§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. Since the original Bill was introduced in another place on 12th March 1975, there has been no shortage of comment. Many thousands of words have flowed under the verbal bridges of Parliament, the Press, organisations and individuals. But in this torrent of verbiage the principles of the Bill must not be lost sight of. These are simple and were set out in the White Paper last September: first, to enable the community to control the development of land in accordance with its needs and priorities; and, secondly, to restore to the community the increase in value of land arising from its efforts. Strengthening the planning system is essential for these objectives, and this is achieved by moving forward from planning by control to a more constructive and imaginative concept; in other words, positive planning.
The limitations of our present system are well summed up in paragraph 21 of the White Paper, which says:Market forces encourage concentration of commercial development in areas that seem to offer special advantages to particular firms; but what the market does not consider are the side effects—the breakdown of old-established communities and the increasing desertion of city centres—and their implications, not the least beng the effect on the transport system of requiring people to live so far from their workplaces. There are costs involved—the cost of providing more roads, more trains and buses for example: and there are stresses, too, on the individual who has to spend time and money, probably in crowded conditions, travelling to and from work. These costs and stresses are not taken into account by the market, but they should be by the planning authorities. It is important that they are, and this is why planning must be strengthened, and why the community should buy the land and benefit from the development values created1319 If you want to use a pair of scissors you need two blades for it to work. Planning is one blade, ownership the other. The marriage of planning and ownership is not a new idea. The great 18th century landowners used ownership with careful planning and produced an integrated community pattern of house, village and landscaping. Though, socially and economically, that pattern is out of tune with contemporary times, it illustrates that ownership and planning go together like love and marriage in the song: "You can't have one without the other". Indeed, without it our heritage would be greatly diminished. More recently, a similar marriage has produced some of the best examples of planning by the community: there are the new towns—an exciting concept—and the rebuilding of the centres of some of our cities of which Plymouth and Coventry are two examples.
However, for planning and ownership to work socially in the modern context the development value of land must go to the community. Without the community, which is the creator of land-demand and the provider of services, land would have little value. Many people believe the solution lies in taxation. Taxation is a financial spoon which can scoop off some of the market cream, but on its own cannot achieve the social and economic objectives of community ownership at current use value. However sacred the ownership of development land is considered to be, it is far too important to the public to be left in private hands.
The Government believe that the increased value which development land attracts should go to the people rather than drop into private hands as windfall profit, is there anybody in this House who really believes that the owner of, say, farmland who obtains a planning permission to change the use to offices and houses should receive a 100-fold increase in value simply as a result of the grant of that planning permission? There are those who contemptuously dismiss public ownership of development land as a doctrinaire solution, but even they cannot ignore the fact that the Government's commitment has the sound backing of an eminent independent committee—the famous Uthwatt Committee on Compensation and Betterment which reported in 1942.
1320 A key feature of the Uthwatt Report was the recommendation that land should be bought by the community when it was ready to be developed, whether publicly or privately. This radical recommendation was not accepted by the Coalition Government of the day. They proposed, instead, an 80 per cent. betterment charge with only reserve powers of public acquisition, and this approach was later translated into the 1947 Act. Maybe this planning control was as much as local authorities—and possibly public opinion—could accept at that time; and the benefits that have flowed from these planning provisions are considerable. But we believe Uthwatt's basic case for ownership was right, and that the time has come to take this further step.
This means the community taking over the land owner's role so far as development land is concerned. It will be the community that has the duty to make land available for development, at the right place and at the right time, to meet the peoples' planning needs. This does not mean the community has to own all land. It steps in only at the point of development. So the great majority of existing owners and occupiers will not be touched by the scheme at all.
The scheme creates a new positive duty for authorities to make land available for development, but it does not mean they will carry out all development. Land will still be made available for private development. Private house-building will still be done by private builders, and those who buy houses for their own occupation will generally be able to buy the land freehold. There is no truth in the myth that the scheme will lead to a check in the growth of owner-occupation. More positively, the new duties under the Bill should improve the supply of land for private development. Many developers will surely welcome a situation in which there is an assured supply of land so that they do not have to put so much effort into searching out sites and tie up their capital in building up their own land-banks.
On the two previous occasions when we dealt with land reform we set up new central bodies: the Central Land Board in 1947 and the Land Commission in 1967. Neither was successful, partly because they did not have sufficient time to develop before they were repealed 1321 and also, I believe, because there was little taste for large remote central concentrations of power. For this reason we propose that acquisition of land under the scheme should generally be the responsibility of local authorities. This conclusion is in line with the general emphasis today on participation, dispersal of power and devolution. This applies to our proposals for Wales where a new Land Authority will operate the scheme in close consultation with the local planning authorities.
Of course, the Bill will put important new power in the hands of the local authorities, and it is quite clear that some people do not like this delegation. But those who have protested vigorously about the way power has, over the years, been taken away from democratically-elected authorities should be delighted. What I cannot understand is how those who freely accept that local authorities generally act in a responsible and proper fashion prematurely assume that the same authorities will abuse these new powers. I do not believe the scheme will increase the scope for corruption. Let us not deceive ourselves; many situations—they are with us all the time—produce dangers of corruption, and some members and officers have abused their positions. But in relation to the opportunities available local authorities have quite a clean record.
Here I would make two points. First, the present situation, when at the stroke of a pen a local authority can increase the value of land one-hundred fold, carries far greater risks of corruption than will exist when the grant of planning permission conveys no value for the owner. Secondly, we are determined the land scheme should be operated with maximum open local government, as provisions in the Bill covering the keeping of registers of land holdings and their accessibility to public inspection indicate. Since something like 50 per cent. of development land is already bought by public authorities for their own use, and a number are regularly buying land for private development, they are no strangers to the role they will be playing under the land scheme. So it just is not true to say they have not the experience or ability to take on the task. Indeed, many authorities will be able to begin implementing the scheme 1322 quickly without any significant increase in staff. A key advantage of using local authorities is that we can build on what is there. This will mean that progress will not be uniform in all areas—nor should it, or could it, be. Some authorities will be able to move faster than others; this is an important example of the flexibility built into the scheme.
From the start, the price of land for local authorities' own use will be reduced—and therefore the cost of local authority housing, schools and open spaces. This will enable community facilities not only to be provided but, just as important, to be provided in the right places. Local authorities will finance their new purchases of land for private development by borrowing. They will keep separate accounts for this purpose and will be allowed to borrow not only to finance capital spending but also to meet costs of administration and interest charges. In fact, they will operate just like private developers who finance their operations by borrowing, and pay off their borrowing when they sell land.
The scheme, therefore, does not mean an increase in local authority rates. Nor is there any truth in the argument that all profits will be swallowed up in interest charges. This probably derives from the mistaken impression that authorities will have to build up 10-year land-banks. It was made clear in the White Paper, and repeated in the Bill, that 10 years is the period over which they will look ahead to see that community needs are met with imagination and economic foresight. In the early years especially, authorities will be encouraged to plan their acquisitions with early disposal strongly in mind; and the Secretary of State will give close attention to this before approving local authority programmes. So any land-happy authorities will not be able to carry their recklessness far.
In the longer term, the scheme will bring financial benefits to the local authorities. When an authority's accounts come into overall cash surplus a share of the surplus will he available to the authority and they will be able to use this to finance projects which would otherwise have fallen on the rates. This is a point of great importance to ratepayers. It works like this. When there is a surplus in a land account 40 per cent. goes to 1323 the Exchequer, 30 per cent. to the local authority, and 30 per cent. to a pool for redistribution among local authorities. As progress will be uneven, initially this 30 per cent. pool will be used to reduce deficits in the accounts of those authorities making slower progress.
The Bill is a radical measure, but fashioned with a Fabian approach. And it is the need to phase the introduction of the scheme carefully which has inevitably made it more complex. The principles, as I have explained, are simple; and the full scheme—when authorities are buying virtually all development land at current use value—is also in essence simple. But the mechanics of progression to the final goal described in the White Paper as the transitional arrangements" are more complicated. I do not intend to explain the mechanism in detail. Yet the general principle of phased introduction is so important that I feel I must outline the position now. The details will, of course, be discussed in Committee; and I shall be making available to your Lordships in good time notes on the clauses. An essential part of the move to the full scheme will be the subject of another Bill—the Development Land Tax Bill—to be introduced next Session.
Our aim is current use value—a situation where all land changes hands at a value based on its current use, and where development value is realised only by the community. But to move to this overnight would be quite wrong. It would certainly he unfair to owners who have paid development value prices for land in recent years. At the same time, from the start the price of land will be brought down for authorities. Our method of achieving these two aims is through the development land tax which will be charged at 80 per cent., thus leaving with the owner 20 per cent. of the development value that accrues to him after tax—not to be sniffed at. Authorities will pay for land minus the tax, thus paying less for development land. However, the owner will receive what he would have been left with after paying the tax if he had sold privately.
What, then, is the position on Day 1—that is, the First Appointed Day? Under this Bill there will be new powers and duties for authorities to buy development land, and under the Development Land 1324 Tax Bill there will be a new tax and arrangements for authorities to buy net of this tax. At the end of the working-in period is the Second Appointed Day when the full scheme, with acquisition at current use value, comes in. Between these two dates the powers and general duties are progressively converted into a "full duty" under Clause 20 to buy all land needed for development. This full duty is brought in by order and, I repeat, progressively by area, by type of development, and by scale of development, and all consonant with the ability and resources of authorities.
Let me illustrate this point. The Secretary of State could bring in the full duty in, say, a county by designating housing development on sites of over five acres. Authorities in that county would then have a duty to buy these, but other development could go on as before. The scope of the duty would be increased with the capacity of the authorities in each area, but it would never embrace all development. For example, the building of a single house would always be outside the duty zone. It is this flexibility which is an essential feature of the scheme. It means the Secretary of State can monitor progress and fit the scale of activity to the availability of resources—both nationally and locally. It means the transition from the present market to a new land market can be properly managed, both to achieve equity and to protect essential development programmes.
I appreciate that there must be certainty for those involved in development if the partnership between authorities and private developers is to be successful. This will be achieved by requiring authorities to give publicity to the policies underlying their five-year programmes so that everyone is clear about the operation of the scheme in each area. Throughout this period the land scheme will be gathering momentum, but the important economic safeguard is that it will never be allowed to outrun the resources available.
At this point I feel I should explain today's procedure which has been made necessary by pressures on the legislative programme in another place and by the exhaustive consideration which has been given to the Community Land Bill there. The Standing Committee sat for 150 1325 hours, with no guillotine. This is a No. 2 Bill which I am inviting your Lordships to consider in advance of the final stages of the original Bill in another place. The text of this Bill is the same as the original Bill as amended in Committee in another place. In order to give your Lordships some idea of how the Bill may be changed on Report, I have also circulated copies of the Amendments which the Government had tabled for the Report stage in another place.
Your Lordships will note that there are some points on which Amendments are still being considered. Clearly the most important is the position of Churches and charities and my right honourable friend the Minister explained the Government's intentions on 15th July. But the matter is complex, and consultations with interested bodies have to be held on some points of detail. Amendments giving effect to the changes announced will be available by the time we reach Committee. It is anticipated that the original Bill will not reach us until the middle of October and I hope that by debating the principle today we should be able to give the Bill as passed in another place a formal Second Reading when it reaches us—it will certainly save your Lordships listening to me making another rather long speech!—and then proceed with a minimum of delay into Committee. I regret having to ask your Lordships to debate a No. 2 Bill, although I do not really believe that it will prejudice our deliberations since it gives the House a full opportunity to discuss the principles underlying the Bill.
It is following wide-ranging consultations with a vast number of interested bodies that the Government have decided to propose Amendments in order to clarify some points. First, we want to spell out more clearly the link with planning. As I said, this link is an intrinsic part of the original scheme, but a number of bodies have argued that it should be written more precisely into the Bill and we have agreed to this. It must now be crystal clear that the scheme will be planning-orientated.
The Amendments we propose will also ensure that the protection which our planning system at present gives to agriculture will remain, and we have accepted the case for writing in specific reference to the needs of agriculture and forestry. 1326 There have been conflicting arguments here. Some have said the scheme will eat up agricultural land, others that it will dry up the supply of land for development. Clearly they cannot both be right. The conclusion I draw is that we have got the balance correct.
Secondly, the question of individual rights has worried a number of individuals and organisations. Once the principle of the Bill is accepted there need to be some changes in compulsory purchase procedure. My right honourable friend explained at Second Reading in another place how these changes would operate, but again those we consulted felt strongly—and understandably—that the Government's intentions should be further clarified in the Bill. The Bill will give neither local authorities nor the Secretary of State freedom to behave in an arbitrary way. No local authority will be able to acquire land compulsorily without justifying it. The Secretary of State will, generally, have to hold a public inquiry into objections unless there has already been one at the planning stage. And where, under a special procedure which can be brought in only after Parliament have agreed to an Affirmative Resolution order, this general rule is modified, a residential occupier will have an absolute right to have his objection considered at an inquiry or hearing.
Of course, it is natural that changes in compulsory purchase must raise sensitive issues, but I believe our proposals now strike the right balance between public and private interests and should restrain the flood of false fears. Certainly the Council on Tribunals—who are the keeper of the nation's conscience in these matters—have expressed themselves content with the situation, subject to reservations on some points of detail and implementation.
My Lords, I have explained the principles and the key mechanics of the land scheme. The adverse reactions do not surprise me, and no doubt there will be a plurality of them repeated this afternoon. Innovation is always uncomfortable to a Conservative temperament and the more radical the reform the more reactionary the reaction. But a more liberal view is surfacing and with the Amendments now proposed, the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Town and Country Planning Association have 1327 welcomed the Bill. "A rather better Land Bill" may be rather downbeat praise from the Economist last week, but it at least recognises how far the Government have gone to meet points put to them. There are other sprigs of support springing up from the initially hostile and they will grow as the aims evolve into practice. Certainly the crazy boom and collapse syndrome in land and property are hardly gilt-edged testimonials to the advantages of the free market. They do not benefit the ordinary individual. In boom he cannot afford to buy; in collapse he may be unemployed.
Land has a special mythology. It has a primeval quality, and many people will go to great lengths to keep their territorial grasp. But things are on the move. Today many private developers negotiate planning gain with local authorities which is certainly one foot in this door. An Opposition Amendment in another place would, if passed, have put back the 100 per cent. development charge of the 1947 Act—and how fiercely that was fought at the time. Taxation, yes—now acceptable; community ownership—no, not yet.
It is the public with whom we are concerned. This is not a private matter of concern for landowners, builders, lawyers, professional bodies and any other vested interests around whom most of the argument has revolved at the present time. It is the concern of everyone, whose direct interest may not be easily defined but whose involvement as a member of the community is great; for the pattern of our towns with their housing, industry, schools, shopping centres, open spaces and transport are his living environment. Unless planning and ownership are treated together, as indisputable twins, that environment and his quality of life will suffer for him and his children. I hope that noble Lords will give something so eminently right a fair chance. Iron out the wrinkles by all means, but do not knock the basic structure.
By the time we have gone through the phasing we shall be in an entirely new situation to which the old shibboleths will no longer apply. And it will be as acceptable and respectable as all the social changes, described as revolutionary when initiated, are now. "Now is not the time" is the stranglehold of dubious reasoning used to stop every reform through our 1328 social history—from preventing children sweeping chimneys, abolishing the slave trade, right down to the inception of the National Health Service. If we always accepted that "Never is the time", nothing would be done and we should have nothing of the bedrock of social reform which is now part of our establishment. My Lords, I believe that this Bill has the highest social and human priority and I recommend it to your Lordships' House.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Birk.)
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I must start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for introducing and explaining this No. 2 Bill to us today—though I am sure that she will appreciate that I do so only out of politeness to her and in recognition of the hard work that she has done. The Bill should be called the Land, Buildings and Housing Nationalisation Bill. Indeed, the Secretary of State, Mr. Crosland, has said of it:I have no doubt whatsoever that this will be the single most important and the single most Socialist measure to be implemented by this Labour GovernmentWe on this side are entirely opposed to it, and though we shall give it a Second Reading today we have undertaken to repeal it when we are returned to power. Not only do we condemn it but so almost without exception do those who are professionals in the field of land management; the chartered surveyors, the valuers, those responsible for pension funds—and remember that this includes trade union pension funds—the National Farmers' Union, the Confederation of British Industry, the house-building industry, the Law Society and Justice; and amenity societies whose contribution by constructive participation in planning inquiries has played such a large part in the improvement of the environment for us all.
Local government, which might be expected to welcome the Bill, is by no means unanimous in its view. Not unexpectedly, the Association of District Councils is concerned at the extensive powers of the Secretary of State over local authorities; for the Bill, in my view, takes a step backwards from the freedom and responsibility granted by the Local Government Act 1972. The Association 1329 of County Councils says at the beginning of its memorandum:The Association do not believe that the complicated machinery of the Bill is needed to achieve the Government's objective as set out in the White Paper…They go on to make two suggestions to deal with this situation; first, to amend Section 52 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, and secondly, to deal with it by taxation.
I must congratulate the noble Baroness on finding a few friends for this Bill since it completed the Committee stage in the Commons, but I think—unfortunately I tild not bring my copy of the Economist with me—that if she had completed her quotation she would see that the Economist says that it does not deal with any of the major objections of principle to the Bill but it does make some of the details a bit better—and I refer to the Government Amendments. I would not quarrel with the observations of the Association of County Councils. My noble friend Lord Barber introduced a tax in December 1973 on the development value of land which would have ensured that the very large profits at that time on development land would be returned to the community, To say that we on this side of the House are unaware of the problem or had done nothing about it is untrue.
Not only do we object to the principle of the Bill but also to the utterly contemtuous attitude taken by the Government in regard to this House. I believe it to be unprecedented for a Government to introduce a No. 2 Bill before the original Bill has completed its passage in another place. I believe that there are over 200 Government Amendments, which most of us have seen only this morning, including those very important ones on Churches and charities and the virtual redrafting of Clause 17. We have had little or no opportunity to consider these Amendments and to understand what the Bill should mean. So we are being asked to debate a phantom or psuedo Bill—and a very complicated one which directly affects the lives of millions.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, regarding the Amendments concerning Churches and 1330 charities, they have not yet been drafted. I thought I had made it clear that the Minister made a Statement on 15th July indicating that, after further consultations, they will be drafted. There is no question of our considering something which is already under way in another place but of which your Lordships have not got the draft. They have not yet been drafted.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I have no doubt that what the noble Baroness says is absolutely true, but my point is that we have not seen them, so we do not know what they are going to say; we do not know what guarantees are being written into the Bill. What we are debating today is a psuedo Bill. The only conclusion to be drawn from this incredible procedure must be that the Government do not want to hear from the many experts in this House; that they are not prepared to listen to an effective Opposition. If this is typical of the behaviour of this Government, it is not surprising that democracy is viewed so cynically by so many people outside. We on this side of the House will certainly expect adequate time for what I shall call the correct Second Reading in October. One explanation that I can give for this procedure is that the Government would prefer us not to understand the Bill at all. In my view they have already deceived the public by the title. The further one looks into the Bill the more frightening it becomes, and one can well understand why so many people have put the worst possible construction upon it.
