HL Deb 17 January 1967 vol 279 cc36-108

4.12 p.m.

Report stage resumed.


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 3 formally.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 3, leave out from ("section") to ("day") in line 6.—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)


I beg to move formally.

Amendment moved—

Page 6, line 20, at end insert— ("( ) On or after such day as the Minister may by order appoint for the purposes of this subsection (in this Act referred to as "the second appointed day") the Commission shall have power to acquire land compulsorily for such purposes in addition to those specified in the last preceding subsection as may be specified in an order made for the purposes of this subsection.").—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)


My Lords, I beg to move this Amendment formally.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 21, leave out ("the last preceding subsection") and insert ("subsection (4) of this section").—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 6 formally.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 35, leave out from ("made") to second ("of") in line 36 and insert ("under subsection ( )").—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)

Clause 7 [Compulsory purchase orders: normal procedure.]:

LORD KENNET moved, after subsection (3), to insert as a new subsection: ( ) So much of Schedule 1 to the Acquisition of Land Act, or of any regulations made under that Act, as requires a notice relating to a compulsory purchase order to specify the purpose for which the land is required, or for which it is authorised to be compulsorily purchased, shall, in relation to any such notice published or served by the Commission on or after the second appointed day, be construed as requiring the notice to specify the reasons for which the Commission propose to acquire the land.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an occasion on which I shall be accepting the thesis that there ought to be both belt and braces in the defence of the citizen. We are in a complicated procedural position because the Amendments comprising the series of Amendments which has just been passed have an effect on the Amendment I am about to propose, but I propose to introduce it just the same. This Amendment also has an effect on a later Amendment, which I shall explain when I come to it. I hope we may keep our heads about this, because when we are making Amendments to the Bill which we all know very well are going to be rejected in another place it raises the question: "What subsequent Amendments shall we put in which we expect, and all agree, will be accepted by another place?"

This Amendment is about the giving of reasons by the Commission in particular cases of compulsory purchase after the second appointed day. It is a separate question from the question of the overall purpose which might or might not be presented by the Minister to Parliament on the second appointed day. In the Bill as it was brought to us from the Commons there was a subsection to Clause 7 which provided that where a compulsory purchase order was made after the second appointed day the provisions of the various enactments which require the order to specify the purpose for which the land is required should not have effect. This subsection was deleted on Committee stage in this House, when the Opposition argued that the Commission should have to give their reasons for any compulsory purchase order made.

The Amendment I now propose is necessary for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Champion when we were debating this point on the Committee stage. After the second appointed day, the Commission's powers compulsorily to acquire land are unfettered by the need to show that it is being acquired for one of the purposes set out in Clause 6(4). That is still so, in spite of the Amendments which have just been carried by the Opposition. The provisions in the Acquisition of Land Act which relate to specifying purposes are therefore inappropriate, because there will not necessarily be any "purpose" after the second appointed day in the sense of the "purposes" set out in Clause 6(4) of the Bill now before us.

The Amendment I am proposing is necessary for the technical reason that if the word "purposes" is allowed to run, in this context, into the second phase of the operation of the Bill, then I am advised that Courts might hold the words "purpose" or "purposes" to refer to the four purposes set out in Clause 6(4) which are to operate only in the first phase of the Bill. We must therefore avoid that word in this context. We use instead the word "reasons", which makes it impossible to confuse the reasons which the Commission must give with the "purposes", under Clause 6(4), which they need no longer give after the second appointed day.

As a matter of fact, with or without this Amendment there would never be any doubt why the Commission were buying land compulsorily, because after the second appointed day, and, indeed, before it, when the Land Commission are proposing to buy land compulsorily, the use to which the land is intended to be put will be well enough known before a compulsory purchase order can be made, because there must have been a planning decision of the type listed in Clause 6(3) of the Bill, and the planning decision will generally show the use to which the land is intended to be put. Where there is a public inquiry or hearing—and I moved an Amendment on Committee stage to ensure that there should always be a public inquiry or hearing in the case of a householder—in those cases the Land Commission will have to follow rules which will be made by the Lord Chancellor after reference to the Council on Tribunals, similar to rules already governing compulsory purchase by local authorities. Under these rules the commission will have to state the reasons, why they wish to buy land compulsorily. And even where, under the special procedure, there is no inquiry or hearing—that is, in certain cases other than those concerning householders—there will still bean exchange of written representations, and in these the Commission will still have to set out their reasons.

This Amendment provides that the Commission will have to specify the reasons for which they propose to acquire the land covered by a compulsory purchase order they propose to make after the second appointed day. The reason for the Amendment is not to put an obligation on the Commission to give their reasons for any given order; that obligation is there in any event. As I have said, the reason for the Amendment is the technical one that without it the Commission would be required to specify the "purposes", and these "purposes" might be held to be the four in Clause 6(4) which will then be out of date. The Amendment therefore leaves the Commission with an obligation to specify their reasons for the proposed acquisition. The real needs for the Amendment—and there are two of them—are, first, to avoid this confusion with "purposes" and, second, that on this occasion there was no reason which overrode the Opposition's desire to have belt and braces on this part of the Act.

To sum up, in the Bill as it came before us from the House of Commons, after the second appointed day the Commission were not bound to state their purposes; but they were implicity bound to state their reasons under anteceding legislation and regulations which will be made. As amended in Committee by the Opposition, with this subsection deleted, the Commission would have been bound to state their purposes, and these purposes might have been held by the Courts to be the four in Clause 6(4), which would defeat the purpose of the second appointed day. As I propose that the House should now re-amend the clause, the Commission will not be bound to state their purposes, but will be explicitly bound by the provisions of this Bill to state their reasons. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 7, line 45, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Kennet.)


My Lords, my noble friends and I are very much obliged to the Government for meeting our point, and for doing it so satisfactorily by this Amendment. I say that in all sincerity and without any qualification whatever. The weakness of the Bill, as it came to us from another place, was that this clause stated explicitly that the Land Commission would be relieved from any obligation to state the purpose for which they were seeking a compulsory purchase order. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has said that it was implicit somewhere in previous legislation that the Land Commission would not be allowed to avoid that obligation, and that they would at some stage have to state their reasons. But with a Bill of this kind, which affects the public directly and vitally, it is important that the protection for the public shall be explicit on the face of the Bill.

If the Bill had gone through in its original form, then it appears to me that a number of people who were in danger of having their land compulsorily acquired might well have felt that they were having to go to a public inquiry not knowing the case they had to answer. If there is to be a public inquiry, then it is important that all the cards should be on the table. The Amendment which the noble Lord has moved appears to me to rectify that unsatisfactory situation. It is now explicit on the face of the Bill that the Land Commission will have to specify the reasons for which they propose to acquire the land. That is what is satisfactory to me, and I think it will be satisfactory to my noble friends.


My Lords, I wonder how this Amendment fits in with the series of Amendments which the House has just carried. I listened to what the noble Lord had to say about this, and the argument seemed to me to be exactly the same as the argument with which he supported the previous Amendments. It is true, of course, that one wants to safeguard the rights of the citizen in these cases; but one wants also, I should have hoped, to safeguard the position of the planning authorities, in spite of what the House has just decided on that matter. But it is possible to overdo this. My impression of the Local Government Act—for which, I think, although I am not sure, the noble Lord was responsible in another place—was that that was a case where it had been overdone. The Act was so full of precautions that it provided an opportunity for obstruction rather than for advancement.

I am not quite clear what this Amendment will add to the Amendments which have just been passed. The Commission can only act for purposes which they will not have to specify; and, when they have so acted for those purposes, they will have to give their reasons for having done so. What is the difference, other than a drafting one, between "purposes" and "reasons"? Is it that the "reasons" are supposed to apply to individual cats' homes and the "purposes" only to cats' homes in the generality? Is it the difference, in fact, between the kind of thing which, on any view, is within the province of the planning authorities and the kind of thing which involves to some extent a matter of policy?

I do not want to press this matter, but I have the feeling that both the Government and the Opposition in this case have prepared their contentions and their Amendments without perhaps sufficient regard to the decision of the House on the previous Amendments. I notice that the House is very apt to divide on an Opposition Amendment at four o'clock, or thereabouts. For that reason I thought it possible there might be a Division, as indeed there was on the previous Amendment. I do not want to divide the House on this matter, but I hope that when this is considered in another place, as no doubt it will be, the other place will have due regard both to the language of this Amendment and to the language of the previous Amendment to see how far they conflict.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that, as my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor said, we are all grateful to the Government for giving us this concession. It was widely felt in the country that the British public would not have sufficient protection if they did not know the reasons for a compulsory acquisition. During the number of years in which I have served on a local county authority reasons have always had to be stated, and I think it right that the Government should put this in the Bill. But while we are grateful, we should recall that this concession was extracted from the Government only by our going to a Division. We were told that they were perfectly satisfied, and that they could not meet us at all; but at the eleventh hour they have repented and have brought forward this Amendment. Perhaps they had further consideration of the Amendment we have just passed on a Division, especially when we have been told that up to lunch-time to-day they were trying to meet us on another very important point. In any case, I am sure that we are very grateful.


My Lords, it is hardly surprising that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, should welcome this Amendment with very little enthusiasm, because while the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, was running the Committee stage of this Bill so successfully and vociferously from the Back Benches, he expressed great indignation at the idea that any citizen should have the right to know why his property was being confiscated. According to the noble Lord it was quite enough that the Government, or some public body, should want it, and the citizen must take what was coming to him. That attitude was not contradicted by the noble Lord's young assistant on the Government Front Bench, so we may assume that at that time it represented the views of Her Majesty's Government. During the debate I described that attitude, perfectly legitimately and correctly, as a Fascist one, and I am therefore very glad that the Government are showing some slight return to those principles of democracy which they so vociferously enunciate during an Election and which they take great pain's quietly to bury the moment they have obtained a majority.

Throughout the ages, the possession of land for public purposes has been a matter for consultation, negotiation and conciliation between central Government, local authorities, other public bodies and those owning or having an interest in the land. In very few cases, out of all the many we have had over the years, has there been need for compulsory acquisition, the reason being that the person whose land is to be acquired knows that it is to be so acquired for some good purpose.

During the earlier debate the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, gave an extremely valuable contribution when he explained how, in his own experience, he had found that land which was to be acquired was exchanged, at the suggestion of the owner, for other land, with great advantage not only to the owner but to the public authority concerned. I have known several instances of that kind with which I will not weary your Lordships tonight. But unless this welcome concession had been made, this quite unnecessary and unwanted Land Commission would have been in even greater danger of being bogged down than it is at the present time. I am sure it is a small price to pay that we should get away a little from authoritarianism in order to avoid an ill-feeling which would delay the provision of land which, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has rightly said, is so badly needed for housing. Let us hope that still more concessions will come from the Government during this debate; otherwise the Land Commission will certainly be in danger of being smothered in its own tentacles.


My Lords, may I, with the leave of the House, say one word more on this point, to try to put it in proportion? Let us imagine a hearing in the case of a compulsory purchase order desired by the Commission. One might imagine the hearing beginning in one of two different ways. One way would be for the members of the Commission to sit with folded arms, listening to the owner of the land saying why he did not think the Commission should have his land. The other way which one can imagine would be for the owner of the land to sit with folded arms while the Commission said why it wanted his land. I think everyone would agree that the latter is the way we want it to be done, with the Commission having to speak first and make out its case for the use of this compulsory purchase order procedure. The Government were perfectly confident that would happen, even without this Amendment, but we have written it into the Bill to make assurance doubly sure.

4.36 p.m.

LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved, to add to the clause: ( ) If any objection to a compulsory purchase order prepared in draft by the Commission is duly made and it affects the winning and working of any of the minerals listed in paragraph 1 of the Table to section 1 of the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966 and that objection is not withdrawn, then the Minister whose authority is required in relation to a compulsory purchase order shall not authorise the making of such order until he has satisfied himself that all reasonable steps have been taken to secure the winning and working of any such minerals so affected by means of the procedure prescribed under the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966.

The noble Lord said: This Amendment comes at the end of Clause7 and is similar to an Amendment which I moved during the Committee stage. This could be said to be the 1967 version without the technical faults to which noble Lords opposite called attention at the time. I believe we made out a convincing case then for putting this Amendment into the Bill and I am disappointed that the Government have not acted in the meantime. The effect of the Amendment is small and simple, but I think entirely constructive. It requires simply that the procedure of the 1966 Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act should be used to acquire land for mineral working and that that procedure should be exhausted before the new powers of the Land Commission are invoked. It is quite a narrow point and I will not trouble the House by repeating the arguments which we deployed during the Committee stage, except to say that the substance of the argument was that the procedure in the 1966 Act is a well-tried and satisfactory procedure which gives recourse to the High Court in cases of disagreement, and that the Country Landowners Association, which represents the landowners much prefer it to the cumbersome arrangement of the Land Commission's coming in.

I think it relevant to recall that during the Committee stage Ministers opposite shot down this argument by telling the Committee that the C.B.I. were highly dissatisfied with the present 1966 Act procedure. I am bound to say that noble Lords opposite gave me the impression that the C.B.I. wanted the innovation which the Government are now proposing in this Bill; that is, that the Land Commission should come in to acquire mineral-bearing land for operators who are in difficulty. In fact, my Lords, this is not the case. In the interval since the Committee stage the C.B.I. have made it plain that this is not what they want. What they want, and have always wanted, is an Amendment to the 1966 Act which would extend the facilities in that Act now provided for the Class 1 minerals—that is, the metalliferous minerals—to all minerals; to include such minerals as sand, gravel, clay, chalk, et cetera. If I may, I will quote from a letter from the Chairman of the C.B.I. Minerals Committee which puts this beyond all doubt. He says: Our view has always been that we prefer to deal with the matter under the mining code legislation which we know. subject to its being amended as we have suggested in the Memorandum, rather than leave the matter to the Land Commission, where no-one knows exactly under what circumstances they will act, if at all.

