HL Deb 19 January 1967 vol 279 cc263-96

5.30 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Land Commission Bill, has consented to place Her interest, so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Crown, the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Kennet.)

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.

Part III [Betterment Levy]:

LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved to leave out Clauses 27 to 85. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move to leave out Clauses 27 to 85—that is, Part III of the Bill. This is one of two procedural Amendments which it is my duty to move, the other being Amendment No. 9, to leave out Schedules 4 to 13, which are the Schedules that are concerned with the betterment levy. Your Lordships have made three Amendments in Part III of the Bill, that is to say Clauses 27 to 85, which relate to the betterment levy. All of them have been welcomed by the Press as improvements, and I myself believe that they are wholly in line with public opinion. One is for the complete exemption of charities from betterment levy, as charities hitherto have been exempted from other forms of taxation. The second is for the exemption of owner-occupiers from betterment levy, in the same way as this Government have exempted owner-occupiers from liability to capital gains tax. The third is for the exemption of small transactions, on the ground that it is useless for the Land Commission to spend time collecting small sums which will probably be more than offset by the cost of administration and collection.

If, however, the Bill were sent back to the Commons with these Amendments, it would undoubtedly infringe the ancient privilege of the Commons, going back for centuries before the Parliament Act of 1911, to determine the shape of clauses that deal with Supply. I have no desire whatever to challenge that privilege—naturally so, in that I was for many years a member of another place, and I know how jealously that privilege is guarded. Fortunately, there is a traditional and well-established way of avoiding that in the case of a Bill such as this, where some Parts of it not dealing with finance are as open to amendment by your Lordships as any other Bill, and only one Part, in this case Part III, is financial.

Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to read the passage in Erskine May, at page 841, which clearly explains this matter. It is headed: Rejection by Lords of separate financial provisions in non-financial Bills. The passage reads: The right of the Lords to reject a Bill for granting aids and supplies to the Crown has been held to include a right to omit provisions creating charges upon the people when such provisions form a separate subject in a Bill which the Lords are otherwise entitled to amend. The claim of privilege cannot, therefore, be raised by the Commons regarding Amendments to such Bills whereby a whole clause or series of clauses has been omitted by the Lords which, though relating to a charge and not admitting of amendment, yet concern a subject separable from the general objects of the Bill.

I am advised that Part III of this Bill is a separate subject, in the sense described in Erskine May, and so, in inviting your Lordships to agree to these Amendments which would leave out Part III and the relevant Schedules, I am following a well-precedented course.

That this is a procedure accepted by the Commons as not infringing their privileges I can show by quoting the work of Sir Gilbert Campion (as he then was), at that time Clerk of the House of Commons, entitled, Introduction to the Procedure of the House of Commons. In that authoritative book, after setting out what the Lords cannot do, he goes on, at page 285, as follows: The Lords may omit from a Bill which they are otherwise entitled to amend provisions creating a charge upon the people, provided that such provisions are separable from the rest of the Bill and that they are omitted as a whole. I hope that these two quotations will convince your Lordships that if we follow the course that I am suggesting there can be no infringement of Commons privilege according to the traditions and the precedents.

The effect of passing these procedural Amendments will be to afford the Commons the opportunity to restore Part III and the Schedules in any form they think fit, either in their exact original form as they came to us from the Commons—though I hope it will not be in that exact form—or, as I rather hope, in an amended form, taking note of the Amendments which your Lordships have made, and also of other practical suggestions for improving the working of the Bill which noble Lords have made, but which the Government felt it necessary to resist, if only because they, the Government, would not be an accessory to amending Part III in your Lordships' House. At the end of the Report stage there was an interchange between the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, in which the difficulty Which was created by this matter of Commons privilege clearly became apparent. I hope I have made it clear that I am moving these Amendments for technical reasons, following a tradition accepted by both Houses as avoiding any infringement of Commons privilege. These Amendments are not a sort of final fling against the betterment levy; they are purely procedural Amendments which the practice of this House and of another place requires. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Leave out Clauses 27 to 85.—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, I think that the constitutional position has been clearly stated by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor. Although it may seem a little puzzling to the general public, the intention in moving to delete the whole of PartIII is to avoid offending against the Commons' ancient privilege. As the noble Lord has pointed out, the Commons' claim to privilege in these matters of Supply goes back much further than the Parliament Act 1911. As long ago as 1678 the Commons passed a Resolution containing the following clause: That it is the undoubted and sole right of the Commons, to direct, limit and appoint…the Ends, Purposes, Considerations, Conditions, Limitations, and Qualifications of…Grants (of supply); which ought not to be changed or altered by the House of Lords. To take one other example, the Paper Duties Repeal Bill of 1860 led to the affirmation by the Commons of their privileges in these matters of Supply. At that time Mr. Gladstone sought to repeal the Excise duty on paper in order to make newspapers and books more readily available to the mass of the people, and your Lordships' House at that time were suspicious of the effects of the Bill in facilitating the circulation of radical literature. The other place insisted upon their privileges—and I must say that my sympathy is with them in regard to that action at that time. It would appear to be clear from the precedents that if we are to suggest to the Commons detailed Amendments relating to Part III, the only way is to adopt the procedure provided by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor. For these technical reasons, I support it.

The only comment I should like to make is this. If there is to be modernisation of our Parliamentary procedure, and if it is to be as business-like as possible in future, some consideration should be given, I hope by both Houses, to a better procedure than this rather roundabout way of suggesting Amendments on particular points to the Commons without infringing their privilege. I deliberately use the word "suggesting". I am not arguing in favour of overruling the Commons, but if a Bill comes before this House of such a nature that it is felt desirable that some Amendment or improvement should be made to it—and perhaps even the Government may believe that there is a case for certain detailed Amendments—it should not be beyond the wit of man to devise some simpler procedure than this. However, in the meantime we are quite clearly bound by precedent, and therefore I support the Amendment which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor.


My Lords, with leave, I have two points to make on what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has said to the House. I refer, first, to the point about the substance of the Amendments passed in this House to Part III; and, secondly, to the point about the Amendment now before the House; namely, to leave out Part III. The noble Lord said that the three Amendments which have been passed to the provisions of Part III have been welcomed by the Press and are wholly in line with public opinion. I would not for one moment agree with the second proposition. I do not believe they are wholly in line with public opinion; or, at any rate, with more than half of it, or a minority of it. I agree that they have been very largely welcomed by the Press, but the British Press is very largely Tory in complexion.