Let me turn first to constitutional points. As the noble Baroness has clearly explained, the Bill is divided more or less into two parts; those transitional powers which will come into effect on the First Appointed Day, which I assume is when the Bill becomes law, and those which will come into effect on the Second Appointed Day. There are two major objections of principle. The first is that the Bill confers wide and arbitrary powers on the Secretary of State and on local authorities, and, secondly, that so much is left to be defined by regulation. For example, in the transitional period under Clauses 17 and 18 local authorities will have the power to acquire land which "in their opinion is suitable for relevant development".
1331 When we ask, "What is development land?", it is described in Clause 6:"development land", means land which, in the opinion of the authority concerned, is land suitable for relevant development",and when we ask, "What is relevant development?", we are referred to Clause 3(1) which reads:…"revelant development" means all development except development of such a class or classes as may be prescribed by the Secretary of State by regulations, and except as provided in the following sectionWhat are the exceptions? The exceptions are single plots of less than quarter of an acre owned and occupied on that magic day, 12th September, 1974. Why that day? It is the day of the publication of the White Paper. Why it should be chosen we do not know. Then I understand there is a promise of 10 years for Churches and charities to develop their own land (although as I understand it they will not be allowed to develop their investment land) and they will be exempt from development land tax. One of the Department of the Environment consultation documents lists a number of exceptions to be laid down in regulations, but why are they not written into the Bill? Nothing is said about listed buildings, conservation areas, green belts, areas of outstanding natural beauty, National Parks, for only the two joint boards are authorities under this Bill.
I understand that Government Amendments indicate that they intend that local authorities, in acquiring land, will take into account the proper planning of the area, and that what is development land will have to be consistent with local development plans and structure plans. This is an improvement because at least it means that it is not the intention of the Government to wind up the whole of the planning system, but it by no means gets over the difficulties. My noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, who is an expert on this matter, will be speaking of it at the end of this debate. But anyone who knows anything about structure plans knows that they are nothing more than very general statements of intent. Even if they are approved—and a great many are not—how the individual or industry will know the exact effect of a proposal on his land is very difficult to see. Furthermore, it is often very difficult for an individual who may have recently 1332 moved into the area, or a business, to know that is going to happen.
On the second appointed day, local authorities will have the duty to acquire all designated development land. Again regulations will define relevant development, and compensation will be paid at current use value. Clause 29 explains that financial tribunals may be set up. Again, the Secretary of State will regulate their power and function, but why is it not a duty to have a financial hardship tribunal? It hardly seems likely that all hardship will be alleviated as under the Bill as written.
Finally, my Lords, Clause 50 gives reserve powers to the Secretary of State, so far as I can see to do almost anything—to take over local authorities and any of their functions under this Act. Besides these points, there are some other major principles which give rise to concern. Under this Bill, local authorities have the power to give themselves not only planning permission on both land which they have and have not acquired but at the same time they are developers. I do not share the confident view of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that there will he no corruption.
§ Baroness YOUNG
I have known a lot of local government in my time. Noble Lords opposite may laugh and think it very funny, but I would remind them that nobody would have known anything about corruption in the North-East but for the fact that Mr. Poulson went bankrupt. To suggest that, because we have not heard of it, therefore it does not exist, is illusory. For corruption, the possibilities in the Bill are almost limitless. I hope at least that all of its provisions will be subject to scrutiny by the local Ombudsman, and where appropriate, the national Ombudsman, and that we shall not have the extraordinary explanations that have been given in the Court Line case.
Furthermore, it is vague, when we consider how local authorities are to dispose of land. Something in Schedule 3, and Clause 43 makes it clear that local authorities cannot dispose of any land for more than a seven-year lease, except with the consent of the Secretary of State. Clearly, industry and pension funds will want to know considerably more than this. They 1333 will want to know the length of lease likely to be granted. So far as I can see, nothing has been said about the length of lease likely to be granted to different categories of development, or on any principles at all that they will apply to the disposal of land. All this comes at a time of rising unemployment, and of rising concern to industry; at a time when industry above all needs to be encouraged.
I was glad to hear the noble Baroness say that housing was generally to be freehold. It would be nice to know, if I am quoting her correctly, what that statement means, because in some of the documents I have seen, it is suggested that housing should be on licence. I do not know what that term means. I should like an assurance from the Government that it will be not used at all. I should like it written into the Bill that all housing is to be freehold.
My Lords, I should now like to say something about the extraordinary and deplorable decision to set up a Land Authority for Wales. So far as I can see, no adequate reason at all has been given. I have read both the Second Reading debate and the proceedings in Committee in another place, and it is difficult not to draw the conclusion that the Minister does not want the new county authorities in Wales to have these new powers, and does not trust them. The noble Baroness talked at length about the responsibilities of the local authorities in England, but she never mentioned the local authorities in Wales. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will explain why there is this difference of treatment. Local government in Wales was reorganised under the 1972 Act to create larger and more responsible local authorities. And yet we have a major function given to the English counties, and not to the Welsh. It certainly makes planning in Wales far more complicated. There is now a separation of the usual planning functions which belong to district and county councils, and between the planning and development functions of the Land Authority. Three parties will be involved; it is more complicated administratively, and infinitely less intelligible government to the average Welsh man or woman.
My Lords, I turn now to the cost. Since this Bill had a Second Reading in 1334 the other place, we have had the White Paper of the right honourable gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I find it difficult to reconcile the Bill with the White Paper. The White Paper is clear on local government expenditure. Paragraph 16 says:Unless staff numbers are tightly restricted the Government will have to reconsider the scale of provision of grant.Yet this Bill envisages the employment of up to 13,000 extra local government staff, clearly not all at once, but then no one, not even the authors of the White Paper, expect inflation to be conquered in a year. Paragraph 3 of the White Paper makes this clear. It is difficult to believe that without any extra staff the Bill can operate at all, and with the extra staff how it can be consistent with Treasury policy?
The Government will say, and have said, that a great profit will be made out of land. The division has already been given to us between local government and central Government. How can we be sure? We have heard it explained to us that local authorities will have to borrow money in order to acquire the land. Such borrowing will involve high interest payments, and inevitably will add to the costs of the hard-pressed ratepayers. Indeed, when the Bill is fully operational, it is estimated that land acquisition will cost between £300 million and £400 million. It is assumed that an enormous profit will be made by local government, but much as I admire local government, I would be the first to say that it is not equipped, by outlook, training or flexibility to administer what amounts to entrepreneurial land assembly, and property construction in urban areas. Even the Greater London Council has questioned the assumption of large profits to be made out of this Bill. Can a metropolitan county afford to buy up large tracts of land in London, or in other major urban areas, even at current use value? Can a metropolitan county then dispose of it and make a profit? For the reasons I have already given, I think they will find it very difficult.
But the situation is even more doubtful because, as I said earlier, the Bill says so little about the disposal of land. I believe it to be true that the Government intend that all development, or all future development land should be vested in the local authorities. But, of course, in many 1335 cases the profit that a local authority might expect to make on a development could well depend on their being able to sell surplus sites at freehold value. Will this be possible? Perhaps the Minister will tell us.
My Lords, the last point I wish to make about the Bill is its very serious effect on individual people, for it represents the clearest difference of philosophy between the two Parties.
§ Baroness YOUNG
We in the Conservative Party believe not only in the ownership of property, but in encouraging the widest possible ownership of property, not simply because home ownership is what most people want—a basic freedom—but because it gives people a stake in the community and because by ownership of property individuals can stand together against the power of the State. Not surprisingly, the first action of a Communist Government is to take away private property. I believe this to be possible under the Bill. I listened with great interest and, I must say, some surprise, to what the noble Baroness said about owner-occupiers. I hope she will correct me if I am wrong in my interpretation of the Bill, and if I am right I hope she will agree to the Amendments that are necessary to bring it into line with what she has said, because I should like to look in great detail at what the Bill has to say about owner-occupiers, who were promised in the White Paper that they would be safe.
There are, it is true, the exemptions in Clause 4 for owner-occupiers, but my understanding is that these apply only to occupiers of houses with less than a quarter-acre plot who were in occupation on 12th September 1974, and who then fill up the necessary form. Anybody who has bought a house since that date is not exempt and, furthermore, the exemptions cease on the transfer of the house. It is therefore possible to foresee, within a measurable distance, the time when no owner-occupied house will be exempt from the Bill. Already it is estimated that about a million people fall into this category. If my interpretation is wrong I shall be glad to hear so, but I should like to have it written into the Bill to make it quite clear that all owner 1336 occupiers, whether occupying their houses on the 12th September 1974 or not, will be safe.
In the meantime, anybody with more than a quarter of an acre plot can have it taken away from him at current use value, or during the transitional arrangements when development tax will be in force, with a tax of 80 per cent. rising to 100 per cent. Of course, when it reaches the 100 per cent. level any profit that may be made on the sale will go; the individual will be unable to keep up with inflation and, clearly, will have considerable difficulty in buying another house.
The council can thus take land for development, even if the individual has already been refused planning permission on it by the council. If you are unfortunate enough to live in a disposal notification area—and I think the House should look at the language of Clause 25(2) which says,An authority may pass a resolution declaring any land in their area to be a disposal notification area."—you cannot sell your house without first notifying the council, and then it has four weeks in which to decide whether or not to acquire it. It takes little imagination to foresee what price you will get at the end of that procedure. We shall propose many Amendments entirely designed to help owner-occupiers now under threat.
For the prospective home buyer, the news is equally bad. It is completely untrue to suggest that houses will be cheaper. The Bill will slow down house building by making the whole process take much longer. All the advice of Mr. Dobry, in his report, has been ignored. It will make homes more expensive, and it has already been estimated that an extra £500 is added to the cost of each new house because of planning delay. The uncertainty created by the Bill has already started and less land for house building is available. This happened in 1947, it happened in 1968 and it will happen again. Furthermore, a great deal of confusion will be caused, as under Schedule 1 local authorities will have duties conferred on them in different parts of the country and on different dates.
Even private tenants and landlords are not excluded from the Bill. Tucked away in Schedule 4, paragraph 22, the 1337 Secretary of State has power to possess any house to which the 1968 Rent Act applies. How many landlords know this? How many tenants know that their security of tenure goes if the Secretary of State wants their house? It seems to me to be a complete reversal of the policy of this Government over the last 18 months. Finally, in Schedule 4 there is some mention of the rights of entry on to property, and for some curious reason only 24 hours' notice seems to be necessary for entry on to private property, but for entry into an office block seven Jays are allowed. I wonder why there is this difference and whether there is any point in it.
My point in raising all these major matters is that in every Part of this Bill it is the individual who suffers, either in fact or from uncertainty. We have already heard the answer from the Government to all these points. The answer to the detailed matters that I have raised will, of course, be that neither the Secretary of State, now or at any future date, nor local authorities would act in an arbitrary way. We shall be assured that they will never be dictatorial, that they will never be corrupt. That simply is not good enough. Alas! sin is ever with us, even despite this Bill and we have before us the spectacle of the Clay Cross councillors, whose actions are supported by the Parliamentary Labour Party. Think, my Lords, what those councillors would do with this Bill in their hands.
In a speech to the Virginia Convention in 1788, James Maddison said:I believe that there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations.It could well be the moral of this Bill. I believe that this is what is now happening in this country under this Government and it is for that reason, above all else, that we cannot support this Bill.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Lord FOOT
My Lords, I should like to begin by associating myself with what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said at the beginning of her remarks when she thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for her exposition of this Bill, but I am afraid that that is about the only remark in her speech with which I am at all able to associate myself. I should like 1338 to qualify that association and say that I express my thanks and congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, not out of politeness, but because I think she has greatly helped the House by her lucid and brief explanation of this appalling Bill. I do not mean appalling in any other sense than that it is a difficult one to define and explain. I should like to tender to her—I think on behalf of the whole House—our gratitude for the explanation that she has given us.
I shall not try to discuss this Bill in any detail, not only for the general reason that it is inappropriate to discuss the detail of a Bill on Second Reading, but also for the more particular reason to which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has drawn attention. This is what she calls a "pseudo" Bill, and what I was going to call a "mock-up" Bill, as the real Bill is still a footus in the womb of the House of Commons, and we shall not know the shape and lineaments of this infant until it is eventually delivered there and produced to us for our adoption, which I gather will not be until after the Recess. So we are in the slightly ridiculous position of discussing an embryo Bill.
The situation is made a little funnier by the fact that, in being invited to give a Second Reading to this Bill, we have been provided, by kind courtesy of the Leader of the House and the Whips' Office, with a memorandum explaining the ways in which this Bill does not represent the present thinking of the Government. That is an odd situation but, surely, it is going a little far. Then there is the indignation which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, expresses when she says that this is treating the House with contempt. Surely this is a little artificial, is it not? It is a little funny, but I suspect the House will think that this is all part of the Party exchange to which we are all too used. It is a little absurd but, nevertheless, I think the House will agree that it is not disadvantageous that we should be allowed to debate the general principles of this most important measure before we go into Recess, and it is quite possible to do that under the arrangement which the Government have made of introducing this No. 2 Bill.
There is something else which I might say, I hope by way of commending myself 1339 to the House, and particularly to the Government. In the prevailing circumstances, I shall not say anything which will raise the temperature of this Chamber, either metaphorically or otherwise. Towards the end of her remarks, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said something about a more liberal view now surfacing. I do not know whether I am the incarnation of that surfacing, but that is what I am doing now, and my few remarks this afternoon will not be in any hostile spirit to the Government.
What I should like to do within my limited capacity, because I think it might be a little helpful, is to review briefly the history of what, since it first became a major political and social issue in the Budget of 1909, has come to be known in this country as the land question. I should like to try to do that without slipping into the quagmire, jargon, and verbiage with which the whole land question and all town and country planning legislation is submerged. I am afraid that this Bill like so many before it, suffers from this disadvantage. One of the unhappy features of this Bill is that it is full of jargon. Indeed, it is a melancholy observation that, if you look at this Bill you find that the first nine out of a total of 58 clauses, which is a percentage, according to my calculations, of about 18 per cent. of the Bill, are devoted entirely to explaining the meaning of the words which are being used in the second Part of the Bill, or the timetable by which the operation is to be introduced.
This is a serious matter because we constantly talk about the importance of public participation and so on in these matters. I believe that because of the jargon which has grown up, particularly in this field, there is a deep misunderstanding among ordinary people of what we are about when we talk about relevant development and things of that kind. As I say, this is a serious matter. It was not always so. I stand to be corrected from the Bench of Bishops, but if I recall rightly the Ten Commandments did not have any interpretation clause, they did not even have an Explanatory Memorandum, or a background Paper. The Government or the Parliamentary draftsmen may think that to be one of the reasons why the Ten Commandments have not been so widely observed. We have got 1340 into the situation today where the whole question of land is surrounded by this mist of verbal confusion.
May I draw your Lordships' attention to a strange contrast which emerges from the story of land legislation in this country, particularly since the war. I would suggest that there are three elementary propositions upon which there is widespread agreement. They are propositions to which, in opening this debate, the noble Baroness alluded in slightly different terms. I should like to express them in the simplest possible language, and I suggest that they are propositions on which, whatever may have been the situation in the past, there is now a general measure of agreement and approval.
The first of them is that because land is such a special and unique kind of problem, and because everything which is done on or with land affects not only the landowner and his immediate labours, but the community as a whole, it is essential in any civilised State that control over the planning of the use of land should be in the hands of the community. That proposition of the physical control of planning—and I shall come to the positive kind of planning in a minute—which was set up in the great Silkin Act of 1947, that system of planning development, of structure plans, granting or refusing planning permissions, has now become part of our accepted way of life. Furthermore, which is very important, we have now generally agreed among the community that if the community says "No" to any projected development, then it is under no obligation to pay compensation to the landowner to whom permission is refused. That is the first elementary proposition which I would say has now received general acceptance.
Secondly, again because of the nature of the land, and because particularly it is a limited commodity, it is absolutely intolerable in any civilised community, where you get increases in the value of land which are not attributable to the activity of the landowner but entirely attributable to the activities of society, that the benefit, or at any rate the greater part of the benefit derived from that increase in the value of land, should go into the pocket of the private individual rather than into the public purse. This is something which is now accepted, except possibly among the Neanderthals. 1341 It is a proposition which I am sure is generally accepted throughout the country as a whole.
The third elementary proposition, which is perhaps not so platitudinous as the two I have mentioned before—and the noble Baroness was reading the appropriate paragraph from the White Paper; I think it was paragraph 21—is that the Government are perfectly right in saying that planning control is not satisfied if you are simply able to control the physical thing which is done to the land. You have to bear in mind the social and economic needs of the community, and that requires the sort of positive planning about which the Government talk. In that sphere, as well as in the sphere of physical planning, it is, in the last resort, the community which has to be in control.
The contrast which I wish to invite the House to consider is, that while I believe there is today—whether it was so in the past or not, I do not know—a general consensus on those three elementary propositions, the fact is that if you look at the history of land legislation since 1945 it has been, with one exception, a legislative shambles. The one exception is the great planning set-up, planning control, established by the Silkin Act in 1947. That has survived and stood the test of time, and only very recently that has received the testified approval of the Dobry Report. But with that exception, and in the other two fields of which I have been speaking that is the field of betterment, and trying to ensure that increased values go to the community—in the field of betterment and in the field of meeting the social and economic needs of the community through planning arrangements we have got nowhere at all.
The fact of the matter is that today the scandals are so obvious, and we have known about them for so long. First, there is the scandal by which development is determined very largely simply by private profit, and whether there is a private profit to be made out of it. The second scandal is whereby, by the grant of planning permission, a person can receive vast wealth—Dr. Johnson called it wealth beyond the dreams of avarice—for making no contribution whatever; wealth that is purely arbitrary. This scandal is unabated and rampant 1342 today, with all the corruption and the possibilities of corruption which go with it. In these two spheres, therefore, we have not got anywhere.
The Government will say, I think with some justification, "That is not our fault. We have made two attempts since the war to try to deal with the land problem and on each occasion the thwarted Tory Party, on returning to power, tore up our legislation, thwarted us and therefore it is not our fault." But I am not at present concerned—I hope I do not sound pompous in saying this—with whose fault it is. I am concerned with the good government of this country. The shocking fact today is that not only have we got behind us this lamentable story of enactment and repeal, measure and counter-measure, all cancelling each other out, not only do we have behind us these 30 wasted years on this problem, but we have been told by the Tory Party, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, repeated it today, that the first thing the Tory Party will do if they are returned to Office (which God forbid!) is to repeal this measure.