This letter I have sent to the Minister, Mr. Willey, who was in charge of the Bill, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will remember, I came to see him and Mr. Willey in order to put this point to them in person, but I was told that they had already given consideration to it and did not feel they could concede it. I believe it is relevant that the House should now know that this Amendment and later Amendments I have on the Marshalled List represent in fact the combined wish of both the C.B.I. and the C.B.A., the national bodies who have to deal with mineral working. That is the reason for the reappearance of these Amendments on the List—particularly No. 20, about which I shall be speaking more fully when I reach it.

I hope that in the light of this information, of which the noble Lord is aware, he will be prepared to take a more positive view of this matter and will agree to this narrow Amendment now and look sympathetically on my further Amendments, so that the combined wishes of the mineral operators maybe met. I am sure that by doing so the Government will give their legislation a practical value which is now lacking. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 8, line 15, at end insert the said new subsection.—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that I shall be able to say something which will satisfy the noble Lord. The problem with the present Amendment is that the operations of the Land Commission would be made more cumbrous and slow if their powers were delayed until everything had been tried under the 1966 Act. I would ask the House to reject this Amendment for the same reason that I keep asking the House to reject ideas which have much in their favour: we cannot afford to interpose more stages and more delays in the procedure. The whole purpose of the Land Commission is to get things done more quickly. I would ask the noble Lord not to press this Amendment. I apologise if I said anything in our last discussion which mis-stated the position of the C.B.I. I am sure I have now got it straight. We know what they want and appreciate its force, but we feel that the expeditiousness of the Land Commission's activities should take precedence over it because, especially in the case of sand and gravel, it would impose long delays.

If I may look forward to Amendment No. 20, which the noble Lord is going to move later, I shall be saying that, subject to consultation with all the interested bodies and there being enough agreement between them, the Government would be prepared to consider amending the existing law—not the present Bill—in this respect at some suitable opportunity in the future or possibly give facilities for a Private Member's Bill which would achieve the effect desired by the noble Lord. With that, I hope that the noble Lord may be prepared to withdraw this Amendment.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for his very helpful speech. He is right in apprehending that the new clause proposed in Amendment No. 20 is substantial. If that Amendment is made, I think that in most cases mineral operators will be able to settle problems of the acquisition of mineral rights without recourse to the Land Commission for help. Therefore the substance of the present Amendment would largely disappear. I am much consoled by what the noble Lord has said. As to what was said in Committee by the noble Lord and by his noble colleague Lord Champion, it was not so much what they said as what they did not say. They did not definitely say that the C.B.I wanted what was in the Bill, but they did not tell the House that they not want what was in the Bill. I am not accusing the noble Lord of misstatement. However, in the light of the noble Lord's undertaking in regard to Amendment No. 20, I beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8:

Compulsory purchase orders: special procedure

8.—(1) If at any time within the period of five years beginning with the first appointed day it appears to the appropriate Minister or Ministers that it is necessary in the public interest to enable the Commission to obtain authority for the compulsory acquisition of land by a simplified procedure, the appropriate Minister or Ministers may by an order made before the end of that period direct that the provisions of Schedule 2 to this Act shall have effect in relation to any compulsory purchase order authorising an acquisition to which the order under this subsection applies.

(4) 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.

4.46 p.m.

LORD KENNET moved, after subsection (2), to insert (2A) An order under subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to any acquisition of land of a description specified in section 1(2) of the Acquisition of Land Act (land belonging to local authorities etc.)".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 12, which hang together, have been introduced to meet the point made in Committee by noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench, that the special procedure should not be applied to all classes of transactions by one order—that is, generally. The Amendment would ensure that the procedure would be applied only in the manner specified and thus avoid what the Opposition regarded as the bogey of a general special procedure order covering absolutely everything. These Amendments replace Amendment No. 11, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and other noble Lords, which would have the same effect but is, I am advised, Technically [...]ective. I do not know whether the noble Lord would like to tell the House whether the noble lord would be prepared to withdraw his Amendment in the event of this one being put in, but I am sure this would assist the House. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 2, line 32, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Kennet.)


My Lords, I do not think that I need give notice of intention to withdraw Amendment No. 11, because I have not moved it and do not intend to move it. We are very much obliged to the Government for the Amendments they have put down. Your Lordships may bear in mind that in Committee we accepted that there might be exceptional cases where it was desirable for the special abbreviated procedure to be brought into use if a crisis threatened in any particular class of proposed acquisition. Special reasons would have to be given, and each case would have to be argued on its merits. But nothing was said in Committee on behalf of the Government which would have supported an order being made to bring this special shortened procedure into operation for all acquisitions throughout the country hence-forward. It was for that reason that my noble friends and I put down Amendment No. 11.

We thought that the object, which the Government now accept as desirable, could be achieved by leaving five words out of the Bill. However, the Parliamentary draftsmen, with their great amount of knowledge, have said that it can be achieved only by adding some 25 words to the Bill. I do not challenge that, because I have the greatest regard for the skill of the Parliamentary draftsmen. I often think that we, in both Houses of Parliament, do not sufficiently often express our thanks to them for their behind-the-scenes work in making legislation possible and practicable for us. I am quite content with these Government Amendments. I accept the assurance that they have the same effect as my proposed Amendment, but get it right, and I am grateful to the Government again for recognising the force there was in the arguments which we adduced in Committee.


My Lords, I know that it does not matter, but it is, I think, my duty to point out to the House that Amendment No. 10 extends beyond the point of the Bill at which Amendment No. 11 occurs. If, therefore, Amendment No. 10 is accepted, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 11.


My Lords, I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 8, line 33, leave out from ("section") to ("which") in line 35 and insert ("shall specify a class of acquisitions").—(Lord Kennet.)


My Lords, I beg to move this Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 38, leave out from ("considerations") to end of line 41 and insert ("and, subject to subsections (2), (2A) and (5) of this section, shall apply to all acquisitions by the Commission which fall within the class so specified").—(Lord Kennet.)

4.52 p.m.


moved to leave out subsection (4). The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is linked with the subsequent Amendment, No. 14. My attempt earlier in this clause to bring about a satisfactory Amendment in a few words was "shot down" by the Parliamentary draftsman, and I hesitate to explain authoritatively to your Lordships what would be the effect of these two linked Amendments of mine. But I believe they are correctly drafted so as to ensure that an order made to bring into force the special abbreviated compulsory purchase procedure in Clause 8 will require an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament; and the Amendment would delete subsection (4), which says that any Statutory Instrument containing such an order shall simply be subject to annulment in pursuance of a Resolution of either House.

This is another case where the rights of the public are concerned. It has been the purpose of the Opposition, in the relatively few Amendments to this Bill that we have pressed, to single out matters where we feel quite confident that public opinion will be behind the principle of what we are seeking to do, and where we shall be safeguarding genuine public rights. I think your Lordships, regardless of Party, will probably accept that it would be a considerable infringement of the rights of the citizen if his land could be taken away from him compulsorily, without his being given the opportunity of being heard and calling witnesses at a public local inquiry.

We are not at this stage, on behalf of the Opposition, seeking to move Clause 8 out of the Bill. We are prepared to accept that there may occasionally be circumstances in which a case can be made for this special abbreviated procedure. But we are asking your Lordships, in turn, to accept that this is a grave infringement of the normal liberty of the subject, and that it ought not to be embarked upon without the fullest possible Parliamentary control, and, indeed, Parliamentary assent.

I am not one of those who would claim that in all directions Affirmative Resolutions are required and that the Negative Resolution procedure does not suffice. After all, I have been a Minister, and I know that the Affirmative Resolution procedure is liable to take up Government time, whereas the other procedure may be taken, certainly in another place, late at night, and, indeed, may not attract action at all in your Lordships' House. But this seems to my noble friends and to myself to be overwhelmingly a case where the Government should specifically come to Parliament if they wish to exercise this power to take away the right of the private citizen to be heard at a public inquiry when he is threatened with having his land compulsorily acquired.

This is a major issue, not a minor one, so far as the individual citizen is concerned; and this means all the 50 million people in this country. I greatly hope, therefore, that the Government will not oppose this Amendment. It is fully in line, I am quite sure, with general public opinion; and it appears to me to be exactly the kind of matter on which specific Parliamentary authority should be sought before the Government on any particular occasion deprive a citizen, or a body of citizens, of this long-cherished and long-maintained right. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 8, line 42, leave out subsection (4).—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)


My Lords, this is a remarkable clause in one respect. It contains two provisions about the approval of Parliament. At the end of the clause, there is a provision for an Affirmative Resolution in some cases, and on the particular point we are now discussing there is a provision for the Negative Resolution procedure. I respectfully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, that these cases do raise important questions; and I am sure that he, with his long experience, will agree that in many of them there really is a balance of right and convenience that one has to consider.

There is one point that I want to mention which may not have occurred to the noble Lord. Under the Affirmative Resolution procedure as it now exists there is a right for any individual affected to use the procedure of this House, and to apply to a Committee of this House for leave to petition; and if given leave to petition (this is not a question of the approval of the order, but of something else), he then adopts the procedure appropriate in, say, Private Bills and so on—the special procedure for the purpose—covering the appearance of advocates, the hearing of evidence, and so on.

This was a matter which was considered by this House some time ago and the House disagreed with the recommendation of their own Committee that this procedure should be altered. The provision had been forgotten—that is really what it came to—for instance, in connection with the Local Government Act. People did not realise that this power existed. The consequence is that if, in this particular case, the Affirmative Resolution were to be substituted for the Negative Resolution procedure in the Bill, there would then be with it a right to petition for a special hearing; and, of course, if there were this special hearing, there would be considerable delay. This matter would rest with the Committee of this House, which considers, I suppose, whether there is a prima facie case for a special hearing. I am not sure that they have ever done so since this point came to light, but the provision is still there. The result would therefore be this. Apart from the question of convenience and the question of right in general, a person who thought he was affected by an order made under subsection (1) of this clause would be entitled to go through the hoops (if I may so call it) of this procedure, apart from anything else that was put before the House. I suggest that this by itself is quite enough to tilt the balance, if it requires to be tilted, in favour of this being an unnecessary complication in the Bill.

No doubt any person particularly affected would feel that he had an advantage in being able to hold things up. We have cases from time to time of people who do so quite unreasonably; I am sure there are many more who do so reasonably. But in addition to the rights of the particular person there is the question of public convenience and public advantage in this matter. Suppose an Affirmative Resolution is required. Apart from the point I have just been making, we know perfectly well that what often happens in this kind of case is that on an Affirmative Resolution the time of the Government of the day, whatever their complexion, is taken up because a comparatively small number of people, often with local interests, feel they are entitled to object to an Affirmative Resolution, whereas they either would not object in the same way by praying against an Order made under the Negative Resolution procedure, or, if they did, they would certainly take up less time in doing so.

No one wishes to deprive people of proper rights, but we have to reconcile what is required, I suggest, to safeguard the interests of the public generally, and of the Opposition for that matter, with a reasonable procedure under the Bill. I think this provision goes too far as an Amendment and, speaking for myself, I hope that the Government will not accept it. I do not know whether they are going to or not. I feel very doubtful about the wisdom of this House, even if they have the power, ever exercising a right to refuse an Affirmative Resolution when very often it has been approved in another place. As for democracy, I am not quite sure how far it would support the procedure of this House in these matters; and, again, I am not quite certain that the public are as concerned as they no doubt ought to be about questions of Parliamentary procedure such as the difference between Affirmative Resolutions and Motions to annul Orders. I think they feel that their rights are sufficiently safeguarded if in questions of comparative detail there is a right to pray against the Order such as the Bill now gives.


My Lords, I hope that the Government will see their way to accept this Amendment. This is a similar point to the one which I raised on the Committee stage of the Bill. In the case of an order an Affirmative Resolution would be required. The point we have to decide is whether in the case of a Statutory Instrument under subsection (4) also there should be an Affirmative Resolution. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, has referred to convenience. It really is a weighing up of Government convenience, on the one hand, and the rights of the citizen, as represented by Members of Parliament, on the other. I should think that this was a case where the rights of the citizen should carry the day, and we are justified, I think, in asking for the Affirmative Resolution procedure. After all, in Clause 8—


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and it is very kind of him to give way. As I read it, the proviso at the end of the clause refers to only one particular thing, and that is the extension of this section beyond the five years which are expressly provided for in the Bill. The orders under the previous subsection are of a quite different category. The proviso might apply to quite small cases or, of course, to rather larger ones.


My Lords, I appreciate the fact that there is a difference of character. I do not want to labour that point. It comes under the same clause, Clause 8, which is a very important clause. I should have thought this was a case where there should be the Affirmative Resolution procedure. I think that this is a case where one should tip the balance (was that the expression used by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison?) in favour of safeguarding the rights of the citizen; and I hope, for the reasons I advocated on Committee, that this Amendment will be accepted.


My Lords, I am informed that there is a technical defect in these Amendments in any case. I do not want to dwell on this point. Evidently it is in Amendment 14—a proviso to one subsection is evidently kept very strictly under control by its parent subsection and is not allowed to affect any other subsection. The proviso introduced by the noble Lord has got a little out of control; it would apparently affect other subsections, and this would make difficulties. As I say, I do not want to dwell on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, in introducing this Amendment, conjured up again a picture of classes of citizens being deprived of their property under the speedy procedure—and I quote him—"without opportunity of being heard and calling witnesses". Let me remind the House again of what can and cannot happen under the specially swift procedure. If a householder is concerned, the Minister must have a hearing; if it is anybody else but a householder concerned the Minister may have a hearing. No doubt he very often will. If he decides not to have a hearing, he must receive representations and consider them in the way which I outlined on an earlier date to the Committee of this House, and which is very fully covered by existing case law. We are not—let me repeat it again: we are not—here dealing with a procedure which will give the Minister the power of depriving ordinary citizens in their houses of the right of a hearing. I must repeat that once again.