All three Amendments, although they appear at first sight—and one must remember that journalists have to write in a hurry—to be protections for the small man, are, in point of fact drafted in such a way as to leave the door wide open to the big man to get through and escape the levy. Unfortunately, this is a fact.

Having said that, let me now turn to the Amendment to leave out Part III, which has been introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, as he puts it, on procedural grounds. I have only one point to make about this. Without either commending or, as it were, "uncommending" the procedure he has adopted, I have no objection to the Amendment proposed.


My Lords, may I simply add this comment in support of the Amendment? The Amendment is really part two of a procedure in which the Government were responsible for part one. If the Government tack on to a Bill which is otherwise not a Supply Bill a number of clauses which are Supply clauses, then, if this House is to perform a useful function as regards the Supply clauses, this is the only method we can adopt that avoids trespassing on the privileges of the Commons. The method we are here following is one that was pointed out, with perfect accuracy, at an earlier stage by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I therefore welcome this Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 99 [Interpretation]:


My Lords, this Amendment would have the effect of changing the Bill in parallel with a draft Transfer of Functions Order which has been laid before both Houses, the Order being one which is familiar to all sides of the House; namely, to transfer functions of the Minister of Land and Natural Resources to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. This Amendment simply makes that parallel change in the Land Commission Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment move—

Page 90, line 37, leave out ("Land and Natural Resources") and insert ("Housing and Local Government").—(Lord Kennet.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


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

Amendment moved—

Page 90, line 40, leave out ("only") and insert ("but not Scotland").—(Lord Kennet.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I do not know whether it is in order to seek leave to move the next three Amendments together?


My Lords, they can be discussed together, but must be put separately.


I beg leave to move Amendment No. 4 formally.

Amendment moved—

Page 90, line 41, leave out ("Land and Natural Resources") and insert ("Housing and Local Government").—(Lord Kennet.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 5.

Amendment moved—

Page 90, line 43, after ("only") insert ("or in relation to Wales (including Monmouth-shire) only").—(Lord Kennet.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


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

Amendment moved—

Page 91, line 6, leave out ("Land and Natural Resources") and insert ("Housing and Local Government").—(Lord Kennet.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Supplementary provisions as to general vesting declarations]:

5.48 p.m.

THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR SCOTLAND (LORD HUGHES) moved, in paragraph 20, after "paragraph" to insert "6(a), 7,". The noble Lord said: My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to speak to this Amendment and the next, because together they accomplish the purpose intended. The effect of the Amendments is to take into account paragraphs 6(a) and 7 of Schedule 3 which provide that where a person has given a notice of objection to severance the Commission may withdraw, or be taken to have withdrawn, the deemed notice to treat in respect of that person's land. In such circumstances a general vesting declaration covering plots belonging to different persons will then have effect in relation to a smaller area of land than when it was originally made. Paragraph 12 of the Schedule, although it deals with the reverse case, namely, when a general vesting declaration will apply to a greater area than it originally comprised, does not cater for the withdrawal of a deemed notice to treat as mentioned.

These Amendments rectify this and have the effect of ensuring that when a general vesting declaration is recorded in the Sasine Register it will clearly specify only the land which is to be vested in the Commission by virtue of the general vesting declaration. This is obviously desirable, from the point of view of preserving the value of the Register of Sasines, and the Amendments are of a similar nature to those which I moved at the last stage in order to preserve the integrity of the general Register of Sasines. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 101, line 20, after ("paragraph") insert ("6(a), 7,").—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 101, line 22, leave out ("larger") and insert ("different").—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move formally.

Amendment moved—

Leave out Schedules 4 to 13.—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Kennet.)


My Lords, I have spoken almost too much in your Lordships' House this afternoon, and I do not intend to detain the House for long. But I should like to beg a few minutes of your Lordships' time, if only because I should not like the Bill to pass without taking the opportunity of expressing appreciation to those of my noble friends who have taken an active interest in the Bill and who, in my submission, have helped materially to improve the Bill. I should like also, if I might do this with respect and without causing embarrassment to him, to express appreciation for the handling of the Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and for the tremendously hard work which he has quite clearly put into it. He is working here for another Minister. It is not specifically his Bill, and it is by common consent an unusually complicated Bill. He has even managed always to keep his head in front of his noble friend Lord Mitchison, who sometimes had not got the departmental briefs quite right. But the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, never failed.

At least one thesis of the Government in presenting this Bill is that the development value of land should accrue to the community because it is created by the community. I believe, for my part, that the thesis that all development value in land is created by the community is a fallacy, which is no longer believed except by those who are positively drugged with Socialism. Development value created by planning permission is, I fully agree, a justifiable object for taxation like a lot of other objects, but there is no justification whatever for the contention that the Exchequer has a greater moral right to collect the development value from land than to levy other forms of taxation.

Secondly, this Bill was presented by the Government, and previously offered as an attraction to the electorate by the Labour Party, as a Bill which would have the effect of reducing the cost of land. We have had prolonged, though nearly always good-tempered, debates on the Bill, but I, for my part, am still unable to believe that it will reduce the cost of land: I think it is far more likely to raise the cost of land. But the proof of this pudding is in the eating. I do not think it is going to be a very good pudding, but in due course the public will have to eat it, and then it will be proved whether the Government were right about this, or whether we were right.

I have said that in a number of respects I felt confident that your Lordships' House had effected improvements. I have been looking through the speech I made on Second Reading two months ago, and on that occasion I raised a number of difficulties and fears. The Government have allayed, and sensibly allayed, some of those fears. The Government have given a perfectly satisfactory assurance to your Lordships' House that the Land Commission will observe what one might call the Crichel Down rules, and that if they do not do so the Government will be prepared to issue a direction to them.

The Government have removed a number of our anxieties about the use of the concessionary crown hold powers, which clearly are greatly narrower in use than they would appear to be in the Bill. When we raised the point that it might be impossible for the citizen to learn for six years whether his land was going to be liable to betterment levy and, if so, liable to what amount, we were assured that the Land Commission will reach decisions as quickly as possible, and that if they do not their activities will be within the scope of the Parliamentary Commissioner or Ombudsman. I still have an anxiety lest the Ombudsman might be even more busy than the Land Commission. At any rate, this is an apparent safeguard, and we will see how it works.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and I expressed great anxiety about the earliness of the date which had been suggested by the Government for the first appointed day. I think it is, at any rate in part, as a result of that short debate that the Government postponed it—not as long as I would have suggested; not, I think, as long as the noble Lord. Lord Silkin, would have suggested, but at any rate by five weeks, which will be of some value.