§ Lord FOOT
So we have not come to the end of this miserable saga, my Lords. We are offered the possibility of having to go through this same old thing all over again. It is all very well for Conservative noble Lords to say, "Hear, hear!" but I ask why we have got ourselves into this situation. I think that a fourth elementary proposition with which most people in this country would agree is that in the sphere of legislalion, particularly legislation about land, the one thing we want above all is a sense of continuity. That applies of course in other fields, but it applies particularly in the whole sphere of land.
But consider the practice of successive Governments. Nowadays it seems to be the accepted practice that as soon as a new Administration come to power the first thing they do is to set about a demolition job that is, dismantling the legislation which has been passed by their predecessors—clearing the site, as it were, in order to erect their own ideological edifices which will be dismantled in due time when the next Administration come to power. What is the point of all this? Why do we have to add to all our sufferings and 1343 troubles, of which we are all too keenly aware, these added self-inflicted wounds? The short answer, as the Government know—it may not be distasteful to them at all; certainly it will be distasteful to the Tory Party—is that we labour under an electoral system which forbids the possibility—
§ Lord FOOT
I hope they read the other day the article by their erstwhile Leader, Mr. Robert Carr, in The Times about this matter, because he made the very point I am just about to make; namely, the reason for it is that we have an electoral system, for better or for worse, which has the effect that not only does one never get a House of Commons which represents the true alignment of political opinion in the country but one cannot get it because the system forbids it; one cannot get an accurate reflection of the true opinion of the country if the reflection is in a distorting mirror. This is the fact of the matter and the result of it is that ever since the war all legislation which has ever been passed, except by consent—that is, except with the approval of the Opposition—has been passed by Governments who have not got majority support in the country. We have been ruled since 1945 by minority Governments in the sense that they have not had majority support, not only among the electors as a whole but even among the people who bother to go to the polls.
We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Young, today, speaking for the Opposition much the same language as has been used in the other place over this Bill. We have heard this Bill denounced in extravagant and sometimes ferocious terms and it is certainly not my intention to engage in that sort of language or give any support to it. We have been told that this is a giant step towards the full Socialist State, that it is an assault on the rights of the individual 1344 and the rest. There may be some small merit in these criticisms and particularly on the latter matter of the rights of the individual, but those are matters to which we can come in Committee certainly do not adopt that approach at all. I believe that this Bill is what it purports to be—I take the Government as acting in good faith in this matter—that is a genuine attempt by the Government to find a lasting solution to this problem. I use the phrase "lasting solution" in preference to the one used by Mr. Silkin in another place on Second Reading when he talked about a "final solution". I believe this is a genuine attempt to find a lasting solution within the parameters, if that is not now a dirty word, of the general propositions which I was trying earlier to explain. I regard it as a genuine attempt by the Government to find a lasting solution to the problems as they see them.
I would go so far as to say—and I do not know how far I would carry my colleagues with me—that I certainly do not reject and I never have rejected the idea that it may be necessary, in order to achieve what is now called positive planning, for the State to acquire the ownership of all development land. I do not exclude that at all. However, my doubts and hesitations about the Bill are confined to narrower limits. I have doubts about the timing of the Bill, to which I will come shortly, I have grave doubts about the machinery of the Bill, and in particular about the decision of the Government to make the local authorities the agents for the implemention of this great reforming measure. I will not develop these arguments because we are to have a long debate, in the course of which many noble Lords will no doubt speak about this decision to make the local authorities the agents.
I shall conclude with a few general observations. I do not think the Government are in any position to be smug about their decision to make the local authorities the agents because, after all, this constitutes a reversal of what has been their thinking in this sphere for the last 30 years. Both the Land Board of 1947 and the Land Commission of 1967 were setting up national organisations not based on local authorities, and for those 30 years, therefore, the thinking of the Labour Party has been against local 1345 authority implementation and in favour of some kind of national body. It follows from that, I suggest, that the burden of proving, if they can, that they are right now in reversing their previous stance and giving the agencies to the local authorities—putting on local authorities all these burdens, so creating this new bureaucracy—rests heavily on them. I hope it is not too late for them to consider that the real solution may be not to nationalise at the local government level or at the national level. As was referred to in the Kilbrandon Report—and in the Minority Report, of which the chief author was of course the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt—the Government should consider even at this stage whether the correct level at which one should have the positive social planning is at the regional level, as they are proposing for Wales. If it makes sense in Wales, why should it not make sense in the regions of England, and, indeed, of Scotland?
My second criticism of the Bill is this. There are many people of authority who are generally sympathetic to the Government in this matter but who have expressed grave doubts as to whether one can introduce this system and put these burdens on local authorities—with all the involvement in public borrowing and so on—at this economic moment. As a friend, I urge the Government to consider the seriousness of this point because, if the Bill becomes law, I for one want it to work, if the economic circumstances are so stringent that it is impossible to make it work, it will be a disaster for the community, for the Government, for everybody. I want the Bill to work if it is to go on the Statute Book at all. I very much doubt and many others are even more doubtful than I, whether in our present economic circumstances we can afford either to set up this great bureaucratic structure or to embark upon the great borrowing commitments which will be required. Thirdly—and I am sorry to go on for so long—
§ Lord FOOT
My Lords, I do not know whether or not that was meant to be encouraging, but I shall take it as encouragement. Thirdly, there is the question of betterment—that is, ensuring that land value increases go into the public purse. As has been suggested by the 1346 noble Baroness, that is something which could be dealt with by methods other than the methods proposed in the Bill.
The final comment I wish to make is one of commendation. I do not believe, like the Tory Party, that this sill is a giant step towards a Marxist State. I believe that it has one virtue if one accepts it at its face value, as I do. It recognises that we are living in a mixed economy and that, if the reform is to work, the private sector must be allowed to play a proper part side by side with the public sector. I have taken the view for quite a long time now that the division in politics in this country today is entirely artificial. I believe that the great divide in politics—in the field of economic management, at any rate—is that between those who want to see a steady progression to a full Socialist State and those who believe in the mixed economy and who want to make it successful and viable. I believe that the vast majority of people in the country as a whole would come down in favour of the second choice.
My conclusion is therefore this. I hoped that it would have been possible for the Government, in preparing this legislation, to produce a Bill which would have provided answers to the objectives which they have in mind but without encumbering them with the bureaucratic machinery and the financial commitments which are involved in handing this matter to the local authorities. I do not believe that we can afford it and, as I said before, I believe that the scheme is dangerously threatened with unworkability. I believe further and, finally, that if the Government had succeeded in producing such a Bill—which would not have been a Bill which commanded universal support because that is not possible with the noble Lords on my left, but which would have commanded substantial majority support in the country—they would have carried through a measure which no succeeding Government, how-over Right Wing, would have dared to repeal. My apprehension and my fear is that that opportunity may have been missed.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of LONDON
My Lords, I wish to associate myself with those who have congratulated the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, on the clarity and 1347 brevity with which she introduced this very complicated Bill. She has done us all a great service in so doing and we express our gratitude to her. This Bill is without doubt one of the most important and far-reaching measures to have been brought before your Lordships' House in recent years. As your Lordships know, under its provisions all land needed for development will come into public ownership. Presumably, that will be a continuing process with more and more land in Public ownership and less and less in private ownership. This certainly represents a major revolution in the thinking about the whole philosophy of the tenure of land. The philosophy which underlies this policy is stated clearly and succinctly in the first paragraph of the White Paper, which says that planning should seek,…to secure a proper balance between the competing demands for land, so that all the land of the country is used in the best interests of the whole people.Few people would wish to quarrel with that definition. Equally, I believe that few would support a system which has made land so profitable a field for the speculator, and which has provided vast profits for those who have little interest in the welfare of the society which that system ought to have been serving.
As I see it, therefore, the question is not so much about the principle underlying the Bill, as about the means by which it is to be implemented. Will the Bill be practicable? Will it achieve what it sets out to do? Will it do it without imposing injustice on individuals or sections of society? That is the matter which is before your Lordships for judgment.
I mentioned the importance of examining the Bill from this point of view because the experience of the Churches is an illustration of the way in which—I am sure quite unwittingly—the Bill could have inflicted great damage on a section of society and could diminish or bring to an end work in society which is generally recognised to be beneficial. Here, I speak not so much as a Bishop of the Church of England as from the experience I have gained as Chairman of the Churches' Main Committee. This is a body representative of the main Christian communions of the United Kingdom and of the Jewish community. Its purpose is 1348 to negotiate with Government in matters where their interests are concerned. Collectively, the Churches own a considerable amount of land and buildings erected on that land. Many endowments from the past have been in the form of land. For many of the Churches—and this is especially true of some of the smaller Churches—the only capital asset they possess is in the form of land and buildings.
It is therefore essential that if they are to fulfil their responsibility towards society—and that is the object for which they exist—they should have freedom from time to time to realise their assets, not at speculative prices but at reasonable prices so that they may, when necessary, redevelop and extend their work. The Churches are particularly vulnerable to the effects of changes in social behaviour and in the movements of population. Our forefathers often built spaciously and lavishly to provide for the needs of their day. Frequently the population has moved away, and therefore we have areas which are seriously over-churched. They provided buildings which are now almost impossibly expensive to maintain. Vast sums have to be raised to keep the fabric in proper condition, and much Church property, especially in urban areas with huge churches, large parsonages and big gardens, has been seriously underdeveloped according to modern standards.
Therefore, there has been a steady process over the years whereby the Churches have been redistributing and redeveloping their assets. Sometimes this has been in the form of selling a redundant church building and erecting possibly a number of churches or community centres in new housing areas and New Towns. Sometimes it has involved redevelopment of the site when a spacious Victorian church, vicarage and garden have, in co-operation with the developer, been replaced by flats which would be an asset to the community—such as for old people—and a scheme has incorporated a centre for worship, for community activities, and for the accommodation of the clergy. Again, many Churches have sold down-town properties in order to provide youth clubs, old people's clubs, schools and other social amenities in places where there was greater need.
All this considerable activity has been possible only because the Churches have 1349 been able to liquidate their resources in one area in order to work creatively in another. In paragraph 32, the White Paper laid it down that:The Government propose that the ultimate basis on which the community will buy all the land will be current use value—that is to say, the market value of land for its current use without including any additional value representing the hope that it might be developed for any other purpose…Those three words, "current use value", constitute a threat of quite devastating danger to the ongoing work of the Churches, for the current use value of a redundant church is virtually nil; and the current use value of a large ungainly vicarage in a down-town area is next to nothing; and the current use value of a redundant school is very small.
Therefore, were this principle to be applied, it would mean that at one stroke the greater part of the assets of the churches would have been rendered valueless, and the forward planning of the Churches would come to an abrupt end. There are two further areas where the consequences would be most serious, especially in the relationship of the Church and the State. The first is in education. The dual system, which coordinates Church schools and county schools in a single system, depends on a financial contribution from both sides. Throughout the country there are long-term plans for school rebuilding to which both sides have committed themselves in good faith. The Church relies largely for its share of the cost of new schools on the sale price of redundant schools which, under Section 86 of the 1944 Act, and now under Section 2 of the 1973 Act, become available for school building elsewhere where schools are needed. But the current use value of a redundant school is very small indeed, and if the Churches were to be restricted to such remuneration they would be unable to meet their contribution to the new building. As has been said authoritatively, it would bring the dual system to an end.
The other specialised area that would be seriously affected is one which particularly concerns the Church of England. A section of the Pastoral Measure 1968 deals with the problem of what is to be done with redundant churches, and especially with those churches which, although they are no longer needed, for one good reason or another, for worship 1350 —and no proper alternative use can be found for them—yet for historical or aesthetic reasons ought not to be 'destroyed. Such buildings eventually come under the care of a national body named the Redundant Churches Fund. The cost of maintaining these redundant churches is considerable and the resources of the fund are two-fold. It receives a Government grant and, in addition, when any unwanted redundant church is sold, two-thirds of the sale price goes to the diocese concerned for further development, and one-third goes to the Redundant Churches Fund as the church's contribution.
But if a redundant church can be sold only for its current use value, which is nil, then the Church would be precluded from fulfilling its part of the bargain in the agreement with the State in providing for these redundant churches. Therefore your Lordships will appreciate that on reading the White Paper on land the alarm of the Churches was not unjustified. So serious did the threat appear to be that they took the unprecedented step of asking the Prime Minister to receive a deputation from all the Churches which could express their anxiety. On 23rd April the Prime Minister, accompanied by the Minister for Planning and Local Government, Mr. Silkin and the Paymaster General, Mr. Dell, received the Archbishop of Canterbury who was accompanied by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, the Chief Rabbi, and representatives of the Federal Free Church Council, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland and the Archbishop of Wales, and other leading churchmen. The deputation was with the Prime Minister for over an hour and was most sympathetically received. I am sure that it the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, or indeed any other member of the deputation, were able to be present today, they would wish me to express their gratitude to the Prime Minister and his colleagues for the patience and the courtesy with which they were received.
The Prime Minister undertook to examine the case we had put before them, and since then an Amendment, moved by Mr. Kevin McNamara in another place, has been followed by a Statement by the Minister on 15th July. It is not necessary at this juncture for me 1351 to go into the details of the Statement, which are highly technical as well as being very helpful, and they will come before this House later in the form of Amendments, as we have been told. All I need to say now is that the Churches Main Committee fully recognise that the Minister has made considerable concessions in his desire to meet the concern of the Churches and their difficulties, and we want to express to him our gratitude for having gone so far to allay our anxieties.
As always in situations like this, there are a number of points on which we shall have to ask for discussion and clarification. What exactly is meant by, "development for a charity's own use"? What constitutes the curtilage of a building—which is an important point in estimating its value? What happens in the case of transfers of land between charities or with, say, local authorities? What happens about gifts to charities of land still in the hands of the donor on White Paper Day? Again, we see certain practical difficulties arising from the 10 year rule, which may prove to be too short—especially in the present economic climate—for charities to rearrange their affairs. This is especially true in the case of school programmes.
Moreover, it is important to appreciate that the Churches and charities are active organisations in a rapidly changing world, and they need to be free to realise and to re-deploy their resources to meet changing circumstances. As land held on White Paper day is replaced by land acquired after that day, charities will lose their exemption from development land tax if they sell it and will not be able to develop it for their own use without the intervention of the local authority. There will therefore be a tendency for the work of Churches and charities to become frozen into the pre-existing pattern based on the land held on White Paper day; and that, we believe, would be regrettable. These, however, are matters which will have to be discussed during the course of negotiation and they do not in any way minimise the gratitude that the Churches feel to the Minister for his appreciation of their problems, and for his readiness to meet them.
I am glad that the concessions he has made apply to all charities; for the 1352 Churches would not wish to ask for privileges for themselves which were not extended to others who are doing work in comparable fields. The Churches' pocket is not a private pocket; for every penny which goes into it is used for the benefit of the community, whether in the sustaining of public worship or the upholding of the moral values for which they stand, the payment of the clergy, the upkeep of great buildings, which are national as well as ecclesiastical assets, or serving the community through their schools, their clubs, their community centres and their care for old people. These are all services which society needs and which would probably be done less well, and certainly more expensively, if they had to be done by the State. It is difficult enough to fulfil these obligations in these days and what we ask, therefore, is that it should not be made more difficult for the Churches and the charities to discharge their responsibilities.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, may I have the pleasure of being associated with other noble Lords who have spoken in offering my congratulations and thanks to my noble friend Lady Birk for the extremely clear way in which she explained the Bill to us this afternoon? She certainly made our job of understanding it much easier. Because there are a lot of other speakers to follow. I should like to concern myself mainly with the attitude of the local authorities so far as this Bill is concerned.
Land is one of our most scarce commodities and, therefore, the true needs and priorities of society can be met only by some form of public ownership of development land; so that we can ensure that land is always available for the needs of the community, whether it be for housing, social services, welfare provision or recreation. The way in which the granting of planning applications and development enhance the value of land way above the current use price is inevitably pricing out of the market local authority schemes for the provision of old people's homes, hospitals and so on near to the centres of population. So far as old people are concerned this leads to old people's homes having to be built and residential accommodation provided some way from the town or local centre, thus depriving the more able-bodied 1353 residents of those homes from joining in a full and active life in the community.
This sort of thing cannot be tolerated for much longer. Land should, and must, be made available for the development where the development is needed, and not where local authorities can afford to put the development. This Bill ensures that the community will be able to acquire land just where it wants, for its own use, and at a price it can afford to pay; and where land is needed for the private developer the community will be able to recoup any increase in the value of the land over and above current use value.
My Lords, two or three years ago in my own county, we had a smaller expanding town, and because of the money that the local authorities put into the infrastructure for that expansion we, as a county authority, had to provide a new comprehensive school. We needed 30 acres of land and, because of the development that had gone on around it, we had to pay £35,000 an acre. That meant that my authority were paying over £1 million for the site for one comprehensive school, before we put any buildings on it or equipped it. Local government has long complained of successive Governments taking away its powers; and the cry has gone up at successive local elections to keep local government local. This is one function that this Government today are proposing to place on to local authorities. I believe that the local authorities, when they have understood the Bill and when they have heard explanations such as we have heard today from my noble friend Lady Birk, will welcome the opportunity of administering the Bill.
The land will have to be acquired, it will have to be managed and arrangements will have to be made for it to be leased. This is going to require extra staff, skilled in land management, in local authority services. I am a member of the ACC Executive Council; and it will not surprise your Lordships to learn that I do not always share their views on some Bills which my Government are putting forward. But I accept that where local authorities are concerned with the administration of the Bill, at this time they may have reservations about the introduction of the measure in our present economic climate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to staffing problems. We have 1354 been told by the Chancellor and by other Members of the Government that local authorities are not to increase their staff because of our economic position. I think most local authorities have accepted this dictum; yet in my own county alone, we understand that we require an increase of 70 in our staff, many of whom will have to be experienced in land assembly, land management and valuation. I should like to know what steps the Government are taking to ensure that staff of the right calibre are available to local authorities at the right time. Is it anticipated that there are going to be any problems for counties which have new towns within their area where the new towns already have these powers for the acquisition of land for their requirements? When local authorities have had their borrowing powers considerably curtailed in most other fields, how are the Government to justify making available the very large sums of money that will be needed, very quickly, in order to finance the acquition of land and the implementation of this Bill while, on the other hand, they are withholding the rights and permission for local authorities to provide for the education and social service needs of the area?
I regret the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on corruption in local government. I have been in local government for many years. We are not perfect, as national Government is not perfect and as industry, private or nationalised, is not perfect; but I believe that we in Britain have the finest local government of any country in the world. For many years we have been extremely well served by people doing this work voluntarily; and when you look at the scale of operations of local government in this country, the corruption that is in it is minute indeed—so much so that it makes the headlines when any is found out.