The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, touched on the essence of the objection to this Amendment, and it is quite simply the question of Parliamentary time, and particularly of the time of the House of Commons. There is no hard and fast constitutional doctrine about it. Of course, we could make these relatively unimportant orders—I emphasise the word "relatively"—subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure. But it is more usual to reserve the big batteries of Parliamentary control—namely, the Affirmative Resolution procedure—for orders which are in the nature of legislation in themselves, or which affect statutory provisions, or which govern the entire functioning of a statutory entity over many years. Orders will arise under this Bill in the case of certain regulations which will be made subject to Affirmative procedure; and, above all, of course, the order introducing the second appointed day is subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure.

These are the big matters in the operation of the Bill. If we make orders instituting the speedy procedure here and there over the country for a week, or a fortnight, or for six months, for this type of purchase or that—transitory and variegated little orders—and if we make these Orders subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure, what effect is that going to have on future Governments? I am not really sure whether noble Lords opposite have thought it out, but, knowing the shortage of Parliamentary time and the complications that can be introduced by all the Prayers which the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, mentioned, the situation could arise where the Government might think, "We have to go to Parliament for affirmative consent to this order anyhow. We might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. Let us make the order bigger; let us make it last longer and cover six counties instead of a couple of parishes. We are not going to get back to Parliament again this Session with another one, so let us put in everything we might possibly need. "The effects of applying the Affirmative Resolution procedure to this class of orders will be to decrease their number and increase their duration, their geographical extent and the type of purchase they can cover. It will be to make them tend towards that very general order which the Opposition not half an hour ago were at pains to remove from the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said that this is not a wrecking Amendment, and I accept that it is not intended in a wrecking spirit. But I put it to him that it is a self-defeating Amendment which will lead to bigger and fiercer impositions of the special procedures than if these orders are left to the Negative Resolution procedure only.


My Lords, I have listened very carefully to what has been said, and I think we ought still to be intent upon having, for the protection of the public, an Affirmative Resolution. We have been told that it takes too much Government time. We have now been told that the House of Commons is going to sit two mornings a week. If it be true—I have not heard it myself; I only read it in The Times yesterday—that this House is going to work a five-day week, surely Parliamentary time can be found to protect the interests of the citizen. I feel very strongly on this matter. I do not think it is the same to have the Negative Resolution procedure. We should have an Affirmative Resolution. I hope that we shall support this Amendment because it is important. It is not a one-Party issue.


My Lords, I appreciate that this is a matter on which some people can take one side and some people can take another with absolute sincerity. It so happens that one side is mine and the other side is that of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. May I just amplify one point that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, quoted me as saying? He quoted me as saying that under an order of this kind a person's land can be compulsorily acquired without the opportunity of his being heard and his calling witnesses. I will examine what I said in Hansard, but I think I said, and I certainly intended to say, without the opportunity of his being heard and his calling witnesses at a public inquiry. Parliament has always insisted that there is an essential difference between justice done in public and justice being sought to be done in private. The courts sit in public, and the reason, I have no doubt, why successive Governments have insisted on the right for a member of the public to have a public inquiry on such occasions as this is because Parliament has accepted that there is an essential difference.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, spoke of these being relatively unimportant orders. I can conceive that some of them may be relatively unimportant. At the same time, under subsection (3) as we have just amended it, it would be possible for the Government, whichever way we decided on this Amendment, to lay an order that would bring this special, speedy procedure into operation for the whole of Wales. If every owner of land in Wales were told that the Government were laying an order which deprived him of the right to be heard at a public inquiry in the case of the proposed compulsory acquisition of his land, I very much doubt whether the Western Mail would say that it was a relatively unimportant order. There would be a great many questions to the Secretary of State for Wales in another place.


My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that although absolutely such an order would be important, it would be relatively unimportant when compared with the order bringing on the second appointed day and with the statutory regulations which are to be framed to govern the entire operation of the Commission?


I am not sure I should agree to that. I feel strongly that this right to a public inquiry is an essential safeguard for the public, a safeguard which has been maintained under successive Governments by both Houses of Parliament, for very many years.


My Lords, how does this Amendment affect the right to a public inquiry?


What I am arguing now is whether these orders are very important or not. I am seeking to contend that the importance is not measured by the area that is affected or by the number of people that are affected, but by the fact that a long-preserved right will be taken away by the order.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, went on to argue—and argue skilfully—that if these Amendments were carried, the practical effect would be that future Governments would make their orders larger, so as to have fewer of them. That is certainly a possibility, but it is balanced by another possibility: that the Government would not bring forward an order unless they were 100 per cent. convinced that it was necessary. I have had a good deal of experience in this field and I know perfectly well that Ministers frequently have to fight with Leaders of the House and Chief Whips when they wish to bring forward an order requiring an Affirmative Resolution and their colleagues in the Government are not completely convinced that it is absolutely necessary that those concerned should find Parliamentary time for it. So I think that argument cancels itself out.

As to the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, I appreciate his point about the special rights of petition, but that is really an argument against having any Affirmative Resolution orders at all. I do not think it is fair to bring it up in this particular case, unless one is going to maintain that we shall eschew the use of the Affirmative Resolution order. I am quite certain that the Affirmative Resolution orders are needed in certain cases. I do not think this is one of the great issues of this Bill, but it is an important issue. It is important because this Clause 8 procedure is the greatest infringement on the rights of the individual that Parliament has had to consider for quite a long time. We are not seeking to eliminate the Clause 8 procedure; we are grateful to the Government for having improved it by the amendment they made to Schedule 2. But we think that Parliament ought to recognise that this is so serious a trespass on the long-established rights of the citizen that a Government who wish to bring this new procedure into force ought to come to Parliament with a definite proposition requiring the affirmation of both Houses.


May I take leave of the House to speak a second time on an Amendment that is not my own? If the House divides now, it will do so under a possible misapprehension of the facts. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, made great play with my misquotation of him. I quoted him as saying that these orders would deprive the subject of the opportunity of being heard and calling witnesses in certain circumstances. He made play with the fact that I inadvertently omitted his subsequent phrase, "at a public inquiry". I apologise to him. He later went on to describe the right to be heard and to call witnesses at a public inquiry as a long-preserved right which would be taken away by this special procedure; and when he later spoke of the infringement of the rights of the individual I imagine that he had in mind once again the right of a public inquiry into the objections to a compulsory purchase order. The objector to a compulsory purchase order does not at present have a right to a public inquiry: he has a right to a hearing, but not to a public inquiry.

5.21 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 13) shall be agreed to?

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 14.

Amendment moved— Page 9, line 7, leave out ("subsection") and insert ("section").—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)

Clause 12 [General powers of management]:

5.31 p.m.

VISCOUNT GAGE moved, after subsection (4), to insert as a new subsection: ( ) The Ministers may, after consultation with such bodies of persons as appear to them to represent the interests of landlords and

Their Lordships divided:

Contents, 82; Not-Contents, 39. tenants of agricultural land, make regulations to provide, in relation to any agricultural land for the time being held by the Commission, for any of the following matters, that is to say:—

  1. (a) the terms and conditions upon which the occupier of the land shall hold the same;
  2. (b) the extent to which both the Commission and the occupier shall be bound to observe the provisions of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948 or any statutory amendment thereof;
  3. (c) any other relevant matters which will ensure the fair and proper management and occupation of the land, due regard being had to its continued and productive use for agriculture until such time as the Commission or persons duly authorised by them, shall require to enter and occupy the land for the purposes of carrying out any lawfully authorised material development."

Aberdeen and Temair, M. Ferrers, E. Mountgarret, V.
Ailwyn, L. Ferrier, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Albemarle, E. Forster of Harraby, L. Newton, L.
Amory, V. Fortescue, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Ashbourne, L. Fraser of North Cape, Portal of Hungerford, V.
Atholl, D. Gage, V. Rathcavan, L.
Auckland, L. Greenway, L. Redmayne, L.
Audley, Bs. Grenfell, L. Rennell, L.
Blakenham, V. Gridley, L. Rowallan, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Guest, L. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]
Carrington, L. Hacking, L. Sandford, L.
Coleraine, L. Harlech, L. Sandys, L.
Conesford, L. Hawke, L. Savile, L.
Crawshaw, L. Henley, L. Sempill, Ly.
Daventry, V. Horsbrugh, Bs. Sinclair of Cleeve, L.
De La Warr, E. Ilford, L. Somers, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Ironside, L. Strange of Knokin, Bs.
Derwent, L. Jellicoe, E. Swinton, E.
Digby, L. Kinnoull, E. Tangley, L.
Dilhorne, V. Limerick, E. Teynham, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Lothian, M. Tweedsmuir, L.
Dundee, E. McCorquodale of Newton, L. Vivian, L.
Eccles, V. Mancroft, L. Wade, L.
Effingham, E. Mansfield, E. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Wedgwood, L.
Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Milverton, L. Windlesham, L.
Falkland, V. Mountevans, L. Wolverton, L.
Falmouth, V.
Addison, V. Henderson, L. Phillips, Bs.
Blyton, L. Hilton of Upton, L. [Teller.] Popplewell, L.
Bowles, L. Hughes, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Brockway, L. Kennet, L. Sainsbury, L.
Burden, L. Kirkwood, L. Shackleton, L.
Champion, L. Latham, L. Shepherd, L.
Chorley, L. Leatherland, L. Silkin, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Lindgren, L. Sorensen, L. [Teller.]
Faringdon, L. Longford, E. (L. Privy Seal.) Stocks, Bs.
Gaitskell, Bs. Mitchison, L. Summerskill, Bs.
Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.) Morrison, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Granville-West, L. Moyle, L. Williamson, L.
Hall, V. Pargiter, L. Winterbottom, L.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to draw your Lordships' attention once more to the agricultural aspects of this Bill. We had a short and somewhat sketchy debate on Committee, chiefly concerning the position of the occupiers, and we were assured that the occupiers would be treated under the Agricultural Holdings Act in the same way as the occupiers of other land possessed by Government Departments would be treated. I should have been quite satisfied with that assurance had the way in which other Government Departments treat agricultural occupiers been itself satisfactory. But in one particular that is unfortunately not the case, at least in the opinion of the National Farmers' Union.

For some time past the National Farmers' Union have been drawing the attention of the Government to the position of the tenant farmer. The tenant farmer under a private owner has been given protection at various stages, and now enjoys pretty well complete security of tenure. Under a statutory or public landlord he is treated very much more harshly. In fact, he can be turned out at short notice, and the only compensation to which he is entitled of right is a year's rent, although he may get a little more at the discretion of the purchaser. That is fairly tough going. That is the position under the present clause. I have some reason to believe that the Government are going to make a concession; indeed, a statement may be made by the Minister of Agriculture at no very distant date. I cannot, of course, ask the noble Lord to anticipate that statement to-day, but he may perhaps be able to tell us whether or not it is going to be made. And one can only hope that, if it is made, it will put the tenant farmer into a better and more equitable position than he has hitherto been.

But even if occupiers are treated with absolute justice there will still be the question of the land they occupy, and the agricultural production from it, and this may be a matter of some importance, seeing that, although agriculture is hardly mentioned in this Bill, the Land Commission may become one of the biggest owners of agricultural land in the country. It would be a rather queer kind of estate it would own, because it would be continually changing. Every year so much would go into building and other land would be purchased—at least, one assumes so. No one can pretend that acquisition by the Land Commission would have a stimulating effect on agriculture. In fact, I think that most people who wanted to continue farming and had their land acquired by the Commission would, as soon as they received their compensation money, wish to go off somewhere else where there was a better chance of getting security of tenure.

I believe that the threat of acquisition may have some depressing effect on agriculture. I am a farmer. Unfortunately, I do not own any building land, so I have no financial interest to declare on this Bill. But as a farmer I am aware, to my cost, that modern farming is not a static industry, even when the occupier has complete security of tenure. It invariably seems to involve re-investment, new machinery, modernising cottages, adapting buildings and so forth. All that is a very good thing to do; it is acknowledged by the Government to be a very good thing, and in fact we get grants to help us. But it is essentially a long-term investment. If rewards come—and I sometimes wonder whether they will—they do not come at once: it is a long-term affair. Clearly, no-one whose land had been acquired would spend any money on improvements. In fact, I am sure that the Commission themselves, who would then become the land owners, would spend no money on improvements. People whose land fell into the same planning category and so became eligible for acquisition would hesitate a good deal before spending money on their property. I think they would be wondering all the time when their turn was coming. They would wait and see what the policy of the Commission was likely to be.

Looking at it from the farmers' point of view, what do we know about the likely policy of the Commission? We know that they are likely to buy a good deal of land in advance, because we are told that in paragraph 21 of the White Paper. How much land they are going to purchase, and how long in advance, we are not told. But we do know that the Commission have a number of very expensive tasks to carry out, and we know that £45 million is to be given in the nature of working capital. The really big money will come from their trading activities, the profit they will make on the land they sell and the levy they get from that same land. I think it would be reasonable, therefore, to assume that the Commission will buy quite a lot of agricultural land, and that, of that land, quite a lot will be agricultural land bought some time in advance of need, because that is where the profit will be greatest. At present I believe that about 45,000 acres of agricultural land are taken every year for building. At least, that was the figure given in 1964; I do not know whether there is a more recent figure. I should imagine that something in that region would be fairly accurate.