On Clause 8, which was a clause which gave my noble friends great anxiety and, I think, caused considerable apprehension outside the Palace of Westminster, the Government were wise enough to introduce an Amendment which would protect the occupier of a house from having it taken away from him and being deprived of his home under the shortened compulsory purchase procedure. That was a valuable step forward, and when I tabled an Amendment on Report that the shortened procedure should not be available for acquisitions generally throughout the country but only for particular classes of acquisition, the Government were good enough to put down Amendments of their own which, no doubt in better words than mine, met our point.

The Opposition have, in fact, pressed and carried six Amendments to the Bill. Perhaps I may say here that our tactics have been not to take every finicky little point which we might have raised throughout the Bill, but to seek to concentrate attention in your Lordships' House on big issues. It seemed to us that that was a part which the House of Lords could usefully play in the examination of a Bill like this.

One of the Amendments which we pressed and carried was to remove the provision which relieved the Land Commission of the obligation to state any purpose when it was seeking to acquire land compulsorily after the second appointed day. We carried the Amendment in Committee, and on Report stage the Government put down an Amendment of their own with which we were entirely satisfied. We pressed and carried five other Amendments which now go directly or, shall I say, indirectly, to another place. There was the Amendment to Part II, to the effect that if the Government wished the Land Commission to have more extensive powers after the second appointed day, they should be required to come to Parliament and seek those powers in the Order appointing the second appointed day. That was the second of our Amendments. The third was to the effect that, when the Government wished to bring in the special, shortened procedure for compulsory purchase in respect of any specific class of acquisitions, they should have to bring forward an Order which would require an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses. In our submission, the Negative Resolution procedure is not sufficient in so serious a case as that.

As I said a few minutes ago, we carried three Amendments to Part III of the Bill, the financial part, and it is because of these Amendments that, for reasons which the House now understands, I have had to move to omit Part III from the Bill—and I am grateful to the Government for accepting this as the proper procedure in the circumstances. One Amendment concerned the total exemption of charities, one the exemption of owner-occupiers from development levy, and the other was an attempt to secure the exemption of small transactions from betterment levy in the same way that small estates are exempted from death duties. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has said that these are so ill-drafted that though they might be all right so far as the small man is concerned, the big man could exploit them. I do not know who the big man is in the case of a charity. I always thought charities were forms of trust which benefited people who were deserving of charity in the eyes of the law. But I will not pursue that matter. It will no doubt be explained in another place, if the Amendment is not accepted as it stands, who the big men are who might take undue advantage of a provision about charities.


My Lords, perhaps I might interrupt in order to clarify that point. Although I was no doubt careless in my phrase, I did not seek to imply that big men could exploit the Amendment made by the Opposition in respect of charities but, more particularly, the Amendment concerning owner-occupiers.


I certainly do not claim any special virtue for my own drafting, and I think that the noble Lord understands perfectly well the purpose which we were seeking to achieve through these three Amendments. What I should like to say to your Lordships is that I hope, and I trust that the whole House hopes, that in another place a proper and fair consideration will be given to the purpose which this House was seeking to achieve through these Amendments.

There are, in conclusion, three matters which I raised during the Second Reading debate on which the Government have been able to give us no help at all. That is not the fault of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, because the trouble is inherent in the Bill itself. First, at a time when we know that there is a shortage of professionally qualified people, and valuers in particular—a shortage caused largely by the Government's new forms of tax—this Bill threatens seriously to aggravate that shortage. Secondly, I called attention on Second Reading to uncertainty. There will be just as much uncertainty in the Bill as it leaves your Lordships' House as there was when it came here. We have been able to do nothing about that, and the reason is that the fact of uncertainty—an inescapable fact—is one of the reasons why any form of betterment levy breaks down in practice. I have never been one of those who have set their face against a betterment levy in theory. I think there is a tremendous amount to he said for this form of taxation in theory; but it remains a fact that no Government has yet managed to devise a scheme which will work with reasonable satisfaction to all concerned; and I suspect that this Bill will continue that old and bad tradition. Uncertainty in the incidence of a betterment charge is an inescapable attribute of the charge itself.

Thirdly, and finally, I regret to say that the Bill is no less complicated and obscure as it leaves your Lordships' House than it was when it came to us. I do not think, however hard we might have worked on either side of the House, we could have done much about that. Once the decision had been taken to introduce a Bill of this kind, its complexity was unavoidable. I will content myself with saying that up till now I had really believed that this was a Government which had set as one of its high objectives the simplification of the law of the land. I must say that in the presentation of this Bill to Parliament it seems to have fallen a great way short of attaining that objective.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, I think there is little more to be said about this Bill. All the appropriate epithets have been used up; but I should like to make it clear that none of the epithets is intended to be directed against the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who has presented this Bill with great courtesy—and I should like to thank him for doing so. In my view, there is a very real need for improving our town planning procedure, and there is a need for speeding up the process of acquiring land for development without sacrificing the rights of the citizen. But I do not think that this will be achieved by creating just one more body with powers of compulsory purchase. I do not think it will be helped by creating this Land Commission. I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, who prophesied the possibility of the Land Commission proving to be a paper tiger. I am not sure whether it will turn out to be a paper tiger or a bureaucratic giant—the future alone can tell—but certainly I remain unconvinced by any of the arguments for the creation of the Land Commission.

With regard to the levy, I am disappointed that the collection of betterment is being dealt with in this way. It is going to be appallingly complicated, and I think that before long that very fact will be used as an argument for abandoning altogether the whole idea of collecting betterment values. I believe that there are other and better ways of collecting values created by the community. I have not altered my view on the general principle, that land is a special case, and that where land is concerned values created by the community should, at any rate in part, be collected for the benefit of the community. I would assure the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, that I am not drugged with Socialism but regret the method that has been adopted by the Government.

Finally, I do not think sufficient regard has been paid to the problem of those who will have to operate the provisions of this Bill and advise others about it. It seems to me that their very real difficulties have been largely ignored; and on all these grounds I think this Bill stands condemned. My Lords, I must conclude with an apology. I am very sorry, but I have to leave at half past six to catch a plane. No discourtesy on my part is intended, but if I am not here at the conclusion of this debate I hope that the reason will be understood.