I believe local authorities are going to accept that, long term, there will be some financial benefits which will accrue to them from the implementation of this Bill. But, short term, local authorities are also concerned about the financial implications to them. In posing the questions I have, I am seeking clarification; and I should also like at this stage to apologise to your Lordships, and my noble friend Lord Melchett, as, because of the size of 1355 the list of speakers, I regret that I have to leave the House just before eight o'clock tonight and may not hear his reply to my questions. But I look forward to reading them in Hansard.
Personally, I support the principles of this Bill; it gives to the new and larger local authorities the power to control the development to meet social needs rather than the commercial pressures. It ensures that the whole community will benefit from any increase in development values. The implementation of the Bill, we all accept, cannot happen overnight; local authorities have neither the staff nor the money to take all the development land into community ownership in one go, which is why the Government are making the necessary transitional provisions. Fears have been expressed that the community ownership of land will dry up land supplies and cause a further decline in house-building. This is a nonsense. There is already three or four years' supply of housing land available for housing with either planning permission or in builders' land-banks.
May I say, in conclusion, that the impact of this Bill must not be under-estimated. It will be as drastic as was the introduction of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Code. The county and district councils will have to work very closely together to agree their acquisitions, the management and their disposal policy. Local government, by and large, are now implementing corporate management, and I believe that the local authorities, as they exist now, given the staff and the finance, are available to do the job, and are more than capable of doing the job which the Government are asking of them.
The Earl of ARRAN
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask her one question. Is she seriously suggesting that there is no corruption in local government in this country?
§ Baroness STEDMAN
No, my Lords; I am not suggesting that there is no corruption, but I am saying that the corruption is so small that it makes headlines when we hear of it.
§ 4.53 p.m.
Viscount DE L'ISLE
My Lords, I can assure the House that I will make at 1356 least one of the shortest speeches in this debate. Since we are to hear more details of the legislation to come before us, it would be wrong to go into details on the Second Reading of this major measure. I have had the privilege of sitting in your Lordships' House for 30 years. Looking round, and seeing so few faces of Members who were here when I joined the House, I realise how old I am.
Listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in her able and clear introduction, I noticed particularly her exordium: I was reminded of similar words spoken by predecessors on the same Bench during the nationalisation Bills of the first Labour Government after the war. I could not help but remember the significance of what has happened recently. I am not going to labour the House with statistics, but some of the major nationalised industries have cost the country between £500 million and £600 million.
There is a connection between this Bill and the nationalisation Bills. Then, the nationalised industries were set off with such high optimism and commendations by the members of Mr. Attlee's Administration. They intended that they should be independent corporations, that they should be self-accounting and not interefered with by Parliament. But what happens? Whether it be a Socialist Ministry in Office or a Conservative Ministry in Office, the temptation of Ministers and their advisers to fiddle and dabble in the affairs of those organisations falsifying their price system and underselling the market, has been totally irresistible.
If I had made those remarks a year ago, they would have received little acceptance, but now we have the authority of a Socialist Chancellor of the Exchequer that that free-for-all must go. The reason is that concentration of power in the hands of Government will lead to exactly the same distortion as it has led to in the case of the nationalised industries. I am not making a case today for private enterprise or nationalisation, but I am deeply concerned about power. I sat first in the House of Commons in 1944 and, with the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, I was one of the rebels about the Yalta Agreement. Since then I have seen Europe divided by the 1357 Wall, I have seen the economics and politics of Clause 4 pervade the whole of the Eastern European and Asian Continent, and I do not believe we are immune in this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Foot, declared himself an adherent of the mixed economy. I do not know what that expression means. It has less authority than the doctrine of the Trinity and much less definition. The noble Lord in his speech said he did not know where he was going, but I could have told him before he stopped. He would get on to the electoral system. I was disappointed with his speech because there was a Liberal Party once which had some principles, and one of them was freedom. It recognised that you could not have freedom if you gave too much power to Government. It is because this Bill intends to give enormous powers to Ministers and their advisers—and it does not matter of which political complexion—that I have the gravest suspicions about it. I have the greatest admiration for local government; I was a member myself. I listened with great interest to the speech made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Stedman. I am making no attack on local government; but if you give it a task too great for it to do, if you confuse the interests of planning, acquisition and development of land, you are asking for all the difficulties, all the faults, all the misunderstandings and, I must add, all the liabilities for corruption which such a situation will surely demonstrate to us.
This Bill is not about welfare; it is about power and who shall have it. I believe that in all these great questions of State the people who suffer most are those at the bottom of the pile; the larger fish in the pond can swim on their own, but Parliament should stand for the widow, the orphan, the infirm and the poor. Parliament should see that powers asked for by Ministers should be defined arid safeguarded. It is no good saying "reserve powers". These are foreign to our legal system. You give the Minister power, and he will use it. I have heard Conservative Ministers damning Socialists for using power, but they do just the same. It is in the nature of power to use it; and it is in the nature of Parliament and our Parliamentary traditions to see that that power is given only sparingly.
1358 Pace the noble Lord, Lord Foot, I do not believe this Bill is free from Marxist overtones. After all, it is a perfectly intelligible doctrine, a doctrine that the Government and the Party are the guardians of the people's welfare. Being the guardians of the people's welfare, they must ex hypothesi, be good and incorruptible. As history shows us, who would now say Czechoslovakia would not be a happier place if it was under a free economy or even a mixed economy? Few people would dare to answer that question otherwise.
My Lords, I promised to be brief. We will approach the Committee stage of the Bill with eagerness to get to grips with it. We will examine not only the details but the principles which underline those details. I hope that your Lordships' House will not be overborne by any threats or any abuse from sources outside this House; that it will devote itself by day and, if necessary, by night, to looking at this Bill, at every clause, every detail and every word, examining it against the principles which I have enunciated.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Baroness WHITE
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord de L'Isle, has said that this Bill is about power. I should have thought that the vast majority of people in the country would say that the last place in which they would wish power to reside was in the hands of land speculators. Therefore, from that point of view, I should have thought there was the strongest general support for the principle in the Bill that development value created by the community should revert to the community.
Viscount DE L'ISLE
My Lords, that is the whole point. Would the noble Baroness define "land speculator"? Is it a developer or an owner?
§ Baroness WHITE
My Lords, you have only to think of the conditions in 1971, 1972 and 1973 to know exactly what land speculation was, and if the noble Viscount does not realise what I am talking about then I cannot believe that he could have been actively observant in those years. He has, of course, fairly considerable experience himself in land matters.
1359 A great deal of what I intended to say has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, although I am not referring to his aberrations about the electoral system. I was very much with him, both in his general support for the principles of the Bill and also in some of his apprehensions as to its ultimate success. I am passionately anxious that this Bill should succeed, and what worries me, as it worries a number of your Lordships who are very sympathetic to it in principle, is whether it is not once again too complex a measure for its success to be assured.
A measure which will take so many years for its ultimate fulfilment could, in the normal course of our political life, offer too many opportunities to its opponents to stymie it, just as previous attempts in this direction have been frustrated. After all, as the noble Lord, Lord Foot, reminded us, it is now more than half a century since Lloyd George, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, first started to deal with what later became known in the Uthwatt Committee as the problem of betterment. I remember as a small child playing a game called "Brer Rabbit"—a much better predecessor of Monopoly—which was based on Lloyd George's land tax proposals. I was drilled very early in the increments of land value; and it is because we have had two attempts since the War, apart from the more historic ones made by the Liberal Party in the distant past, that one is so very much concerned and anxious that this time we should succeed. It is because I am worried about some of the practical problems concerning the Bill that I would have wished for some further explanation in addition to the very lucid summary given to us by my noble friend Lady Birk.
I am doubtful, as was the noble Lord, Lord Foot, as to whether the local authorities are the right instrument. I can fully understand why, after the difficulties over the Land Commission, the present Government feel that they should try another recipe. But this raises some very difficult questions of principle, it seems to me, because the local authorities are the planning authorities and, as planning authorities, their prime purpose is to be able to take a dispassionate view of whether or not a certain development 1360 is in the general interest. If they are going to have, as owners of land, a financial interest in the outcome of the transaction, then they cannot take a completely unbiased view. This is why I am concerned, at least for the English counties: in Wales we are proposing to have a somewhat different mechanism. I should very much like my noble friend who is to reply to the debate to deal with this matter of principle.
My noble friend Lady Birk emphasised and re-emphasised—as indeed Mr. Silkin has done in another place—the virtues of what Mr. Silkin calls "positive planning". My noble friend said that planning and ownership must go together, and she referred to the historic precedent of the old land owners, who were indeed both owners and planners. Some of the best urban planning in London, for example, was undoubtedly due to the unified control of certain landowners; and, if I may say so, we should not have had the magnificent city centre that we have in Cardiff had it not been for the unified ownership of land in the hands of the Bute family in past times.
But it does not seem to me that the analogy for local authorities is necessarily the same, because they are dealing with proposals for development which are not entirely within their own control. They are dealing with ideas and propositions put up by other people or bodies, on which they have to judge. I am entirely in favour of local authorities being able to obtain for their own purposes land which has not been subject to speculative increments; and the kind of example put forward by my noble friend Lady Stedman I am sure will echo in the minds of many of us.
It is plain that we wish to secure for public authorities the opportunities to obtain land at reasonable prices without the speculative element so that therefore they should get it free of betterment value. With that one entirely agrees. Is it necessary, though, for them to be the owners of all development land? Here I have consderable doubt on the matter of principle. Having expressed these doubts—and I do so partly looking not so much at the urban areas as at the countryside—I am concerned that, again for environmental reasons, the local authorities should be able to make a 1361 completely unfettered judgment as to what is best for the community.
I should like now to turn to one or two other matters of detail. I am also anxious, at the other end of the scale, about the position of the owner-occupiers of houses. I was a constituency Member when the first post war attempt at dealing with this land problem came into operation, and I am sure that one of the reasons which enabled the Conservative Administration to reverse that scheme was that it went into details over people's own personal homes, so that one had to go through complicated processes to obtain consent to do this, that or the other. Since then, far more people have become or are becoming owners of their own homes. One has therefore an even greater interest in not arousing the apprehensions of owner-occupiers.
I understood from my noble friend Lady Birk that this had been taken care of, but I must admit that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, then raised doubts in my mind as to whether in fact the owner-occupier was going to be, within his own small domain, secure in his home. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, was under some misapprehension in saying what she did, but I should very much like to have reassurance on this, because if you make the owner-occupier of, at any rate, the moderate or small-sized dwelling apprehensive as to his future security, then I think you will find it is extremely difficult to maintain this Bill against possible opposition.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the debate but I would explain that I think the noble Baroness, Lady Young, misunderstood the exemptions under Clause 4. My noble friend Lord Melchett will be dealing with this matter in his winding-up, but as Lady Young was rather concerned about it I thought I should make that point. The new amendments concerning the compulsory purchase order also affect the whole question. There was a complete misunderstanding over the exemptions in Clause 4.
§ Baroness WHITE
My Lords, I am very glad indeed to hear that. I had not supposed the case to be as the noble 1362 Baroness, Lady Young, said it was, but the moment she began to express her own doubts I was, I must admit, very worried.
I was glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London gave as clear an account as he did of what had been happening over the position of the Churches and of charities. I am certainly in no position to speak for any Church, and in Wales the Church is in any case disestablished. But I am concerned with charitable organisations through being a member of the executive of the National Council of Social Service. We are very much concerned with the position of charitable land. A number of the points raised by the right reverend Prelate are ones we would certainly wish to pursue at Committee stage unless they have been settled by negotiation in the interim. For example, there is the question of land being used only for the charities' own purposes. This sounds unexceptionable until one begins to examine it in detail. Often there is a site on which it would be sensible for a charity to erect a building, nine-tenths of it (shall we say?) being for social or community purposes, but where it would be equally good sense to have, for example, a row of shops or some offices which would provide income for the current expenses of the activity concerned. Is "own use" going to cover that or is it not? I can see all kinds of complexities that may arise if one tries to circumscribe the position on charities in relation to development of their land.
Again, I do not want to go into the whole school situation, but if one wants to change the relationship between Church schools and other schools, or for that matter the public schools and the rest of the educational system, I hope we shall not use this as a backdoor way of doing it. A similar point applies to the minor but important sphere of the position of funds for redundant churches.
Unfortunately, the Addison Rules forbid my speaking in any detail about another aspect of this Bill with which I am concerned, and that is the land which belongs to public corporations. I am a member of the British Waterways Board and therefore am not allowed to speak on their behalf. But I know there are apprehensions among some public corporations as to what is to be the position 1363 of their land if the local authorities are to take over the land which the corporations feel they can develop to the advantage of the public duty which has been laid upon them. I believe it is an open secret that one public body at least—I am referring to the railways—has been sitting on sites which local authorities have regarded as being suitable for appropriate development. But I would hope that public bodies in general will not have to suffer because maybe one of their number has behaved in a shortsighted or selfish manner. It would perhaps be improper if I said anything more on this subject, but those of us who have strong Socialist convictions feel that a public corporation established by Government for the public benefit is every bit as much public as is a local authority.
Finally, I would say something about the Welsh position. I was sorry that my noble friend Lady Birk said so little about that. After all, it is something of interest, at least, that Wales should be presented with a proposition which is different from that for England. The Welsh districts and counties are of course the planning authorities, as they are in England, but the acquisition of land in Wales is to be in the hands of a special Land Authority for Wales. What sense does this make in relation to the gospel according to Lady Birk, where she said that planning and ownership were indivisible, or should be indivisible? The Land Authority for Wales, as I understand it, is not going to be a planning authority. It is going to undertake the transactions in land. Could we be enlightened as to what in fact is going to happen under Part II of the Bill? Is the Land Authority going to be a kind of general supervisory body? In other words, is it going to bestow agency powers on all the county authorities, at any rate in Wales? And, if not on all of them, how does it propose to discriminate between them? We need some further explanation as to how the Welsh pattern fits in with the philosophy of the Bill as enunciated.
If in fact the local authorities are going to be given the main responsibility for land acquisition in the Principality, then I know they have certain anxieties. They do not want to have to do all the work with the Land Authority breathing down their necks the entire time. They would wish 1364 to know whether they have to submit all transactions in detail to the Land Authority, or whether the Land Authority, presumably towards the beginning of each financial year, will give them general instructions and general guidance as to how much finance they are to receive for the period concerned. In other words, what is the relationship going to be between the Land Authority and the local authorities?
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, perhaps I may again help my noble friend. In an effort not to delay the House too long it may be I was a little brief on some of these points. The main point is that in regard to Wales, because it is a much smaller area than the whole of England, it seemed possible to operate through a Land Authority. But it will operate within the planning framework and consult local planning authorities on what is development land. That is covered in Clause 17(4). As to the scope of arrangements for authorities to act for the Land Authority on an agency basis—Clause 6 of the Bill—this is still under discussion. I have intervened now to explain to my noble friend as she quite naturally has raised these questions. It has not been finalised. The decision to make a separate Land Authority for Wales seems to me to be in line with the thinking on dispersal and devolution nowadays and it is, she will agree, a much smaller and more or less self-contained area. But so far as Clause 6 is concerned the matter is still open-ended.
§ Baroness WHITE
My Lords, if we have regional government for England will there then be separate land authorities for the regions in England, we wonder? Also, what will be the relationship of the Welsh Land Authority to the Welsh elected Assembly, when we get it?
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, we have neither at the moment. May we deal with just this Bill as it is at the moment.
§ Baroness WHITE
My Lords, I know it is very much easier for my noble friend to deal with just this Bill as it is at the moment, but naturally any of us who are concerned with public life in Wales wish to look a little further into the future.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, may I intervene to put on the record our concern also with its relationship with the Welsh 1365 Development Agency? There seems another whole scope for intermeshing which will need to be explained at an early stage.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, may we take all that on Committee stage, when this subject will no doubt come up again and we can go into it thoroughly. As I was so brief on Wales and did not want to be appearing to show any discrimination or feeling against Wales, I felt I ought to intervene.
§ Baroness WHITE
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, but she is speaking rather frequently without the leave of the House, I think.
§ Baroness WHITE
My Lords, I know that my noble friend was trying to be helpful, but this is one of the unsatisfactory aspects of a Bill of this kind which contains a great many matters, not merely of Committee stage detail but also of principle. However, the final practical matter which will affect us in Wales perhaps even more than in England, because we shall have a third stage of land acquisition and development, is that the counties and the districts in Wales should work together as a team. This matter has been touched upon in general terms in relation to the English counties and districts, but it appears to me that it will be even more important in Wales if one has also this tertium quid—the Welsh Land Authority. Therefore, I hope very much that when the time comes my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will make it very clear that he expects that the districts will co-operate with the counties in Wales so that when the Welsh Land Authority has to consider the problem of the acquisition and development of land for which it is not the planning authority, it will have definite, agreed advice on which to proceed, given by both the tiers of planning authority with which it will be concerned.
These are some of the matters which concern us very much indeed in the Principality. We have some time—we understand until October—before we shall reach the point at which we discuss these matters in Committee. However, it appears to me to be desirable that 1366 one should at least put my noble colleagues and the Government on notice that these will be some of the matters which we shall hope to have a chance of discussing further at that stage.
§ 5.22 p.m.
My Lords, for about 20 years I was the chairman of a county town planning committee in a fairly active part of the country. Perhaps my experiences there and advancing years make me somewhat cynical about Bills of this kind. The process always seems to be the same. First, you work up a great deal of indignation about the profits which are being made by landowners and speculators—profits that they have done nothing to deserve—and you illustrate this with startling and sometimes horrific examples of the prices obtained. Then you produce schemes which are designed to secure that the whole of this profit goes to the community, and you even hold out great hopes that the taxes or rates of the community will thereby be reduced.
The next part of the process is that gradually you find out that the land is no cheaper to the consumer and that the profits do not go to the community; they go to pay for the great administrative machine that has to come into play. Then you find that because the market has dried up the statutory bodies can proceed only by compulsory purchase and that the private builder can obtain no land at all. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said that this was a nonsense, but the noble Baroness is a little overwhelming. I think she implied that the ACC was rather a nonsense, too. I can only say that I know that housebuilders are extremely nervous about their future. In other words, it is becoming apparent that the cure is getting worse than the disease. That is when a new Government usually come in, scrap the plan and produce one of their own. I am fully convinced that that is what will happen to this Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, spoke as if there is a great deal that is new and revolutionary in this Bill. I have heard it before and I think that in fact quite a lot of it is rather "old hat". That is why I am so apprehensive about what will happen eventually to this Bill. I am also afraid that those who aspire to interest themselves in town planning and local government must accept the fact 1367 that they cannot yet hope to reach agreement on a long-term planning policy that involves Party politics. The scheme which came nearest to securing all-Party agreement was the one which has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Foot; namely, the scheme which was produced by the late Lord Silkin for whom I had a great regard. I myself believe that if he had put the development charge at 50 per cent. rather than at 100 per cent.—whether he wanted to do this but was prevented from doing so, I do not know—we should still be operating his scheme to everybody's great advantage. I think Parliament was quite wrong to abolish the whole of the development charge; they should have let it run at 50 per cent. to find out what happened.
