HL Deb 30 January 1967 vol 279 cc762-70

[Nos. 1–5]

Clause 6, page 6, line 1, after "subsection" insert "and subject to the next following subsection"

Clause 6, page 6, line 3, leave out from "section" to "to" in line 6.

Clause 6, 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.

Clause 6, page 6, line 21. leave out "the last preceding subsection" and insert "subsection (4) of this section"

Clause 6, page 6, line 35, leave out from "made" to second "of" in line 36 and insert "under subsection ( )"

The Commons disagreed to these Amendments for the following Reason: Because the Amendments would be unduly restrictive.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendments Nos. 1–5 to which the Commons have disagreed.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on their Amendments Nos. 1–5 to which the Commons have disagreed.—(Lord Kennet.)


My Lords, I should like to draw the attention of the House to the Reason given by another place for not agreeing to our Amendments. The Reason, as printed here, is: Because the Amendments would be unduly restrictive. I have no desire to take up a great deal of time this afternoon on the Commons Message, but I think it is necessary to recall to your Lordships what is involved here. If this House does not insist on its Amendments what will happen will be that, after the second appointed day, the Land Commission will have power to acquire land compulsorily for any purpose whatever. Up to the second appointed day it is limited to the four purposes set out in Clause 6(4) of the Bill, and the Amendments to which the Commons disagree were designed to ensure that on coming up to the second appointed day the Government would be obliged, in their Order naming the second appointed day, to define the further purposes for which the Land Commission should be authorised compulsorily to acquire land beyond the four specified purposes in the Bill.

The Socialist Government regard it as "unduly restrictive" if a non-elected body is deprived of power to acquire land and property of the citizen for any cause whatsoever. Personally, I think this is a lamentable decision. It means that henceforth there is no personal security in the tenure of land; it means that those who wish and have need to buy land as stock-in-trade for their professional purposes, whether as builders or others, will be quite unable to judge whether the land may subsequently be taken away from them compulsorily, because they will be given no guidance as to the purposes for which the Land Commission may demand land.

On the Report stage in this House I gave one or two rather dramatic examples of the kind of purpose for which the Land Commission could demand to acquire land compulsorily if we did not amend the Bill. I have at each stage of the Bill asked the Government spokesmen to intimate to the House what are the sort of additional purposes for which the Land Commission may wish to acquire land after the second appointed day, over and above those specified in the Bill. I have not had an answer; no answer has been given at all. The position is that the Socialist Government desire to have their hands and the hands of the Land Commission completely free, both from judgments in the courts, which might be awkward to them, and from Parliamentary control. That is what I regard as the most serious feature here, because, hitherto, over the centuries, it has been accepted that the two Houses of Parliament are the protection of the citizen against compulsory action by the executive. Now there is to be no Parliamentary control.

My Lords, if we do not insist on these Amendments it means that, without further reference to Parliament, the powers of the Land Commission will, after the second appointed day, be unlimited as to the purposes for which they can compulsorily take away the citizen's land. I think I am permitted to quote from a Minister speaking in another place. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that the clash on these Amendments exemplified the clash between those who want to see an effective Comsion able to serve the community—and those who still hanker after laissez faire."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons; 25/1/67, col. 1542.] I have never hankered after laissez faire—I condem it—and it has never been the policy of the Party to which I have the honour to belong. Indeed, if I had hankered after laissez faire I would not have been for four years the Minister in charge of the Planning Acts. But I am personally suspicious when any Minister talks about, "an effective Commission able to serve the community". This is exactly the sort of argument which has been used in the past by totalitarian regimes abroad; there must be an instrument of the Executive which is unchallengeable in the courts.