What I fear is that agricultural production over a much wider area, possibly twice that size, or even more, will suffer from some degree of what I might call agricultural blight, varying in some cases from a slight decrease in production to a real fear in others that the land may go out of production altogether. Incidentally, that is happening, fortunately in a small way, on some of the building estates that I have encountered. It has not so far been worth bothering about, but on a large scale it will be. I am suggesting that this should be looked at by the Commission, and that the Minister, together with the Ministry of Agriculture, should produce some form of code of principles to be followed and to be administered by properly qualified land officers, as I think is the case with land held by the Defence Departments.

There is nothing of a hostile nature about this Amendment. Indeed, it seems to conform with paragraph 21 of the White Paper which I quoted, which says that the Commission will be given all powers to manage and improve land in their possession. I do not suppose that we shall see much agricultural improvement, but perhaps capable and sympathetic management will at least limit the degree of agricultural deterioration. I would entirely agree that I am basing my case on pure supposition. But it is supposition which seems to me, for the reasons I have given, to be fair. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, may say something to-day which will put an entirely new complexion on the whole position. I hope he will say something; in fact, I wrote a long and, I am afraid, tedious letter some time ago in that hope. I hope that we shall hear something, because in professional and other circles I find that there is a great deal of concern about this matter. For example, some of your Lordships will have seen a circular letter from the National Farmers' Union, with a notice of my Amendment which they supported in principle. They are concerned, naturally enough, with the interests of their members, but also with agriculture generally.

For those of your Lordships who have not had the circular, perhaps I might read one sentence. It says: As the body representing occupiers, whether as owners or tenants of farmland throughout England and Wales, the Union is particularly concerned to ensure that the acquisition of land by the Commission, perhaps several years before that land may be required for development, does not effectively blight the farm by removing from the occupier any incentive, and perhaps any opportunity, to continue farming up to the maximum potential of the holding. Acquisition too long in advance of actual need, apart from sterilising large sums of public money for several years, cannot but have a detrimental effect on farming confidence and productivity and result in the running down of enterprise. That, I think, supports some of the arguments that I have used.

I appreciate that I am asking the noble Lord to tell us something of the likely policy of the Commission when the Commission has not yet been set up. But I do not think it is such an unreasonable request as it may perhaps sound, because here we are dealing with some of the fundamental thinking of the Bill, in fact the mechanics of the principle that it is the duty of the Commission to secure for the community betterment out of the cost of building land. I cannot help feeling that, in fixing the sum of £45 million, the Government must have made some calculations as to how they arrive at that figure.

If the Government are not prepared to help us and to tell us a little about the future policy of the Commission, I think they must forgive the farming world if they come to their own conclusions. They may be fallacious; I do not know. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, telling us of the great difficulty of professional people in advising their clients. I do not know whether he had particularly in mind the farmers, but I think it would apply in this connection. I can assure the noble Lord that whatever he says will be studied with the greatest interest by a large number of people, and I hope that he will at least accept the principle of my Amendment. I beg to Move.

Amendment moved—

Page 13, line 26, at end insert the said subsection.—(Viscount Gage.)

5.45 p.m.


I should like to support the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, in his Amendment. In effect it is a plea for good estate management on the part of the Land Commission with regard to agricultural land. I believe there is a danger that the Government have overlooked the fact, as the noble Viscount has pointed out, that they will be very big landowners indeed. When the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, replied to one or two probing remarks on this subject made by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, before we rose for the Christmas Recess, he made one or two remarks rather as if he felt that the Commission were to hold agricultural land perhaps for only a few months while the main purpose for which the land had been acquired was got under way. I do not think that will be the case. I think the Commission will find themselves holding land for quite a long period and not just for a matter of months, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, suggested. In some cases I think it may be a matter of years.

If that is so (as I think is quite likely, because in any land operation events move quite slowly) then, as the noble Lord has pointed out, some sort of code has to be devised by the Commission as to how they are to administer this large estate. Nothing has been said about this. There was a mention in the White Paper to the effect that the land would have to be managed, but nothing has been said about it in the Bill itself. I think the noble Lord's Amendment seeks to draw the attention of the Government to the fact that there has here been an error of omission in not thinking in terms of what you must do with regard to your new agricultural estate.

There are so many aspects to it. Where are you to get the valuers? Where are you to get the skilled advisers? Where are you to get the estate managers, the land agents and all those who are to do this work? You have no machinery at all for considering this. Therefore, I rather agree with the noble Viscount that it looks as though the Government have forgotten this. I hope they will give it their close attention. For that reason, I support the noble Viscount's Amendment.

5.49 p.m.


I am entirely with the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, and also with the noble Lord who has spoken from the Liberal Benches. But I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships, and of the Government, to one specific point on a rather more narrow issue; namely, whether the Commission can be instructed to take into account proper arrangements for compensation both for buildings and for unexhausted manurial values. When a tenanted farm reverts to its owner, whether he re-lets or whether he takes it into his own hands, in normal circumstances compensation—often a very considerable sum—has to be paid to the outgoing tenant for unexhausted manurial values, and if the land is shortly to be built upon those unexhausted manurial values will be of no use to the purchaser; namely, the Land Commission. But at the same time it would be grossly unfair that the outgoing tenant should not be given proper recompense.

Even more important is the question of compensation for buildings on site—approved buildings which may have been erected by the tenant himself, with the approval of the landlord, or of such a kind that, whether landlord-approved or not, he would be obliged to take them over afterwards. Such buildings—grain driers, concrete tower silos, hay barns, cow byres and other such buildings—cost many thousands of pounds to erect, sometimes running into tens of thousands. Obviously, they will be of no use whatever to the Land Commission, but I hope that the Land Commission will be prepared to pay adequate compensation to the outgoing tenant, just as a private landlord would be compelled to do. The same would apply to an owner-occupier, who would be in exactly the same position of having buildings which have cost him a great deal of money to erect and which the Commission would not require and have no use for, but for which in fairness the person ought to be fully compensated.


I venture to suggest that your Lordships are in danger of overlooking the character of this clause as a whole. This is a clause which gives the Commissioners the general power and function of managing and turning to account land which they have in their hands. But in subsection (5) there is a provision which, turned perhaps into plainer English, says that the clause is not intended to confer on them, and does not confer, any additional powers; that is to say, they are not entitled, as I understand it, by virtue of this clause so long as that subsection remains in it, notwithstanding anything which might be put in by this Amendment, to do anything they could not have done otherwise—at any rate, anything which would injure or affect any individual right at all. If, for instance, they were compelled by this subsection to deal with the terms and conditions upon which the land was held, or with the question of compensation, which the noble Earl has just explained to us with his usual clarity and eloquence, I should have thought they would be bound to affect somebody's rights and, therefore, whatever the regulations said about it, they would have no power under the clause to do it. I think this is done on purpose. I so understand from the discussions which took place on the Bill in another place.

It is not intended to give the Commission any power to deal with agricultural or other land in such a way as to affect people's rights to the detriment of those people, and that is quite deliberate. They are intended to manage their land as a private or other landowner would manage it, without having any special powers to deal with the occupiers or others. In fact, what this Amendment appears to intend is a fairly extensive interference, not only with particular rights, but with the general law of the land. These regulations, if they were to be made, could prescribe under paragraph (a) the extent to which both the Commission and the occupier shall he bound to observe the provisions of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948 or any statutory amendment thereof". Then, when one comes to paragraph (c), there are to be regulations, or there may be regulations, about any other relevant matters which will ensure the fair and proper management and occupation of the land, due regard being had to its continued and productive use for agriculture until such time as the Commission want to occupy it.


My Lords, no doubt due to my faulty powers of exposition, I did not put this very clearly. I was not thinking of the Commission persecuting the present occupiers of the land. What I thought would probably happen would be that there would be some sort of sauve qui peut from the areas bought by the Commission, and that somebody ought to do something about the position. I should not like to see the land go right out of production.


I am quite sure the noble Viscount would not think the Commission would persecute anybody. He is not, if I may say so, that sort of person. But a lot of rather misplaced heat is being engendered about this Bill, and this seems to me to be a case in point. What is intended here is pretty clear: that when the Commission have to hold agricultural land, they will deal with it, as anybody else would, by the ordinary methods of management. I think your Lordships should remember that, even if they had to hold it for rather longer than they would have hoped to hold it, it must have been, in the first instance, land which in their opinion was suitable for material development: that is to say, they are not given the right—and it is not intended that they should do so—to occupy agricultural land and set up as farmers. This is land which is going to be used for housing, or whatever it may be; it is not just any land.

I rose partly to say what I have said, and partly to say one other thing. I have always been very struck by the performances of the Scottish Department of Agriculture, and very much in their favour. I live in Scotland, when I am there, at the bottom of a glen. The higher part of the glen contains about six farms, all of which were bought from the previous landlord by the Department of Agriculture. It is all very well to say that Departments of Agriculture, or other departments, do not carry out their job as owners of farm land well, but in this particular case it is quite untrue. What has happened has been that the Department of Agriculture, acting for the Forestry Commission, have done up the farmhouses; have dealt with the tenants there, without upsetting them in any way and to their considerable advantage, and have made the whole glen a better farming proposition than it was before they came there. This is not the only thing the Department of Agriculture in Scotland have done. They have done a great deal of experimenting with farming and in seeing what can be done by way of development in Scotland. Therefore, I would not accept the proposition that things get any worse because a private landlord, who may not have the necessary resources for the purpose, is displaced by a Government Department which intends to improve the local farming. One ought to bear that fact very distinctly in mind.

I would point out that this clause is permissive. The Minister is not obliged to make the regulations: he "may" make them. Before he makes any regulations, he is obliged to consult with certain bodies representing farming interests. This is land which, by the terms of the Bill, is land suitable for material development and, that being so, it seems to me a very one-sided state of affairs that, if anything is going to be done which will affect material development, then only the farm interests should be consulted.

It is obviously a matter which one could develop further, but it would take time to do so and I do not propose to waste the time of the House in that sense. But I do not like the idea of the interests who are concerned in one sense alone being consulted, while the possibilities of other interests would apparently not be so carefully considered. I agree that "consultation" is a very general word, and that it often means that you make up your mind what you are going to do and then say to people afterwards, "That is what I am going to do. What do you say about it?" That, I always thought, was Mr. Macmillan's method of consulting the Dominions. But I do not want to introduce controversial elements, and I do not want any noble Lord to take that comment too seriously.

I feel that this Amendment is well meant, if the noble Viscount will allow me to say so, but it is quite unworkable, having regard to its last paragraph. It is an attempt, perhaps willy-nilly, to turn the Land Commission into a far more bureaucratic body than the Bill ever intends them to be in relation to agricultural land. It is surely far better to leave the Land Commission to manage the land without any extra or special powers for the purpose, and to suppose that they will—as I imagine everybody thinks they will—behave like reasonable people and manage it properly, where necessary consulting the agricultural interests on any matter of sufficient importance. I am sure that this is certainly not something which ought to be put into the Bill, and if it were put in, in this form or anything like it, it would change the whole character of the clause read as a whole.

There is no more one can say about that. I am sure the Government will have a good deal more information than I have about the extent of land which is likely to be held. Whether they can reduce it with sufficient certainty for any practical purposes I doubt. I am quite sure that this Amendment ought not to be pressed, and I shall be amused to see whether the Party opposite thinks it worth pressing.

6.4 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Viscount moved this Amendment in a constructive spirit, and I know that my noble friend is grateful to him for the trouble he has taken in writing to him to explain the exact intentions behind his original intervention in the debate and this Amendment to the Bill to-day. I think I have grasped his fears and I have substantial sympathy with them. My noble friend who has just spoken used the word "persecution", but I do not think this is the situation—


My Lords, if my noble friend will allow me to interrupt him, I said I was sure that the noble Viscount did not suppose that the Commission would persecute anybody.


My Lords, I rather took that to mean that the flight from certain lands might be due to fear of persecution. I do not think this is the case.


My Lords, I never said that.


No, my Lords, but my noble friend did. The point is that I think the fear is that farmers (since farming is a long-term occupation, and one tries to look as far into the future as one can) might feel that a short tenancy, followed by expropriation for the purpose of building, would cause individuals to take what cash they could as soon as they could, and get away from a particular farm in order to get another farm elsewhere. Then, as a result of this operation, the Land Commission might find at the end of the day that they had on their hands substantial quantities of agricultural land, which they would have to administer one way or another. I think this was also the fear of the noble Lord, Lord Henley.

The noble Viscount has, I feel, done a service in warning the Land Commission that this situation may arise. But I am convinced that the members of the Land Commission, being reasonable men, will bear in mind the Government's intention, which is that they should not become large landowners devoted to large-scale farming, but should be a body whose aim is to get land at an appropriate moment for development and use other than for agriculture. For this reason I think, first of all, they will not tie up more money than they can possibly avoid in buying land which they would have to keep under their control as agricultural land for an unnecessarily long period. If they did—


My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that they are bound to do this to some extent? They have £45 million to start with, and this is only to set them going. They must, in fact, make their money by speculating in a good old-fashioned way. They will buy up agricultural land and hold it until it is worth developing. That is how they are going to make their money. What I think the noble Viscount is saying (and this is why I am supporting this Amendment) is that if they do this—and they will inevitably have to do it—they will have a large agricultural estate with tenants on it and all the rest, which they will have to administer. But under the Bill as it stands there is no machinery for doing this, and everybody seems to have forgotten it and talks in terms of "Well, it is just going to be for a month or two". But it is not going to be for a month or two. It is going to be for a long time.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord is overstating the noble Viscount's case. There is no doubt that land will be held for some time; that it will not be possible to buy agricultural land to-day and start building on it to-morrow. On the other hand, it is the intention of the Commission to hold as little land as they can and to hold it for as short a time as possible. They will obviously have to buy in advance, but they are not setting out to be farmers; they are setting out to be developers. While I agree that the situation will arise where the land will have to be administered as agricultural land for some period by the Land Commission, nevertheless it will be the intention and policy of the Commission to keep as short as possible the time for which they hold land in these circumstances, and to keep the amount of land sterilised from building purposes as little as possible. But accepting this situation, and that the Land Commission will no doubt have to administer agricultural land, they will have the same duties as any other body to farm and administer the land as well as is required by the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948.