Because that scheme was so successful in securing agreement it may be interesting to compare it with what is contained in Mr. Silkin's Bill. It seems to me that the most obvious difference is that Lord Silkin included a sum of £300 million to purchase building rights so that in exercising their planning functions local authorities should not have to think all the time about money. Although very many new values have been created by this Bill—values on which death duties may be charged and mortgages may be raised—there is no compensation as of right. All you can hope to do is to get something for hardship. And what is hardship? According to the original drafting of the Bill, it seems that as the Minister appoints the tribunals and sets the guidelines, hardship is whatever the Minister decides that it should be. I know that Parliamentary pressure has produced an amendment, and the guidelines now have to be approved by Parliament. However, I still think that this matter deserves a great deal more examination.
One claim that is made for this Bill is that for the first time it makes proper provision for positive planning. However, I remember that under previous legislation we conducted some quite large schemes for comprehensive development. I remember, too, the difficulties which we experienced, some of which, incidentally, may be relevant to our present debate. For example, we found that we had no expertise in what one might call commercial viability. The noble Baroness, Lady 1368 Stedman, talked about the difficulties involved in obtaining planning approval for old people's homes, schools and so on. That is fairly easy, but as I see it local authorities will be turned into land dealers. They will be selling land for all kinds of purposes, commercial and otherwise. We found that it was quite easy to make provision for shopping centres and offices but we did not know whether anybody would build the shops, or occupy them, or pay the rent. To help us, we had to find experts who had that special kind of knowledge. We found also that although we were on very good terms with the district councils it was not easy to obtain agreement without an enormous amount of argument and possibly the production of rival experts. I do not know whether modern local authorities are any more expert than their predecessors or whether they are any more ready to reach agreement, but I doubt it. Of course, there are fewer district councils. On the other hand, there are more Party politics. I can well imagine rival Tory and Labour schemes being produced. Under this Bill the relations between the county and the district seem to be even more complicated than they were previously. It is possibly that to which the County Councils' Association drew attention, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lady Young.
Quite frankly, in our present serious economic position I cannot see that we are likely to benefit economically from the passing of this Bill. I think that another speaker pointed out the reverse—that all the money which will be necessary to buy the land in the first instance and the extra officials which the Government think will be necessary for its administration will be bad for the economy of the country. We are told we must try to be constructive and it may be possible to devise Amendments which would have the effect of making the Bill more generally acceptable, although the proposals do not seem to have had a very active welcome so far. I have quoted the County Councils' Association. I have seen protests from insurance companies, and various charities, none of whom can be described as landowners or speculators. One of the most impressive criticisms comes from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, which I suppose some people might think represented owners, 1369 but I do not think that anybody could read it without being impressed by its close reasoning or would think that it was in any way prejudiced.
Certain policies have been mentioned but one of our difficulties is that Her Majesty's Government have given us reason to think that they are proposing to meet some of the objections. So far no Amendments on these very important matters have been tabled. I was most interested to hear the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and to note that he did not think the Church ought to be separated from other charities. I am connected with housing associations and I have been asked to communicate to the Government this respectful message. They say—Housing associations are anxious that important programmes of expansion which they are now tackling should not be held up by extra procedural arrangements. It is understood that the Government have undertaken to ensure that the work of these housing associations should be able to proceed unimpeded, although in the absence of any specific Amendment it is difficult to make precise comment. Nevertheless the Government's general intentions in this direction are greatly to be welcomed.I certainly hope that their hopes will be gratified.
My Lords, I suppose we shall have to wait until mid-October until we know what the Government are talking about. I suppose it would be possible for this House to impose Amendments to make this Bill more generally acceptable. We might try to devise Amendments to meet complaints of the sort expressed by the National Farmers' Union in these words—Many of the assurances given by Ministers in Committee depend on regulations, orders or circulars. Assurance based on legislation of this sort or by administration leaves so much to trust and the National Farmers' Union will continue to press for agricultural safeguards to be written into the Bill.We might try to remove some of the blight that falls on agriculture and on others forms of enterprise if the Ministers have these very wide powers and nobody quite knows what they are going to do with them.
I sometimes wonder whether the Government want to make this Bill more acceptable. Sometimes I feel that their line is that they are Socialists; they are going to give us Socialist policy, and if we do not like it that is too bad. It may 1370 be Socialist policy to give Ministers very wide powers in all legislation and not to put too much into Bills. They are entitled to these views, but it must be apparent that the more Socialism we have in a Bill the less likely we are to have continuity of planning in future, and the more likely we are to get back into the same dreary round of Bills, repeals, new Bills and so on. I do not suppose that I shall get any answers to this, but we shall have to keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Baroness HORNSBY-SMITH
My Lords, first may I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. In my 20-odd years in another place and here I have rarely seen a Minister have to produce a Bill the final shape of which she does not know. Whatever our objections to the Bill may be—having in a modest way had experience at the Dispatch Box—I would be the first to congratulate the noble Baroness on making the best of a Bill the ultimate form of which she cannot possibly yet know.
Few people in this country—and this to me is one of the saddest and most serious things about the Bill—have any idea of the erosion of their age-old rights and liberties that are enshrined to the ultimate in this Bill. The Commons are still wallowing in its complexities, and before it has been fully dealt with in another place it is being stampeded through this House, with amendments galore having to be made by the Government. The noble Baroness has circulated a list which tells us that the Government intend to make certain amendments. Those of us who have endeavoured to keep up with the debate in another place because we wish to show an interest in this Bill in this House can at the moment deal only with what are the Government's intentions as listed in the Bill. At this time very few of the entire galaxy of legal talent in your Lordships' House—and it is a very formidable band of lawyers—could give firm counsel on what this vicious Bill imposes on the free citizens of this country. Perhaps, my Lords, that is why, with one or two notable exceptions, noble and learned Lords are in the main conspicuous by their absence this afternoon.
It is another interesting fact that when the Government are handing out benefits 1371 they produce excellent booklets telling us what we are entitled to claim, but in this Bill they are empowering local authorities, if they so wish, to declare as development land virtually everything except a quarter of an acre around one's own home. They are taking away the freedom and the rights of the people of this country, and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out, without the majority of people even knowing what is to happen to their property. The Bill attacks the basic rights of an individual to the protection in respect of his property which he has hitherto enjoyed within the law. Not only does the Bill allow his land to be compulsorily, or so-called voluntarily, acquired but it limits his right to voice his objection by public inquiry almost to the point where it does not exist at all.
We have three suggestions before us. Schedule 4 lays down the circumstances where there is an absolute right to a public inquiry, but under subsection 4B(1) the Secretary of State is allowed to suspend the right to a public inquiry indefinitely by five year periods. This afternoon we are informed that in relation to Schedule 4, Part I, the Government propose to redefine and qualify the circumstances under which the Secretary of State may dispense with a public inquiry. A public inquiry is of the very essence of democracy, and is the right of an individual, a corporation or a charity to be heard and to put their protests. In its original form, the Bill allowed no form of inquiry, and in its amended form the effect has not really been changed. Any rights it now proposes to allow may be suspended by Statutory Instrument which will not have the same penetration and consideration in both Houses as does the Bill itself. It puts all owners and developers under restraint without spelling out the charges. It is government by order and not by Statute.
We have now a situation wherein the local authority can take land for development; they can take land from owners where they, the local authority, have previously denied the right to develop that same land, possibly for the same purpose. They can take common land, they can take open spaces, they can take, village greens. They can acquire land, which a prudent industrialist or a farmer has 1372 invested in for future expansion and development as his own contribution to his industry, which the local authorities can then sell back to the victims at a profit, or they can sell it to the original owner's competitors; and there is no challenge or appeal within the right of the original owner.
Let us also note the quite unprecedented Ministerial powers. The form of this legislation is such that the bulk of plans which enable the original aim of this Bill to be effective will be contained not in this Bill at all—which, after all, is subject to the scrutiny of both Houses—and the real draconian powers will be included in subsidiary legislation which is not debatable in this House to the same extent. The wider the powers given in Statutory Instruments the fewer are the controls that can be exercised by the courts as they become more and more circumscribed in their ability to say when an act of a Minister by an order or regulation is ultra vires to his powers. The result is that a Minister cannot be attacked or legally attached unless through a political tribunal. The enormous powers which we are taking away from the citizen in his rights under planning arrangements, under appeal, even in the courts, are something which the overwhelming majority of the people in this country have just not recognised in the tremendous complexities of this Bill.
Under Clause 17, going from the major to the minor—to say from the sublime to the ridiculous is unfair—the minor may be a very deep consideration to somebody who, over the years, has saved for their retirement and perhaps has a paddock or an acre round their house. Under Clause 17 a malicious third party—even one's own next door neighbour, or a covetous industrial rival—has merely to apply for planning permission on a site he does not own to enable a local authority to start acquisition proceedings against the rights and interests of the true owner. As this Bill stands, it gives just that power. The scope for malice and malpractice is really absolutely horrifying. Every MP has listened to bad neighbours' complaints in their time, but in the future it will not be necessary to bash in a fence or throw your garbage over the wall; you just 1373 apply to build your mother-in-law a cottage on half your neighbour's garden or the farmer's paddock and, bingo! the Government then legally can acquire that part of your property, whether or not they let the original applicant have it. With the Treasury and the local authority grabbing all the advantages, there is very little incentive, although as I understood the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, there was to be a little edge for the developer in the figures she gave us this afternoon. But what would be disastrous is that we should have an absolute stalemate on the passage of land and the availability of it and freeze up the market.
In the final analysis, the local authorities will have a monopoly, with the victim having only a very limited right of appeal still not yet firmly defined. Nor, necessarily, will they have the right even to present their case in person to the local authority officials. Anyone who has ever studied a local authority's planning committee agenda knows how often hundreds of decisions skim through without any detailed consideration by the councillors and almost automatically on the officer's recommendation and opinion. But at least now the applicant has a right of appeal. Under this Bill, even with its amendment, that will be monumentally limited. We are told that the authorities will require 12,000 more staff—bureaucrats who can destroy your livelihood or carve up your property if they do not like the look of your face or if they consider it personally advantageous to ensure that Mr. Local Bigwig acquires the land which his competitor long ago prudently acquired for extensions. I am deadly serious in saying that the scope for corruption is positively terrifying, with no proper democratic safeguards to protect the citizen from victimisation.
Then we have the two voices of Government. In April, the Chancellor of the Exchequer thundered out to us that we have to reduce the borrowing requirement by over a £1,000 million this year, and that it is absolutely essential. This monstrous Bill will require capital borrowing of the order of thousands of millions of pounds over the next 10 years and it will cost £1 million a day to administer. What sort of double talk is that in the grave financial crisis facing us at the present time? Local government finance is already in a state of chaos. 1374 They have hardly yet digested the local government reorganisation and now they have thrust this monstrosity on to the conflicting interests of Ministers, county councillors, nationalised industries, local governments and new towns authorities, who must co-operate. To co-operate they will possibly be working from conflicting stances in an endeavour to identify the same object for their powers at the same time.
I should like to emphasise another example of two faces. The previous Conservative Governments and the present Government have between them set up a great network for consumer protection. We have been flooded with propaganda about the rights of the individual. We find that those who invest in cars, in "hi-ti", in deep freezers and all the accoutrements for "keeping up with the Jones" are to be protected, but if you put that equivalent expenditure into an acre of land round a modest four-roomed bungalow then under this Bill you are not subject to consumer protection and your investment which you choose for retirement or your little shop, has not the protection for that acre. The protection covers somebody who joyously lives in a council house and runs a Jaguar—and if anybody says that is not possible I will show them 20 in my old constituency. There again we have the two angles the citizen who has a mite of property is a sinner, but the person who wants to buy everything on the "never never" and live beyond his means is not.
Much has been claimed for this Bill and in some quarters it has been pretended that it will solve our acute and desperate housing shortage. The GLC at present owns and has in its possession enough sites to build tens of thousands of houses. We are now going to give the boroughs the opportunity to grab still more development land which they will dispose of at market value, so that no savings accrue to the housebuilder or, later, the house-purchaser, due to possibly, the amendments which the noble Baroness gave us this afternoon. Unless we are very careful the land will be scarcer and dearer, and there will be fewer and more expensive houses.
At this moment, the bulk of the land won for housing has been gained by builders and developers ferreting around, finding land, and then winning it on 1375 appeal against obstruction from local authorities. These appeals and the time-lag add an average of some £500 to a house. Builders are now not allowed to lay a brick until the local authority has first acquired the land, possibly by compulsory purchase, and then disposed of it to the developer of their choice. As a result, I believe delays will be endless. I do not believe local councils can possibly cope with even a fraction of the total of 200.000 new private developments currently started every year.
My Lords, I am not against stopping the exploitation of land development. I believe it can be fairly dealt with by taxation, and not by land confiscation. I believe we can deal with the Rackmans, or anyone like them, by taxing them on exploitation, on betterment. But do not let us stultify what is far more likely to provide the homes and services we want if we allow co-operation—planning permission by all means—by the local authority. But if we want to give these draconian powers to the local authorities and create this overwhelming monopoly, then I believe it will not even necessarily have to wait for a Conservative Government. Noble Lords opposite within months will find just how it is stultifying development.
The Domesday Book registered and listed properties and sites in this land 800 years ago. Today, many who were then listed proudly boast of antiquity in their heritage. I call this Bill "the Doomtrek Bill", because it confiscates property, destroys the freedom to sell, denies human rights—and I am not sure that it does not offend against Clause 17 of the Human Rights Charter—and breaches common human justice. It will produce chaos out of confiscation and complexity. We shall be very lucky if there is not also corruption as the twin offspring. It has only one merit. It is so economically lunatic at this moment that I believe it will contribute to bringing down the Government.
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
My Lords, before the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, sits down, may I ask her a question? She said that the hunger for development land that there has been over the years could be dealt 1376 with by taxation. The noble Baroness also said that this Bill is lunacy. How is it, then that consecutive Conservative Governments have not done this?
§ Baroness HORNSBY-SMITH
I did not say, "hunger for land". The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, misunderstood me. I said that I thought the exploitation of those who gained unduly from the betterment of the land could be best served by taxation.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith. We were in another place together, and were nearly always in conflict. She will not be surprised if I do not find myself in agreement with her views tonight. My impression is that she has given a caricature of this Bill.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, I am perfectly sure that when the noble Lord the Minister replies, and when we discuss the Bill in detail in Committee, many of the charges made by the noble Baroness—
§ Lord BROCKWAY
Someone has suggested "all of them"—certainly many of the charges made by the noble Baroness against this Bill will prove to be untrue.
I do not often speak on domestic issues in this House. This is not because I am not deeply concerned. I am a Socialist, and I believe that nearly all the evils of our time—inflation, unemployment and wage conflicts—are due to the system of capitalism. I believe that only by Socialism will we move towards their solution.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, the older I get, the more Left I move in that conviction. But many years ago I took the advice of Charles Trevelyan, that if one is to be effective in politics, one must specialise. With my colleagues James Maxton and others, I agreed that they should deal with domestic issues, and that I should concentrate on the freedom of peoples, on peace, on racial equality—a broad enough sphere!
I feel impelled to speak on this Bill because I agreed with the Minister quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, as saying that this is the most Socialist Bill that our Government have introduced. My Lords, this Bill together with the Development Land Tax Bill, which will follow, provides for all development land to come under community control, and to restore to the public the profits arising from increased land values due to community action. That is pure Socialism. We are not surprised, therefore, by the intensity of the Opposition's views, by the opposition of the Tory Party to this Bill. We challenge it to go to the country upon this right of the community to take to itself the values which the community provides.
I admit that I have also been motivated to speak tonight from nostalgia. I have been involved in the struggle about land through all this century. The real author of this Bill is Henry George who, at the beginning of the century, urged that land values should go to the community which created them. I read his works in 1905, and I joined the Young Liberals because they were enthusiastic for the views of Henry George. It is impossible today to appreciate the great influence which he had on radical thinking at the beginning of this century. He prepared the way for another George—Lloyd-George. This House came into conflict with him in 1910, when he sought to give to the community the values which the community itself had made. How I remember those times! The Limehouse speech: "God gave the land to the people". I can almost recite passages from it now. I was interested to learn only last week that a Member of this House wrote the draft of Lloyd George's Limehouse speech. I am quite sure that he did not keep to the text; Lloyd George never 1378 did. But there, in conflict with him, this House made the great mistake of challenging the views of Lloyd George; not that land should entirely belong to the people—I wish that he had fulfilled the words of his song—but even over the contribution which he made towards that. The House of Lords made its great mistake.
I am absolutely incredulous that anyone should believe that individuals have the right to the ownership of land. I go to Scotland and see the eternal majesty of its mountains; I walk on the Yorkshire Moors; I stand on Leith Hill and see the landscape of Kent as far as the horizon—all that, the contribution of centuries of evolution, the heritage of all mankind. How dare any individual claim private possession of what has been contributed to mankind through the ages?
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in his very moving reminiscences, but do I understand him to mean that he does not believe that anybody ought to own their own house, and that he is pleased that the Bill makes this impossible?
§ Lord BROCKWAY
No, my Lords, I do not mean that. One has a right to own one's house. One has the right to own one's garden at the back of that house. I do not believe, with the homelessness of today, that we have the right to own more than one house, and I do not believe that we have the right to own the houses of others. When I am speaking of the ownership of land, I am speaking about these vast spaces which man did not create, which the right reverend Prelates would say are the creation of God, which I say are the creation of the great creative life force through the ages.
§ Lord REDESDALE
My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us by any chance whether we are entitled to own farming land?—because much of the land we are talking about is cultivated.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, I will be dealing with that. I would want to see the land owned by the community, and I should like to see co-operative farming upon it.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, perhaps it is just as well that I did not hear that intervention, because I think I have now had enough of such interventions. I am very glad indeed that at last in this dull debate I have created the real conflict between that side and this side, which is the conflict as to whether the people should own the land, and whether they should own the values which the people themselves have created.
I did not intend to speak long, and I end by saying this: This Bill, with the Development Land Tax Bill which will follow, will enable the community to receive from April next at least 80 per cent. of development gains which occur because of the activity of the community. It will enable local government authorities to possess land requisition powers and so positively plan the pattern of their towns and the relationship of development to the countryside. The cost of land will be reduced by one-half to the local authorities, making housing schemes so much easier. My Lords, these are great projects, and I hope that the House will refrain today from repeating the mistake which it made in 1910 in opposing the principle that the people have the right to the common ownership of the land, and that they have the right to the values which they themselves have created.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, it is often a pleasure to listen to an old record. We have heard it several times before, and we know that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, holds his views passionately, but I have rarely heard him in better voice than I have this evening. I could not hold a more opposite view to the noble Lord, because I must declare an interest as an owner, as a trustee, as a school governor—I could go on for a number of interests which I should and do declare, but I feel that the House has listened already to eleven speeches, we are now at the half-way point, and I must restrict myself to about nine or ten minutes at the outside.