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say just one word, from the Back Benches. And I think it is appropriate that somebody should do so. I do not like this Bill at all. It is extremely complicated, and I do not think it will have the effect the Government hope that it will have. We tested pretty thoroughly whether it would really help to reduce the cost of land, and we found that all the betterment which is going to be collected from the private individuals—an estimated £75 million a year—will have to be paid over by the Land Commission direct to the Treasury, and that the only money the Commission will be able to keep is the betterment they make on their own revolving credit of £45 million, which can be increased (by an Affirmative Resolution, I think, of the House of Commons) to £75 million.

I should like to conclude by thanking my noble leader on this Bill, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, for the great work that he has done. There has been only a small team on our side and he has worked extremely hard to help us on this very complicated measure. I would also thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for his courtesy; the noble Lord, Lord Champion, who so ably assisted through many hours; and, with respect, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who was most helpful to us on the complicated legal aspects of the Bill. Though I cannot support the Bill wholeheartedly, I hope that it will have the desired effect; I doubt whether it will, but I shall watch with interest what effect it does have.

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, before the last opportunity disappears to discuss this Bill I should like again to draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, to one of the most widely misunderstood clauses in the Bill; namely, Clause 67. Perhaps I should add that I have given notice to the noble Lord of my intention to raise this point. If I may summarise briefly Clause 67, the House will be aware that it deals with the case of a development that is begun before the first appointed day but, for one reason or another, is not completed until after that day. The object of this clause is riot, as I believe many people think, to exempt from levy all development begun, but not completed, before the first appointed day: its purpose is to act as a rider to Clause 27, so that when a development escapes levy under Clause 27 it may still be caught in the Land Commission net on part at least of the development under Clause 67.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, took some trouble to give the Government interpretation of this clause during the Committee stage. I am sure that many people concerned with development are grateful for this and will have taken note of what he said. I think there is a general understanding now that where an owner has full planning consent or permission for the whole of a project of material development, and makes a start on it before April 6, he will be free of levy on the whole of the project, because neither Clause 27 nor Clause 67 can catch him. This is the case where full planning permission authorises the carrying out of the entire project without any further reference to a local planning authority.

But the case that is causing so much trouble—and one in which legal doubts have been expressed to me as to the previous interpretation of the clause by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet—is where outline consent has been granted on the whole of a development and where this outline permission has been built up into full planning permission in respect of part only of that development. The illustration given by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, at the time of his interpretation during the Committee stage demonstrates that so long as some part of the outline permission has been built up into full planning permission by the obtaining of the detailed approval required and a start is made before the first appointed day, the remaining part of the development (which, of course, only enjoyed outline consent) would escape levy in the future. The question I should like to put to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet is: Can an outline permission be built up in this way? According to Article 5 of the Town and Country Planning (General Development) Order 1963, …the approval of the authority shall be required with respect to the matters preserved in the permission before any development is commenced. There does not appear to be any authority under the Bill for separating parts of the planning permission, and it would seem very difficult to separate parts of a planning permission for the purpose of building up these parts into full permission by piecemeal authorisation.

My Lords, the second specific question that I should like to ask the noble Lord on Clause 67 is: Could he indicate what is the position where outline permission is obtained over 50 acres for 500 houses but a separate detailed planning permission (as distinct from approval of detailed plans) is obtained over 10 acres for 100 houses and the builder makes a start on one of those 100 houses before the first appointed day? It would seem from the wording of Clause 67(2) that only the 10 acres in the authorising permission—namely, the detailed consent on part—is free from levy, whereas if detailed plans had been approved, the authorising permission would then have been outline permission and the whole 50 acres would have been free from levy.

The third specific question I should like to ask the noble Lord on Clause 67 is: What would be the position where a developer has outline consent, limited by time? Would he be liable to levy should this time period run out even if he has complied with making a start before the first appointed day? These questions have been put to me for the noble Lords to answer at this late stage and I know that it would be appreciated if he would comment on them.

I should be grateful if the noble Lord would clarify one other point. This relates to Schedule 4, page 113, line 38, where the date "December 21, 1965" is mentioned. This date does not tie in, I submit, either with Clause 83 or with Schedule 4, page 115, line 4. I raised this matter on Committee and the noble Lord promised to examine whether the date should be altered. I should be grateful to learn what reasoned conclusion he has now reached on this matter.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, before we part with this Bill, may I make a most earnest plea to Her Majesty's Government to think again about the date of the first appointed day? This is a very complicated Bill, one of 102 clauses and 17 Schedules; but it is a revolutionary Bill in the sense that it creates a whole range of rights and duties which are completely strange and new to our law—indeed, a new code. Furthermore, the far-reaching effects of this Bill are not by any means understood or foreseen by the public at large to-day. This Bill will affect every transaction in conveyancing of every piece of land and every house, however modest or small, throughout the whole of the country; and the rights and duties of the parties after the first appointed day will be affected also by steps which are taken, or are not taken as the case may be, by the date of the Royal Assent and the first appointed day. One would have thought, in face of this, that the very least that Her Majesty's subjects could expect would be to have proper legal advice about their situation. That, in the present circumstances, if the first appointed day is maintained as Her Majesty's Government have suggested that it should be maintained, is quite out of the question. It is utterly impossible that in the few weeks that can exist between the date of the Royal Assent and the first appointed day the legal profession can absorb this Bill and be in a position properly to advise their clients.

That raises, I believe, what might almost be said to be a constitutional issue. I cannot remember ever before hearing of a Bill which goes as far as this, and which goes as deeply as this, where there has not been a proper interval allowed for the ordinary citizen to go to his lawyer to have proper advice. This is not the fault of the lawyers. The Law Society, I know, has been corresponding with the Department about this matter and they are deeply exercised. The solicitors' branch of the profession will certainly not he in a position to advise properly in the time available. That is not the fault of the solicitors' branch of the profession. I do not believe that the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack would claim that the Bar are in a better position, or would be in a better position. Here is a great new system of law going to be imposed on the nation at about five or six weeks' notice without the least possibility of people's getting proper advice. That is wrong; and, however difficult it may be for the Government to make a change, I beg them in the name of common justice to do it.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, I see my noble friend Lord Mitchison about to rise from his seat. My noble friend has spoken so much on this Bill that perhaps he will allow me to say a word now. We are temporarily parting with this Bill, and I think that those of us who have taken a close interest in it will be very glad to have a little relief from it. We shall see it again, and this Third Reading is an occasion for summarising some of the discussions which have taken place during the passage of the Bill and for paying a number of compliments.