I suggest to your Lordships that this is a very serious issue. I suggest to your Lordships that we in this House were wholly right to seek both to retain Parliamentary control and properly to safeguard the citizen. The Commons, with whom I agree the ultimate power rests in these matters, disagree. I say "the Commons" disagree, but it is common knowledge that this was decided on a Party vote, so it is the Socialists who disagree, and here one sees Socialism in its true colours. My Lords, I am not going to challenge the Motion that we do not insist on these Amendments, or advise your Lordships to challenge it, because I consider that on a Bill like this, which was part of the Government's programme at the last Election, it would not be right to do so. But I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for having intervened for this short time to bring to the notice of your Lordships' House, and to the country as a whole, what it means to be governed by Socialism.

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive me, too. I have some excuse. Apparently, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, did not hear the answer given to him last time, or at any rate did not understand it. He began by reading the clause in question at the point where our Amendment was made, and he thereby, deliberately, I am afraid, left out the qualifications to the powers of the Land Commission. First of all, they have to find land which is suitable for material development, and secondly, they can deal only with land which in the great majority of cases (there are minor exceptions but the principle is the same) is land where planning permission is, for the time being, in force and the whole or part of the development authorised by that planning permission has not been carried out. I doubt whether any provision in a Bill has ever been the subject of so much misrepresentation as has been made about this one by leaving out the control and then saying that there is none.

The question here is not whether the Land Commission can exercise their power without any restraint and as they choose, but whether or not the Government are prepared to override the planning machinery which gives effective control in these cases, and which is, of course, planning machinery set in motion in the first place in relation to the planning authority, the local authority, and which is subject at many points—as surely the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, is well aware—to Ministerial control. If this Bill said nothing about planning permission; if it said nothing about the condition that the land should be ripe for material development (and there is a definition, much discussed, about material development later on in the Bill) then indeed I should regard it as somewhat oppressive. But what I should regard as oppressive, the Bill being such as it is, would be if planning permission were to be overridden entirely, and if the Land Commission had power over other land than land which was ripe for material development.

My Lords, even the "cats' home" put its head up again. I thought we had finished with that—well, perhaps I had better not say what I think about it. But it is a pretty good example of the sort of argument that may be used. What is essentially unfair and wrong about this type of criticism is that, for purposes of Party advantage—because we were told that that is what it was—half the provisions in this clause are relied upon and the remaining half are omitted; and the result, of course, is a complete misunderstanding or misrepresentation (I am not talking about any wilful misrepresentation) of what the machinery is doing and is intended to do.

I should have thought that one reached a stage where it was perfectly clear that this Bill was going to come into operation reasonably soon; that it was going to be a measure of the greatest importance to the country and that there was a time when criticism of it should not be founded on arguments which had been extensively publicised, which seem to me to be totally unfounded, and which were, I thought, abundantly met in previous discussion, not only here but in another place. I should have thought that at this point we were all sufficiently conscious of the gravity and urgency of the problems with which this Bill is intended to deal, whether they are put in the form of the need for land for public purposes used by local authorities and the like, or whether they are put in the form of the exorbitant profits, indefensible profits, made in some cases by those who have been taking advantage of the difficulties of the community—I should have thought that all of us, including the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor (because he said so the other day), have become well aware that this, at any rate, was a serious attempt to deal with the problem of betterment, something which we all recognise should be dealt with and about which we differ only on the ground of whether or not it is properly dealt with in this Bill.

In those circumstances I appeal to your Lordships to bear in mind that these are grave national issues; that they have amounted in recent years to a scandalous state of affairs and, I suggest, that it is up to Parliament as a whole at this stage to do its best to make clear to the country what the Bill does and what it does not do, and what are the effective controls which the citizen has over the Executive in dealing with it.

3.26 p.m.


My Lords, I had no intention of speaking on this Motion and should not have done so but for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, who seemed to me to get things wrong. That the public should be clear on what has been done was the precise object of my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor, in making the speech that he did. I content myself with correcting what I believe to be the errors of fact and of law underlying the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison. He seems to think that there is an overriding planning control that makes what my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor said a misrepresentation of the facts and the law. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, is wrong and that my noble friend is right.