The impression I had on reading the White Paper before us, Land, was, first of all, how much I agreed with the first sentence or group of sentences in one respect, and I do not think that many people in your Lordships' House could 1380 disagree with the statement referred to by previous speakers:to secure a proper balance between the competing demands for land, so that all the land of the country is used in the best interests of the whole people.Those words were spoken by the late Lord Silkin, a figure who was much respected and whose lifetime in the field of planning extended until he saw a second Planning Act established in 1968. I should like to express from these Benches a view with which I am sure my colleagues will agree, that the Labour Party greatly lack his wisdom today in bringing forward the measure we have before us. I am convinced that had he still been in office with his colleagues, the noble Lords, Lord Kennet and Lord Greenwood, whose absence we lament this afternoon, we should be seeing a very different Bill before us.
The hallmark of the view of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in the planning field was to establish a fair system, a system which provided for both the community and a very delicately adjusted system of balances between the owner and the local authority. We have, of course, listened with toleration to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and rarely do we hear the genuine record of Tammany Hall so accurately as we do from the noble Lord's lips, but this subject should be debated in your Lordships' House in a quieter atmosphere if we are to bring our minds to bear on what is an exceedingly complicated subject.
My noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith referred to two matters of great importance. The first is the removal from the individual by confiscation. On this subject I feel—and I agree with everything she said—that confiscation should be investigated and a definition of the word "confiscation" (which does not appear in the Bill), should receive the attention of your Lordships. I discovered from the Shorter Oxford Dictionary that four meanings have been given to the word "confiscation", starting significantly in the year 1662, after the restoration of the Crown and the restoration of the seguested estates to those who previously owned them. The meaning of "confiscation" up to 1662 was:To deprive of property as forfeited to the State.1381 One hundred years later "forfeiture" had this meaning:To seize as if by authority.A little later than that it meant:To appropriate private property to the public Treasury.Later still—this is the final of the four descriptions of the word—it meant:Robbery under legal authority.
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, apologise for interrupting the noble Lord in the midst of an interesting historical analysis of the word "confiscation", but may I ask him whether he accepts that the reason why the word "confiscate" does not appear in the Bill is because the Bill does not give any power to anybody to confiscate anything? In particular it does not give anybody the power to confiscate people's homes. Property may be bought from somebody at its market value, but that is not, as I understood his careful exposition in the name of the word, what "confiscate" means.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords. I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, for that intervention because it gives me the opportunity of bearing out what my noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith was referring to in Clause 17, and by the transposition of the word "confiscated" for the word "development" we have the following interesting revelation:Part III. Community Land, confiscated land.That is the real meaning of the Bill. I am in absolutely no doubt whatever about it, and I believe that in the earlier part of the interpretation clause, Clause 6, the Government have failed to provide sufficient definitions.
- (1) In exercising their functions on or after the first appointed day every authority shall have regard to the desirability—
- (a) of bringing confiscated land into public ownership…"
We had some lamentation earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Foot, that the first nine clauses of the Bill dealt almost exclusively with the description of different terms, but perhaps the most significant term appears in Clause 6(1) where, referring to Scottish law, it says:'easement', in relation to Scotland, means servitude.In my view the whole of this Bill means servitude, because it sets out to confiscate property, to enable the State to gain 1382 possession by a most complicated means which the vast majority of the population will fail to understand until it happens to them.
I am anxious not to delay the House, and I shall concentrate my remaining remarks almost exclusively on the subject of the impact that the Bill will have on agriculture, and I agree wholeheartedly with the National Farmers' Union who believe that from the start the rural implications of the Bill have been badly' underestimated. I feel that there are five illusions about the Bill cherished by the Goverment and I suggest that we take the wraps off these illusions because this is important if we are to understand the meaning of the Bill to its full. The first illusion is that the impact on agriculture may be minimal. The promise of exemption in paragraph 35 of the White Paper has not been fulfilled in the Bill, and this is a point of major importance. The second illusion is that current use value will be sufficient for the full-time working farmer. The principle of equivalent reinstatement has been set aside and I challenge the Government to tell us that this is not so. The third illusion is that owners still have rights—in paragraph 26, for example, the right to require a local authority to acquire their land. Owners lose that right, as we shall discover when we go deeper in Committee into this matter, and I believe that once this is appreciated by the people of the country as a whole the Government will realise the extent to which the whole of this measure is totally unacceptable.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, is the noble Lord implying that if I or any other noble Lord as a farmer wishes to extend his farm for economic reasons or for the good of the country, he will not be able to do so under the Bill? I see nothing in the Bill to prevent a farmer from expanding. I see nothing to prevent this in any form of agrficulture or in relation to expansion for woodland purposes.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, we all know that the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, is in the right place and he frequently tells us of his experiences, but perhaps I might respectfully remind him that he made one important error last week in regard to the agricultural land loss. I will not burden him 1383 with the explanation of it, but he will remember that the loss of agricultural land is now running at the rate of over 70,000 acres per annum. This is highly significant and of course a farmer is quite unable to expand in view of the totally urban base of this White Paper.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, I beg the noble Lord not to exaggerate. It is the motor car that is eating up most of the urban land and the massive roadways we are building to cater for the motor car.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, it may well be that motorways are consuming a very large proportion of the stock of land mentioned in this figure—the factor of 70,000 acres per annum. I would not dispute that for a moment, but I would dispute that farmers are going to be able to expand in view of this tremendous land loss. The fourth illusion to which I was referring is the fact that care will be taken to avoid good quality agricultural land being taken wherever possible; in other words, we will protect the best quality farm land. I believe this is an illusion and that it is put in many measures in order to pacify those involved in agriculture. I have seen from repeated reports of planning inquiries how agricultural interests are often set aside. The last illusion is the suggestion that the position of the owner occupier is secure. This is the most important of all and it was referred to by my noble friend Lady Young, my noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith and the noble Viscount, Lord Gage. We honestly believe that the position of the owner-occupier is most severely prejudiced as a result of almost every part of this Bill.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord MACLEOD of FUINARY
My Lords, like the last speaker, I am conscious of the passing of time and I intend to be very short and to confine myself to one issue only. That is the issue of the credits and conditions being given to the Churches and to certain charities. Perhaps I should declare my interest, if that is the right phrase. I happen to be a Minister of the Church of Scotland, but I doubt if I should have taken up your Lordships' time at this point in the 1384 discussion, because I understand that the matter will come up again in October, were it not that I have had a written request from the Church of Scotland to make three remarks. The first is that we identify ourselves with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London in all he said. I do not intend to repeat it, but he very well expressed our gratitude to the Government for the concessions that they are adumbrating and which will be clarified in the Bill and the clause in question when it finally comes forward. We wish to thank the Government very much.
In the second place, I should like to say a word to those noble Lords who may possibly be a little surprised at the concessions that are to be made to the Churches. They may quite reasonably think—and this is really for their sakes when it comes up for final decision—that the Churches are lying back and relying on the concessions which some of the clauses may give them, and that they will be receiving money for the church extension charges and so on by reason of people moving from the centre of towns. It is only for the sake of brevity that I say that I happened not very long ago to be the chairman of the Church Extension Committee of the Church of Scotland. I mention that only because we were very concerned and we went round every presbytery from Orkney to Berwick asking people to give money lest anyone should suppose that we were lying back on gifts or concessions from the Government. Something like £200,000 was raised in a very short time from trusts and from individuals, and since that date some £300,000 has also been raised from trusts and individuals. I am simply making the point that we are grateful and that we are not lying back on what the Government may do for us.
Thirdly and lastly, I should simply like to identify the Church of Scotland with the hopes expressed by the right reverend Prelate in relation to certain rough edges in all the great concessions for which we are grateful. They require clarification. Those which he mentioned and which I shall not repeat are precisely the issues which the Church of Scotland also wish to clarify. I end by repeating that we are extremely grateful to the Government.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Lord PITT of HAMPSTEAD
My Lords, in the first year of its executive authority—that is 1965–66—the Greater London Council paid £51,000 per acre for housing land. Four years later, in 1969–70, the figure was £80,000 per acre. Three years later, in 1972–73, it was £133,000 per acre. One year later, in 1973–74, it was £294,000 per acre. In other words, the cost of housing land in Greater London had increased by 600 per cent. in less than 10 years. Clearly, there are many other factors involved besides development value, but it is at least one of the factors and its reduction would play a big part in reducing the cost of housing to the tenants, the ratepayers and the taxpayers. It would also reduce the cost of schools, hospitals, welfare clinics, roads and public spaces. Let us not forget that the cost of land has a direct effect, not only on housing and rent but on the rates, on taxes and on all the goods and services provided from the buildings put up on that land. In other words, the cost of housing land and land generally affects every member of the community as a ratepayer, a taxpayer or a consumer.
Therefore, any policy aimed at reducing the burden of such an enormous cost in housing land is of the utmost importance to the community and the suggestion that this is not the right moment to introduce such a Bill is one that I could not possibly countenance. The Bill is relevant to all the issues that are confronting us at the moment. It gives legislative effect to the objectives indicated in the White Paper; that is, it will enable the community to control the development of land in accordance with the community's needs and priorities and to restore to the community the increasing value of land arising from its efforts
In so far as the first objective is concerned, our existing planning system—and I must spell this out—admirable though it may be in many ways, has one major inefficiency. It is that it is too negative. It leaves the initiative as to what kind of development shall take place and where it shall take place too much in the hands of private landowners and developers. Planning authorities have the power, if they can afford to exercise it, to prevent undesirable development, but it is far more difficult for them to ensure 1386 that desirable development is carried out in the places and in the forms which meet the needs of the community rather than the dictates of profit. The Bill is largely concerned with enabling planning authorities to plan more positively by giving them the power to acquire land which is to be used for private development. In other words, to their existing powers of negative control are to be added positive powers of land ownership.
I find it difficult to accept much of what I have heard this afternoon, because I should have thought that this scheme would be welcome to any person or body who believes that the needs of the community as a whole should have priority over individual or sectional needs or gains. I believe that the vast majority of people would feel that way. I welcome the objective of the Bill as it gives effect to the White Paper. I believe that local authorities, which are the representatives of and are accountable to the community, are the right bodies to operate this form of land development control. I am glad that, for the first time, they will be able to take the initiative—because that is what they cannot do now—in planning rather than merely responding either by granting or refusing to grant permission for development proposals which are made by other people who are usually private landowners.
Now they will be able to decide as a matter of positive policy where development is to take place, and to ensure that the right land is brought forward at the right time and in the right place for development; and that it is able to conform to the implementation of national, regional and local plans. They will no longer merely respond to market forces. The disadvantage of market planning is that it tends to increase the problems of urban society, such as overcrowding and long journeys to work. It has the effect of causing the decline of city centres as places to live; the reason being that the local authorities find themselves needing to worry about the cost of land, and therefore needing to seek the cheapest sites to provide the services.
City centre sites, which are usually the places where the services are most needed, are usually too expensive to buy, and so less suitable sites, two or three miles away, are usually bought to 1387 provide the services, which means that the facilities do not have the value that they ought to have. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, touched on the issue very well when she illustrated it by mentioning old peoples' homes, but it is true of most services. This is one of the things which this Bill, if given a chance to work, can help to combat.
The second objective of the Bill, which will enable the community to benefit from the increase in land values caused by its own efforts, will be achieved in the long term by enabling local authorities to acquire development land at current value, and not at an inflated value, which may well have been created by the community itself as a result of the provision of urban amenities, such as roads and schools, or the planning permission which the community itself has provided. The Greater London Council—which has been mentioned more than once—strongly supports this Bill. It believes that the main agencies dealing with the acquisition of land under the Bill should be accountable to the needs and wishes of the community. Therefore it welcomes the functions which have been allotted under the Bill to local authorities. The council is conscious of the importance of the functions which the Bill confers on local government, and it is confident that local government will rise to the challenge.
The council is also very much in favour of the fact that it is required that all these policies should operate in the open. We at County Hall believe in open government, and our committees and subcommittees have been open to the public long before we were ever obliged by law to open them. The council has started working on this Bill in anticipation of its becoming law, and the council and the London boroughs are co-operating already in preparing land acquisition and management schemes for London. A draft has already been prepared by the officers of the Greater London Council and the London Boroughs' Association along these lines.
My Lords, having said all the positive things, I now need to make a few criticisms. They are mild, but they are criticisms all the same. For example, we are sorry that the opportunity has not been taken to make further provision for local authorities and developers to 1388 combine for positive planning purposes. We believe that this is a fruitful field of operation. Section 52 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 provides for planning agreements to be made by authorities with developers, but the power is limited to planning agreements as such and does not extend to forming consortia for development or matters of that sort. We believe that this is a useful thing to do. In fact, we believe in it so much that at the request of the London Boroughs' Association the Greater London Council attempted to provide such arrangements for London in Clauses 9 and 10 of the recent general powers Bill which passed through your Lordships' House. Of course, Clauses 9 and 10 were removed from that Bill in another place, so that when the Bill got here your Lordships did not see those proposals. But we attempted in Clauses 9 and 10 to give such powers to authorities in London. We think that this Bill provides a splendid opportunity for providing these provisions for all local authorities nationally provisions, which we believe, could be quite valuable, particularly in developing areas.
I repeat, I have given wholehearted support to the Bill. But while doing that I must indicate areas of concern, one of which relates to the financial provisions in Clause 45. The Minister has indicated that where there is a surplus the Treasury will take 40 per cent., the local authority gaining the surplus will get 30 per cent., and other local authorities will get the remaining 30 per cent. Local government finance has been such a problem. Regardless of Party, we have all along been so worried about the need for additional sources of local government finance that we now have the Layfield Committee looking into the matter. Here is an opportunity for an additional source of capital finance for local authorities, yet central Government are to take nearly half of the surplus—40 per cent. I should have thought that here was an opportunity for leaving in the local authority sector such surplus as is realised, and I agree that half of it perhaps should go to the authority creating the surplus and the other half should be divided among the other local authorities, particularly those in deficit.
There is not only the point that central Government are giving this distribution 1389 which was announced this afternoon. The Bill, as it is, does not make it obligatory on the Minister, for example, to give, say, a large percentage to local government; nor does it even make it necessary to distribute to local authorities the proportion that the Minister has had returned to him. Clause 45 is permissive. It says that the Minister "may"; he is not under any obligation to do so.
This is an opportunity missed, and I hope that the Government will look at this aspect again. I know of the problems which every Government have with the Treasury; the Treasury will take everything if it can get it. But I hope that the Department of the Environment will fight the Treasury on this. Here is an opportunity for an additional source of finance for local government, one which ought not to be taken by central Government.
The other thing which concerns me is the fact that the Government seem determined to exercise a very tight central control over local authorities in the way in which they implement the Bill. I know that that will please many noble Lords who have spoken so far, because I have the impression that there is a feeling in this House that local authorities should not be entrusted with very important tasks. Although that may be the view of a lot of Members of this House, it runs contrary to what is stated in Paragraph 24 of the White Paper which says:the acquisition and disposal of development land is best left in the main to local authorities.I agree with this; but the provisions in the Bill itself and all the circulars, regulations, guide notes et cetera suggest that the Department of the Environment do not agree with this and wish to exercise a very tight control over local government in this matter.
My Lords, perhaps I can give an illustration. Clause 43 requires the Secretary of State's consent for the disposal of an interest in any land greater than a lease for seven years. This provision applies to all land and not just land acquired under this Bill.
§ Lord PITT of HAMPSTEAD
Yes, my Lords; it is not just land acquired under the Bill but all land. Therefore, 1390 it amounts to a repeal of Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972. I do not know whether the Secretary of State or other Ministers in the Department of the Environment were fully aware of this. When those of us in local government saw Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 we welcomed it as an introduction to, a step towards, the relaxation of the tight control that Whitehall previously exercised over local initiative. I speak here as a member of the GLC which has never been subject to those controls in any way; so that we speak for other local authorities. In effect our control is through the money Bill at the beginning of the year. It is a strict enough control, but after that we are not restricted in the way the others are. But it strikes me—and I think I am right in saying that it also strikes other people reading Clause 43—that now any land for which any local authority has more than a seven year lease, cannot be disposed of except with the permission of the Secretary of State. I think that that is a retrograde step and I hope that the Government will look again at this also.
My Lords, I should also like to refer to the retained surplus in the community land surplus account. Again, the Secretary of State must give his authority as to how that retained surplus should be spent. This is an additional control on local government which, in effect, could turn out to be very restrictive. Speaking for the GLC, I may say that we are not accustomed to dealings of that sort with the Government. Therefore, I feel that the Government need to look again at this idea of preventing local government from getting out of hand. I recognise some of the fears of central Government and, listening to some of the speeches this afternoon I recognise some of the fears of some noble Lords. With all its imperfections—and we know that it has imperfections—the local government system in this country is much admired in most parts of the world. Let us not denigrate it, please.
Moreover, and again I come back to the Government, I mentioned the way in which Clause 45 is drawn. In effect, it requires that the local authorities trust the Secretary of State. He is under no obligation as to what proportion of the surplus he takes; he is under no obligation to distribute it to local authorities 1391 other than to the authority making the surplus; therefore local authorities must rely on his fairness and good will. It strikes me that if you need to trust, then the trust must be mutual. Therefore I would ask the Government to think again on this one. We are engaged on what is, in fact, a partnership and I think that partners must trust each other. I think that this is an essential prerequisite of success.
Having said all this, I want to repeat again what I have said twice earlier; it is that I welcome the Bill. I regard it as a genuine attempt to solve, once and for all, the land problem in this country. Frankly—and I am speaking frankly to noble Lords opposite—I think that the greatest danger to the success of this Bill is the uncertainty engendered by a belief that an early change of Government would result in its repeal for political rather than practical reasons. I am saying this to noble Lords opposite quite straightforwardly, because I was quite appalled that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for whom I have the greatest respect, should again repeat the suggestion that if the Conservatives are returned to Office they will repeal the Act. Her noble friend Lord Gage pointed out that he thought that the Conservative Party erred in repealing the 1947 Act.