I should like first, and in no formal sense, to pay a compliment to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, for the way in which he has handled the Bill on behalf of the Opposition. He did so in a completely responsible manner, being objective so far as it is possible to be objective in a matter on which one holds strong views. I think that all his arguments were completely fair, and though one might not always agree with them, they were certainly put fairly and moderately. I should like to say the same of my noble friend Lord Kennet. He has had a very difficult task. If I may say so, this is not really his subject; he came quite fresh to it. He was under the disadvantage of speaking to someone else's brief in a Department that is not his own, and I think he did extraordinarily well. My noble friend Lord Mitchison does not need any compliments from me, but he has been of tremendous assistance to the Government.

My Lords, the discussions we have had have not affected in any way the main structure of the Bill. This, I think, has remained completely unshaken. The two principles enunciated by my noble and learned friend when moving the Second Reading, the question of the development levy and the acquisition of land, have not been affected by the arguments. The machinery by which these two principles are to be implemented has, in my view, been completely justified. I doubt whether the Amendments passed are of such a fundamental nature as to go to the root of the Bill, and though I do not know what the Government will do with them, an opportunity has certainly been providentially provided by the removal of Part III of the Bill for the Government to reconsider the matter. Again to-day the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, expressed his view about the complexity of the Bill, the difficulty in understanding it and so on. I must say that he was certainly not inhibited by this difficulty. The noble Lord seemed to have attained complete mastery of the Bill and appeared to find no difficulty at all in dealing with every clause which he felt disposed to criticise.

The Government will have an opportunity to look again at this Bill. They will be forced to do so, because they have to look at Part III, and I hope they will take advantage of the opportunity provided to look at the whole of the Bill much more closely. They have given me the impression that they have had to introduce this Bill and endeavour to pass it in a state of panic, or frenzy, in which it was found necessary to meet every day for a series of days and for your Lordships' House to sit fairly late. I have been wondering what is the urgency. What does it really matter whether the Bill is passed in January, February or April? It is not of such world-shattering importance that the Government may be justified in not giving the Bill the fullest possible consideration, and I regret to say that there are signs that the Government have not done this.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tangley, about the first appointed day. I raised the matter at the beginning of the Committee stage and I am very disappointed indeed. I think it is contemptuous merely to defer the matter until April 6. We are in the second half of January, and even now we do not know when the Bill will become law or how much time will be available between the passage of the Bill and April 6. I agree absolutely that there will not be enough time to deal with a Bill of such length and complexity. I do not dispute that it is a complex Bill, and my earlier reference was to the language of the Bill. It is complex in its conception, as it is bound to be, because there are so many special cases to be considered. The matters upon which lawyers will be consulted will not be the normal cases of persons buying and selling houses. There will be consultations about very complex questions which will trouble lawyers, solicitors, barristers, valuers, the Land Commission and everybody else. We are not even giving the Land Commission a chance properly to digest this Bill. The Commission have to understand it if they are to administer the measure.

There are a few matters which I hope the Government will consider further when they take advantage of the opportunity which has been presented to them to look at the Bill again. There is the question of stating the purpose for which land is to be compulsorily acquired. I am not sure whether that applies to a person occupying a house or what is involved in the Amendment introduced by the Government. Things move so rapidly that one gets notice of an Amendment on the same day that it is being moved. One hardly has time, especially with the lateness of the post, even to see Amendments before one comes to the Chamber, so that I am not sure how far the Government have dealt with the question of disclosing the purpose for which land is to be compulsorily acquired.

If they have met the case of a person who is occupying a house and is in danger of losing his home, what about a person who may be in danger of losing his livelihood? What about a person whose shop, or warehouse, or factory, or other means of livelihood is being threatened? Why should he not know the purpose for which his land is being acquired? Do the Government attach so much less importance to the livelihood of a person than to the house he occupies? I think that the case for one is exactly as powerful as the case for the other. There is also the question of this speedy procedure. I do not know how far the Government have met the criticisms that have been made, but they are real. This speedy procedure, by which, if an objection is raised and the matter is urgent, the Minister can come to a decision after hearing the full facts of the case from the objector, seems to me completely wrong and misses the whole point of a public inquiry. The Minister cannot get the full facts from a person who may not even know the purpose for which the land is to be acquired. He cannot get the full facts unless he knows the full case and the full justification for the acquisition of the land; and a person who is objecting is tremendously handicapped by not being able to hear the case for acquisition, to cross-examine the witnesses and to bring witnesses of his own at a public inquiry.

I can well understand that there may be cases where it is necessary to use speed, but I wonder whether noble Lords are aware of the time that is taken to-day in dealing with these public inquiries. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, will know. But it has got worse. I am not blaming the Labour Government for this, but the fact is that from the time when an objection is lodged with the Ministry one is lucky if there is an inquiry eight months after, and very fortunate if one gets a decision four months after that. I am still in practice, and I am speaking from personal experience. I have at least half-a-dozen appeals that were lodged about a year ago, and I still have not got a decision, although I have had the inquiries.

If there is an urgency, is there not some means of getting speedy inquiries without depriving the unfortunate owner of the land of an opportunity of putting his objection? It is not his fault if there is urgency. I hope that the Government will pay more attention to the question of speeding inquiries and decisions, particularly in cases where there is urgency. Is it not possible to give some kind of priority, if the Minister is satisfied that there is an urgency?

There are other matters on which I feel that the Government might have taken a less rigid attitude. There is the question of de minimis. Are the Land Commission to be worried about every trifling alteration that takes place which requires planning permission? If a person has a space where he is keeping his car and wants to put it under cover, he has to get planning permission before he can erect this cover. I am taking an extreme case. He has to give notice to the Land Commission that he is about to put up a garage. Then the Land Commission solemnly come along and assess it for the increase in value of the property as a result of putting up this little garage, less, of course, the cost of the garage, and allowing him 10 per cent. In the end; the assessment might come to £25. But he may think it too much and he may argue about it. Is it really worth while the Land Commission handling matters of this kind?

