HL Deb 28 November 1966 vol 278 cc564-608

House again in Committee.

LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved, after subsection (4), to insert: ( ) Where a compulsory purchase order is made under the provisions of this section and it affects the winning and working of minerals, and in respect of which objections to the said order have been made and not withdrawn, then the appropriate Minister shall not confirm such order unless he is satisfied that all reasonable steps have been taken to secure such winning and working by means of the procedure prescribed under the Mines(Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966.

The noble Lord said: This Amendment relates to the compulsory purchasing power of the Land Commission in regard to minerals. The effect of the Amendment is to require that the existing statutory procedure for the compulsory purchase of minerals be used first before the Land Commission are allowed to use their power of compulsory purchase. My noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, both referred to the matter of mineral working on Second Reading, and I think it would be fair to say that mineral working is in a different category from the normal development of land. The normal development of land results in a permanent increase in the value of land, but with mineral workings, after the mineral has been extracted, the results usually are that there is a permanent decrease in the value of land—although, I suppose, it would be fair to say, in passing, that with restoration to such a high standard in some cases of mineral working, particularly ironstone, the farmland is usually restored pretty well to it original value.

I should also mention that while the minerals are being extracted royalties paid for the minerals are subject, first of all to mineral rights duty, then to income tax, and often to surtax as well; and with ironstone workings there is the restoration levy, which may be as much as half the total royalties. Thus, there is no danger that mineral workings are not making a full contribution to the Exchequer.

The second general point that I would make on mineral working is that it would be very far-fetched to contend that the development value arising out of mineral working was due to some action of the community, similar to normal development, where a new town or a new housing estate is developed. The fact is that the mineral lies in the ground until it is wanted by the relevant industry, it is then dug out, and that is the end of it. I think it is a fair point to make to the Committee that mineral development is in a different category from general development. In fact, I feel, with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that there is quite a case for saying that mineral development might well have been outside the Bill altogether. However, we are not trying to move it outside the Bill. What we are trying to do is to ensure that the existing powers, which rest in the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966, a consolidation Act which consolidates all the legislation from 1923 onwards, should be used first. If I may refresh the Committee's memory, the process under this Act provides that where a mineral developer had been unable to obtain the required mineral rights by agreement on reasonable terms from the landowner, and where in consequence such mineral rights were in danger of not being worked in accordance with a development plan, then the mineral operator had the right to apply to the High Court which can decide what rights should be granted and what compensation should be paid.

My impression is that everyone, including on occasion Ministers, has agreed that this appeal procedure works well, and in my personal opinion it has stood the test of time as holding a fair balance between the rights and interests of the individual citizens concerned and the rights of the community. This Amendment would do no more than ensure that this well-tried machinery should continue to be used before the Land Commission use their powers.

I noticed that on Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in replying to the points raised by my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in connection with mineral workings, told your Lordships that there had been discussions with the C.L.A., representing the owners of land, and with the Confederation of British Industry on behalf of the operators. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, disputed this point, and I have been given subsequent information from the C.L.A. which confirms this. The opinion of the C.L.A., quite definitely, is that it would be better if mineral workings were outside the operations of the Bill. Their Chairman told me that the only facility which had been extended by the Ministry to the C.L.A. was to allow them to make representations to the civil servant responsible. They draw a sharp distinction between making a representation and having discussions.

I think that in fairness to the C.L.A. I should make this point. They feel a little resentment that the impression has been given that there have been discussions and that therefore the C.L.A. were satisfied with the Bill as drafted. As I say, they are not satisfied, and they think these workings should be outside the Bill. I am not asking for that, but the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, told us, I think, that one of the major reasons why Her Majesty's Ministers wished to have this mineral operation within the Bill is that the C.B.I.'s representations on behalf of the mineral operators indicated that they needed further powers than exist in the 1966 Act.

Arising out of this statement by the noble Lord, there are one or two questions to which I believe the Committee would like an answer. Does this mean that, when a firm of mineral operators have failed to make an agreement with a landowner for the working of a mineral, they can go to the Land Commission and ask them to step in and acquire the land by using their compulsory powers? If this is so, would it not put the Land Commission in an invidious position? More particularly, if the Land Commission were using their powers under Clause 8, where there was not even a public inquiry, would this not be an unfortunate action to take? I cannot believe that this is the Government's intention.

I am sure that the Government wish to give, first of all, a fair deal to the landowner. Let me say immediately that "the landowner" sounds like a very heavily loaded political phrase. The landowner, after all, is usually a farmer, either the owner of the land or the tenant of it. I am equally sure that the Government wish to see the Land Commission winning a reputation for integrity and gaining the confidence of the whole community. I believe that the best way to do this is to accept this Amendment, which will make sure that the existing procedure, in which everybody except the C.B.I. has confidence, shall operate first, and only if that has broken down should the mineral operator have the right to turn to the Commission and ask them to step in. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 6, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)

8.16 p.m.


I support this Amendment. It seems to me—and, I think, to the mineral operators—that the powers of the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966 are great enough. I say "to the mineral operators", because the impression I get is that they are perfectly satisfied with the powers of the 1966 Mines Act and I am not quite sure why the C.B.I. have suddenly decided that they are not satisfied.

It may well be argued from the Government Benches that in fact the Mines Act 1966 is a consolidating Act, and that it does not do much more than collect together a good deal of existing legislation going back to 1923; and, indeed, even to 1845. I am not sure that is true. It may be only a consolidating Act, but it is supposed to be, and was redrafted and put together in 1966, as a guide to how the mineral-extracting industry should work in 1966. It gives an up-to-date pattern of procedure right through all the old difficulties. I do not think I need enlarge on what those difficulties were. They concerned difficulties in old leases and old agreements: difficulties of mineral operators persuading those whom they regarded as intransigent landowners to disgorge their land, and all sorts of things of that nature.

The 1966 Act, in fact, provides a blueprint as to how the mineral-extracting industry should work. If that Act was worth producing at all, I cannot see why it is necessary to go beyond it. I do not think there is any suggestion in the White Paper that minerals should be brought outside the Mineral Working Act under the Land Commission, and I cannot help feeling that it has been put in at the last minute to give a double assurance to mineral operators which they do not need and which is, indeed, unfair to mineral owners and to landowners.

As the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has said, landowners do feel that they have not been consulted. The Minister, in another place (during, I think, the Committee stage of this Bill), gave an assurance that, so far as major minerals are concerned, and other minerals where there is a specific designation in the development plan, he would not go beyond the Mines Act 1966 unless it broke down. If that is so, I cannot see why the Government cannot accept the noble Lord's Amendment; or, if they really feel unable to accept the Amendment, it seems to me they ought to set about repealing the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act.

I know that one might make a special case for sand and gravel. There are aspects of sand and gravel which are rather different from what are called major minerals. If that is so, I wonder whether the Government would not consider that they could make a special case for sand and gravel and deal with it under an Order in Council. I do not know what reaction I shall get to this suggestion, but it seems to me quite a reasonable one. I would not myself go so far as to say that a special case should be made for sand and gravel—I do not accept that but if the Government accept it, perhaps they would like to deal with sand and gravel separately and treat it in a different way.

The spokesman for the Government may perhaps criticise this Amendment on a technical point—though perhaps I might say at once that I do not think the technical point is an important one. It is that the Amendment says that the Minister shall not confirm the order. But, of course, in this context "confirm" is the wrong word, and it should in fact be "authorise". When there are objections the Minister only authorises, so that to that extent this Amendment is technically bad. But this is a very small point and I do not think we need bother very much about it.

The central point really is this. The Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966 gives everything that could possibly be desired by a mineral operator. I do not see, therefore, why we should go beyond the Mines Act 1966 and attempt in this Bill to put minerals outside the law, as it were, into the hands of the Land Commission. The only argument could be—I do not know whether in fact the Government will use this argument—that we get better planning this way. I do not see that we do. Planning is dealt with in totally different ways so far as minerals are concerned. Again, so far as betterment is concerned, this is a different issue; I do not feel that betterment is relevant to minerals at all, but that is outside the scope of this Amendment anyway.

The only reason for having this going past the Mines Act 1966 is, I feel, that pressure has been brought, I think unnecessarily, by the extracting industry to persuade the Government that it has not got enough powers. I support the noble Lord in suggesting that in fact the Mines Act gives every power that is necessary; otherwise I cannot see why in 1966 it was consolidated in the way it was. Therefore, I support the Amendment.


In the Second Reading debate very little was said in reply to the points raised about the ironstone minerals in the Midlands, and I hope it is justifiable to elaborate a little further this evening. I stated an interest then and do so again now, and also add that I have a very long experience of the management of these minerals from many different aspects. The justification for the ironstone, apart from other minerals, being dealt with in this Bill was questioned, and no information was given to us why it was necessary to be covered in the Bill. I understand that it is there only as a matter of convenience to have it with other minerals; but there is a considerable distinction between it and the others, and it could very well be treated separately if it was decided to do so. It may be of convenience from the Government's administration angle, but it must be an inconvenience to all those in a locality who have to manage the getting of the minerals and the restoration of the land.

On Second Reading I think it was shown that there was no case for betterment due to public action, and also that this does not fit in with any of the other subjects of the Bill or the reasons for their being in the Bill. It was shown that it is not necessary for minerals to be covered in the Bill, and that it is suitable neither from a management nor from a taxation aspect.

For many years I happened to be Chairman of a joint committee between the operators, that is the iron and steel companies, and the owners of the ironstone, with a view to promoting better arrangements for working and for making the ironstone available, and for the subsequent arrangements. I am fully aware that the operators always have access to the ironstone, and that the ore is always available to the operators in so far as the owners are concerned. If this was questioned I am sure the point raised must have been in connection with some other mineral, and not with ironstone. The only case which could have been raised was perhaps that in Oxford shire where, after a public inquiry, permission to get the iron ore was refused on quite different grounds.

I have had much more to do with the restoration of land mined for ironstone, and I recollect in 1947, at the time of the Town and Country Planning Bill, the noble Lord opposite taking the late Lord Dalton to that area and a thorough examination was made, after which agreement was reached between the Government representatives, the county council and the National Farmers' Union and all others concerned. Most effective arrangements were made for the getting of ironstone and for the restoration of the land afterwards. I hope that nothing will be done under this Bill to upset these arrangements, which I think have been working perfectly satisfactorily.

There are other points which perhaps do not come so much into this Amendment as into the general discussion and which have to do with the severance of land and the advantage of the responsibility for the general administration and the restoration lying with the persons on the spot. To a countryman, it seems that legislation of this sort, mainly concerning urban problems of semi-urban land, is made from a long-term urban point of view, and does not always fit in with the problems of the countryside. I think that more attention should be given to this, and I feel that the Government themselves will find that the Bill could be simplified in so far as this ironstone is concerned. It could well be left out altogether. If not, I hope that this Amendment will be accepted.


I remember Dr. Dalton standing on top of a hill not far from Kettering, and listening to Stewarts & Lloyds' representative saying that it was quite impossible to do what was already being done in Lincolnshire, and was finally done round about that part of the world.


And what we have been doing.


Which was restoration, and it resulted finally in a most satisfactory arrangement about ironstone mining in that part of the world. I agree that it has been satisfactory. This Amendment—about which somebody has been a little slack in including the word "confirm"—was discussed in Committee in another place, not at great length but fairly fully. I do not know what my noble friend is going to say, but in view of what was said then, I hope he may succeed in mollifying the Opposition, a task for which I find myself ill-fitted, and at the same time in sticking to the Bill as it stands.

I do not think anybody denies that the 1966 Act, so far as it goes, works well. That was certainly conceded in express terms in the Commons. It is, of course, an Act which regulates the relations between the landowner and someone who wishes to develop the minerals in the land, but it seems to me there may well be wider considerations than that in regard to developing minerals. The instance I have in mind concerns parts of the Highlands of Scotland, where a successful development of minerals would be none too easy but if pursued would bring about a difference to the economy far greater than one would imagine from the mere volume or amount of the money that passed in connection with it. I should have thought that the Government recognised that the 1966 Act works well, and that in dealing with land generally it would be wise not to exempt this particular group of rights from the operation of the Act.

I often notice that at about the time of the Budget those who wish to be exempted from general taxes become quite voluble. Perhaps something of the sort is going on here. Those who seek to be exempted have a rather heavy burden to discharge. It is not sufficient to say, "It is not obvious how these powers are to be used". I think it is right to reserve them, and they quite clearly were reserved. The assurance which I think the noble Lord, Lord Henley, had in mind is set out in column 242 of the Committee Proceedings on this Bill in another place on June 30. It is as follows: I give the assurance straight away, as far as the Class 1 category of minerals is concerned"— I will come to that in a moment— or with respect to any others where there is a specific designation in the development plan, that the Commission would not be required, and would not wish, to intervene in the process. Then, beyond that, the Parliamentary Secretary went on to say—and I think one must bear this in mind—in column 243: …we feel that it would be wrong, even if the Amendment were in order, to fetter the Land Commission. I give the assurance that it would not normally purchase for industry or for reasons of general policy, but there are cases where it would be in the public interest to do so. And he then refused to accept the Amendment. I think it was not divided upon but was withdrawn, the mover saying that they were grateful for having had a useful discussion of detail, and ending up by saying in column 248: In view of the Minister's remarks, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. It seems to me rather strange that when an assurance is given in another place and an Amendment is withdrawn on the basis of it, your Lordships, knowing of that assurance, should now be asked to pass what the movers of the Amendment in the Commons did not press to a Division there. Be that as it may, which is rather a point of procedure, I turn to another point.

The 1966 Act provides for a number of mineral workings which are included in the First Schedule, but this Schedule does not include sand and gravel. Therefore the rights in regard to the working of sand and gravel are rather different and the mineral operator has less of a case there. I think that sand and gravel is a good example of where, in addition to the interest of the owner of the land and the would-be mineral operator, the public interest is also concerned.

If one looks at what is happening all around any of our big cities, one finds extensive gravel working. I think we all know of it around London. Therefore it seems to me expedient that, rather than leave this simply as a matter between the individual landowner and the mineral operator—at any rate, so far as the use of the land is concerned—the Commission should have the power to move. I can conceive cases where the Commission would wish to move not merely in relation to a particular small area, but in relation to a large tract of country. After all, the mineral workings in Northampton shire and thereabouts, to which the noble Duke alluded, are not very old, and they arise from a major change which was made by the iron and steel industry which moved more or less en masse from the fuel to the ore. The fuel in those times was in Wales and the ore was in the Midlands.

Then there has followed on that a further question which seems to me to be one of a public character, and which was raised in the Oxford inquiry which the noble Duke also mentioned; that is, the extent to which operators could and should work ore which is not particularly good ore, knowing that by doing so they will do a good deal of damage to other aspects of the countryside. I express no opinion about what happened in Oxford, and no opinion on the question generally, except to say that it is something which must always depend on the circumstances of the case and, quite clearly, involves questions of public policy.

I should therefore, as an unrepentant Socialist, hope to keep the Land Commission in on this matter, and I believe, as a citizen of a democratic country, that we ought to follow the Commons on it. I further believe as an individual, and, I hope, a lover of my country, that in the long run it is best that this particular group of rights should retain a measure of public initiative and public control.


Would the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, inform your Lordships what are these unworked minerals in the Highlands, other than coal in Sutherland and diatomite in Wester Ross, which are already being worked, and slate in various parts of the country which it is no longer economic to work?


There are a good many of them, and the question is: what is workable? But the white sands are an obvious case, and I can think of others. But here I, an Englishman, am in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and I would not dare to go any further than I have gone.

8.33 p.m.


This Amendment has been very well argued and there have been a number of speeches. I start by saying that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, is, of course, absolutely right. The Amendment could not in any case be accepted because it is technically incorrect. It begins: Where a compulsory purchase order is made under the provisions of this section…". and goes on to say that "the appropriate Minister shall not confirm such order" except in certain circumstances. The fact is, of course, that when a compulsory purchase order is made it has become effective. Under this clause the Commission will start with a draft order, and if the intervening stages have been successfully passed, the Commission will make an order. My only reason for mentioning this point here is that, of course, we could not include this Amendment in the Bill as it is at present drafted.

But I would accept the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, by going on to say that our objections to the Amendment go much deeper than merely the drafting point. I am not going to attempt to sit on the drafting point, and ask the Committee to agree with me because of a drafting point. Here we have to consider the principle, and if I do not reasonably satisfy the movers of the Amendment they may well come back on Report stage with an Amendment which would be technically correct.

As the noble Lord, Nord Nugent of Guildford, reminded us, there are powers under the Mines Act 1966 by which a mineral undertaker can compulsorily obtain rights to work minerals. The powers are relatively freely available for certain minerals—primarily metalliferous minerals. For other minerals, including those most important for the building industry—such as sand and gravel and limestone—the powers are available only if the land is specifically defined for this purpose in an approved development plan. Perhaps I should mention here that the authority to take rights is given by the High Court. That is under the 1966 Act. Mineral undertakers in the preferred class—namely, the metalliferous—are reasonably satisfied with the present procedure; that is, the procedure under the 1966 Act. The others are not; and the Confederation of British Industry have made strong representations to the Government that mineral undertakers of the non-preferred class should be helped to get rights to work minerals which are essential for the economic wellbeing of the country.

Here, I think I can give the noble Duke the undertaking he was seeking, and I will put it in these words: that in practice it is unlikely that the Land Commission would buy land for the purpose of mineral working in the preferred class. I would say, in passing, that I agree with him that an excellent job is being done by way of restoration after the workings to which he referred, the iron and stone workings. This was not always the case, of course, and we remember those hills and dales which so marred the country for such a long time after iron and stone working had been carried out. Anyone who knows that part of the country will remember them very well.


From war-time operations.


I remember them very well. I used to pass them, going to and from my constituency, between Derbyshire and London. In any case, we now say that an excellent job is being done, but that is rather outside the Amendment which we are now discussing.

It is recognised, as I say, that, under the 1966 Act, the preferred mineral undertakers are reasonably satisfied; but for the other class, the non-preferred class, the existing procedure can be very slow and very cumbersome. An actual example drawn to our attention recently showed that nearly three years passed between the grant of a planning permission and the final making of an order under the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act, 1923, which was, of course, the Act which governed this matter but which is now included in the 1966 consolidating Act. Here I must mention to the noble Lord, Lord Henley—although I am fairly sure that his Parliamentary experience is such that he already knows it—that in consolidating Acts one does not make major changes in the Acts that are consolidated. If one starts to attempt that, one immediately runs into difficulties. Only the most minor changes and alterations of a purely drafting character are made when one measure or several measures are being consolidated into one.

As a result of representations made, the mineral interests have been assured that the Land Commission will be able to help them, where necessary, to obtain the land which is essential for their undertakings. Perhaps it would have been wiser if we could have done it by means of an amendment to the 1923Act, or perhaps the 1966 Act as it is now, but I do not think that would have been the appropriate way to do it. There is also the fact that, in our view, it is right that the Land Commission should be able to come in on this. The Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, would have the effect of limiting and delaying the activities of the Commission in this field. The Commission could not act until the other procedure had been exhausted, but the circumstances in which the Commission would primarily be concerned to use their powers would be those very circumstances where the existing procedure is too slow and would not ensure that land is brought forward at the right time for mineral development.

There is no doubt about the views of the mineral industry. A letter from the chairman of the C.B.I. Minerals Committee states: The C.B.I. Minerals Committee, represent-completely opposed to this Amendment whiching all sections of the industry, is therefore has been put down without any form of consultation. It would not facilitate the free flow of land for mineral development but would more likely tend to inflate land prices, in some cases possibly catastrophically. We have to remember, in connection with the compulsory purchase powers in this Bill, that we are not proposing to confer rights on private persons or undertakings but on a Commission which will be answerable to a Minister who, in turn, will be answerable to Parliament for his actions.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and others have suggested that we ought not to be doing this here in this Bill, which has, as he said, some purpose other than this. I do not think we can pretend—I certainly would not—that we are doing anything here other than making an attempt through this machinery to benefit the economy. We are doing this in the public interest because we believe it is right, and because it will provide a procedure which is quicker than the slow, cumbersome procedure that I have mentioned to enable this country to get the materials it requires for its essential purposes. This means, as I say, that the Commission will have to act, and be seen to act, in the public interest. Of course they can always be watched, and the Minister responsible can be questioned about his actions in connection with these matters. And, as I said on another Amendment, the Ombudsman could be brought in if it were thought that anything was going wrong in this connection.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, have talked about the C.L.A. being rather hurt that their discussions with the Minister were not so full as the C.L.A. thought they should be. The facts are that at the request of the C.L.A., Sir Michael Culme-Seymour, of their Minerals Committee, and Mr. Holland saw officials of the Ministry of Land and produced arguments for exemption of minerals from the Bill. They were already aware of proposals to give substantial exemptions to mineral undertakings which had earlier been announced by the Minister. They were told that their views would be conveyed to the Minister but that it was most unlikely he would accept them. Detailed reasons for this were given, and the discussion lasted for one and a half hours. The mineral undertakers, represented by the Minerals Committee of the C.F.I., also made representations and came for discussions with the officials of the Ministry. Since exemptions were to be given, there was room for more negotiations, and discussions have been more detailed and longer. The draft regulations to be made under Clause 74 are not yet available and, therefore, have not yet been disclosed either to the undertakers or to the owners.


Might I interrupt? The noble Lord mentioned a friend of mine, Sir Michael Culme-Seymour. Has he been given an answer yet?


I should have thought that no answer was necessary. He saw the officials, and of course he knows what happened as between his deputation and the Ministry's officials. I do not think there is anything else required as between the C.L.A. and the Ministry. Clearly, when the draft regulations are being prepared, unless I am very much mistaken there will be the usual discussions between the Ministry and those affected by the regulations. This is pretty well common form. I am sorry that the C.L.A. is not happy about all this. We want to keep everybody reasonably happy about these things, and I should not like to be charged with not having had reasonable discussions with people who are interested; but I think that reasonable discussion has taken place. It is not always possible that a body, even one as important as the C.L.A., can have access to the Minister, if the Minister feels the matter is one which ought to be discussed between his officials and the deputation which comes along.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, asked whether the minerals and the rights in connection with them would go to the Land Commission. Powers of compulsory purchase are being given to the Commission, but they cannot be exercised, as we have repeatedly said, unless development has been agreed by the appropriate authority as being suitable. This is something which the Commission will always have to bear in mind and so will everybody else; for the Land Commission can acquire only if the authority agrees that the minerals are ripe for development. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that minerals were not specifically mentioned in the White Paper. But there were many details which were not mentioned in the White Paper; had it been otherwise, the White Paper would have been the size of the Bill. But minerals were covered by the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, and since there are many references in the White Paper to development in the sense of that word in the 1947 Act it was clearly implied that minerals would be dealt with by the Land Commission. Not merely on technical grounds, but on grounds of public interest; on grounds which have been represented to us by the C.B.I. (we do not always accept their representations, as noble Lords will know, but here we believe they have a sound case) we hope that we shall be able to leave in the Bill the clause as it at present stands in relation to these minerals.


I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for the informative reply he has given to the Committee. While making an apology for the faulty drafting of the Amendment, I would add the customary remark in passing that no Opposition Amendment has ever yet been technically acceptable by any Government. However, the noble Lord, Lord Champion, generously said that he was prepared to pass this over and deal with the Amendment on its merits, which he proceeded to do in a very informative fashion.

The noble Lord, Lord Champion, gave the same assurance as was given during the Committee stage in another place by the Parliamentary Secretary, to which the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, referred. All I would say to that is that if it is the intention of the Government that normally the Land Commission are not going to use their powers in this connection for Class I minerals, why not put it in the Bill? That would be a much safer place for it and would make sure that it would have the effect for ever. Powerful though the noble Lord's assurance is, as is that of the Parliamentary Secretary in another place, it is soon forgotten once the Bill is on the Statute Book, and I feel that we should all be much happier if we saw this provision in the Bill.

May I say that I am delighted that the Government and the C.B.I. have got into this cosy partnership over the Bill? As the noble Lord rightly says, this is not always the situation for them, and I am only too happy to encourage it. But they seem to have come out of it much better than C.L.A. The C.L.A. must learn something from the C.B.I. of the tactics of approach, so that they may get the same happy result. Joking apart, I think that all speakers have recognised that there are two distinct classes of minerals here—Class I minerals and the rest. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, himself has said that Class I minerals could be treated as in a different category.

Although I should like to see all minerals dealt with in the same way, as our Amendment suggests, if there are good reasons—and the noble Lord adduced a case of three years' delay in one instance of mineral development, though I think he would be bound to recognise that the development of sand and gravel, in terms of betterment prices, is in a different category from that of metalliferous minerals—why Her Majesty's Ministers feel that they cannot accept all minerals, but in principle have accepted that Class 1 minerals will normally not be affected by the work of the Land Commission in this respect, I would cogently urge them to put it in the Bill. Perhaps we can leave this matter now in this position, and my noble friends and I can consider putting down a further Amendment for the Report stage which would attempt to do just that. I will try my utmost to see that the Amendment is correctly drafted, though I doubt if it will be, but I feel sure that the substance will be there. In those terms, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.53 p.m.

LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved to add to the clause: ( ) A compulsory purchase order made under the provisions of this section where it is directed to affect the winning and working of minerals shall be operative only as respects the compulsory purchase of the minerals to be extracted from the land, and shall not otherwise divest the title to the land from the original owner except only in the instance where the original owner has given notice to the Commission of his willingness to dispose of the whole of his title and interest in the land and the minerals therein.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 11 in the names of my noble friends and myself. This Amendment is on a far narrower scale. Its effect would be to limit a compulsory purchase by the Land Commission to the minerals to be extracted only, and to leave the freehold itself to remain in the hands of the owner, unless the owner wished to dispose of the freehold with the minerals—in other words, to leave the landowner the option. It is common practice with some mineral workings, particularly ironstone, that when a mineral is worked out by surface workings, the land is then restored to farmland. As my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry has already mentioned, modern methods of restoration are now so good that the land can be restored to good condition. The top soil and subsoil are kept separate, the land drains replaced afterwards and the land brought back to good farming conditions, so that when the working is finished and the excavation filled in and consolidated, the fragmentation of farms which would otherwise occur is avoided. Clearly, where this can be done it is very much in the interests of the farming industry and, therefore, of the community as a whole. This is the sole purpose of this Amendment.

Again, it may be desirable to confine its effect to Class 1 minerals only, but certainly within that class it has a most cogent application in avoiding the fragmentation of land which would otherwise occur where the freehold is acquired, as well as the minerals, and then this particular slice of land is taken out of the original farm unit. I think this is a sound, practical Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 21, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)


In the case of ironstone, I should like strongly to support this Amendment, again speaking with long experience of the curious results of workings at different depths and under different conditions, and the different effects on the surface. It is most desirable that people on the spot should have, and should carry out, the responsibility for whatever is the best use of the land, either restoration for farming or planting with trees. I am sure it will be found that, in conjunction with the office at the advisory organisation in Nottingham and the Land Use Department, who often go to see what is happening, better results can be secured under the present arrangements than by making a change.


I, too, support this Amendment. It does not, after all, prevent a landowner from selling both the minerals and the land, if he happens to own both, and wants to sell them. So there is nothing limiting, so far as the Amendment is concerned. The Government might say that it is not limited enough, in that it might be more acceptable to them if it applied only to those cases where the minerals were already separated from the land. I do not know whether the Government, if they are going to reject this Amendment, would consider a similar Amendment dealing with the divorce of minerals and land, or whether, alternatively, if they cannot do that, they will give some sort of undertaking that, where possible, the land would be sold back, either restored or otherwise, to the original owner. Apart from those two possible alternatives, I support the Amendment.


All three noble Lords who have spoken have made out a reasonable case, and I am sorry that I have to resist it. As I understand it, the effect of this Amendment would be that if the Commission sought to exercise compulsory powers to acquire land containing minerals to enable those minerals to be worked the compulsory purchase order would be limited to the minerals and the remainder of the land above or below the stratum or strata of minerals (and also presumably any land lying between strata of minerals) would be excluded.

In rejecting a previous Amendment on mineral rights I stressed the fact that the Commission would use their powers of compulsory purchase only where the public interest clearly demanded it. To accept the Amendment could well result in the Commission being hamstrung when they needed, in the public interest, to acquire minerals. Very often the minerals could not possibly be worked without some use of, or interference with, the surface of the land. To overcome difficulties of this kind elaborate provisions would have to be made conferring working rights and rights of support.

But having said that, I must add that what is really intended by the mover of the Amendment will be achieved, in practice, without the inclusion of the Amendment. If the Comission make a compulsory purchase order for the land including minerals, this can be done only because it has proved impossible to arrive at an agreement which would make practicable the working of minerals without taking the land. If the Minister is satisfied that the minerals ought to be worked, then it would be possible, in the context of the compulsory purchase order, for a settlement to be reached under which the right to work minerals carries with it the necessary freedom from or obligation to rights of support. It is always possible for an owner to object to a compulsory purchase order on the ground that what is necessary in the public interest can be achieved without the acquisition of the whole of his land, and for the Minister to refuse to confirm the order if he is satisfied that the public need can otherwise be satisfied.

To sum up, we think that this Amendment would be so restrictive as to render the taking of the right to work minerals impossible, except where this can be done without in any way affecting the surface of the land. We are also confident that much of what seems to be the real purpose of the Amendment can be achieved by the use of the Minister's powers when he is confirming a compulsory purchase order.

Perhaps I ought to add that, so far as I understand it, it is not the intention of the Land Commission to purchase minerals to work themselves. They will purchase them, and they will be sold to those people who have not been able to purchase in the ordinary way in order that the minerals may be worked. I think it is the case—I will check this—that if it happens that the ownership of the land, apart from the minerals, should remain with the Land Commission, it will not in the normal way be the practice of the Land Commission to hold land just for the sake of holding land. If I were a member of the Land Commission, and if by any chance the land part remained in our ownership, I should carry out what I regard as the Crichel Down procedure, and try to ensure that it was added again to the farm from which it had been torn. This, I believe, is good sense, and I think it would operate in that way. Apart from that, I consider this is an Amendment which we ought not to include in the Bill. The points that the noble Lord has made so cogently are important points, and I hope that what I have told him about the administrative arrangements and so on will satisfy him, and that he will be prepared to withdraw his Amendment.


May I say one other word? If the Minister's reply indicates an assurance that the compulsory acquisition of the land will be used only in the minimum number of cases where it is absolutely essential, that is a considerable improvement. But at the same time I feel that he has been unsympathetic about our approach to this subject, and that if the Land Commission go much further than indicated to-day, it would be a justification for our anxiety in the earlier debate this afternoon.


I thank the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for his answer to our representations on this Amendment, but I agree with my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry that it is not a very satisfactory answer. I do not doubt that if the noble Lord, Lord Champion, was a member of the Land Commission my confidence in its workings would be unlimited. But he will not be a member. I want to make sure that this body works satisfactorily, irrespective of the membership. I am not persuaded by the noble Lord that it would not be possible to put in the Bill an obligation on the Land Commission to sell back the land after working the minerals. I accept that the Amendment in the form in which we put it down would be too restrictive where the Land Commission acquired land for the purpose of working minerals, and that is certainly not our intention in moving this Amendment.


Would the noble Lord help me in one respect? What has he in mind in a case where, as I think will happen, the Land Commission will purchase the land for the purpose of working the minerals but will sell it to the mineral operator?


After the minerals have been extracted I want the land to be sold back to the original owner. I should not have thought it beyond the wit of man and Parliamentary draftsmen to put such a provision into the Bill. I accept that what we have now drafted may be too restrictive, but we shall certainly try again on Report stage to come back with an Amendment on the lines I am now indicating, because the noble Lord has intimated that this is what will normally happen. We are comforted by hearing the noble Lord say that. But the Bill is the place to put these things in and then we can be quite sure that it will happen, so that the land does not get fragmented. In those terms, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Compulsory purchase orders: special procedure]:

9.7 p.m.

LORD WADE, moved in subsection (4), to leave out "annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either" and to substitute: "approval by a resolution of each". The noble Lord said: I can move this Amendment briefly, and in doing so I am prejudging the question as to whether Clause 8 should be approved. It is an important clause, introducing the special procedure for compulsory purchase orders, but if it is accepted then I submit that the altered wording of subsection (4) would be somewhat important and would perhaps go some way to meet the fears of those who are disturbed about Clause 8. Subsection (4) reads as follows: Any statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (1) of this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament. If I understand this correctly, it means that any Member of either House who objects to a proposed Statutory Instrument containing an order under subsection (1) may pray against it, but in my view that is not a satisfactory procedure. It is extremely difficult to take note of the many orders and Statutory Instruments that are continually coming forward and will come forward under this Bill when it becomes an Act. I submit that the Affirmative Resolution procedure is preferable, and the object of my Amendment is to alter this subsection in such a way that a Statutory Instrument containing an order under subsection (1) would require an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses before taking effect.

If one turns to the proviso to subsection (5) of this clause one finds these words: Provided that no order shall be made under this subsection unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. Therefore, so far as an order under subsection (5) is concerned the Affirmative Resolution of both Houses is required. I am suggesting that a similar procedure should apply in subsection (4); that is for a Statutory Instrument containing an order under subsection (1). Surely it would be better to have a similar procedure both for subsection (4) and for the proviso to subsection (5). It may be that the noble Lord, in his reply, will be able to give some explanation as to why there should be different procedures in the two cases, but it certainly seems to me that the Affirmative Resolution would be the most satisfactory procedure in both cases. If that is so, I hope that my Amendment will be accepted. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 9, line 2, leave out from (" to") to (" House") in line 3 and insert (" approval by a resolution of each").—(Lord Wade.)


I would add my support to this Amendment, and appeal to Her Majesty's Government to think again about this particular point. Far be it from me to impute any improper motives to anybody, but when I see in a Bill that the Government of the day decide in the public interest (a phrase which, as my noble friend Lord Eccles said earlier in the debate this afternoon, should be more closely defined) that there should be a simplified procedure for doing something, my suspicions are immediately aroused. When, in the same subsection of Clause 8, there is a reference to Schedule 2 of the Bill, and I find that Schedule 2 says the Minister shall not be required to cause a public local inquiry to be held in regard to these orders, it seems to me, supporting what my noble friend Lord Wade said, that it would be very much more satisfactory as a protection to those who may be affected by this provision that the Government should be compelled to table an order under the Affirmative Resolution procedure instead of being able to rest on the Prayer, or annulment procedure, which, as my noble friend said can be exerted only so long as everybody is alert and keeps a very close eye on any order which may be laid by the Government of the day. I would therefore urge that the Government should have second thoughts about this matter.

Noble Lords on the other side who served in the other place will know that in the past both sides have argued back and forth as to whether we should have the Affirmative Resolution procedure or the annulment procedure. But in a case like this, where there is no public inquiry into the order being made, I should have thought this was a simple protection which might be given in this Bill, and I hope that the Government will have second thoughts.


I hope they will not. I think we must remember where we are. There is a very considerable difference between the Affirmative procedure and the Negative procedure in the Commons, because a Prayer to annul an order is limited in time, and an Affirmative Resolution may be prolonged for a good deal more time.


If the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, I think that if he had said in another place a few years ago that there was very little difference between the Affirmative procedure and the Negative procedure he would have raised a horse-laugh.


I am saying there is considerable difference in the procedures in the other place. The other place considered this proposal but turned it down. They decided against what is now proposed by way of amendment here, when we are asked to take it upon ourselves to decide that, whatever they may have thought about it, from our point of view the Affirmative Resolution is necessary. Under either the Affirmative or Negative procedure, of course, there is no opportunity of amendment: it is "Aye" or "No". We all know that. But when we look at the procedure in this House—and I have listened to both forms of order being discussed here—I do not think your Lordships have been unduly limited by the fact that a discussion tool place on the Negative procedure. It is really a question of Government time. I quite agree that it is the business of any self-respecting Opposition to waste as much Government time as possible, and no doubt that is the intention of this Amendment.



I beg your pardon. I retract immediately: I am glad to hear that that is not the purpose. But if it is not, I should be very glad to know what the purpose is.


I hope the noble Lord will accept from me that I had no intention of causing a waste of time by moving this Amendment. But there is a real difference between the two procedures. I am submitting that this is a case where as reasonable safeguards as possible should be introduced. The proposal that I have put forward would introduce a fairer safeguard for those who are concerned about this matter.


The noble Lord, Lord Wade, has misunderstood me. I did not for a minute suggest that his Amendment was a waste of time. I thought it was somewhat misconceived, but one can think that without thinking something a waste of time. What I suggest is that if you put it in you would make no real difference to the opportunities for discussion at all, except that the Government of the day would always have to get the thing discussed, which might well be a waste of time.


Not necessarily discussed, but it would have to be laid on the Table. It could be automatically approved or discussed.


I never know what happens when you lay something on the Table; I have never actually seen it done. I am sure it has some significance. But the fact remains that I have listened to discussions on orders under both the Negative and the Affirmative Resolution procedures, and your Lordships emit as much wisdom in volume and quality under the Negative as under the Affirmative Resolution procedure. When the Commons, where there is a difference, have turned it down, I cannot think what we could do to correct what they have accepted. There there is a real difference, and it does make a difference.

9.17 p.m.


I have to agree with my noble friend. There is, of course, no hard and fast constitutional doctrine about this point, but an Affirmative Resolution procedure is usually reserved for Statutory Instruments which partake of the nature of Acts of Parliament themselves, because, permanently or semi-permanently, they fill in the body of their parent Act—for instance, under this Bill the material development regulations—or substantially alter the workings of the parent Act: for instance, under this Bill the order bringing in the second appointed day which we have already discussed. It seems to us that this procedure is riot so appropriate for a series of orders which are temporary and transitory, being limited both as to time and as to place and purpose.

I would also point out that if we make these orders subject to Affirmative Resolution procedure in both Houses, it would be a strong incentive to the Commission to make large orders at long intervals. Bigger orders would be made than otherwise would be the case. It would be known that they were going to be discussed in any case; therefore why not put everything in? It would save Government time. I can think of future Ministers who might ask them to do this in order to save Government time. Whereas, if we leave matters as they stand in the Bill now, there would be no obstacle to the Commission's making a large number of small orders, each one of which could be picked up by alert Members of either House. To adopt the changes suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, would, I think, be almost to press the Land Commission to operate in a wholesale manner, which might not be welcome to either Party.

I want to come back to Lord Wade's question, about why, if we make an order under subsection (1) and one under subsection (5) subject to an Affirmative Resolution, we should make orders under subsection (4) subject only to Negative Resolution. The answer is that subsec- tion (1) provides for the general authority to do this. Subsection (5), to which the noble Lord specifically addressed himself, is concerned with the extension of the general power to do this under Clause 8. It automatically lapses after five years unless, by Affirmative Resolution, the other place gives to the Minister the power to continue making these orders. Subsection (4) deals simply with each of these individual orders. It seems to me to be entirely appropriate that the power to make these orders should be subject to Affirmative Resolution, to the larger Parliamentary control, while the power to make each individual little order should be subject only to Negative Resolution, which is the rather lesser Parliamentary control. I hope that, in view of this elucidation, the noble Lord may feel it appropriate to withdraw the Amendment.


I have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and I must say that I should be disposed to support the noble Lord, Lord Wade, in this Amendment if it were not for the fact that I have standing in my name a much more drastic Amendment to remove from the Bill the whole of this iniquitous clause. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wade, on having elicited from the Government the confession that there are likely to be a large number of these iniquitous orders. We will certainly return to that at a later stage. The only reason I would not advise my noble friends to vote for this Amendment is that it might prejudice our subsequent intention to get the whole of this inexcusable clause removed from the Bill.


I fully take the noble Lord's point, but I must point out to him that my "confession" did not include the word "iniquitous". Perhaps I should put this matter in proportion. If we make each order subject to Affirmative Resolution in both Houses, the Land Commission may be tempted to "plonk" down an order on the whole of England south of the Trent, or something like that, whereas if we leave it subject to Negative Resolution they may make orders on a more manageable scale for this or that town or city.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

On Question, Whether Clause 8 shall stand part of the Bill?

9.23 p.m.


I beg to move the unnumbered Amendment in the name of my noble friend, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, to leave out Clause 8. Is that not in order?


It is not an Amendment; it is italicised, which means that somebody will be called to speak on it. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, was called. You have spoken in his stead. The Motion to be put to the House will be "That the clause shall stand part of the Bill".


I am much obliged to the noble Lord, and I apologise for not being quite up to date with my procedure. It may be convenient to the Committee if we discuss at the same time as this clause a further non-Amendment standing in my name later in the Order Paper, to leave out Schedule 2, be cause Schedule 2 is very closely connected with this clause.

The noble Lord, Lord Wade, when moving his Amendment just now, said that if it were accepted by the Government it might do something to relieve the minds of those who are worried by this clause. I certainly am one who is worried by this clause, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor that it is an iniquitous clause. In fact, I think that this clause and Schedule 2 together are among the more iniquitous provisions of this Bill. They are in direct conflict with the hallowed constitutional principle that it is not enough that justice should be done, but that it should manifestly be seen to be done.

It appears to me, and I think to many other noble Lords, that this clause and Schedule 2, if they remain in the Bill, will enable the Land Commission to take away a person's home or business premises or land within 28 days, without that unfortunate person necessarily knowing that that disaster is going to befall him. I may be wrong about this; I may have misread the Bill, and if I have I hope that whichever Minister is going to reply—probably the noble Lord, Lord Kennet—will be good enough to say so. A similar question to this was asked by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor in his powerful speech on the Second Reading of this Bill, when he did not get any answer to it.

The reasons for my fears are these. As I understand it, Clause 8 empowers the Minister or Ministers within five years from the first appointed day to make an order authorising the Land Commission to dispense with the normal procedures for compulsory purchase and to acquire property—homes, land, shops and all the rest of it—compulsorily by means of what the clause euphemistically calls "a simplified procedure". One of the ingredients of this simplified procedure exempts the Land Commission from the obligation of making even reasonably sure that the individual concerned receives the notice of the intention to serve a compulsory purchase order upon him. It seems to me that, at the discretion of the Land Commission, it will be sufficient for one of the Commission's officials to hand the notice to some person on the land, or to affix it to some conspicuous object on the land.

Let us envisage this scene. The official drives up in his car, ready to deposit his notice. If he is lucky he may find somebody picking cowslips or primroses, if it is spring, or blackberries if it is autumn, or an old woman exercising her dog, or a courting couple. Apparently the official will be able to hand the notice to any of these people and later on swear on oath in a court of law that he had complied with the provisions of paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to this Bill. If the official is unlucky, there will be nobody on the land at all. He will, of course, have come armed with a box of Government-issued drawing pins or perhaps even a hammer and nails, if the Treasury will permit it. But there may not be a conspicuous object on the land susceptible to either drawing pins or nails. What does a conscientious official do then? I suppose he turns up his trousers and proceeds on to the land in search of a prominent stone, and affixes the notice thereto with the aid of one of those sticky labels with which the Inland Revenue are so generous. It will not matter in the least if the notice has blown away before he has got back to his car. He will have done his duty according to the law, and within 28 days—or is it 21?—that piece of land or that field or whatever it may be will become the property of the Land Commission.

I turn now to the position under Clause 8 when a person does receive a notice of intention to make a compulsory purchase order. He can object to the Minister but, as my noble friend Lord Oakshott said a few minutes ago, he will not have the right to a public inquiry or even to a private hearing by somebody appointed by the Minister concerned for the purpose. Yet, as my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor reminded us the other day on Second Reading, it has throughout our history, except in very rare circumstances been accepted that no person's home or property should be taken away from him without that person having the right to a public inquiry or a private hearing.

I was very interested in the observations of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on this matter when he moved the Second Reading of this Bill. This is what the noble and learned Lord said—and I am now quoting from column 1080 of Hansard of November 14: …the Minister, under this procedure"— that is to say, the procedure under Clause 8 and Schedule 2— is obliged to consider the objection and there is no question of any land being taken from anyone compulsorily without his having full opportunity to object."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 277 (No. 67); 14/11/66.] Please note that word "full", because in the next sentence the Lord Chancellor went on to define what he meant by "full opportunity". He said: He can state his objections at length in writing. How jolly decent of Her Majesty's Government! Not only are they gracious enough to say that the aggrieved person can make his objection in writing: they are even prepared for him to make his objections in writing at length!

But, rather more seriously than that, I am sorry that the Lord Chancellor is not here in the Chamber this evening, because if he had been I would have asked him whether he would accept that definition, his own definition, of" full opportunity" if it were put to him by counsel when he was sitting as a judge. I also wonder what view the noble and learned Lord would express if I were to introduce a Bill into this House to provide that in future, because of the increase in crime and the pressure on the courts, a person convicted of an offence would only be able to appeal against sentence in writing. I expect the noble and learned Lord, or whoever spoke for the Government, would tell me—and very properly tell me—that it is necessary in this country that justice should manifestly be seen to be done. But should not justice also be made manifest before a person is dispossessed of his home or his property, and a compulsory purchase order made? He has not even committed an offence—except, of course, the offence, as it is in the eyes of some, of just being an owner.

The Government's excuse for providing in this Bill for the so-called simplified procedure of compulsory purchase is, in the words of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, that there is a possibility that there may be "organised withholding of land" when the Land Commission start to operate. But why should there be "organised withholding of land" provided that the Land Commission behave in the responsible and reasonable manner in which Ministers have this afternoon been so concerned to assure this Committee they will behave? I am not aware that in the past there has ever been an "organised withholding of land". There may have been a withholding of land from time to time, but not organised and the fact that the Government obviously envisage that there may be in future only increases one's fears as to what the real purpose of this Land Commission is going to be.

Again, if there were organised resistance on a large scale I should have thought that, prima facie, justice would require that there should be a public inquiry at which all the objections could be fully aired, and could be seen to be aired, before any compulsory purchase orders were made. Everybody knows perfectly well that there have to be powers of compulsory purchase, as there have been for a great many years, and it may well be that in the future compulsory purchase orders will have to be exercised more often than they have in the past. But it is a hateful necessity—at least, I think it is—and therefore the procedure must not only be fair but must be seen to be fair.

And do not let us ever forget that it can matter, as much as anything can matter in life, to a man and woman and their children to live in their home in the community in which they have put their roots. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, the Parliamentary Secretary, in the course of his peroration in winding-up the debate on Second Reading used these words: …for at least a century the British Left has regarded State power as something to be wielded to rectify abuse, to protect the weak against the strong. Is it too colourful a claim to say that the Land Commission, which I hope that the House will approve this afternoon, is to protect the weak against the strong?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 277 (No. 67) col. 1168; 14/11/66.] Yes; I think it is too colourful a claim. Clause 8 will not rectify abuse; it will create abuse. It will not protect the weak against the strong; on the contrary, it will protect the strong against the weak—and that is why I wish to leave this clause out of the Bill.

9.32 p.m.


The debate on this proposal that the clause be deleted may be long. This clause has attracted a great deal of attention both in the House of Commons and in the Press. Many misunderstandings have been disclosed; many misstatements have been made; and in one or two newspapers there seems to have been an organised campaign—not, indeed, to withhold land, but to misrepresent the situation. What are the differences between the special procedure under Clause 8 and under Schedule 2 to this Bill and the normal procedure for compulsory purchase? They are two. They concern the service of notices and the holding of inquiries. They are the two differences to which the noble Lord, Lord Newton, has just addressed himself.

Under the normal procedure the making of a draft compulsory purchase order must be advertised; notices must be served on the owner and all interested in the land; but if, after careful inquiry, the owners of some interests cannot be found, notice can be served by delivering it to an occupier of the property or, if there is no occupier, by posting it on the land. That is all there already. Under the special procedure, the only difference is that this latter method can be used without first incurring the often unreasonable delay of trying to trace the identity and addresses of absentee owners, of all the absentees who may have an interest in the land in question. This delay is one which, if they are trying to evade you—and this is the point—can become intolerable. It is not a difference of principle; it is a difference of degree. Let me read to the Committee the relevant part of Schedule 2, It says: Any such notice shall be taken to be duly served if— (a)"— and (a) is obviously the first preference which will face the Land Commission— it is addressed to the owner, lessee or occupier by name, and delivered to him or left at, or sent by registered post or the recorded delivery service to, his usual or last known place of abode"— and this is obviously the first thing to do and the first thing they are required to do under the familiar compulsory purchase procedure which we have at present— or (b) where he is the owner, lessee or occupier of land which appears to the Commission to be separately occupied, the notice is addressed to' the owner and the occupier' of the land (describing it) and is either delivered to some person on the land or, if there is no person on the land to whom it can be delivered, is affixed to some conspicuous object on the land."— and this is the objection of the noble Lord, Lord Newton— or (c) where the land appears to the Commission to be unoccupied, it is addressed to 'the owners and any occupiers' of the land (describing it) and is affixed to some conspicuous object on the land. I would draw the attention of the Committee to the order of events. First try (a), and if that does not work, try (b); and if there is nobody at all, try (c). This is what the local authorities do now.


This is very interesting. What the noble Lord is saying, as I understand it, is that the Commission will first try (a) and then (b). But (c) says, "where the land appears to the Commission to be unoccupied" it is then sufficient to affix the notice to some conspicuous object. It does not say "where the land is unoccupied", which is a purported statement of fact which presumably could be challenged in a court of law. It merely says "where the land appears to the Commission", and presumably if a particular official decides to assume that the land is unoccupied, he need not bother about (a) or (b), and if one were to take him to court, all he would have to substantiate was that it appeared to him that the land was unoccupied, whether in fact it was or not.


He would look pretty silly if he turned up in court and said that a large inhabited slum looked to him unoccupied and he stuck the notice on the first door he came to. The Land Commission are going to be human beings. They are going to be operating within the law. They know that if they set a foot wrong, they are going to be pulled up pretty smartly by Parliament, by the Press—which we do not propose to abolish this evening—and by the courts, for we do not propose to abolish the planning laws. I say to noble Lords opposite that if evidence is given on behalf of the Commission that in their opinion a stretch of land is unoccupied, when it appears to be occupied to everybody else, they are not going to be able to operate like that for very long. The ordinary facts of life are still going to operate, even after the Land Commission is set up. The provision in the Bill is made to avoid the Land Commission's being bogged down for months and even years, as local authorities sometimes are at present, by the deliberate evasion of service of notice by landlords. If there is a house on the land, the notice is not going to be blown away. If there is anybody in the house, he is not going to refuse to accept it—unless, indeed, he is trying to evade accepting it. As for the noble Lord's picture of officials from Newcastle stopping—shall I say?—a milkmaid out picking cowslips and saying," "Dear madam, will you excuse me while I affix this notice to the back of your skirt", this is not what is meant to be. We are all living in the same country—


He has not got to stick it to the milkmaid's back. All he has to do is to hand it to her and he has served notice.


This is a delicious scene. But possibly the noble Lord will accept that here we are talking of a difference of degree and not of principle. Local authorities are authorised to have recourse to precisely this procedure if they cannot find people. The only thing is that they are required to demonstrate that they have gone to great lengths to find people, to an extent from which this Bill proposes to exempt the Land Commission, and the Government believe for a good reason.


But suppose somebody is legitimately away on business or on holiday for a month. He is given only 28 days. What is going to happen then?


The noble Lord has asked me an entirely hypothetical question. Several courses will be open to him. I can tell noble Lords opposite my personal "snap" reaction. What I should myself do would be to object on the grounds that I was away for the period of notice and so was unaware of what was happening. This brings me to what I think is the weightier of the objections which have been raised to this clause—that is, about the holding of an inquiry. Under the normal procedure, the Minister, before authorising compulsory purchase, must see that any objector who does not withdraw his objection and whose objection is not confined to the scale of his compensationis heard by a person appointed for the purpose—normally the inspector at a public inquiry. The obligation is there, no matter how frivolous the grounds of objection. The Minister has no discretion in the matter. Even when the real ground of objection is compensation, the objection generally purports to be on other ground, in order to ensure that there is an inquiry. This trick is not seldom used—and it is a trick, since the basis of compensation is market value, and market value can be settled by the Land Tribunal.

The only change made by this special procedure is to give the Minister discretion whether or not to hold an inquiry. It gives him this discretion when he wants it, subject to the Negative Resolution of Parliament, as we have just been discussing. if he asks for the power to use this discretion for a certain time and a certain purpose in a certain district, and Parliament thinks he should not, it can stop him; and five years from the passing of this Bill, he loses this power of discretion altogther unless Parliament, by Affirmative Resolution, positively decides to continue it.

Let me remind the Committee of what I said on Second Reading. Who are these recalcitrant landowners whose right to an inquiry is in question? Who are they likely to be? They are those who have first been unwilling to develop in the public interest land which they own. Second, they are those who have refused to sell their land by agreement to the Land Commission in order that it may develop the land in the public interest. Third, the situation in which all this happens is one which has given the Minister reason to believe that land cannot be compulsorily acquired under the ordinary procedure quickly enough to save the housing programme and that there is, in effect, a plot to hold up development in a given part of the world which is clearly against the public interest; and fourth, this situation is one which not only the Minister judges in this way but also Parliament itself, when it has elected to allow to the Minister the power of discretion we are now discussing.

A moment ago I spoke of misrepresentation. The biggest misrepresentation of the Government's intention has been that the Clause 8 procedure may deny landowners or householders any possibility of making their case known to the Minister. This is not so. Paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1946 applies to all compulsory purchase orders whatsoever. This paragraph provides that before confirming a compulsory purchase order the Minister must consider the objection and the report of the person who held the inquiry. The clause we are now discussing relieves the Minister of the obligation to hold an inquiry in the extreme circumstances which I have already described, but leaves wholly untouched his obligation under the 1946 Act to consider the objection. Now what does considering the objection mean? We are not in the dark about this; we have judge-made law. This was set out very clearly in the case of Stafford v. The Minister of Health reported in 1946. Under the Housing (Temporary Provisions) Act 1944 the situation was similar to the special procedure we are now considering. The Minister had to consider objections but he had discretion whether or not to hold an inquiry.

So I would ask noble Lords to bear in mind that what I am about to describe corresponds precisely to what the situation of the law will be if we pass this Clause 8 unamended. In this case the landowner, having been informed by the local authority of their intention to submit a compulsory purchase order to the Minister for the acquisition of his land, sent a notice and grounds of objection to the Minister. The Minister, in the exercise of his discretion, decided not to hold an inquiry and confirmed the compulsory purchase order.

It was held by the court to whom the landowner appealed that the confirmation of the order was invalid and should be quashed because the mere notice of grounds of objection did not constitute a presentation of the landowner's case. Mr. Justice Charles rejected the contention of the local authority that the notice of objection with its grounds was in fact a statement of the objector's case. Those objections were merely blank statements or contentions. It was going too far to say that once grounds of appeal had been put forward no argument or elaboration was needed and that the grounds constituted a complete case with all its evidential statement.

It is true that this was not the only ground on which the case was decided, but it was one ground among others and, as such, is binding and will still bind Ministers when the Land Commission Bill becomes law. I hope I have made clear what will happen under the expedited procedure proposed in Clause 8 of the Bill, and how it is related to antecedent legislation and to judge-made law.

I turn now to the circumstances in which the Minister might think it proper, subject always to the approval of Parliament, to introduce a special procedure. My right honourable friend has himself many times stated what these might be. First, we must face the political fact of life that in this country landowners have in general always opposed every attempt to collect betterment. The levy under this Bill will be primarily taken from the proceeds of the sale of land. So the most direct way to frustrate the collection of betterment will be not to sell land. Landowners might withhold their land, or even club together to withhold it in an organised way, in the hope that the land levy would be repealed or abandoned, and indeed with the intention of discrediting the whole Land Commission. If this were to happen the building of private enterprise houses would be seriously prejudiced, and in order to overcome an organised opposition the Land Commission might have to make a large number of these compulsory purchase orders. If public inquiries had to be held for all of them the consequent delays could entirely frustrate the housing programme, and all for the sake of what hypothetically would be a politically motivated and socially profoundly misguided opposition on the part of a few large landowners.

The Government hope that this will not happen, but they would be failing in their duty to the public if they did not take adequate powers to deal with it if it does. It is not an imaginary risk. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, said that organised opposition to the sale of land had never been seen in this country. He was wrong. Organised opposition by landowners has occurred in the past. When Austen Chamberlain, not a Socialist, not even emotionally allied to the Labour Party, as Chancellor of the Exchequer was moving the Finance Bill that repealed the Lloyd George scheme incorporated in the Finance Act, 1910, he referred to one of the reasons for failure of that scheme, described in evidence given by the Deputy Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue to the Select Committee on Land Values. This reason was "prolonged and organised opposition". This is Austen Chamberlain confessing failure.


What year was it? It was a long time ago.


It was 1922.


It was repealing the scheme of 1910. Quite simply, this Government do not intend to fail as Lloyd George failed. The Government have made very clear the circumstances in which orders applying the special procedure would be made—a virtual revolt by landowners; and only that. We think that landowners now are much less self-centred than they were over 40 and 50 years ago, at the time I am talking about. Surely they will not withhold their land from development and deprive the people of the houses they need. Surely they will not set the pursuit of the highest possible profit from their land above the building of houses for owner-occupiers.

Whether we are right in our belief that landowners are more enlightened now than they used to be can to a certain extent—and I believe it is an interesting and valid extent—be tested by the actions of noble Lords tonight. They are a good gauge of landowner feeling. I can think of better gauges, but not many. If noble Lords opposite and their friends have no intention of withholding their land which is ripe for development, and if, despite the levy, they will sell it freely to builders for private enterprise housing, then the circumstances which would justify the special procedure will never arise and it will never be invoked. If, on the other hand, they oppose this procedure it is probably because they expect it to be used against themselves and their friends outside.

Noble Lords opposite may, of course, say that they are not opposing Clause 8 in order to protect their own interests as landowners.


Is there nobody on that side of the House who has a bit of land at all?


I have a bit, and I am quite happy about the levy. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, has already said that his object is to protect the interests of the owner-occupiers; and to prevent the occupier of the small house from being dispossessed without a hearing. This would be a mistaken argument. A Minister is not prevented from holding an inquiry; he is only freed from the absolute obligation to hold one in every single case. If, in the circumstances in which the procedure of Schedule 2 was in use, a compulsory purchase order was made which included a dwelling-house, and there were representations from the occupier of that dwelling-house, any Minister would obviously recognise that these were circumstances in which he ought to give the occupier an opportunity to be heard at an inquiry.

I would assure the House this evening, on behalf of the Government, that so long as this Government lasts any Minister will always accord a public inquiry into objections to a special procedure compulsory purchase order from the occupier of a house. But that would be only my assurance, and I hold the view, which I expect is shared by noble Lords opposite, that government by assurance is not to be preferred to government by Statute law. I have therefore to tell the House that, in view of the opinions which have been expressed in the House of Commons, in this House, and in the country, the Government are now prepared to put this point beyond any doubt. Provided, of course, that Clause 8 and Schedule 2 are still in the Bill at Report stage and are therefore capable of being amended by this House, I will move an Amendment to the Bill, which will have the effect that, if the occupier objects, a dwelling-house cannot be taken compulsorily under this procedure, without a hearing or an inquiry—and here is a draft of it.

If, in the light of this assurance, the Opposition still press for the rejection of Clause 8, there can then be no doubt, and will be no doubt in the country, that they are voting for vested interests. If, on the other hand, they will agree to let Clause 8 stand, so that I can later introduce the Amendment I have just undertaken to introduce, they will show that their opposition to this clause was really based on what it was alleged to be based—on solicitude for the householder.

9.58 p.m.


If the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, wishes to get a Government Bill through, I would not recommend him to make many speeches of that character. There is much to be said when in charge of a Bill—and I have been in charge of many—for being conciliatory and not taking the initiative in accusing one's opponents of future malpractices.

This debate, which was so admirably initiated by my noble friend Lord Newton, concerns something which vitally affects everybody in the land. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, rested much of his argument on the fear—or the threat—that a certain number of large landowners would enter into a determined conspiracy to wreck this Bill. I do not believe that for one moment. Even if that were true, which I do not accept, there could be no justification for taking the powers in subsection (3) of this clause to ask Parliament to make an order which would apply to acquisitions generally—that is to say, to all acquisitions throughout the country during this period of five years, whether there was any difficulty about them or not.

I had been intending to say—because I am never intransigent—that what was really wrong with this clause was the sweeping wording of subsection (3). I think nearly all of us, both here and outside among the general public, would accept that there is something to be said for a very special procedure in a limited case where a real crisis arises. But that is not what Clause 8 provides. Clause 8 provides the Minister with most sweeping powers, subject only to control by a Prayer from either House of Parliament. The noble Lord has suggested, and indeed has put on the Table, a draft Amendment which runs to some thirty lines, and I am not going to attempt to take it in here. Indeed, it would be quite wrong for me to do so because it is not available to noble Lords generally, and I am quite certain that a number of noble Lords are deeply interested in this clause for the protection of the general public.

I think it is unwise to let this clause remain in the Bill with Schedule 2, but at the same time there are signs of repentance on the Government Benches; there are signs of an indication that they themselves recognise that the clause which they have presented to Parliament is too wide and too sweeping and should be limited. When one recognises signs of repentance in a sinner one does not want to punish him prematurely, and I think we should try to see how far we can get this repentance to go. It may be that if this clause remains for the time being in the Bill, not only will the Amendment which the Government promised to Schedule 2 be on the paper for Report stage but other Amendments in the names of some of my noble friends and other noble Lords not belonging to the Party which I have the honour to serve, because the interest in this is widespread, owing to the threat which the clause presents to all kinds of people.

It is late this evening. I hope I am not cutting anybody else out from taking part in the debate, but the advice I would give to my noble friends is not to press this to a Division this evening but to examine with great care the situation that will arise if a Government Amendment is tabled on Report, and to add further Amendments which may be designed to make this clause, in a truncated form, acceptable, so that this special procedure is available only to cases where a real crisis is liable to arise and the clause is no longer drafted in this sweeping form which is, quite frankly, a threat to everybody in the country.


I do not propose to keep the House for more than two minutes, but so far nobody has mentioned two things which require to be mentioned. The first is that for five years, from 1946 to 1951, very similar powers to those given by this clause were given to the Government of the day and were exercised, and there were virtually no complaints. This was said in the other place, it was in no way contradicted, and I suggest to your hard-headed Lordships that in this instance an ounce of practice is worth a pound of theory and rhetoric, and we have the practice here.

Secondly, I wish to say something (and I want to make it perfectly clear that there is nothing whatever personal about this) about the way society in this country has developed, and the way in which the rights of landlords and others have grown and been varied. I find it remarkable that the Tory Party to-day rests its case so much on not allowing the Government to turn an individual out of his house. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Newton, almost weeping about it. Until 1950 every landlord in this country had the right to turn out a tenant; and heaven knows how many did so!

10.5 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, as usual thinks he is the only noble Lord in this House who has an ounce of experience about anything. Actually he is perhaps the only noble Lord who can never learn from experience, which is a slightly different thing. I have, as a matter of fact, some experience in a matter that is not wholly alien to this Bill; namely, town and country planning. In fact I was the Minister who got the original Ministry of that name established; it was the subject that brought me into politics, and I have been interested in it ever since.

What strikes me as amazing is this hostility to a public inquiry, as though it was always an unmitigated nuisance from which no good could come. It so happens that my experience in recent public inquiries has generally been from the point of view of amenities in which I am passionately interested. I think that my interest would probably have been on the same side as that of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and I very much wish that he were still here—I do not see him at the moment. But the line he took was that an inquiry by the Minister—that is to say, the Minister allowing the objector to come and give his objection to him—was just as good, or nearly as good, as having a public inquiry. But it has this very great distinction, which I think every democrat in the House—and I hope there are some opposite—will appreciate: if there is a public inquiry, the public know something about it, and therefore the worth of the objection raised by the individual who objects to the compulsory acquisition is made public, and the Minister, in dealing with it, is dealing not only with the individual making that objection but with a public that followed the inquiry.

What makes me particularly anxious about this desire to get rid of public inquiries in this type of case is observing what has happened since this Government took office. Though there is a public inquiry, and though the official taking the public inquiry makes a report and recommendation, the Minister is not, of course, at all bound to follow that recommendation. He may do precisely the opposite. I do not complain of that power; he has a right to do it if he wishes. But at least the public know the way that the inspector has reported. If this special procedure—accelerated procedure or whatever it is called; simplified procedure—is adopted and there is no public inquiry, the public will never become informed of the menace. I can only say I very much regret that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, thought fit to attack the motives of this side at a time when he thought the debate was coming to an end, though we can prevent that.


Has the noble Lord never attacked our motives?


I cannot remember offhand. I fully concede the possibility, and I shall certainly have far less hesitation in future. But I do not think I have ever, in what was thought to be the concluding speech of a debate, assumed that there could be no honest reason for disagreeing with the view I was putting forward. I do not think I have ever done that: I hope I have not. That was the implication of Lord Kennet's speech to us: that there was no decent reason for which we could oppose this clause. I can only say that I oppose it, and I do not believe my motives are entirely indecent.


There is a decent reason for which noble Lords opposite can oppose this clause, and it would be that it did not lay upon Ministers the obligation to hold a public inquiry in the case of every single householder. That obligation I have just undertaken to introduce. I do not know if there is any other decent reason for which noble Lords opposite can oppose the clause as I propose to amend it.


I am not surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, mentioned the noble Earl, the late Lord, Lloyd-George, because certainly the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is an admirable spiritual descendant of his, so far as Lime house vituperation is concerned; and I wish to repudiate, on behalf of rural landlords, the slur which, quite unnecessarily, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, sought to put upon us. As for the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, in the latest, we hope, and almost the least relevant of his many irrelevant remarks, he talked of landlords having the power to throw out tenants, and asked if they do so. May I remind the noble Lord that to-day the people who can throw out tenants are the Forestry Commission, the mines, the county councils and the town councils—and do they do it!

10.12 p.m.


I do not want to prolong this debate, but as I started it I think I ought to wind it up.


Very quickly.


I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was here earlier. If he had been, he might have thought me fully justified in prolonging the debate. I am not going to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has promised to put down an Amendment which I think means that I shall have got nearly all I asked for in what I think was really a most moderate and reasonable speech, although the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, went so far as to think that I wept at one moment. I hope no other noble Lord did. I think that as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, had determined at the end of his speech to make this quite substantial concession, it was not really necessary to build up to it in the way he did. But he has had a long day, and we are grateful to him for the help he has given us.

The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, said that he did not know what was meant by laying something on the Table. Well, he saw it happen this afternoon, when the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, chucked his Amendment across at us. I should like only to say this: that when a Minister in this House makes a promise to do something one knows that he means to do it and it is not necessary to prove it by throwing something at us.

On Question, Clause 8 agreed to.

House resumed.