My Lords, given a reasonable chance to bring the full scheme into operation in the gradual way—and that is the important point—which is proposed by the Government, local authorities are ready to accept the undoubted challenge offered them with every hope of success. This is the third attempt since the war at the control of development land. The 1947 Act and the 1967 Act were both repealed before they could be tested. Land is one resource which cannot be increased. It must therefore be used with the greatest sense of social priority. This Bill, if given the chance, can achieve its objective. I appeal to your Lordships to make sure that it has that chance.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Lord MIDDLETON
My Lords, if there is anything at all to be said for this Bill, it is that it makes an attempt to deal with two matters on which, as it seems to me sitting here listening to the debate, there is general agreement on all sides. First, the continuing need for land to be 1392 made available for development in the right place and at the right time; and, second, that making outrageous private profits from the disposal of such land is unacceptable. We have been given many reasons why this is the wrong way to deal with these basic problems, not the least interesting being those put forward by the right reverend Prelate as to why the Churches should not render unto Caesar. Even if it were the right way, the timing of this piece of legislation passes all comprehension.
Last Wednesday, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, gave your Lordships a very correct and realistic picture of the grave economic difficulties facing this country. We heard that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was trying to reduce public sector borrowing. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, reminded us that the Chancellor has identified the increase in wages and salaries in this sector as a prime cause of the rapid inflationary increase in borrowing. Yet today the Government are introducing a Bill, the cost of which is set out in its own Financial Memorandum. We have heard the figures several times today and I will not repeat them. All this expenditure is to be financed by borrowing, and the number of extra staff (including Inland Revenue staff) to implement the scheme is to be at something in the order of 14,000. We might be living in a different world from the one we looked at last Wednesday. Today the Government are introducing measures in direct conflict with the strategy of their Chancellor in his efforts to control inflation. If on Wednesday we saw the Jekyll face of this Government, today surely it is that of Hyde. This is a wrong Bill at the wrong time.
The declared purpose of this Bill is to attempt to solve the basic problems to which I have referred by what is claimed to be positive planning, and by taking land for development into public ownership and appropriating the profits on its disposal for what is vaguely called "the community". The true purpose lies deeper; that is, to alter the whole balance of ownership. It is nine years to 1984, but it is surely only a short step from saying that the development of land is required for the good of the community and therefore the community must own all land needed for development, to saying that food is required for the good of 1393 the community, and therefore the community must own all land needed for food production. The noble Baronesses Lady Young and Lady Hornsby-Smith, criticised the Bill, and I agree with them, on the grounds that since it is to a large extent a skeleton Bill on to which flesh will be added by Ministerial orders, it will be the authority for important minor legislation which will be introduced without sufficient consultation and without adequate scope and Parliamentary time for careful consideration.
The Bill gives unprecedented discretionary power to the Secretary of State. Regarding the restrictions of the right to a public inquiry, about which we heard several times today, it seems that the Government have had second thoughts about some of the more objectionable features of Clause 18 and Schedule 1 We will have to look carefully at the proposed Amendments. On these grounds alone, I join noble friends in objecting to the Bill. There is, in addition, a host of practical reasons that must occur to anyone who, like myself, is involved in local government. I speak with some feeling being chairman of a committee of my county council known as the Land and General Purposes Committee. I am going to have to implement this scheme if the Bill is enacted.
First, may I refer to the matter of public interest to which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, referred. It was The Times that made the general point that a "local authority" is not synonymous with "the community". The community looks on local authorities with growing suspicion. The idea of local authorities stepping into the shoes of the profiteers will not be an appealing one. The ultimate purchaser is not going to get his house any cheaper by these measures. Indeed, he will have to pay more when the cost of a cumbrous bureaucratic procedure is added on. This is bound to worsen relations between local authorities and the public.
Secondly, I do not know about other parts of the country, but certainly in my own region I do not see owners of land queuing up to sell at existing use value. The land for development will not come forward, and we shall have to drag it all from unwilling owners by means of compulsory purchase orders with all the extra work that that will create. Thirdly, in a very interesting paper given recently, 1394 the chief executive of Suffolk County Council estimated that if one took the 12,000 figure given in the Bill for extra staff required by local authorities, then his county alone would require an additional complement of 50 qualified and part-qualified valuers; 15 planners; 25 solicitors and conveyancing staff and six treasurers. In addition, there would be 27 administrative and clerical support. That is an extra staff of 123. I suppose that at least half of them would have to be qualified professionals.
I do not yet know the recruitment requirements for my own county, but we should need something of this order, and would have to provide office space for them as well. I do not know where all these professionals are coming from. They are hard to find now, and all local authorities will be competing for a few trained people. Will they want to be recruited when the next Government may repeal the Act and they will be out of a job? Fourthly, county councils, under Clause 19, will have to work out land acquisition and management schemes that will define the division of functions between county and districts. There are already enough areas for potential disagreement between counties and districts following local government reorganisation.
I can see endless possibilities of dispute over the financial aspects of land acquisition and disposal. In my own county, for instance, we have a large and important city, that can only expand into its neighbouring district and will not relish the idea of its neighbour reaping the benefit of the profits that we are told will accrue. However, it seems that many of the difficulties can be overcome by the operation of a joint land account; but, even so, you still have to get all your districts to agree to such a policy. I know my own county is going to have an uphill job.
Fifthly, most councils are now at full stretch preparing their structure and local plans. That in itself is a stern task for an authority like mine that is well below strength in its planning department. To ask us and our districts to take on the role of monopoly developer must impose a great additional burden. The necessary skills are just not there at the moment, and I wonder whether they ever will be.
Sixthly, I join the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady White, in seeing 1395 grave objections to local authorities exercising planning control and, at the same time, being developers. Will not proper consideration of plans on planning grounds go out of the window? Will we not, as planning authorities, be in danger of having our judgment clouded by the prospect of gain?
Seventhly, upon whose judgment of future development requirements are we as local authorities to build up our land banks? Our own? That of the Secretary of State? That of the Regional Economic Planning Council?
Some estimates of future needs can be wildly wide of the mark. I will spare your Lordships from the details of the curious story of the Humberside Feasibility Study suffice it to say that before even the Study was completed, the Registrar General's figures were updated and proved that the original population projection was hopelessly wrong, and this fantastic project finally received its coup de grace four years later. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was in at the death.
What will happen in the future when some such planner's pipe-dream is pushed at a local authority and it is then told to build up the necessary reserves of land under the Community Land Act? What does it do with the land if and when the whole scheme is found to be futile? And what has happened in the meantime to the productive capacity of that land? This is an extreme case, but not only are many people in local government apprehensive about these proposals, there is also considerable anxiety in the agricultural industry, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, so ably pointed out. Much concern is felt about the possible blight of agricultural land near the larger towns and about the need to safeguard agricultural land from wastage in the case of purchases made far in advance of actual requirement.
We must welcome the concession made by the Minister when he said that Schedule 3 will be altered so that every authority shall have regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry. But this is an obvious duty. We must, in Committee, see that this is set out firmly enough. We are happier that the ten-year programmes are now reduced to five years, but there is also much anxiety about the 1396 loss of food production from the loss of precious acres—already running, as has been pointed out, at more than 75,000 a yeas—that may occur through the zeal of some authorities to be seen to be planning "positively". We shall certainly need to look very closely in Committee at the many sections of the Bill which may have a serious effect upon home food production.
Finally, we must in all fairness look at the other side of the balance sheet which is set out in this prospectus. A great deal has been made of the capital value of the disposals that will accrue to local authorities. The Financial Memorandum of the Bill puts them at £800 to £900 million annually. But any prediction about surpluses on local authorities' community land accounts must be highly speculative. Many local authorities are far from sanguine. Some highly urban areas appear to envisage no surplus for many years. Perhaps I can leave the last word to the county chief executive, to whose paper I have already referred. He said:If I am right in my assumption that landowners and local authorities may change place that is, the owners trying to prove that their land is not ripe for development and planning authorities demonstrating that it is, then it may be a long time before ire sit down together discussing what to do with the profits.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Baroness STEWART of ALVECHURCH
My Lords, I have listened with great interest to this debate and to the conflicting views put forward. I still believe that the Bill is one of the most important of our time, both in its range and its humanity. Unlike my noble friend Lord Pitt, I am afraid I have no inside knowledge of local government, though I have considerable knowledge of the social services. It is from that angle that I should like momentarily to consider the Bill.
The Bill recognises the increasing complexity of man's social needs, and in this context the Government are, of course, concerned not only with the needs of the few but with those of all the members of the community. The provision of these needs depends upon the availability of development land and, to some extent, on the transfer of the unearned gains from that land, from the landlord to the community. I do not know how far Inner London can benefit from this Bill because 1397 of the fact that part of it, at any rate, is so overcrowded and built up, but undoubtedly areas with a growing population should greatly benefit from this. Many towns today, owing to the lack of development land, have been unable to provide what we have now come to consider essential services in central positions where they are most needed. Among these services are luncheon clubs, community centres and many other facilities for elderly people, to which reference has already been made. Today, these are not luxuries but essentials in the modern world for many people if those people are to remain active and in touch with those around them. Of course, development in central positions is essential for nearly all our social services such as housing, education, hospitals and so on.
Reference has already been made to possible problems over staffing in local authorities. It seems to me that if it is going to be difficult to find new staff, local authorities should be permitted to share. I would hope that is something which might he considered by my noble friend. I have been told there is likely to be a shortage of valuers in Central London, and there is also a possibility that not enough men and women are being produced in that profession. That again, is a matter which should 2oncern us.
Another problem has also been referred to: that is, planning blight. That, I know, is of great concern to my noble friend. It is not a new problem: it is as old as democracy itself. Consultation at every level necessitates delay, and the wider the consultation the longer the delay. In human terms, as we all know, that may mean that the roof of a house may leak for many months, and sometimes years, if poor people live there and they cannot persuade their landlords or a local authority to mend it because it is possible, though not certain, that the house will be pulled down to make way for redevelopment. Such a situation arises on many occasions, as we all know, and we must consider ways of reducing the timetables.
One matter which I hope my noble friend might consider concerns ways of shortening the lines of communication between local authorities and the Ministers concerned. Perhaps in other cor 1398 respondence it might be possible to eliminate some of the steps in the communication ladder because, certainly when I have been associated with official bodies, the delays have nearly always arisen out of delays in correspondence—letters have to be passed from A to 8 and then to C, and then they come back again some six months later. Finally, may I say again that I think this Bill is of great importance and that it will greatly widen the opportunities of local authorities to serve the general public. Many of those who have had doubts, and still have grave doubts about the Bill today, will I believe, in a few years' time come to appreciate its merits. I hope that may eventually include the noble Baroness, Lady Young.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Viscount RIDLEY
My Lords, I think it is a bad thing that this House should have to deal with what The Times last week called, "Mr. Crosland's redundant extravagance "at this time of the year. It is bad because it is a massive piece of legislation fitted into a very crowded Session of a very revolutionary kind. Secondly, it is bad because I cannot see that it can produce any more or any cheaper houses as a result of its enactment. Over the years land has always been a very good and worth while investment to hold, and perhaps this was because, as I believe one of the earlier Rothschilds advised some Royal personage very many years ago:God is not making any more of it now".It comes perhaps as some surprise to my noble friends on this side of the House that I would agree with quite a number of the aims of this Bill as set out before us. There is some merit in what it tries to do, particularly the most important aim which is to secure for the community the benefits of development values which have arisen as a result of the community's actions. We do not try to specify what "the community" means in this context. I suspect that it really means the Government, which is quite another thing. In principle, there is much to be said for this argument. Indeed it must be right. But, of course, the same argument could be applied to works of art, diamonds, or almost any other scarce goods, which could similarly be nationalised on the same grounds. After all, Rembrandt is not painting any 1399 more, any more than God is making any more land, and we could nationalise Rembrandts under this legislation if we wished.
There is supposed to have been a great deal of speculation in land recently. This is commonly said by noble Lords on the other side. The thought is that local authorities should get in on this speculation and make themselves some profits. It was supposed that people who were making vast profits out of buying or selling land were not entitled to do so. It never seems to have been remembered that the profits that were made were very heavily taxed this has always been ignored in Labour circles. The taxation which was raised has already passed to the community. Surely, it would be possible to achieve the agreed aims of I this Bill by higher taxation imposed under any Finance Act; and this could be none. It would be the least complicated method of achieving this purpose and it would, perhaps most importantly, have the support of all Parties, because the Conservative Party indeed raised such a tax at the end of its term in Office. When it inevitably returns to Office it will repeal this Bill and the situation will be considerably confused as a result. Would it not be better if we could get some agreed method of dealing with this subject, rather than this constant pingpong game of repealing Acts and trying to get through new taxation?
I accept that the previous Conservative Government could, and should, during the course of their lifetime have brought in such taxation against land profits much sooner than they did. This is, of course, easy to say with the advantages of hindsight. It is important that they did so at all, and it is right that they did so. If we could only get an agreed policy whereby the community benefits, and whereby local authorities can acquire such land as they need without having to pay exorbitant prices, we should be in a much happier situation. From what I have heard, this would seem to me to be better achieved by the Bill which we are not to get this Session—the Development Land Tax Bill—which looks to me as if it would be a much more important Bill to have now than the one before us.
A percentage of the profits created by sales of land should be left to the land 1400 owner. This is the inducement to sell which so many other noble Lords have spoken about this afternoon. Without such inducement, land supplies will inevitably become extremely scarce. I do not think the Government need worry about leaving some small percentage of any profits with the landowner. After all, they will soon be gobbled up by capital transfer tax, wealth tax, capital gains tax, value-added tax or any other tax one cares to mention, and they will all fall into the lap of the community before too long. So again, we conic back to the absolutely unnecessary character of this Bill.
There are many other unpleasant aspects of this Bill to which I would refer. I hope that many of these will receive close Amendments during the Committee stage. It seems to be a common feeling in Labour circles, and certainly I think it is in the mind of the Minister, that local authorities should welcome this Bill as it gives them a source of finance. I suspect that this view is shared by only those authorities who are devoted fanatically to the Labour cause, where anything in the nature of nationalisation is an act of faith for them. A more sober appraisal of this situation would make it quite clear that there are no great profits to be won and there are not even going to be anything but minutely adverse effects on local authority finances, at least in the short term.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in her excellent opening speech said that this Bill would have no effect on the rates. I look forward to seeing her eat those words in two or three years' time. I hope I am spared to see it, because I am quite certain—and I can speak with considerable local authority experience—that there is no land for building likely to be acquired in many areas in this country for several years to come. It already has planning permission or is in the hands of builders, and is thus exempt. Meanwhile, we have to set up a vast apparatus of bureaucrats who will need to be dealing with this land acquisition and this in itself will be expensive. Other noble Lords have referred to this, so I will not dwell upon the point. But certainly there will not be any bonanza whatever for local authorities under this Bill.
Moreover, as drafted, this Bill quite definitely can be said to be designed to aggravate the difficult relationships which 1401 now exist between county and district councils in the field of planning. I believe it is in this field, or mainly in this field, where divided responsibility was created quite unnecessarily by the Local Government Act 1972, that we have many problems to solve. There are quite unnecessary levels of staffing and quite unnecessary tensions between the two types of authority. Your Lordships will remember that we debated this matter in an equally hot August three years ago, and possibly we did not get the right answer then, either. These relationships are not easy. Perhaps it was a mistake ever to have thought they would be so. I agree with my noble friend Lord Gage who said that this land acquisition problem will create yet further problems in a difficult situation.
There may be many things we do not know about because this Bill seems to have arrived here in a half-way stage, as we know, and many Amendments may have been made with which we are not yet familiar. So I must apologise if I mention one or two detailed matters which have already been dealt with properly by the other place. But there are one or two matters I should like to speak about from the point of view of local authorities. First, I was going to mention the question of Wales, which is a dangerous thing for someone who is 100 per cent. English to do. I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady White, who is very expert on this subject, was able to ask many of the questions which have been asked, and I hope she will pursue her objections on behalf of Wales. I do know that the Welsh county councils are extremely distressed because they do not have the powers the English county councils have under this Bill. I expect noble Lords to turn up in force at the Committee stage to see what they can get. Furthermore, it surely must be wrong in this day and age to create yet another non-elected authority—the Land Authority for Wales another body interposed in this complicated planning field between district, county and Central Government, so that there is a fourth authority with no electoral background, which is bound to make the situation in Wales difficult. I remain pleased to be 100 per cent. English at this point.
The next thing we must be careful about, although it has been considerably 1402 improved, is the question of compulsory purchase. I am not a lawyer. I would not wish to become involved in the detail of this. The fact that the Bill as first set out, when it first saw the light of day, had so many terrible things to say about compulsory purchase, is not the Government's credit. A great deal of what they suggested has gone—I do not now know how much. There is a hit left to go. But it will not be acceptable to destroy the compulsory purchase safeguards on which this democracy depends. Most people have a healthy distrust of authority and bureaucracy. Very often only the compulsory purchase regulations stand between ordinary people and unfair, undemocratic local authorities or Government. The compulsory purchase procedure is complicated and tedious, as those of us who have tried to operate it know. But it is right that it should be so tedious, and right that it should be as democratic as it is and that everybody should have an opportunity to believe with complete confidence in the carefully constructed safeguards we have erected. I am sorry that this Government have seen fit to chew away at this aspect. There is still the power of the Secretary of State to disregard objections to a compulsory purchase order on the grounds that the acquisition is unnecessary or inexpedient. I believe that this is unsatisfactory and I trust that we shall be able to do something about it.
There are two other matters to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. It is of course absolutely right that the local authorities should acquire such land as is essential to do its job—for example, for school sites roads, et cetera—as cheaply as possible to the community—at existing use value if it can be done. This must be acceptable to all of us, particularly when we pay our rate bills. But the fact that the new Bill provides that off-site infrastructure costs of an authority will not be allowed as a setoff in the community land account does not help this business of development and might quite certainly be a very severe burden on local authorities.
I am sure that we all wish to ensure that local authorities do not pay inflated development prices for such things as they have to have. There are much simpler ways to achieve this result—in particular, by Section 52 of the Town and Country 1403 Planning Act 1971 which, as your Lordships no doubt are well aware, enables agreements to be made for contributions from developers. If this clause had been less voluntary and more compulsory and amended in ways which it is not my purpose to go into in detail tonight, we could have solved all the problems in this field and the primary purpose of this Bill would have fallen to the ground.
There is another matter concerning finance which gives grave cause for concern to local authorities. It relates to the question of disposals which has already been mentioned. In future, existing holdings by local authorities will not be permitted to be sold without the approval of the Secretary of State. Indeed, I understand that the freehold of such land can never be sold. Under comprehensive area development area powers local authorities have been purchasing land, servicing it and selling the freehold to industrialists or to other developers in a new town type of situation. In particular I would mention the Town Development Act powers for dealing with overspill. The proceeds of these sales have been put towards the creation of further infrastructure and services, or the purchase of further land for this purpose. My own authority of Northumberland has by this means created a new town with a population of nearly 25,000 which is expected to double in the next 15 years, with nearly 10,000 new jobs in new factories. This has been carried out under the comprehensive development area legislation, and it is the positive planning which has been referred to so often. It shows that it can be done without the necessity for this Bill and that it has been successfully done.