Fortunately, there is Clause 63 of the Bill. I hope that it will stand, and that the Government will introduce a code of exemptions which include de minimis provisions. I hope that it is their intention to do so. I do not suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is in a position to commit the Government on this, but I sincerely hope that it will be one of the first things the Government will do. We have been told by the Government spokesman in another place that there will be about one million cases a year with which the Land Commission will have to deal. If we can reduce this by a couple of hundred thousands a year—and I think we could if we had a serious provision for leaving out these small cases—it would be a great help in relieving the pressure to which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke or Cumnor, has referred.

I should like the Government to look again at the question of the statutory market authority (in which I have no interest whatever, I should like to make clear), not because it is of such tremendous importance to the market authority, but because I believe that a great injustice is being done to them. This discrimination, which is based upon two grounds, is wholly unfounded. I hope that the opportunity that has been presented to the Government of having to look at Part III again will enable them again to look at all these rigid acts which they have obstinately, in my view, refused to deal with. The Government will not lose face if they take advantage of the time which they have providentially been given, if they do not rush, and make quite sure that this measure will start off with the maximum of good will, not only from its supporters, but from its opponents as well.

If we get rid of these small anomalies, which may not affect a great many people, I believe that this Bill will stand a far better chance of acceptance, and that the fears of the noble Lord who thought that this Bill might come to an untimely end in what he hoped would be the near future, but which I hope will be a very far distant time, will not be justified. I am sure that if the public feels that this Bill has been fairly considered, that there are no injustices to anybody, and that it will be fairly administered, at long last this Bill will have a chance of being successful where others have failed.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, it is getting, for this House, quite late, and I do not propose to go into any detail or make any personal observations except one or two of a complimentary character. Then I should like to say a word or two about the Bill. Taking personal observations first, and not forgetting the Bill, I do not think that my noble friend Lord Silkin has had sufficient praise for what, after all, was the theoretical and practical foundation of this Bill—his own Act. It is true that it was repealed, but I believe that it stood for an important principle, to which I shall turn shortly.

I would accept in one sense the description of this Bill as revolutionary, but I am not quite sure whether, in this House, that is a commendation or the reverse. I am sure that it is a courageous Bill. I accept entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said about betterment. I am sorry that I missed, not much but a little, of the beginning of what he was saying owing to another engagement. But if he does not mind my saying so, I have watched him for some time in one way or another, and I have always accepted that he realised the inherent injustice of compensation without betterment, and objected to betterment only on the ground that he did not see how to effect it. This Bill is a courageous attempt to deal in a slightly different way with the problem of betterment. If it is a revolutionary attempt, it is a rather remarkable one, because it began notionally with an expert Committee, sitting, I think, in the middle of a war, presided over by a Chancery Judge and containing a number of experts on the land and questions connected with it. I refer, of course, to the Uthwatt Committee. We owe that Committee a great debt for the clearness with which they presented to us the inherent problem that lies behind these questions of compensation and betterment with which this Bill seeks to deal.

It was said that this matter was not urgent. But I think there is some sense of urgency. From one point of view, the trouble about the land in this country in recent years has been that those who needed it for public purposes had to pay for it prices which were continually rising, and which often had become so high in relation to other costs that the use of the land was restricted. Rents might be too high; it might be difficult, because of the cost of the site, to build a hospital that was badly needed; and matters of that sort which I need not elaborate. But this difficulty has been going on for many years; it has never improved. And latterly, in the last few years, up to about (I do not want to be political over this) 1959 or 1960, and perhaps later, it had become really serious and had reached a degree of urgency which was important.

The second point was the question of the profits that people were making out of land. I am not rising now to make any general remarks about profits—it would not be appropriate at this moment—but I think it must go against the grain with many people to find some of the cases that have occurred where lucky, or shrewd, people have taken quite inordinate profits out of land, which is a peculiar subject matter, and without which, after all, there would be no world to live in. The land has always been a matter of difficulty. It has been the foundation by way of tenure of all kinds of things. I remember that it was the Gracchi who were rather anxious to get it back for the use of the common Romans. If we go a little further, we find in this country, at any rate, a feudal tenure which was responsible for a great deal of good or evil here. We find in Scotland something rather different.

I think it is only rather lately that the notion of the ownership of land has been re-examined in the light of the interests of the community as a whole. I believe that many of your Lordships, apart from Party contentions at the moment, will feel that it is not right that inordinate profits should be made, as they have been made lately, out of land when the contingency of those profits depended on what the community itself was doing in one way or another. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor (if he does not mind my saying so, he hardly needed to tell me, at any rate), sees the point. He may not draw the line at the same place as I do, but that is another matter.

In those circumstances, this is a courageous Bill. Of course, it is complex. It is bound to be complex, because of the complexities of our own land system, and also for another reason which it is as well we should face up to quite frankly. For some reason or another the question of land is apt to arouse strong emotions in people, and they sometimes do things about land which I do not think they would do about other forms of property. Yet, again, the sense of ownership of land can be very strong indeed, and while people may recognise, in theory, that there ought to be a community interest and community value in this, they feel reluctant to apply it in any case with which they themselves are concerned. I need hardly say that I am not directing any of these remarks to any Member of your Lordships' House, and it may be that the number of people affected by this attitude that I have described is rather smaller than I think. But I believe it is fairly well known that a measure of this kind does lead people to seek ways of evasion which they would be rather reluctant to seek in other connections.

For those two reasons, I suggest that land presents not only the urgent problem which I mentioned, but also a difficulty in dealing with it. We add to that difficulty by the complexity of our land system. Lord Birkenhead, many years ago, was, I think, in another capacity a galloper; and he certainly galloped a bit at the land problem in his time. I am not going into the results of it. But it may well be that the moment has arrived, in the light of this Bill, to see whether something which needed to be done in the public interest could not have been done more simply, and without the possibility of misrepresentation about it, if the system of land tenure had been simpler One obvious instance I can take at once. It is quite clear that the registration of land may be of great use in this and in other connections. That is one thing that occurs to me.

I turn from that to one other comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor. We all know that there is a shortage of valuers; and this has been so for many years. But it is not quite fair to attribute the shortage to this Bill or anything like it. After all, this measure in itself, so far as the levy is concerned, is simply carrying out something which was introduced by a Tory Budget on short-term capital gains not long ago. There is nothing novel in that. No doubt more valuers may be required to work this Bill, than to work the scheme for taxing short-term capital gains, because it goes rather further; but the essential point, the need for the services of valuers, was raised at that stage, and is still before us. It seems to me that the way in which the base value has been treated in this levy section of the Bill is a real contribution to minimising the extent to which we need depend on the services of valuers.

I am not going into it now, but I can assure your Lordships that it was well in the minds of those of us who had to consider this Bill earlier that there was this shortage; that valuers are required for many purposes, including those under a Tory Budget or under a Labour Budget, and that we must not waste their particular skill. It takes time to develop. But, my Lords, it would be a sad state of affairs if something which was needed in the interests of the community itself, and in the interests of ordinary men and women in this country who have to find houses to live in and places to work in, was seriously delayed or not put forward because of the shortage of valuers. The time factor must be taken into consideration, I suggest, in preparing and passing a measure, but it is not a factor which by itself ought to govern that measure's acceptance or rejection.

May I say this with very great respect to your Lordships? We are not finished with this Bill. It is going back to another place. Alterations may be made—I do not know. There is a good deal that can be done to it regarding exemptions, the matter of timing, and so on. But in the long run we are going to have this Bill. In view of the general position about land and the matters I have indicated—the shortage of it for public purposes, the difficulty, such is our legislation, of dealing with it, and the abuses (I call them abuses because there have been large and inordinate profits made from it)—I feel sure we shall all recognise that it is our bounden duty as citizens, once this Bill is through, to do our best to make it work. It is such an obvious necessity to have something of the kind. I agree it is a complex Bill; I agree it is a difficult problem, though how far the difficulty rests in this matter alone is another question. But I earnestly trust that we are not going to allow feelings about the land to interfere with the contribution which I believe this Bill can make towards the betterment of the community and towards the daily need of the citizens who depend on this rather complicated measure for a great deal that they reasonably and rightly require from us.

6.53 p.m.


My Lords, at the beginning of this final debate on this Bill I had thought that, with any luck, I might be able to get away with not having to make a last speech from this side, but after the last three speeches to which we have listened I feel I cannot duck my responsibility and must make a few observations. The first is this. I express the hope, as I am sure my noble friends behind me would also, that the Government will think long and hard about the very powerful plea advanced by both the noble Lord, Lord Tangley, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that the first appointed day should be still further postponed. Nobody who heard those two noble Lords would imagine for a moment that they were speaking from anything except their great and long professional experience of matters related to those with which the Bill deals, and there was no political content whatever in what either of them said.

I would thank the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, very much indeed for the tribute he paid to my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor for the way he has led the Opposition on this Bill and for the immense amount of preparation and work which that required. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that those on this side, particularly those who have endeavoured to help my noble friend from time to time, certainly feel exactly the same way as Lord Silkin does. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, like everyone else who has spoken on this final Motion, expressed thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for the way he has conducted the Government case; and I respectfully should like to do so, too. I do not think the noble Lord ever really revealed the extent to which he had been subjected to strain by this Bill, but obviously he must have been to some extent, because I really do not understand, from my limited experience, how any Minister in charge of the whole or at any rate a large part of a long and complicated Bill can fail to be subjected to strain.

I do not think I had better embark on any lengthy reply to the philosophical disquisition of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, but I should like to thank him very much indeed for the great help which he gave, certainly to me, by his intervention in almost every debate, at every stage in this Bill. I personally always enjoy enormously listening to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, on any subject, but in the case of this Bill, so far as he has been giving us the benefit of his views, he must have had a great deal to do with it in its preparation and writing. I found these interventions particularly helpful for two reasons. The first was that I found the Bill so difficult to understand that it was a great advantage to me to have the benefit of two expositions from different sources of the Government's case, especially when one had to think of something to say in reply to the Government's case. The other reason was this. It seemed to me that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, gave one a much clearer insight into the philosophy behind the Bill than perhaps Ministers felt it prudent to do from the Front Bench.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said (if I remember rightly) that the main structure of this Bill has been left unshaken by the Amendments made to it. I would respectifully agree about that, and would add that it was always our intention, at any rate, that that should be so. We made no attempt to shake the structure. We have tried to concentrate on the crucial points, and particularly to protect, so far as we have been able to, what we considered to be the undeniable rights of ordinary individual people. The Opposition always like to think they have made a Bill a better one, and I do not think there is any doubt that this is a better Bill than when it came to us. It is not a good Bill; it is still bad—and, in my judgment no amount of amendment would make it anything else. But it is a better Bill, and the proof of that is that we succeeded in making the Government meet us on several issues that seemed crucial to us.

Why our doubts remain, why our scepticism remains—at any rate, why mine does—is that I am just as unconvinced as ever I was that it is really necessary to have this enormous new piece of bureaucratic machinery in order to achieve the two objectives of the Government's land policy set out in paragraph 7 of the White Paper. I listened with complete agreement to what my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor said about theoretical collection of betterment; and I would certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, that the time has come when it should no longer be possible to make vast profits out of land transactions. But that is not the same thing as saying that I believe it is necessary to have a great, complicated piece of machinery to effect the change.

Well, my Lords, will the Bill do it? Will the Land Commission achieve the two purposes set out in the White Paper? It is anybody's guess, and I will not attempt to make one. But what is absolutely certain is this: the ordinary men and women in this country to-day have not the faintest inkling of the size of the rod that has in this Bill been fashioned for their backs, and when they do realise it, when the Commission start to operate, I am afraid their wrath will be great and their grievance profound. We have in fact—when I say "we" I mean the Opposition on this side—performed the duty of lessening the area of grievance by the three Amendments to Part III which we have inserted in the Bill, because we have increased thereby the number of exemptions from the levy. This seems to me to be something in the long-term interest of the Government, because surely they do not want the area of grievance to be larger than it would otherwise be. My last word is simply this. I am afraid the Government will live to regret this Bill. If they do, they will not be able to blame us: we have given them plenty of warning.

7.0 p.m.


My Lords, arising from the drugged stupor of Socialism to confront the shining morning faces of free enterprise, I should like to start by associating myself with all the kind things which have been said about the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and to compliment him, if it is not impertinent of me to do so, on his courtesy and his clarity, and indeed the expedition with which he and his colleagues have dealt with this long and difficult Bill. "Though I say it as shouldn't", I have also admired his political dexterity in doing so, but that is another subject.

The noble Lord said that he had never been against a betterment levy in theory, but that it always breaks down in practice and that he expects it will do so again. I do not want to turn our last discussion on this Bill into a political matter, but I am still in the dark as to what the Conservative Party would have done to confront the problem of vastly inflated development values in and around cities and, equally, the problem of assembling land for development. I do not know what would have happened if a Conservative Government had been in power at this moment and for the next five or ten years. I strongly suspect that nothing would have happened. But let us not pursue that now.

Noble Lords have referred to the Bill as "complicated" and "obscure". I remember vividly, and with pleasure, because it gave me a certain sense of shock, meeting one of the noble Lord's supporters in a corridor of this House—I will not give his name, but he is one of the most redoubtable supporters of the noble Lord—who confided in me that he thought the Bill was brilliantly drafted. I think this is true. Parliamentary draftsmen come in for a lot of kicks, but the more I have come to know this Bill the greater has become my admiration for the way in which it is drafted. I do not deny that it is extremely long and complicated, or that in places it is extremely refined; it is bound to be, because our land law is in places already extremely long, in places extremely complicated and, in some places, extremely refined. I think it is a good Bill, not only in its outline but also in its drafting.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, asked me again about Clause 67, and I shall be happy to go further into it with him, because I know that the Law Society is in doubt about some of the points he raised. I know also that beyond that there is a body of opinion among developers who are still honestly not quite sure what effect this Bill will have on them. I think it is the duty of the Government to deal with this point, and I am particularly happy to do it since the noble Earl is no longer telling me that I am making misleading statements about it as he used to do at one time. The doubt expressed by the noble Earl relates to the case where an outline planning permission has been given—a permission which is subject to conditions and which does not in itself authorise the start of development.

Does this permission exist in its own right, or has it in some way to be built up by a planning permission which authorises development to be begun? The answer is that it has not. Such a planning permission is in existence, and no further planning permission is needed. Application for detailed consent does not involve an application for planning permission. I know the Law Society has in mind that even if some authorities require application for consents to be made on the usual planning permission application form, the fact is that the type of application form used does not of itself determine that this is an application for planning permission. So long as the applicant knows what he wants he is safe, and should not be disadvantaged by any procedural requirements of the authority.

The noble Earl asked me four questions. To his second and more detailed question, which I will not repeat because he will have it in mind, the short answer is that only the 10 acres are free from levy, because the 10-acre planning permission is the one under which the works started before the appointed day were authorised. The third question was about the time limitation. Generally, time limited permissions are not outline permissions. They generally require a start to be made within a limited time, and no difficulty should therefore arise because the clause applies where a start is made. The fourth question was in regard to the discrepancy between one date in the Bill and other dates. I said at an earlier stage that I thought this might be a misprint, and if so I would have it rectified. It is not a misprint. It is a mistake, and it is desirable that it should be rectified, and there will be another opportunity of rectifying it before the Bill passes into law.

I know that the House heard the dubieties expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Tangley, with the greatest attention and respect, as will also my right honourable friend when I carry them to him. At an earlier stage of the Bill we discussed the question of the first appointed day, and it is not quite fair to say that since then it has been adhered to by the Government. In fact it has been delayed by five or six weeks. I make the same point to my noble friend Lord Silkin, whose observations on this Bill, of course, I and my right honourable friend the Minister, and indeed the whole House, treat with the greatest possible respect, since he is virtually the inventor of the land and planning law which this Bill seeks to carry forward into another stage. My noble friend asked: what is the urgency? I was surprised by his question. I do not know how many noble Lords saw the headline in the Evening Standard to-day, which I do not endorse as a fact, "100,000 Homeless by 1981". I would, however, endorse it as an indication of urgency. We have talked before about a "Bristol" every year, and it seems to me the urgency is very great indeed, and is staring us in the face.

As against the fears expressed by my noble friend Lord Silkin about the early start, I should like to do what I can to reassure him that some of the provisions of the Bill will not be as disadvantageous to the ordinary citizen as he fears. He raised the question whether, after all the Amendments and counter-Amendments that have been made to the Bill, the Commission will be bound to state its reasons on a compulsory purchase order after the second appointed day, and whether it will be bound to state them to the occupier of a house or to everybody. The Commission will be bound to give its reasons to everybody before and after the appointed day, in the absence of the speedy procedure and in the presence of the speedy procedure.

The noble Lord also raised the question of the speedy procedure itself. He questioned how much good it would be for a property owner to state his case when he does not even know the reason for which his property is being compulsorily acquired. I hope I have removed that worry from his mind. The noble Lord also raised the question of the right of the property owner to a public inquiry under the speedy procedure. I made the point two days ago, on Report stage, that the right to a public inquiry does not now exist in many cases of compulsory purchase. The Bill does not propose, even under the speedy procedure, to take away a right which now exists. What there is a right to is a hearing, and this will equally be available to the occupier of a house under the speedy procedure in the Bill.

The last set of worries which my noble friend Lord Silkin touched upon related to the likely number of transactions in a year. He mentioned the figure of one million transactions to be considered for levy every year; and here I think I can do something to remove his anxieties. The figure of one million is the number of transactions notified every year for stamp duty. The Land Commission will be using the stamp duty notification procedure as its first sieve, and the large majority of these cases will be sifted by the Land Commission as being obviously not liable for levy. We think at the moment that it is only about 150,000 which are likely to be liable to levy every year, but it is easier to use the existing stamp duty notification procedure as an initial sieve than to impose additional requirements; it will save everybody trouble, both the Land Commission and the citizen, and will make things quicker. The figure of one million transactions for levy every year should not be allowed to run further. Our best guess is something more in the nature of 150,000.

On the de minimis question, the provisions regarding the 10 per cent. of current use value will have a fairly large de mininis effect by themselves. In speaking about this, the noble Lord left out of account the very wide definition in the Bill of exemptions from material development: there will be excluded from levy extensions of a house up to 1,000 square feet, which is the size of an average three-bed roomed house. Such exemptions go far beyond anything the noble Lord was thinking of in his speech.

Let me end up with a round of thanks. I should like to thank all noble Lords who have been kind enough to compliment me on my handling of the Bill. I do not deserve their compliments. I admit to a sense of strain, which the noble Lord, Lord Newton, was sensitive enough to notice. It was not due to any doubts about what we are presenting in this Bill, a Bill which is fundamentally sound as to social purpose and is as well drafted to achieve that purpose as is humanly possible. I would again thank my noble adversary, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, for the way he has handled his side of this long affair, and all those of my noble friends who have so skillfully and repeatedly backed up the case of the Government.

Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.