What I think the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, has overlooked is that the planning control to which he has referred does not give the citizen a protection against the sort of action which my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor had in mind. The Commission itself can apply for planning permission, and if it does so the view of the local planning authority, should the Minister agree with the Commission, will be wholly irrelevant. The Commission can ask for the authority to develop and the Minister can give it. It is perfectly true, I suppose, that a debate could arise in either House on what the Minister had done; but to suggest, as the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, suggested, that this planning machinery gives the citizen a protection against the sort of thing to which my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor drew attention is, I think, a misrepresentation of the facts and the law, though I am sure that that was not Lord Mitchison's intention. I think he spoke genuinely from ignorance.

I think that there is another reply to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison. Some of us on this side of the House are at least as keen on good planning as he is. But why, I wonder, does he suppose that it leads to good planning, if the Commission is not in any way limited by Parliament concerning the purposes for which it can compulsorily acquire land? I believe that appropriate provisions could have been inserted in this measure that would meet even the legitimate purposes which the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, had in mind, but which would not be open to the objections from which the Bill at present suffers. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor has made clear the effect of these Amendments to which the Commons have disagreed. He is right to draw attention to them, and I agree that we should now allow the wish of the Commons to prevail.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, this afternoon we are echoing the substance of the great debate which has raged in both Chambers about this Bill. This point, and others closely allied to it, were considered in another place on Second Reading, Committee and Report, again in this House on Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading, and again in another place in the consideration of our Amendments. I do not want to prolong the discussion, beyond saying one or two things.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, complained that without our Amendment the Bill would leave the Land Commission completely free from Parliamentary control, and would permit them to purchase land compulsorily after the second appointed day for any cause whatever. Let me remind the House that the second appointed day itself is subject to Affirmative Resolution of both Houses, and the question of whether the second appointed day be approved as it stands in the Bill now, or whether it be approved after the day on which the four former purposes for compulsory purchase cease to operate and a general purpose begins to operate, is largely an unimportant question. First, if Parliament does not like the second appointed day, on the experience they will then have of the operations of the Land Commission, they can throw it out just as well, whether or not there is a new purpose to be declared by the Government at any time.

Secondly, detailed regulations under which the Land Commission are to operate have still to be published and to come before Parliament. If they are not popular with Parliament, they will no doubt be rejected. And they will be framed with that knowledge in the mind of the Government. Thirdly, the Land Commission will be subject to overall direction by the Minister, and when at any time in the future any Minister gives a direction, or fails to give a direction, in a way which is unacceptable to Parliament, he will he called to book according to the usual democratic procedures of our country. I think it is going too far to say that the Land Commission and the Minister will be completely free from Parliamentary control.

I will now turn to the allegation that the Land Commission will be able compulsorily to purchase land for any cause whatever. That is not so. It can only be land which is suitable for material development. There is a whole series of conditions in the Bill about the various forms of planning decision which have to be in existence before a compulsory planning order can take effect, and these conditions must be met after the second appointed day, just as they must be met before that date. There is the added safeguard that the Minister must himself approve every contested compulsory purchase order after the second appointed day, as he must before it, and he is accountable to Parliament in the usual way.

My main complaint about the remarks of the noble Lord is that he made no allusion whatever to the fact that, although the Bill as now before us does not provide for the Minister giving one single overriding purpose after the second appointed day, it does provide that after the second appointed day the Land Commission shall give their reasons specifically for each contested compulsory purchase order. I would remind the noble Lord that this Amendment was put into the Bill after discussions with him, and largely to meet the apprehensions which he had voiced in this House. The Government did not believe that it was necessary to put the Amendment into the Bill because the Land Commission are bound by antecedent legislation, and by regulations under the Bill, to give their reasons in every specific case. But we were not adverse to meeting the Opposition's fears, groundless as they were, and specifically wrote into the Bill the duty on the Land Commission to give their reasons in every single case.

I think that the House may rest content that the operations of the Commission cannot conceivably be shrouded in mystery, and the complaint that one overall purpose might be given by the Minister on the second appointed day, or that the provision may constitute a danger to the citizens, is an ungrounded one.

On Question, Motion agreed to.