The noble Viscount's Amendment says that the Ministers may after consultation look at (b) the extent to which both the Commission and the occupier shall be bound to observe the provisions of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948 or any statutory amendment thereof". To my simple mind it seems that either you carry out the injunctions of the Agricultural Holdings Act in toto, or you do not. There are no degrees of carrying out the requirements of the Act. I think the noble Viscount can be assured that the Land Commission will do their duty as landowners, for the limited period when they will be acting as estate managers, in a manner satisfactory even to the noble Viscount's standards. We are not going to waste a valuable national asset. I am certain that the Land Commission, when they are in being, will do their duty as landowners to the full degree of responsibility which public opinion will require.


My Lords, I should first like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Gage on raising this very interesting and important topic, and on developing the case so cogently. Although I recognise that the noble Lord has made a helpful reply, I do not think he has met the point. I believe, with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that the Land Commission will inevitably at times find themselves—and I am not disagreeing with this—holding quite large areas of farm land. I accept that the amount held will be as little as possible, and that it will be held for as short a time as possible. But inevitably, in the nature of things, they will sometimes find themselves holding quite large areas of farm land, and possibly some of it over a period of one, two or three years.

They are going to be in quite a different position from any other authority or person in regard to their obligations under the 1948 Act, because of the short term for which they are going to hold the land. Possibly when they acquire land occupied by a tenant farmer he may remain there, because he has got nowhere else to go; but when they acquire land which is occupied by an owner-occupier then almost invariably he will take his compensation and will go off and buy another farm somewhere else as soon as he can. This inevitably means that the Land Commission will be left with that farm for a period of one or two, or even three or four, years, until the time comes to develop the whole section which they are acquiring. They will have a serious practical problem to farm that farm for the remaining period until the land is developed.

This is the substance of the point that my noble friend and others are raising. How are the Land Commission going to deal with this? Who is going to farm the land they have taken? They have not a staff, as we have been told, which will be able to do this, but they will certainly need one, though we hope that it will not be a very big one. What we should like to hear from the noble Lord is just how they are going to deal with this problem. Are they going to use the experienced officers of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Agricultural Land Service? Are these to be made available to them? Are they then going to set up some kind of organisation land agency which will take the farms in hand, when necessary, and employ labour in order to continue working the farms? What is their approach going to be in order to keep this land reasonably farmed?

If I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, did not make a correct comparison in comparing this situation with the situation, which he rightly praised, of the Scottish Agricultural Department, and the good fashion in which they look after their tenant farmers. The background to them is a background of relative permanency, and of course the management is good and the fixed equipment is good. The difficulty here is that this body will have this land for a period of only two or three years, so that they cannot have the same organisation or get the same tenants. There is a practical problem here, and I ask the noble Lord to address his mind to it, not more seriously—because I am sure he has looked at it seriously—but I assure him that he has not really answered the substance of the point here.


The noble Lord has, I think, re-stated the point made by the noble Viscount, and I do not think we are divided on this. There is going to be a practical problem here, and we are very grateful to those noble Lords who have raised this point for underlining the problem which will have to be faced by the Land Commission. But I think it is true to say that it is not an insuperable problem. In addition to the National Farmers' Union, which the noble Viscount mentioned, the Country Landowners' Association have written to my noble friend's Ministry and made certain suggestions. This is a problem which is already receiving wide consideration. The Country Landowners' Association have suggested that Ministers might give an assurance that the Commission themselves will contain a member experienced in rural management, and that the Commission will have sufficient staff so qualified. This is one possibility.

The organisations mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, are there to serve the Commission; and, indeed, as well as the Advisory Service, there are various private organisations which are experienced in estate management. All these organisations are, and will be, available to the Land Commission. Since I think the problem has been well ventilated and brought to the notice of my noble friends and the future Commission, I am certain that adequate steps will be taken not to misuse a vital national asset.


My Lords, I feel that this debate may have had a useful result. I must confess that I do not know how Lord Silkin's solicitors would advise their clients, having listened to this debate; but the plain fact is that the Bill says that the Land Commission will often be acquiring land in advance of need. The noble Lord, Lord Winter bottom, and his noble friend now say, of course, that that does not really mean that they are going to acquire much land, or that it will be acquired much in advance of need. It is left to us to guess what all these things mean. I still think that, until we know a great deal more about the Commission and their programme, there will probably be an unnecessary diminution of agricultural output in certain parts of the country, particularly when they see the Commission actually buying land. That may not happen for a year, it may not happen for some time to come, but when it does I think there will be some apprehension.

But I do not see very much point in pressing on with this Amendment now. I am asking the Government to prescribe a certain code. If they have no code they can prescribe, that is too bad; it is no use asking them to do it. But I think they will be forced to prescribe a code. It seems to me that they are taking this matter rather—I will not say light-heartedly; but they are most anxious to try to put the Commission under the same head as other Departments. That is the keynote. We have a Defence Department and we have a Forestry Commission—although that is perhaps rather different. They say that there is absolutely no difference between this Commission and any of these Departments. But, as several of my noble friends have pointed out, there is a considerable difference, because in the case of the Land Commission their land will always be changing over to some other purpose.

However, as I have said, I can see little point in prolonging this argument. I can only assure the noble Lord that the organisations will look very closely indeed at what happens when the Commission start operations, and I think they will get a good many Questions asked in this House and in the other place. I noticed that the noble Lord did not say a word about the statement that I was hoping he was going to say would be made by the Minister of Agriculture about these tenant farmers. I did put that matter in my letter to Lord Kennet.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 13 [Application of building and planning controls]:


My Lords, this Amendment is similar to the first one I moved, and substitutes a reference to a Section of the 1966 Housing (Scotland) Act for the 1950 Act. Like the first one, it is occasioned by the 1966 Act having received the Royal Assent since the last stage. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 15, line 7, leave out ("184(1) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1950") and insert ("208 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1966").—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 16 [General power of disposal]:

6.18 p.m.

LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved, after subsection (4), to insert: ( ) Where land (in this subsection called "the specified land") was acquired compulsorily by the Commission for the purpose of the winning and working of minerals and the winning and working of minerals on the specified land has ceased, the specified land shall be offered for sale by the Commission to the person from whom it was acquired or his predecessor in title the owner for the time being of land of which the specified land formed part at the date of its acquisition by the Commission.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an Amendment again affecting mineral working. The effect of the Amendment is to ensure that, when land has been compulsorily purchased for mineral working and has been worked out, it shall be offered back to the original owner. We had some discussion on this point on the Committee stage, and therefore I will not repeat the arguments. Of course, the advantage that I am aiming for is to avoid fragmentation, especially where the mineral working is in a farm holding. This Amendment is more closely drawn than the Amendment which we put down on Committee stage, and I hope, therefore, that it will be more acceptable than its predecessor.

In the interval I have received a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Champion, who was then responsible for this aspect of the Bill, and I should like to thank him for it. I am sorry that he is not in his place now. Although I was soothed by his letter, as one always would be by a letter from the noble Lord, I have to confess that I was not satisfied. In passing, may I say that I very much regret that he is no longer sitting on the Front Bench in front of us, but I was glad to see that he was on the Front Bench further down. His presence in the House will always be both a pleasure and a help to all of us.

The point that I am really making to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who I imagine is to reply, is that I do not think it is enough that the Land Commission are able to offer back the land if they still have control of it, as I suppose they will. What I want is for an obligation to be put upon the purchaser of the land from the Land Commission who has been working the minerals, so that it shall go back after the minerals are worked out. For that reason I beg to move this Amendment.

Amendment moved—

Page 17, line 36, at end insert the said subsection—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)


My Lords, this Amendment would require the Commission to offer land back to the owner from whom they bought it, in this case for mineral workings. There would, however, be certain cases, as I explained on the Committee stage, where this would be an absurd course of action, because the Commission might consider after the minerals had been worked out that the land should be used for something else—for instance, for housing. If this Amendment were passed the Commission would have to sell the land back to the original owner and would then have to make a compulsory purchase order to acquire it back from him to get on with the housing. Another objection, also laid before the House on Committee, is that the Commission are in any case subject to the general Government policy about the disposal of surplus land, the Crichel Down criterion, which, broadly speaking, requires that land compulsorily acquired should, if it becomes surplus to Government requirements, be first offered for sale back to the original owner.

The point that was made in Committee, and I make it again, is that there does not seem to be any need or justification for writing this policy into Statute Law in respect of one compulsory purchasing authority when we are not writing it into Statute Law in respect of others, and when all Government Departments are bound by it in any case. This Amendment would in effect write the Crichel Down policy into the arrangements governing one particular compulsory purchasing authority having these powers and with regard only to one particular type of case: that is, mineral workings. The implication would be, in other types of cases, that different acquiring authorities need not follow the Crichel Down policy. Why put it into Statute Law in one case and not in others? It would risk the feeling getting abroad that other authorities were not bound to follow the policy—which would be false.

The Amendment as drawn actually goes beyond the Crichel Down policy in that the Government's policy is that only land which is recognisably agricultural land should, after it has become surplus to Government requirements, be offered for sale back to the original owner. This Amendment does not have this limitation. It could affect any land which has been used for mineral workings and would force the Commission to offer it back to the original owner, even though it was no longer recognisably agricultural land or suited for agricultural use. The noble Lord asked whether the obligation to sell the land back to the original vendor could not be imposed on a body which purchased the land from the Commission for the purpose of mineral workings. I am informed that that does not really "wash" in law. You cannot provide for that sort of continuing covenant in any way which will carry with it penalties more severe than for a breach of civil contract, which in this case, as noble Lords will be aware, is an insufficient penalty for ensuring that what is desired to happen does happen. Having said all these discouraging things, I should like to give my assurance to the noble Lord that in the case of mineral workings, as in all other cases, the Land Commission will beadhering to the Crichel Down policy as we know it and as we have found it to work well enough for the last 10 years or so.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for his answer to my Amendment. I should still like to see it in the Bill; but I am bound to say that he had a good case in his argument that if the Crichel Down principle is written in for one specific point it tends to weaken all the others. I am sure he will recognise that minerals are a special case—particularly metalliferous minerals, where the workings are for only two or three years, after which the land goes back. It is a short-term matter. Because metalliferous workings or iron ore are nearly always on farmland where careful restoration can ensure that the land returns to good farming condition, it is of first importance that it should go back and be included in the original farm again. This was very much in my mind in moving this Amendment. The noble Lord has given an answer with which I shall have to be content; all the more so because I am hoping (looking forward to the Amendment of the 1966 Mines Act) that it will not be necessary very often for the Land Commission to operate in this area at all. In those terms I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 [Concessionary crownhold dispositions]:

6.27 p.m.

LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved, after subsection (1), to insert: ( ) Where a crownhold disposition is made in the exercise of the power conferred by the preceding subsection to a purchaser, feuar or tenant not being a housing association, housing society or local authority the appropriate Minister or Ministers shall prescribe by regulations the principles for the selection of the purchaser, feuar, tenant or persons referred to in the preceding subsection.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 18, which concerns the crownhold disposition. This is an Amendment to Clause 18 and its effect is to require the Minister to make regulations covering the disposal of crownhold land to anyone other than a local authority or housing association. It may be in the memory of the House that we had some discussion about crownhold on the Committee stage, and it may be recognised that this Amendment is a substantially reduced form of the Amendment I then moved. I do not propose to repeat all the arguments we had then, but, first, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for clarifying the Government intentions on dispositions to private developers. He made an interjection in my speech last time explaining that the disposition of crownholds to private developers would not be concessionary crownholds. I studied Hansard. I fully take the point. That clears my mind entirely.

All I am concerned with here is the case where the Land Commission themselves decide to develop a concessionary crownhold, where they have acquired the land for development, proceed themselves to develop and then have concessionary crownholds to dispose of, either byway of tenancy or by way of crownhold. This probably will be rare. I think the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, told us that it would be rare; but it may happen sometimes. I urge upon the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and upon this House that the Land Commission will really not be in the same position as local authorities. First—and this is an argument we developed at length last time—it is not an elected body and therefore is not in touch with local people as is the local authority. The second point is an extremely important one when dealing with housing problems. It is that the officials of a local authority, through their multifarious contacts in the local authority area, know all about the applicants that come in. Therefore their ability to assess precisely the relative strength of the many applications they have on their list is exceptional and as good as it can possibly be.

The Land Commission, by its very nature, could never, through its officials have a similar knowledge of the applicants, who might come from all over the place to apply either for a tenancy or for the crownhold of property that the Commission was going to dispose of. I feel that there is an obligation on the Minister and on Parliament to lay down the conditions in which this should be done and it is to that particular case that my Amendment is directed. I hope the Minister will accept it, I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 19, line 6, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)

6.31 p.m.


My Lords, I am afraid that I owe the House an apology for speaking again at what is conventionally "this late hour", but I did have something to do with the Bill at an earlier stage and I find it very interesting. I hope that the Government will clear up this matter of the small builder. I do not recollect what was said at an earlier stage, in Committee, but I have always understood that it was within the intention of the Government that crownhold should be made available to small builders in some cases and that they should be able to sell, for housing of course, to actual occupiers.

Leaving that, I am a little puzzled by this Amendment. As I understand it, the Land Commission will operate at any rate regionally, and perhaps with more offices than that—I do not know—and that they will not be altogether without knowledge of local conditions. I imagine that when they have to deal with the kind of disposition contemplated by the clause, they will do what one would expect any public body to do, and what I think other public bodies in broadly similar positions do; that is to see what the local authority have to say about their housing list and so on, and, where necessary, consult them on individual cases.