As I have mentioned, Section 52 of the 1971 Act may need to be strengthened. I understand that if this Bill went through unamended the whole of this type of development could become completely redundant and virtually crippled; 70 per cent. of the surplus of the community land account will be taken away by the Government in one form or another. This would be a complete destruction of the type of development which I have mentioned. It is worrying a great many authorities in the North of England at least, and I hope that in due course this matter can be given our very serious consideration. It has been amply proved that 1404 where land is sold for new factories—which is, I am sure, a laudable purpose for local authorities—industrialists wish to own the freehold of their factories and thus protect themselves against the uncertainties of rental revisions as well as inflation. It is important to them that they should be able to own the land. If they are not able to do so, I suggest that they will not come to the development areas but will go to other parts of the European Economic Community. Therefore, this is a matter which worries me very much indeed.
I apologise for speaking for so long on this Bill which has detained us in a most valuable debate. I hope I have mentioned some of the points which make it repellant to many on this side of the House and, indeed, unnecessary. We are forced to the conclusion that the Government, which have rejected the advice of the numerous bodies which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned in her admirable speech, will go ahead with this Bill. It looks as though we could have dealt with the matter in some other way which would have received all-Party support and I hope that one day we can. Also, it looks as though this Government are bent on land nationalisation through what appears to be a particularly unsavoury back door.
Finally, throughout this debate there have been references to corruption in local government. Living and working as I do in local government in the North-East, I suppose I may be regarded by some as an expert on this subject. I have, to say the least, an unenviable reputation, but I will confine myself to saying that I think it is true that if Mr. Poulson and his like had been around at this moment they would have welcomed this Bill with open arms.
§ 7.24 p.m.
My Lords, that is a most interesting observation. Perhaps the noble Lord will send a copy of Hansard to Mr. Poulson to study. I think it was Mark Twain who made the classic remark about land not making any more land and not, as the noble Viscount mentioned, Lord Rothschild quoting God.
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, is a very great expert on local authority affairs in the North-East. When 1405 the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, was making so powerful a case for London, I felt that the same argument simply would not apply in Northumberland where the noble Viscount comes from; probably the same applies also to what the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, might say and feel about Yorkshire.
I believe that the first aim of the Government in this Bill is to try to make planning more positive. They feel that under our planning arrangements the initiative is not with the local authority. Rather than respond negatively, they feel that this Bill will give them something which will enable them to plan, as they have put it, positively. However, I wonder whether or not there is a more insidious danger in this Bill towards planning than the Government are aware of. The planning system of this country is a very sophisticated one, and it has been extremely successful over the land use and control which we have had for 25 years. After all, it was the previous Labour Government who gave it to us in 1947 and, as my noble friend Lord Foot said, it is now the accepted way of life. The basis of that system was that land use decisions were taken on their planning merits alone and on no other.
The trouble about this Bill is that it makes it inevitable that quite other considerations will come into play when planning decisions are taken. In that respect I welcome the redrawing of Clause 17 to have regard to the development plan—as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said to make it "planning orientated". I am astounded that it should have been necessary to do this. It seems extraordinary that a Bill which is meant to make planning more positive should have had this particular clause drawn up in such a way as to leave planning out of it altogether. However, it still does not meet the very grave concern that in exercising their planning functions local authorities will have to consider quite different criteria. Indeed, an example of that is that they will have to have regard to agriculture. Of course, I welcome that they will have to have regard to agriculture, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, that this should go without saying. Nevertheless, I view this with sonic cynicism. Is it not perhaps indicative of the fact that things other than planning are still going to take precedence?
1406 The Bill confuses the role of planning authorities by making them developers as well as planners. We have heard a great deal of comment about this from both sides of the House. I thought that the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady White, regarding the analogy of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, between planning and ownership was not a very happy one. It seems to me that the effect of doing this is highly undesirable. On the one hand, the planning authorities have a duty to plan. At the same time, we are now requiring them to become dealers in land. In the past, the virtue of our system—I do not altogether accept the fact that it has been negative—has been our ability to control development. This has been the envy of many other countries. Now we are making local authorities themselves the developers. I see grave difficulties in this. Are we going to be able to go on controlling developers if, in fact, the controllers are the developers themselves?
I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady White, said about Wales. I like the Welsh idea. I disagree on this point with the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. I believe that possibly some kind of regional control may be the best solution. Before we have any regional system in England could we not have some kind of regional overseer? I know that the Government are afraid of the idea of central national bodies because two of them have failed. That is partly the reason why they have put it down to council level. I wonder whether they are right. I think the impact of the kind of decisions that might be made by developer-planners is going to be most unfortunate. I can see very unfortunate things happening to Green Belts, conservation areas, National Parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and to rural England itself. I think there will be too strong a temptation for local authorities to strength their finances by making planning decisions which are perhaps short-term expedients and not in the best interests.
The alternative that I see is to take the profit away from the local authority altogether. Here I disagree very strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, who sees this as a new source of local authority finance. I know that local authorities' finances are in difficulties, but there are 1407 many ways in which these could be put right. The last way in which I should like to see them put right is by allowing them to have the spoils from their own development commissions to themselves. I should like to get over this by making sure that all the surplus was returned to the Exchequer. I see no reason why the Exchequer should not funnel this back to local authorities. I think that is perfectly all right, but I should not be happy to see it funnelled back to the authority which had generated this particular surplus. Another alternative, which I think, was suggested by the Town and Country Planning Association, is that it should go into some fund for betterment, to be used specifically to try to make good the damage which development must inevitably do. So much for the actual business of the conflict between planning and the profits of development.
May I now say a word or two about acquisition? It seems to me that here is another danger, that the process of acquisition is being removed from the normal planning procedure. In a compulsory purchase situation, the Secretary of State is expressly empowered to ignore objections made on the grounds that acquisition is unnecessary or inexpedient. This is still in the Bill—at least I see no signs in the list of proposed Amendments of it being removed. This is very worrying to environmental organisations. The process is no longer restricted to purposes within the authorities' constitutional powers, and the Secretary of State can effectively disallow grounds on which compulsory purchase is open to challenge. So far as I can understand it, there is no sign in the proposed Government Amendments that that has been altered.
The same applies to inquiries. I am very pleased to see that the circumstances in which an inquiry can take place has been clarified so that we know more or less where we are, but there is a loophole by which I think an inquiry could unreasonably be refused. The three new suggestions—I do not know how many noble Lords have seen these—for grounds on which an inquiry could be dispensed with are: first, that it accords with the development plan—that is fair enough; secondly, that it accords with the local plan—I think that is all right; thirdly, 1408 that it accords with the structure plan. All these have to satisfy the condition that in the opinion of the Secretary of State there has been adequate public participation. That is all very well, but, as was said before, in the case of structure plans—which after all is something drawn with a very broad brush—an individual cannot tell what the position is with regard to any particular piece of land.
I am not arguing the case for owners—many noble Lords can do that better than I. I am arguing the case on the grounds that third parties—that is to say amenity organisations—can often get in and have a say only when there is the possibility of an inquiry. I notice that the noble Lord is trying to find information on the question as to whether or not there is going to be any change in the matter of acquisition—but he shakes his head.
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, I was trying to indicate that I was not seeking information on that point; not that there was not going to be any.
My Lords, the last point on which I wish to speak is the land purchase programmes. Some organisations, such as the Town and Country Planning Association and various local authorities, have asked the Government to publish their land purchase programmes, and I believe that the Government are going some way to putting land acquisition into a planning context. If they are, could they not go so far as to make sure that all these purchase programmes are on publicly available maps. This seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable request.
I have tried to look at it from the point of view of the effect on our existing planning system—which seems to me to be an admirable one, in spite of the fact that it is suggested it is not quite positive enough—and the damage we might be doing unaware, to a planning system which is the envy of the world, and, on the other hand, to the damage which also might be done by allowing local authorities themselves to be the developers and the planning permission givers. I shall be watching very closely at the Committee stage to try to make sure that some of the promises that the Government have made are met and that 1409 answers are given to the questions I have posed in regard to planning and conflict between planning and development.
§ 7.38 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to open my remarks with a quotation from Professor Denman. He said:Whoever drafted this Bill has read the textbooks of Labour's past failure at land policy and has repeated the mistakes with great diligence and a wanton disregard for the warnings of history.Perhaps I should own an interest, because I own about 2½ acres of land, and I understand that under this Bill anybody who has more than quarter of an acre of land might be in danger of the "disposal notification areas". The noble Lord, Lord Brockway—I regret that he is not here—spoke vehemently against people owning any land. It might interest him to know—I believe he has been to China—that in that Communist country one of the things now allowed in communes—to the leading people on the commune—is the ownership of a personal plot of land and they have found that communes have worked much better since.
It may be of interest to the House to know that I had the honour of being mentioned in the Crossman Diaries. I should like to quote his remarks in regard to the Land Commission Act 1967. He wrote:I am gradually beginning to twig a little tiny bit from a general practical point of view, but for most of the colleagues around this table this is a subject completely beyond comprehension.I am not suggesting that it is completely beyond the comprehension of Members of your Lordships' House, but the way the Bill is drawn up shows that there was some difficulty in achieving comprehension as to what they really intended. I have been interested in local government, having been a member of the London County Council for nine years and on the Housing and Town and Country Planning Committees. I think that the present system—as was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith—which enables builders to search out land for themselves and appeal to the Secretary of State if the council refuses 1410 is a much better and simpler method than that suggested today.
Some Members in the House may remember the late Arthur Skeffington, MP who issued an excellent document called Consulting the People. Unfortunately, this was never put into practice because he started very well, getting together the people who owned land and the local council to discuss this. The document was well illustrated, and people were beginning to understand (which they are not going to understand at the moment) what was happening to them in their local community. As I understand it, development land is land which, in the opinion of the authority concerned, is suitable for relevant development. I am sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, have left the Chamber because having recently fought the Local Government Bill in another place—the 1972 Local Government Act—I can foresee great difficulties in a county like Devon, which of course fought as hard as they could against the Bill and are now just beginning to build up their organisation. I am afraid this new Bill will create more disputes as to what is and what is not relevant, particularly having regard to the fact that district councils are housing authorities and they will want the land in the bigger towns for development whereas the agricultural people will want it for themselves.
Also there is the possibility of a third party applying for planning permission to develop even though he does not possess the material interest in the land. Up to date, I gather that there have been safeguards for the owners in that they have been notified and can refuse to sell. But under this Bill this is changed, as I understand the position. An application by a third party for planning permission would be sufficient to enable a local authority to start proceedings. Quite apart from the injustice to owners, this could lead to a great deal of malpractice.
In another place, the Minister said that he was putting his trust in local authorities. Therefore, I turn to Clause 50, dealing with the powers of the Secretary of State. That says:The Secretary of State may act under this section in a case where it appears to him 1411 expedient that an authority should cease to be responsible for exercising—that is, retrospective legislation—
- (a)any functions under this Act, or
- (b)any functions under any other Act, whether passed before this Act "—or later, being functions concerning the disposal or management of land.It goes on to make it even stronger:(2) In such a case the Secretary of State may make an order transferring any such functionsIf you turn to Clause 52, it deals with bodies to exercise reserve powers. The Secretary of State may set up a committee and may make an order in regard to the membership and chairing of the body, for regulating the appointment and tenure of office, and it even goes down to remuneration, pensions, gratuities and allowances for the officers and servants. Surely that is not putting much trust in the local authorities' and therefore I believe one should look again at this clause.
- (a)to himself, or
- (b)to another authority, or
- (c)to a body appointed under Section 52 below."
I have recently returned to live in Wiltshire and therefore take an interest in agriculture. From my discussion with local farmers, I find there is enormous uncertainty in the farming community. I believe it will now be five years and not ten. But, as was quoted from Mr. Ernest Richards, the Chairman of the National Farmers' Union Parliamentary Committee, if the five years' rolling programme is put into operation it will mean land acquisition on a massive scale with all the attendant uncertainties, anxiety and stress for the people most concerned, the farmers. I thought that at the present time we were keen to get as much agriculture as possible, and thus provide ourselves with as much food as we could in order to save our currency.
I should like to end by mentioning one other point that is, the basis for compensation in the case of dispossession of farm workers. I do not think this has been mentioned before, but as I understand it the Government gave an undertaking in the White Paper, Land, to consider whether the new "current use value" compensation will be sufficient in the case of dispossession of working farmers. I think this is a vital issue and 1412 I should like to know whether a farmer who loses all or part of his farm will be guaranteed that the compensation provisions in the Bill will put him in the same—and I emphasise "the same"—financial position as before. I know that the National Farmers' Union—and I used to attend the Devon County National Farmers' Union meetings—has consistently fought for the acceptance of the principle of equivalent reinstatement. As I understand it, this means that a farmer who is compulsorily dispossessed of his land should be in no worse position after he has lost his land than before. The current Compensation Code, although recently amended in the Land Compensation Act 1973, does not allow for the financial or physical reinstatement of the dispossessed farmer. Thus a farmer who is dispossessed within a development area and compensated at the current agricultural value within that area, I suggest, would be in no position to reinstate himself on a similar holding elsewhere.
Finally, I should like to turn to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, in regard to compulsory purchase orders. In regard to Schedule 4 paragraph 3(5)(b) I should like to ask the Minister whether these provisions might be a breach of Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and add also Article 1 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights?
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Lord CASTLE
My Lords, as I join with previous speakers in congratulating the opener of this debate on a remarkably clear exposition of the impact of this Bill and its intentions, I should like to draw attention to the fact that a possible result of our discussions last week on the Sex Discrimination Bill has been that this afternoon five out of the first nine speakers were members of the gentler sex—if that perhaps is not a misnomer for some of the contributions, which were notable for their vehemence if not violence, which of course I shall not follow this evening.
My Lords, I have been waiting a long time to make this speech—not just since half-past three this afternoon, but for the last sixty-five years. That may surprise some noble Lords, but then my naturally youthful air is somewhat deceptive. I claim that I was baptised in land reform 1413 at the age of 3. I was taken to a great Liberal rally in the Election of 1910, and there the expectant Liberals, waiting for the new dawn of radicalism—and this is my first memory, authenticated by my parents who took me—sang the "Land Song":The land, the land, the people have got the land.Why should we be beggar; with the ballot in our hand?God made the land for the people.They do not sing that song any more in Liberal circles.
I thought I detected a split in that Party this afternoon. There was the wholehearted support given in a notable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, which we all appreciate and welcome, and a much more hesitant—shall I say diffident?—reception from the noble Lord, Lord Henley. All I can assure them is that the torch that the Liberal Party allowed to gutter out all those years ago was picked up and relit by the Labour Party, and I am proud that they did it. As has been pointed out, we have shown our resolution in these matters by introducing three Bills. The two previous ones had to be abandoned because of—shall I say?—administrative deficiencies or inadequacies. But we are not afraid to learn, and the Government have now shown that they have learned lessons from the two previous attempts. They have abandoned the bureaucratic idea which fills so many people opposite with dread, and have wisely, to my mind, assigned to the local authorities a great task—perhaps their biggest task—of social and economic rectification.
The Government could not have done better. Among the people who never soiled their hands in local democracy, never perhaps risked their reputations in grass root democracy, it has been thought clever to deride the work of the butcher, the baker and the motorcar maker who plan our roads, schools and social equipment at local level. As we know, many of them are people who are responsible for the majority of the homes in their area, and for the services that are enjoyed by the people of that area.
I was aghast this afternoon—and I think my astonishment, surprise and shock are shared by my companions on this side—at the attitude of the noble 1414 Baroness, Lady Young, who is famous, and deserves to be, for her interest in local government. But to say what she said in contemplation of corruption in local government under this scheme was unworthy of her. The noble Baroness must have worked in different local government from myself. She must have been associated with a different Party from that with which I have been associated. Much publicity has been given to the few—and quite rightly so; I want publicity given to those who are backsliders. But from my experience, the great mass of men and women of all Parties engaged in local government are seagreen incorruptibles, dedicated to the wellbeing of the community around them. Despite the catalogue of interested parties who at this stage find it convenient to oppose the Bill in some of its detail, the fact remains that the majority of local councillors welcome the Bill, for they, better than anyone else, know the price that has to be paid by the community to regain the wealth which it produces. I speak with pride as one of a collection of local government men.
My Lords, this Bill is not merely welcomed by individuals in local government, but also by representative bodies, although one would not have thought so to hear some of the comments made from the other side of the House today. The Bill is particularly welcomed by the AMA. The "A" does not stand for anarchist, and the "M" does not stand for Marxist, although you may have thought that that idea imbued some of the speeches we have heard. Those initials stand for the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the most powerful body speaking for local government in this country. In a 6,000-word memorandum of explanation and welcome the AMA says—and the noble Baroness could not have put it better:The build-up of values which has been a feature of recent years has created quite severe problems for the local authority, which would have had much greater freedom to set the objectives and the plan of development by purchasing at current use values and by being the agency for establishing the general shape and aims of the development with the real needs and benefits of the area rather than that land profits is the sole aim.That is what the major local authority organisation in this country has said. Of course, as has been underlined, there has not been praise all the way. The 1415 handmaiden of the Tory Party in Fleet Street, the Daily—
§ Lord CASTLE
—the Daily Whatsit, talked about it as the "land grab". Of course it is nothing of the kind. If anything, it is a land grope, a very tentative approach to a continuing problem. In fact the Government have shown extraordinary sensitivity for the tender purses of developers. There is the very sensible proposal that where the private developer applies for planning permission, the council, at least in the first few years of the operation of this Act, will buy at market price the land for which the planning consent has been granted. With the developer they agree a leasehold rent on a long lease, and perhaps a share in the equity. This is the proposal which has received root and branch condemnation opposite. Yet it suggests a satisfied customer and a satisfied community, with no obstacles to wise, far-sighted investment for property developers, no hindrance to initiative, but merely a mild assertion of the public right to share the wealth that community effort has created.
This arrangement applies also to planning applications for change of user, which is a matter of great importance to large cities like London. We have no green fields where permission to change from pasture to building site, from cowslip meadow to Klondyke Close, has given many a farmer a harvest of gold where he would have sold rye. We have not got that problem. In London we know a lot about giving planning permission for the four walls of a jam factory so that it can become the outer shell of a block of offices, and in the process the value increases tenfold. In my own area, the borough bought a shirt factory and transformed the inside at comparatively little expense, with partitions and so on, into the planning department headquarters. The price per foot rose from £1.5 to £5 in the market. This sort of thing is being repeated daily all over the Metropolis, and over every conurbation. We all know that empty plots of land inside a town are of no value in themselves, but with planning permission they are worth the weight of the topsoil in gold.
However, the new legislation gives the consolation that it will be the community 1416 which takes its share of the wealth that planning infers. I fear that the duties your Lordships have assigned to me in Europe may deprive me of the long, hard slog which is implicit in all the contributions which have been made today from the other side of the House. