that it is being acquired for one of the purposes set out in Clause 6(4). The provisions in the 1946 Act relating to specifying the purposes—which means purposes such as are set out in that subsection—are inappropriate. This subsection is therefore a direct corollary to the Commission's powers in the second stage. To delete it would make it impossible for the Commission to comply with the procedural requirements under the Acquisition of Land Act. There is no implication in this subsection that the Commission will not know to what use the land should 534 be put. There will be a planning decision within the sense of Clause 6(3).
The Opposition will, I am sure, recognise that, the Committee having decided on an earlier Amendment that the second appointed day and the powers thereafter available to the Commission should remain part of the Bill, this subsection must remain in the Bill as well. This is the technical reply to the points which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, put to me on the technical aspect of this, and the fact that he has let me off the hook about the wider implications of the whole of this business of the second day is certainly welcome to me.
Perhaps I could ask the noble Lord one question. I think after the second appointed day the Commission have powers to act not only on their own behalf, but on behalf of other Government Departments or perhaps statutory undertakers. Would I be right in thinking that under these powers the Commission could acquire land without disclosing the purpose for which it is required, and then, in the case of, say, a reservoir, which may not have appeared on the planning map at all, suddenly announce to the landowner that it was intended to submerge his land and his house under about 20 feet of water? The noble Lord, Lord Champion, is a very reasonable man. Would he think that this was a reasonable position to put somebody in?
These technical arguments do get you into some difficulty when you are dealing with human problems. If I am told that this cannot happen, then I will withdraw. But acting as an agent for all kinds of people, and relying simply on the fact that something may or may not have appeared in a development plan—and I know how easily these things can be changed by ministerial intervention—I think it would be very wrong to apply this procedure to a process of acquisition which for many years has been carried out under well-known safeguards.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I am not absolutely sure if I have the noble Viscount's point, but it seems to me that he is rather questioning the situation of the Commission, having purchased land for one purpose, using it for another. Is that the point the noble Viscount was on? If it was, then clearly we shall be dealing with 535 this later, on what I regard as a Crichel Down Amendment.
That is not quite the position. I am dealing with the point where the Land Commission acquire land without stating any reasons, which I understand is the purpose of the Bill as drafted, and then subsequently, under the general guise of a planning consent given by a Minister, perhaps, over the heads of a local authority, putting a citizen into a position from which at present he is safeguarded under various procedures. And I instanced the possibility of a reservoir being put on to a man's land without his previous knowledge and entirely without the protection which he has now.
§ LORD CHAMPION
First of all, there has been a planning decision, which will show use. Then the noble Viscount is putting to me: What will be the point if there is a change in the mind of the owning authority about the use of that piece of land? I should not like to answer "off the cuff", as it were, quite in the terms which the noble Viscount has stated. I would rather see what he said in Hansard to-morrow, and write to the noble Viscount, so that I can give him an authoritative answer on the point. I must admit that I thought he was on the point of the land being put to another use by an alteration or another decision of the Land Commission, and that we shall be dealing with on a later Amendment.
§ LORD SILKIN
I must say that I do not feel very happy either at the terms of the Amendment, which I do not think is really what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, wants, or at the terms of the reply. What I believe this Committee are trying to get at is this. Admittedly there are circumstances in which the Land Commission will desire to acquire land for reasons other than those specified in Clause 6(4) or which they are not in a position to disclose at the time. My own view is that the Government ought to be prepared to reconsider Clause 7(4) instead of merely saying that they are not obliged to give reasons or the purposes for which the land is required. They should elaborate on it, indicate words which will enable them to go beyond what they said at the time of the acquisition, but subject to confirmation by some authority, the Minister, or somebody of 536 that sort. The public are entitled to something more than a negative statement that. "We are going to acquire your land, and we are under no obligation to tell you the use to which we are going to put it". I do not think that can really stand up at all.
Nor is it an answer to say that it is subject to Clause 6(4). That is being highly technical, and I do not think it is good enough, either. If you really mean that, plus some additional ground that may arise hereafter, I think it is much wiser to say so in the Bill and to explain what are the circumstances in which you want to depart from those four conditions in Clause 6(4). I hope the Government will be prepared to give an assurance that they will look at Clause 7(4) again with a view to elaborating and enlarging on it, and giving the reasons why it may become necessary to acquire land in addition to the reasons in Clause 6(4). This is rather complicated, but I hope I have made myself clear.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
I think what has become clear in the course of the debate is this. Your Lordships are not satisfied with the Bill as it stands. Your Lordships are prepared to accept from the Government that there may be certain purposes not so far specified in the Bill for which compulsory acquisition powers may be required after the second appointed day. We on this side think that something specific should be put into the Bill about that, and we are not put off by the argument that maybe the Land Commission will change their mind as to the use of the land. We know that local authorities can change their minds, and under certain safeguards it is possible for them to switch land from one purpose to another. There seems to be no inherent reason why an arrangement of that kind should not be inserted in the Bill.
The point which my noble friends and I are not going to swallow is the point that is implicit in subsection (4). The noble Lord, Lord Champion, very courteously told your Lordships that this was a technicality. It may be a technicality so far as the course by which it has got into the Bill is concerned, but the fact that a public authority is to be empowered by Parliament to acquire a person's house or land without giving any reason for 537 the compulsory acquisition of that house or land is far more than a technicality. I have no doubt whatever that we cannot allow this to remain in the Bill and that we must divide the Committee upon it.
§ LORD MITCHISON
Before the Government answer, I should like to know what it is that so upsets noble Lords opposite. What they say is that there is a grave infringement of the liberty of the subject if somebody's land is taken away from him without his being told the purpose for which it is bought and, therefore, in most cases the purposes for which it is to be used. I find this rather difficult to follow. What is the present position? Why is it an infringement of liberty? What is the point about it? The man's land is going to be taken anyhow. He is going to be paid a sum for it which in most cases, at any rate, will not be dependent upon the purpose for which it is used. Is it perhaps an attempt to get him some more money in some cases? I do not think so. If it is not, what help is it to him to know the purpose for which his land is to be used?
I would say this much to noble Lords opposite. It is quite easy to pretend that every Government authority is wholly idiotic or wicked; that every public commission always acts for the worse; that red tape gets the better of everyone who has to administer anything, and statements of that sort. But it must be the experience of, at any rate, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, that the Ministry concerned in this case and the people who constitute the Land Commission are not only ordinary good citizens, but rather above the average. It is really preposterous to suppose that if somebody wants to know the purpose for which his land is to be used, and he asks, they will deliberately refrain from telling him, unless there is some reason, or that if he sends them a stamped addressed envelope they will put it in the wastepaper basket or misuse the postage stamp. It is such an odd view—I cannot understand it.
We are told that a man is supposed to have a right to know the purpose for which his land is requisitioned. This puzzles me. Why is it an infringement of liberty if there is some reason for refusing the information? And if there is no reason, why is it supposed that the matter will not be public property any- 538 how and that, so far as it is not public property, he will be told? I think one must assume that even under a Labour Government the Land Commission are going to be a reasonable body, that the Ministry is going to be conducted on reasonable lines, and that the political prejudice which occasionally appears in odd places would have no particular scope here.
§ VISCOUNT ECCLES
I intervene very briefly. If the Land Commission are a reasonable body, they will know for what purpose they are buying the land. If they do not know what they are buying the land for—and I am not prepared to believe that any Commission would buy land absolutely without any idea—they ought to tell the person from whom they acquire it—and for this reason, which the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, does not seem to appreciate. I have had this sort of thing happen with sites for schools. Sometimes the owner of the land knows about another piece of land which is more convenient. This has happened over and over again. If the man does not know and is not told for what purpose the land is to be used, he has no chance to make an offer. I do not wish to weary your Lordships, but I could certainly quote one case where the owner suggested a far better site, with which everybody afterwards agreed. Why should the man not have the chance to argue the chance for an alternative site?
There is one other point. I think the Government ought to be careful about this departure from previous practice and not telling us what is the national interest. We are in great difficulty in this country because the national interest is so difficult to explain to everybody. Unless we are to become a country with far more controls, we simply must learn how to explain to the ordinary person what the national interest is, and take great trouble to encourage people to cooperate with the Government to do what is the right thing. If we pass laws which absolve the Government from even discussing the national interest with a private citizen, we are doing something very wrong. I hope the Government will look at this again.
§ LORD MITCHISON
I should like, if I may, to take up your Lordships' time to the extent of replying to the noble 539 Viscount, Lord Eccles, on what he said to me. May I give him two instances? When the Wiggins Teape Mill was put up at Fort William, land had to be bought there and the foreknowledge of what was going to happen put up the price of land steeply, no doubt for the benefit of those who owned it but, as I am sure the noble Viscount would agree, not for the public benefit. That is the kind of case which I think my noble friend the Minister in charge of the Bill had in mind when he spoke about a rather different variety of it, buying land piecemeal; that is to say, buying land bit by bit in order to provide for some subsequent major development.
Land produces a lot of feeling. Indeed, I think we can see signs of that here to-day. It produces an assertion of right which I think in this instance is somewhat exaggerated, and I hope that, notwithstanding the criticisms that have been made from both sides of the Committee, the Government will feel it is right to leave to the Land Commission the question of whether they should or should not disclose their intentions.
Also may I remind the noble Viscount and the Committee that what we are considering at the moment is the omission of Clause 7(4), because of two particular statements? We are not considering what is going to happen on objections or anything of that sort, and I should have thought the point raised about a man who had objections and wanted to pursue them was an entirely different point and did not arise.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
Has the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, never heard of district valuers, whose final decision the landowner is bound to accept?
§ LORD CHAMPION
I must just make a few remarks to conclude this discussion before we go, as we look like doing, into the Division Lobby. My noble friend Lord Silkin appealed to me and to the Ministers in charge of this Bill to discuss this clause further with the Minister responsible for it in the other place. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, did exactly that, too. Whatever happens, whether or not we have a Division, I can assure the Committee that I shall carry the 540 points made by both the noble Lords to my right honourable friend because I recognise their authoritative nature and the source from which they have come.
Just now the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, really challenged me, when I started to reply after he had moved this clause, to confine myself to the technical considerations, and then when he got up he made it quite clear that we were going to divide, not on technical considerations but rather on points which were discussed on Amendment No. 1. I must just make this brief reply on this point. In no circumstances will the Commission be buying land anthem wondering what to do with it—to what use it should be put. The clause makes it quite clear that the Commission will be able compulsorily to purchase land only within a framework of decisions by planning authorities, whether they are the local planning authority or the Ministers concerned with planning.
Is there any safeguard for the owner? This seems to me to be the point of most of the speeches that have come from the Opposition Benches. It is quite clear to everyone that the Commission will not be able to deprive an owner of his property merely to be unpleasant. The Commission must act in a responsible manner for they will be responsible to the Minister, who in turn is responsible to the Government, and of course as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said on Second Reading, the Commission will be subject to the Ombudsman, and therefore if they act harshly they may very well have their actions questioned before that Parliamentary Commissioner.
There is one other point that I must make on the owner's safeguards. The owner can object on any ground to his property being taken by the Commission, and in particular he can argue that his land is not suitable for material development, which are the operative words in this connection. This is the main issue. I end by saying that I think the Opposition will be quite unreasonable if it goes into the Lobby on this Amendment. I give the Committee the undertaking here and now that I will do what I said in respect of the points raised by my noble friend Lord Silkin and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
I am quite ready to have conversations with Government spokesmen about any of the matters that have arisen from this series of Amendments of mine, of which this is one. But the noble Lord, Lord Champion, certainly has not met the specific point raised by my noble friend Lord Eccles as to how a good result can emerge from an authority having to disclose the purpose for which it is seeking to acquire land. What troubles me about this is that the Government seem un-
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ House resumed by the Lord Chancellor.542
§ willing to recognise that it is quite wrong for any public authority to be given power by Parliament to acquire somebody else's property compulsorily without giving any reason for it. That is the reason why I think we must divide on this subsection.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 9) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 89; Not-Contents, 38.541
|Aberdare, L.||Effingham, E.||Milverton, L.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Emmet of Amberley, Bs.||Molson, L.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Falkland, V.||Monsell, V.|
|Airedale, L.||Faringdon, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Amory, V.||Fortescue, E.||Newton, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Fraser of North Cape, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Furness, V.||Oakshott, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Gage, V.||Ogmore, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Goschen, V. [Teller.]||Rathcavan, L.|
|Blackford, L.||Greenway, L.||Redmayne, L.|
|Boston, L.||Grenfell, L.||Rowallan, L.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||St. Helens, L.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Guest, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Buccleuch and Queensberry, D.||Hacking, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Harlech, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Chesham, L.||Hawke, L.||Sandys. L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Henley, I..||Savile, L.|
|Conesford, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Congleton, L.||Iddesleigh, E.||Somers, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Ilford, L.||Strange of Knokin, Bs.|
|Crathorne, L.||Inglewood, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Jessel, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Kinnoull, E. [Teller.]||Swinton, E.|
|Daventry, V.||Kirkwood, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Long, V.||Thurlow, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Lothian, M.||Vivian, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Mancroft, L.||Wade, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Mansfield, E.||Wedgwood, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||Mar, E.||Wolverton, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Mills, V.|
|Addison, V.||Hughes, L.||Popplewell, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Kennet, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Bowles, L.||Latham, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Burton of Coventry, Bs.||Leatherland, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Lindgren, L.||Sorensen, L. [Teller]|
|Champion, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Stocks, Bs.|
|Collison, L.||Longford, E. (L. Privy Seal.)||Stow Hill, L.|
|Crook, L.||Mitchison, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor)||Moyle, L.||Walston, L.|
|Granville-West, L.||Pargiter, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Hall, V.||Peddie, L.||Williamson, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Phillips, Bs.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Hilton of Upton, L. [Teller.]||Plummer, Bs.|