In the interests of local authorities all over the country as well as of the Land Commission themselves, I am rather frightened when I hear it stated that the Minister ought to lay down the principles upon which tenants are selected, say in Sheffield or "Little Piddlewick". I should have thought that these principles were bound to differ so much in different areas, and could be stated only in such broad terms as not to provide material for Parliamentary criticism, and not to be very suitable for Parliamentary criticism. In the process of getting tenants local authorities have found that they differ, not only one from another but in their own practice, as conditions change in the area and the housing list shapes itself one way or another. Therefore I am afraid that I regard this Amendment as a minor indication of the tendency of some noble Lords opposite to have a little too much bureaucracy because they want Parliamentary control.


My Lords, if I may address myself first to my noble friend Lord Mitchison, I would say that he is right about crownhold and the small builder. The Commission will be free to dispose of crownhold to the small builder, and the small builder will be free to dispose of crownhold to the occupier. What is not intended is that the Commission should so dispose of concessionary crownhold: it will dispose only of crownhold in general, of the normal type.

During the Committee stage in this House and in another place Amendments were introduced requiring regulations to be prescribed for all crownhold disposals under this clause. The Amendment now before your Lordships' House has a narrower effect than that. It requires regulations to be prescribed only when the disposition is made to anybody except a housing association, housing society or local authority. That means, in short, when a disposition is made to a private individual. We are being invited to regulate for the direct disposal of concessionary crownhold from the Commission to the occupier of one sort or another. This of course removes one of the arguments which the Government advanced against the making of the earlier Amendments; namely, that the housing associations and local authorities would be responsible enough, and experienced enough, to be left to look after their own disposals, and it would be wrong for the Government to regulate how the Commission should pass these crownholds to such experienced entities.

With the present Amendment, the problem facing us is that the Land Commission can be trusted to decide whether a given housing association can be trusted to administer a concessionary crownhold, then, logically, they can also be trusted to administer a concessionary crownhold direct. To put it another way, if we are not subjecting the housing associations and local authorities to ministerial regulation in the administration of this scheme, we should not subject the Land Commission themselves—who are, as it were, one stage up the pyramid; one stage senior to the housing association—to ministerial regulation in the administration of the scheme.

I take the point, of course, that the Land Commission will be new and national, whereas the local authorities are old and local. This distinction, in so far as it is a reason in favour of the Amendment, does not apply to housing associations, many of which will probably also be new. And I think that my noble friend Lord Mitchison was right in saying that the Land Commission, through their regional offices, will certainly build up knowledge of local factors and situations which will shortly be comparable to that of local authorities. Of course, in the meantime the regional offices will have taken the advice of the local authorities. In any case, their local knowledge will be superior to that of the Minister, who in making regulations will have to rely on the advice of his regional officers; and it would be much less cumbrous if the Land Commission made their own arrangements on the advice of their own regional officers and with their growing knowledge in this field.

At the Committee stage the spectre was raised of a Commission which would go round conceding concessionary crownholds to individual favourites of the Commission or, possibly, of the Government—I do not know which. My Lords, I think that if we cannot trust the Commission not to behave in this deplorable way, we cannot trust Ministers not to behave in this deplorable way too, and we should make regulations saying that they should not indulge in favouritism. The one seems to me no more likely than the other. I would remind the House that in any case the Commission fall within the purview of the Parliamentary Commissioner and the Auditor and Comptroller General. I recommend that the House should take the view that the ordinary controls against abuse in the case of the Land Commission will be sufficient in this case.


My Lords, I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for his answer, though I am bound to say that I do not find it very comforting. I suppose the only substantial safeguard here, if someone was dissatisfied with a decision of the Land Commission, would be recourse to the Ombudsman. I do not feel that the Commission, even with experience, will have the same local knowledge and contacts that the housing associations have; and certainly not the local knowledge and contacts that local authorities have. But I have to acknowledge, I suppose, that this is now a narrow point and not basically a point of principle. My own prediction is that if the Land Commission undertake this kind of development, which I imagine they will not do often, they are likely to find themselves subjected to a great deal of local criticism. The Land Commission are the creature of noble Lords opposite. It is certainly no desire of ours to see the Commission come into being, and if they come in for a certain amount of local criticism, who am I to object?

I feel that this is not a sufficiently important matter upon which to ask this noble House to divide, but in withdrawing I would say to the noble Lords opposite that they are on very poor ground here. It will be a weak piece of administration, and it will be difficult to protect the Commission from either justified or unjustified criticism. But it is their responsibility. In that spirit, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.42 p.m.

LORD HUGHES moved, in subsection (4), to leave out "each" and insert: , where a disposition containing a crownhold covenant, being a disposition which it is lawful to record in the General Register of Sasines, is so recorded, and in the case of any such disposition which is not so recordable, the".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in asking your Lordships' approval for Amendment No. 19, I feel that some explanation is necessary, particularly as some of your Lordships may be aware that this is the second time that I have moved an Amendment to this subsection. As the subsection was originally drafted, it was open to the interpretation that a crownhold covenant would not be binding on successors unless it was registered in the General Register of Sasines. At the last stage of the Bill it was converted into the form in which it exists at present to rule out this possibility.

As now drafted, it makes a crownhold covenant binding on successors, whether the disposition was recorded in the General Register of Sasines or not. However, it has been brought to the notice of the Government that it is against Scottish tradition to make covenants binding on successors, if they are not recorded. I think that the reason for this is obvious. The Scottish Register of Sasines is a very complete record, and a would-be purchaser who wishes to safeguard his position should be able by examining the record to find the complete list of all the obligations which may be placed upon him. If there was a binding obligation which he ought to find on the record, but which in fact was not recorded, he would be at a disadvantage, as compared with the position of purchasers up to the present time. While it was considered that under the subsection as drafted all recordable dispositions would be recorded, and in practice, therefore, there would be no departure from Scottish tradition, it was decided, in view of the representations from legal sources, to put the matter beyond doubt.

It is possible for a crownhold covenant to be applied to a disposition—for example, a lease for less than 31 years—which is not recordable. It would not be appropriate therefore to make recording a condition of the binding of successors without exception. The Amendment which I now propose provides that, in any disposition which can be recorded, recording is a necessary condition of the binding of successors. It will be open to the Land Commission to make it a condition, in recordable dispositions containing crownhold covenants, that recording is required. In the case of non-recordable dispositions, the position remains as it is at present, that any crownhold covenant therein is binding on successors. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Clause 19, page 21, line 9, leave out "each" and insert the said words.—(Lord Hughes.)


My Lords, in the absence of any Scottish legal representative, I think that I can safely say to the noble Lord that his proposal is a considerable improvement and ought to be accepted by your Lordships.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

6.45 p.m.

LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved, after Clause 21, to insert the following new clause:

Amendment of section 1 of the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966

". Section 1 of the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966 (which specifies ten classes of minerals in paragraph 1 of the Table in respect of which a court may confer rights to search for and work those specified minerals to any person freed from any of the restrictions referred to in subsection (3) thereof) shall have effect so as to apply to all minerals."

The noble Lord said: This proposed new clause has already been referred to hopefully by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. If I may briefly explain the point of the new clause, it is an Amendment wanted by both the C.B.I. and the C.L.A. to meet the needs of mineral operators and the wishes of owners of land where these operations take place. The effect of the Amendment is to put all minerals in the same position under the 1966 Act as the 10 favoured classes of metalliferous minerals, which have the benefit at present that is, that where a developer has failed to reach an agreement with the owner of the land, he can apply to the High Court for a determination. With the excluded classes of minerals, such as sand, gravel and chalk, an operator cannot apply to the High Court unless he has an interest in the land and, therefore, is at a clear disadvantage where he is not able to reach an agreement with the landlord.

The C.B.I. would like the arrangements which now cover metalliferous minerals extended to all minerals. They like the procedure, they know how it works, and they feel that it meets their needs well in every way. I was very much encouraged to hear the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, say that he thought the right thing to do in order to meet this situation was to have a one-clause Bill moved either by the Government or by a Private Member as soon as may be. I feel sure that that is the right way to deal with this.

I must apologise for dealing with this in an unconstitutional way, by putting an Amendment to the 1966 Act into this Bill, but I felt that it was the only way in which I could ventilate the matter before the House. In the event, it has paid a handsome dividend. Perhaps at some time I can discuss with the noble Lord the practical manner in which this matter can be dealt with, whether it would be convenient to the Government to proceed with a small one-clause Bill, or whether it would be better for my noble friends and myself to draft a Bill. What is wanted is what practical people require to meet their needs, and if this is done the Land Commission will seldom be called upon to meet the needs of the mineral operators. In order to give the noble Lord an opportunity to reply, I beg to move this Amendment.

Amendment moved—

After Clause 21, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)


My Lords, I do not want to interfere with the conciliatory atmosphere, but I should like to point out that one of the main practical points here is that concerning the gravel and sand in the area around London and in other urban and semi-urban parts of the country. I am sure that when the Ministry deal with the matter at some later stage they will bear these places well in mind, and not regard it merely as a question of the Country Landowners' Association or of the C.B.I. There are local authority and housing interests rather directly concerned with this.


My Lords, the trouble about this Amendment, as the noble Lord handsomely admitted, is that it uses the Land Commission Bill to amend other Acts, even to the extent that there is another Amendment down to amend the Long Title of the Bill. It is going a bit far to use this Bill for that purpose. For that reason, whatever we may think of the effect it will have, the Government consider that this is not the right vehicle to use to achieve that effect.

On the point of substance itself about the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966, largely as a result of our discussions on this Bill I am able to assure the House that we shall be consulting with all the interested parties, and if we find that among all the interested parties (we have not sounded them all yet) there is a sufficient measure of agreement, I can undertake that the Government will at some suitable opportunity in the near future favourably consider amending the present law in the sense of the Amendment before us now. What that opportunity is likely to be, I am at the moment unable to say.

In response to the point of my noble friend Lord Mitchison about sand and gravel, especially around London, I would remind him and the House that we are talking here about two parallel sets or powers under different legislation, and we are discussing in particular the desirability of amending and improving the powers under the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966, which, if it is done, will not affect the Land Commission's powers. I know, in view of what I have said, that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, will consider withdrawing his Amendment.


My Lords, if I may say so, I had the distinction well in mind.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for his helpful reply. I quite understand that he must consult with all the interested parties first, but I am hopeful, in the light of the consultations I have had, that he will find a unanimity there. If he does, then I look forward with confidence to his early action in the matter, and if there is any way in which I can help I shall be only too happy to do so.


I thank the noble Lord for that kind offer.


The noble Lord has mentioned that I had to put down an Amendment to the Long Title in order to keep my new clause in order. I admit that it was constitutionally rather a violent thing to do, but I found at last some useful purpose for the Land Commission Bill and thought it was reasonable to use it, and it seems to have paid off very well. In that spirit, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 56:


Local authorities and other bodies

56.—(1) No levy shall be chargeable—

  1. (a) in Case A, Case B, or Case E, where the grantor is a body to whom this section applies;
  2. (b) in Case D, where the person to whom the right to compensation accrues is a body to whom this section applies; or
  3. (c) in Case F, where the person prescribed by the regulations as the person liable to pay the levy is a body to whom this section applies.

(4) This section applies to the following bodies, that is to say—

6.54 p.m.

LORD SILKIN moved, in subsection (4), after paragraph (a), to insert: ( ) any public body required or empowered by any enactment to provide facilities for the conduct of a market for the dealing in bulk in horticultural produce;

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is identical in terms to the Amendment which was moved in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Molson. Unfortunately, Lord Molson is indisposed this afternoon, although as late as mid-day to-day he had intended to come. When the noble Lord, Lord Molson, moved his Amendment, it was replied to by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. I am bound to say that I was not convinced by his reply, nor was the noble Lord, Lord Molson, and I have reason to believe that many other noble Lords were equally unconvinced. We therefore felt that the matter ought to be pursued (I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has now appeared) and we took the opportunity of seeing the Minister on the subject. Unfortunately, my own pleasure was somewhat marred at this interview by the fact that the Minister began the conversation by telling us that it was most unlikely that he was going to change his mind, and therefore, in effect, that anything we might have to say we might as well not say.

This Amendment is in form a general one, intended to apply to all horticultural markets, although in fact there are only two covered by the Amendment, the Covent Garden Market Authority and the Borough Market. These are both statutory authorities. Most of the other markets, apart from these two, are run by local authorities. It is only a pure accident that the Covent Garden Market Authority is not being run by a local authority. At the time that it was constituted, in 1961, there was considerable discussion as to who should be the authority. It so happens that Covent Garden is in the area of two London Boroughs, Westminster and Holborn, and the difficulty arose as to which of the two local authorities should run the Market. It was because of this that it was not allocated to one of the local authorities. There was also some thought as to whether it should not be handed to the London County Council at that time; but the London County Council had never been a market authority, and it was thought to be unwise to constitute them as such. Therefore a statutory body was set up. But in form, powers and in every other way it is no different from a local authority market.

Clause 56 of the Bill provides for a number of exemptions from the obligation to pay the levy. No levy is chargeable under subsection (4)(a) of Clause 56 on any local authorities. Among the authorities that are exempt from charge are a development corporation established under the New Towns Act, the Highlands and Islands Development Board, any housing society, and finally, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. It is my case that the Covent Garden Market authority falls into line with ail these authorities and should be exempt from levy for the same reason as these other bodies are exempt. It is in exactly the same class, and it would be an unfair discrimination that these other bodies, particularly local authorities who are running markets, should be exempt and the Covent Garden Market Authority not exempt, and would impose a heavier burden on those using the Covent Garden Market and the Borough Market than it would in the case of local authority markets.

When we discussed this matter in Committee my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor gave two reasons why the local authorities were exempt. He did not mention the other bodies at all. The first was that they were exempt because the financial relationship of the body with the Exchequer was so close that to take a levy would be simply a bookkeeping transaction, as, for example, in the case of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. I would agree that if it were the case that this is merely a bookkeeping transaction, paying money from one pocket to another, that is a good reason for exemption. I would agree also that the example which my noble and learned friend gave us was a good example; and it may equally be true of one or two of the other authorities that are exempt. But it is not true of the vast majority of the exempt authorities I have mentioned. It is not true of local authorities. It is not there a case of taking money from one pocket and putting it into another. Nor is it so in the case of the housing societies; nor is it true of the New Town development corporations. It is not true of any of them, with the possible exception of two of those bodies that are exempt. Therefore I submit that that is not a valid reason for not exempting the Covent Garden Market Authority. It is in exactly the same position as local authorities, development corporations and most of the other bodies that are exempt.

The second of the reasons given by my noble and learned friend was that it was impossible to assess the levy in the case of local authorities because a realistic current use value cannot be found; and he quoted the case of the operational land of statutory authorities. It certainly is not true of local authorities that it is impossible to get a realistic value of the current use of land. Most of the land owned by local authorities has a definite value; it is valued, and that value is put in the accounts of the local authorities. Nor is it true of the development corporations. They buy their land for the purpose of development. There is a definite current use value of that land, and when they come to dispose of that land with development value there is a definite development value, too, and there is no difficulty at all in their case in assessing what the levy should be. Nor is it true of many of the other authorities that are exempt under Clause 56.

There may be some difficulty here and there. I recognise that there is a difficulty in ascertaining the current use value of a disused siding. Who wants to buy a siding in its present condition? One might say that it has no value, and that the current use value is nil. But these are very exceptional cases and, generally speaking, not the case of local authority land, and certainly not the case of the land belonging to the various other bodies I have enumerated who are exempt and in whose case there is no difficulty whatsoever in ascertaining the current use value.

This is a view which has been taken by the Ministry of Agriculture itself, because in an Instruction sent out to local authorities giving them guidance on grants for wholesale horticultural markets—which is exactly the case here—the Ministry set out the method by which existing markets are to be valued for the purpose of grant. Clause 34 of this Instruction, H.M.E. 1/R, explains in specific terms the position if a local authority is providing a new market to replace an existing one also owned by the authority, which is exactly the case of the Covent Garden Market Authority. It then goes on to explain how the grant is to he ascertained. In order to ascertain the amount of the grant, one has to put a value on the markets in their existing state. Therefore, this cannot constitute, in the particular case of the local authorities, and in the case of the other authorities, a genuine reason for not making them liable for levy.

I understood that there had been some discussion as to whether or not the local authorities should be subject to the levy, and that it had been ultimately decided that they should not be. I do not know whether or not that is so. I believe it was so according to the White Paper. But this exemption applies not merely to local authorities; it applies to all these other bodies I have mentioned, and the argument cannot possibly apply to them. So I would ask the Government seriously to reconsider this matter and to give an assurance that the statutory horticultural markets will be exempt. One of the points made by my noble and learned friend was that in any case the levy would not amount to much, if anything: that the levy would be so small it was hardly worth talking about. If that is so, why not give them the exemption and put them in the same category as these other bodies who are exempt?

I do not want to take up the time of the House in discussing what would be the effect of the levy if it were substantial, as it might be, upon the success of the Covent Garden Market Authority. As the House knows, under the Act of 1964 it is proposed to move Covent Garden Market to Nine Elms, Battersea, and to create a new market there. The charges and the tolls that will have to be made on the persons who are to occupy these new markets are in any case bound to be substantially higher than the charges in the old markets, simply because the cost of land is higher than when the old markets were constituted, and the cost of building is obviously very substantially higher. But if, in addition to that, the occupiers of the new market were to be put in the invidious position of having, in addition to paying the toll, to pay the levy, whereas the occupiers of the places of other markets were not, this would make their position in competition very much more difficult than it is going to be.

This is not, of course, a Party matter—obviously not. This Amendment is being supported by members of all three Parties, including my noble friend Lord Sainsbury, and I hope others, and I do plead with the Government not to stand fast on this matter, but to be prepared to give further sympathetic consideration to the claims of the horticultural markets. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 59, line 7, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Lord Silkin.)

7.9 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words in support of the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Silkin. First, I must declare an interest, because I am a director of a company that retails horticultural produce. Horticultural products, by their perishable and seasonable nature, present many marketing problems. I think we would all agree that, in the interest both of growers and of the consumer, the difference in price between what the grower receives and the consumer pays should be as narrow as possible. Anything that tends to widen this margin unjustifiably is undesirable in the national interest. As has already been stated, the Covent Garden Market Authority is a non-profit making body. Therefore, it can be argued that any betterment levy can be recovered only by higher charges or poorer service, and not from profits.

In the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee stage on December 6 last, col. 1101, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is reported as saying that there is no effective competition to Covent Garden Market. With all respect, no trader in fruit and vegetables would agree with that statement. When Covent Garden moves to Nine Elms, it will not be operating in isolation; it will be competing in the selling of fruit and vegetables with other markets such as Spitalfields and Brentford which, because they are local markets, will in no circumstances pay the betterment levy. To handicap the operations of the new Market from the start by the need to recover the betterment charge on the sale of the old property at Covent Garden seems to me, quite apart from elementary justice, to be making the competitive operation of the new market more difficult. It is, therefore, on grounds both of justice and of fair competition that I have pleasure in supporting the Amendment, and I hope that it will be agreed to.

7.12 p.m.


My Lords, the position of the Covent Garden Market Authority was a marginal case when we considered it in Committee, and it still is. It seemed to the Government at the Committee stage that it would not be right to draw the line just beyond the Covent Garden Authority, and it still seems to the Government that it would not be right to do so. I will do the best I can to say something about the arguments which have been advanced in favour of this Amendment, and to introduce some argument against it in such a way that I hope the House will be convinced that the Bill should stay as it is as regards this clause. I should also make the point that we are dealing with a clause in Part III, and that we have the shadow of Commons' Privilege lying over us all the time. However, I will go into the merits of the case.

The reasons for exemption given in the Bill to various bodies are two: either it would be impossible to assess the levy because you could not get a realistic current use value on the site, such as with operational land of statutory undertakings, which we have discussed frequently here before, or because the financial relationship of the body with the Exchequer is so close that to take levy would be purely a bookkeeping exercise. An example of this class of competition is the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. In the case of the Covent Garden Market Authority, in the view of the Government, neither of these criteria apply. There will be no practical difficulty in valuing the Covent Garden site, and although the Market authority borrows from the Exchequer it is true that they must repay their loan to the Exchequer, and therefore the levy would not be just a bookkeeping operation.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said in this respect that things were not too different from the position of local authorities. But I think they are, because the rates support grant in itself introduces a sizeable chunk of money which goes straight to the local authorities and does not come back to the Exchequer. You may say that it is all Government expenditure, and in a sense that is true. Loans made to the Covent Garden Marketing Authority come straight back to the Exchequer. It does not appear that the Authority has a prima facie case for exemption under either of the two grounds which are recognised throughout the Bill as being grounds for exemption. Exemptions are not given because of the character of the levy payer, or because of the charitable status of the levy payer, except in certain minor effects.

There are many other activities carried out by this or that body in this country which do receive financial assistance in the form of loans or tax relief from the Government in order to encourage them to render a valuable service, but which will not get exemption from the levy. It appears to me that, if we were to pass the Covent Garden Authority into the levy exempt category, it may be held as a precedent for passing other such bodies into that category.

The Covent Garden Market Authority is not really like a local authority. It seems to me that it is more like a public authority, such as the B.B.C. or British European Airways, set up to carry out a public undertaking in competition with private bodies. These authorities will not be exempt from the levy. Moreover, as the House knows well from the White Paper and the earlier discussion on this Bill in both Houses, the original intention was to charge levy on land held by local authorities in respect of their commercial activities, but this turned out to be simply physically impossible. In this situation we are always up against a borderline problem when considering other bodies which do roughly the same sort of things as local authorities but in the commercial field. It has been said that, so far as the Government can foresee at the moment, the Authority is likely to have to pay nil or a very low levy on the sale of this site.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said: Why not let them off as it will not really make any difference? This brings me to the crux of the Government's case for not amending this clause, which is this. If the Covent Garden Market Authority were exempted because the local authority markets were exempted, then it would follow that a large range of private activities would also have to be exempted, because local authorities are trading in the same field.

One can imagine aerodromes, municipal airfields, restaurants, golf courses, places of entertainment, industrial estates, race tracks—and Birmingham even runs a municipal bank. If we start exempting authorities because they are in competition with local authorities in a certain trading field, I do not see any better resting place for the borderline than on the other side of all the airfields, restaurants, golf courses, entertainments, industrial estates, and racecourses, in the country. Obviously, it becomes absurd. We have to draw the line somewhere, and in the view of the Government the line ought to be held on the wrong side of Covent Garden from the point of view of the Authority.

There are other characteristics which distinguish the Covent Garden Market Authority from local authorities. I do not know how far the House would wish me to detain it by going into that position. The Covent Garden Market Authority are treated differently from local authorities for the purpose of selective employment tax. The Selective Employment Payments Act 1966 provides for refunds to local authorities of tax paid, including that for their market staff. The Covent Garden Market Authorities are not among the bodies to which refunds may be made. I do not know if this is fair, but we have never had a complaint from the Covent Garden Market Authority regarding something which has placed them at an unfair disadvantage in their competition with local authorities, and they do not get the S.E.T. refund.

The point about competition and placing the Covent Garden Market Authority at a disadvantage in having to pass on its levy charge by raising prices in the new site can, I think, be over-estimated. I say this for two reasons. First of all, although it is true that there is some competition in local trade between Covent Garden and other London markets Spitalfields, Brentford, and the Borough Market—what makes Covent Garden a great national institution is the fact that it is a national horticultural market, and in connection with possibly more than half its turnover there is no competition with the London local authority markets because the produce is going out of London and is not being sold to the London housewife. Of course if the Covent Garden Market Authority pay no levy, or a low levy, there will be no incentive whatever to raise prices.

Conversely, even assuming that they do have to pay a levy I would ask the House to bear in mind that, after all, the Covent Garden Market Authority will get 60 per cent. of the development value. This land levy will not be 100 per cent. Sometimes I think it would be more logical if it were, but there would be grave arguments against that. The Covent Garden Market Authority will get current use value plus 10 per cent. in the first place, and if there is a development value it will have to pay only 40 per cent. levy on the rest of it. Let us say that the Authority pay some levy, and let us suppose that a local authority market moves. As a matter of fact we do not know of any plans for a local authority market to move, but supposing they did so, and received the full development value, they could not then pass on that development value in the form of lower prices for their produce on the new site. They would not be able to do that because they are bound to return any profit they make to the ratepayers. Indeed, I do not think Covent Garden will have to sell more expensive oranges, but if they do they need not worry, because a local authority market will not be able to sell cheaper oranges.

I must say that I think the absolutely indestructible argument against exempting the Covent Garden Market Authority is the one about the municipal racecourses, banks, and so on. I think the line can be drawn only in this way. We can only hope that it will not inflict too much pecuniary damage on the Market Authority. In fact I do not think there is any ground for supposing that it will.


My Lords, I have listened carefully to what the noble Lord has just said. In the first instance, may I say that I have no interest to declare? I support this Amendment because it seems to be a reasonable and fair one. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, did not stress unduly the point that the levy might not amount to very much, because obviously that is not a tenable argument. The point is whether it is equitable; and I think the comparison has to be made with other market authorities in Great Britain. It does not appear to me that the argument about banks and racecourses is relevant. One must surely compare the Covent Garden Market Authority with other market authorities in Great Britain, and I should have thought that in drawing this line to which the noble Lord refers one should endeavour to place this Authority, so far as possible, in the same position as other market authorities. It is on that quite simple point that I feel persuaded to support this Amendment. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, whom we are pleased to see here, will add his weight to the arguments. I wish merely to make it clear that I still think a good case has been made out for this Amendment.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and I think that any impartially minded person, to whatever Party he belongs, who listened to Lord Silkin's speech and the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary would agree that there has been no adequate reply. I think part of it was merely ingenious. The point of view that injustice may exist at the present time, in that the selective employment tax may apply to some markets and not to those owned by local authorities, would, I should have thought, have strengthened the argument against creating a further injustice, rather than being an argument, as used by the Government, that since the Covent Garden Market Authority have not protested against one injustice there is no reason why this House should concern itself about an injustice being done in another respect.

The case of the Covent Garden Market Authority is really twofold. It is, first, one of justice and equity, and, secondly, one of public policy and expediency. So far as justice is concerned, it is that where the Covent Garden Market are in direct competition with other markets carrying on the same kind of trade it is unfair that they should be subjected to the betterment duty whereas the other markets are not. Equity, after all, is a matter with which the Legislature should concern itself. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack who replied to me in the Committee stage is naturally concerned about fairness of competition. Indeed, fairness and equity of every kind is the principle of the law, of which he is so distinguished and eloquent an exponent. In the last two sentences of his speech on December 6 he said: Indeed, as there is no effective competition to Covent Garden Market, it could be argued that to enable Covent Garden to be subsidised by the profit from particularly valuable future development of the market site would enable them to compete unfairly with others."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 728 (No. 80), col. 1101; 6/12/66.] My Lords, that is precisely and exactly the position which is enjoyed by the markets competing with Covent Garden, which happen to be owned by local authorities. They are in direct competition with Covent Garden, and yet when they choose at their convenience, when financial conditions are favourable for borrowing money, to sell their valuable sites in the middle of towns and move elsewhere and build modern and efficient markets, the yare entitled to keep the whole of the betterment value. Covent Garden are in a less favourable position. They are compelled under Statute to remove from the centre of London and to do so by the year that has been prescribed by Parliament and not at their convenience, and they will not be able to use this portion of the betterment to enable them to build a new and more efficient market at Nine Elms.

As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, the arguments advanced by the Government, that the Government in their wisdom think there may be little betterment value, is really a very poor argument indeed. If there is in fact no betterment value, why make all this difficulty about putting the Covent Garden Market Authority on an equal footing with the local authority markets with which they are in competition? If, on the other hand, the Covent Garden Market Authority are right (and they must be assumed to have closer knowledge of the prospects of the sale of their site than the Government have) in expecting to be able to sell the Covent Garden Site at an enhanced price, it would seem to be entirely desirable that when they are being compelled in the national interest to move out to Nine Elms they should be entitled to receive the whole of the increment in value that results from their selling that site.

But there is a further point which I think has not been mentioned to-night and which is of some importance. When the 1964 Act was before another place it was altered by the Select Committee, and the Covent Garden Authority was not authorised to acquire the whole of the area they had thought desirable. They did not oppose that very strongly indeed, they were unable to do so, although they expressed the opinion that the area that they were being authorised to acquire might not prove adequate for the great and expanding business with which they were concerned. It is therefore extremely possible, to say the least of it, that at some time in the future further development will be necessary at Nine Elms—perhaps the building of another storey. And if that happens, if I understand the Bill aright, the Covent Garden Market Authority will be called upon again to pay betterment upon the further development that takes place at Nine Elms. I therefore am quite unable to see any answer to the argument that, in fairness and equity, the Covent Garden Market Authority, a public, non-profit-making concern, should not be put in a position where similar markets owned by local authorities are able to enjoy the unfair advantage of receiving the whole of their betterment value if and when they move their markets.

I now come to the question of public policy, which can be put perfectly simply. As the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, said, it surely is common ground with everybody that it is desirable that there should be as little difference as possible in the price paid to the producer for growing his horticultural produce and the price paid by the housewife when she buys it. Covent Garden is of special importance, as was emphasised by the Runciman Committee. Although Covent Garden Market is in competition with other and smaller markets, it does enjoy a priority, and the prices that are published as having been paid at Covent Garden are a guide to the prices of horticultural produce throughout the whole of the country. Therefore, to impose upon the Covent Garden Authority an additional burden which is likely to increase further and unnecessarily the prices paid for horticultural produce there will not only result in a higher price being paid by the housewife in London and the South-East of England who have actually bought horticultural produce that has passed through Covent Garden, but will have an effect throughout the whole of the country in raising prices unnecessarily.

Therefore, on those two arguments of equity and of public policy it seems to me that the case for the noble Lord's Amendment is quite unanswerable. It really is not good enough for the Government to say, "We have thought up an ingenious new kind of duty and we have incorporated it in this Bill. As a result of this new and ingenious levy there will surely be some anomalies at some point or another. We cannot be completely consistent and logical in the matter. If we cannot be completely logical in the matter then it does not very much matter where we draw the line."

I believe that noble Lords who have listened to this debate, in whatever part of the House they sit, will be of the opinion that an injustice is being done to the Covent Garden Authority, which was set up, with general agreement between the Parties, to discharge an important national function, and that the effect of imposing upon them this betterment levy must necessarily be either to reduce the prices received by the growers of the horticultural produce or to increase the prices paid by the housewife. I feel, therefore, that the Government should think again. Fortunately, it will be possible for them, if they do not stand upon pride, after they have got the Bill through—if they do—in its present form, to make an order under Clause 63 of this Bill exempting Covent Garden. I hope when they have thought over the arguments they will do just this and follow the national interest.


My Lords, if I may have the leave of the House for two more sentences, I appreciate that the noble Lord is not responsible for, and not thinking of, anything except Covent Garden, but I would point out to the House that he did not touch upon the argument of all the other private and semi-public bodies which were in competition with the trading activities of local authorities. I assume that he would be willing to exempt from the levy all the airfields, restaurants, theatres, and so on, throughout the country, because municipal airfields, restaurants and theatres are exempt; and that he would be willing to accept making such a complete nonsense of the levy for the sake of the one authority which is so near to his heart.


My Lords, let me relieve the noble Lord and the noble Earl the Leader of the House: we do not propose to divide the House on this Amendment. We are quite prepared to rest our case on the merits in the hope that reason will eventually prevail. I recognise that at this late stage of the Bill it may be difficult to introduce an Amendment of this kind, but I very much hope that the Government will find a way out of this injustice by providing exemption under Clause 63 of the Bill, which enables them to extend the category of cases where exemption is available.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, made no attempt to answer the case of exemption of all those other bodies that are enumerated in Clause 56. The case of Covent Garden is at least as strong as any of the others, apart from the fact of its comparability with the market function of the local authorities. If a New Town development corporation can be exempt, is there any reason why the Market Authority also should not be exempt—or indeed, many of the others? In the hope—and I can promise the noble Lord that the Government will be reminded of this from time to time—that they will look at Clause 63 to see to what extent they can incorporate the Covent Garden Market Authority and the Borough Market in the exemptions, I will not press this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 62:

Limited exemption for builders and developers of residential property

(7) In this section "builder or developer of residential property" means any person who, immediately before 23rd September 1965, was carrying on a business which—

(b) consisted wholly or mainly of building, or arranging for the building of, houses, flats or other dwellings and (in the capacity of owner of the fee simple or of holder of a tenancy of the land comprising the houses, flats or other dwellings) of selling, feuing or letting them.

7.40 p.m.

LORD TANGLEY moved to add to subsection (7)(b) "or the land upon which they were to be built". The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment seeks to deal with what appears to be an anomaly in the definition in Clause 62 of the phrase "builder or developer of residential property". Some developers proceed by building houses on land and selling the house with the land to a purchaser. Others of them proceed by selling the land and leaving the purchaser to build his own house. Those two methods are alternative: they are merely differences of method. But the end result is the same; namely, that the buyer gets into the house that he wants. If, unfortunately, the first method is not adopted, but the second is, then, as I read this definition, the transaction will not receive the benefit of the exemption in Clause 62, whereas if the first method is followed the exemption will be there. The object of this Amendment is to put both methods on the same footing because they have the same result. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 62, line 36, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Tangley.)


This Amendment would extend the definition of "builder or developer of residential property." It is only persons or bodies falling within this definition who are entitled to the exemption in Clause 62 and who, under Schedule 5, paragraph 11, are able to use a Schedule 5 base value in certain cases where they have bought land during the interim period.

As the clause stands, the effect of the definition is that, broadly, only those carrying on a business which consists of building houses, or arranging for them to be built and then disposing of them get the exemption. The Amendment would have the effect of adding to those entitled to exemption people who carry on the business of selling land for housing; that is, land dealers. This would be contrary to the principle underlying the exemption, which was to exempt ripe building land in the hands of builders at the date of the publication of the White Paper, for fear that otherwise there would have been a rush of starts on such land during the interim period, which might have upset the flow of housing development, and consequently the whole of the housing programme.

The exemption does not extend to the sale of such land after the appointed day, but only to development on it. It would be inconsistent with this purpose for the exemption to extend it to land dealers who would normally realise their profit by way of sale and not by way of building. Once again, I must remind the House that we are here dealing with a clause in Part III which is covered by Commons privilege.


My Lords, I can only say that I hope that the noble Lord understands his brief better than I do. Here is a clear case where if a developer sells a building with land he gets exemption; but if he sells the plot under an arrangement whereby the purchaser builds his own house, then there is no exemption. There is so much conflict and difficulty about the interpretation of this matter that I think it is most regrettable that opportunity has not been taken to make it quite plain that these two different methods of producing the same result are dealt with in the Bill. However, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having paid attention to my Amendment. I do not propose to press it. I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 99 [Interpretation]:


My Lords, this is a drafting Amendment. We were advised that there was doubt whether the definition of "disposition" would cover all that the Commission would want to do under Clause 16—for instance, if the Commission wanted to vary or extinguish an easement. This Amendment makes it clear that such an action would be a disposition. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 91, line 3, leave out ("or grant") and insert ("grant, variation or extinguishment").—(Lord Kennet.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 13 [Special provisions as to levy in certain cases]:

7.46 p.m.

THE EARL OF KINNOULL had given Notice of two Amendments in paragraph 1(a), the first being to leave out "either", and the second to insert, after "society", the words, "or a company constituted under Royal Charter". The noble Earl said: My Lords, with the consent of the House I should like to move Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 together. The House will recall that I moved a similar Amendment during the Committee stage of the Bill, and that its purpose was to include companies constituted under Royal Charter among those companies which would benefit from exemption of levy under Part I of this Schedule to the Bill. The Committee were given two differing and, I would submit, confusing replies when this Amendment was moved.

The first reply was given by the Government Front Bench "long stop", if I may so refer to him, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, who gave us the benefit of his legal opinion that the Amendment was not necessary as the definition of a "company" under the Companies Act, 1948, includes Charter companies. The second reply was given by the Parliamentary Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who disagreed with the legal view of his noble friend and admitted that the Government had considered this point under the Finance Act 1966 and had taken the view that it was most unlikely that the companies in question would be involved in land-owning transactions between the members of their own group. The noble Lord on that occasion graciously went on to give an undertaking that if there was evidence of cases of companies having this status who would be involved in this sort of transaction he would willingly accept this Amendment.

I am sure the noble Lord will be delighted to hear that on this occasion I have been furnished with such evidence as he required in support of this Amendment. Both cases concern insurance companies, and both companies were incorporated by Royal Charter for the purposes of trade. First of all, there is the Royal Exchange Assurance Company, which was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1720 and now controls a group of twenty companies. By December, 1965, this group showed in its consolidated balance sheet a written-down value in office premises which exceeded £9 million. It is considered that a major problem will arise for this company if betterment levy has to be paid on any group transactions on premises.

The second example is the London Assurance Group. Again, this company was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1720 and will, I am assured, be affected by the Bill. It controls a group of 24 companies, and in December, 1965, had a written-down value of office premises exceeding £3 million. Besides these two examples, there are at least twelve insurance companies incorporated by special Acts of Parliament which will, as a result, he denied the relief given under Schedule 13. I beg to move the first Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 180, line 17, leave out ("either").—(The Earl of Kinnoull.)


My Lords, the noble Lord quotes me as having said on the Committee stage that if there was evidence of companies incorporated under Royal Charter being involved in land transactions I would willingly accept the Amendment. He knows that I cannot have said that. I cannot possibly accept any Amendment to Part III of this Bill, however justified it is.


My Lords, I was only quoting the noble Lord's words.


That I would willingly accept the Amendment? I think he must have found a qualification somewhere in the text, in view of the fact that this matter comes somewhere in Part III.

The noble Earl has given evidence of the existence of such companies trading in this way. I do not wish to reject anything he said and in general I accept this evidence. My right honourable friend is now aware of the existence of this class of companies affected by these provisions of the levy, and, as I said before, were it not part of Part III the Amendment would seem to me acceptable. I will say now that, were it not for Part III, the Amendment would certainly be acceptable to the Government. I do not need to explain to your Lordships' House that while it would be quite wrong for me to state the intentions of my right honourable friend in another place when the Bill returns there, yet what seems acceptable to the Government in one place is likely to seem acceptable to it in another place; but since this relates to Part III we can take it no further to-night.


My Lords, I feel that my noble friend is to be warmly congratulated on finding what is a quite serious fault in the Bill. I am sure noble Lords opposite are glad to have been informed about this, because if the Bill were to be left in its present form and if these very important commercial bodies should not get the benefit which the Government intended them to have, it would have very serious consequences. Therefore my noble friend has been extremely alert in apprehending that such a thing might happen, and in digging up evidence as to what is going to happen. I feel that the House will be grateful to him for moving his Amendment and I hope that we can have in very round terms an assurance from the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that this point will be fully placed before his right honourable friend Mr. Willey for his consideration in another place, so that we can then trust to the good judgment of the Minister there that the Bill will be properly amended in due course.


My Lords, I understood the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, to drop a strong hint that if the proposed Amendments of my noble friend were as acceptable to the Government as they are in principle to himself, then the Minister might think fit to do something about it. I must point out to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that, whatever the wishes of the Government might be, unless this Bill is amended here the other place cannot amend it at all, except in respect of our Amendments when the Bill goes back to another place.


My Lords, may I speak with the leave of the House? I join with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, in saluting the alertness of the noble Earl; but I would point out that to put down an Amendment to a privileged section of a Bill is not the only way of bringing defects in the Bill to the attention of the Government. It could have been done by letter or by telephone, without any risk of infringing Commons' privilege. To the noble Lord, Lord Newton, I would simply say that the freedom of the House of Commons to amend Part III of this Bill when it returns to them will depend, I think, in very large measure on the course taken by noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench in two days from now.


My Lords, if I may, with leave, speak again, may I say that the noble Lord has not taken my point? The point is that once a Bill has passed through all its stages in another place and come to this House, then unless the Bill is amended by this House the other place can no longer amend the Bill at all. All that can happen when any Bill goes back to the other place is that that place accepts the Amendments of this House or rejects them, or amends our Amendments and sends those amended Amendments back to us. Those are the only respects in which the Commons can deal further with a Bill once it has passed through this House.


I take note of the noble Lord's remarks, but we are not at the last moment for amending the Bill to-night.


My Lords, does that mean that we may see a Government Amendment on Third Reading?


No. I would not interpret what I said in that way, any more than in any other way.


My Lords, before I withdraw the Amendment, could the noble Lord give an undertaking that in view of the fact that he would accept this Amendment, and in view of what my noble friend Lord Newton has said about procedure, he will make such an Amendment at the next stage of the Bill?


With leave, may I say, "Certainly not". The noble Lord knows very well the special position of Part III of the Bill.


My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.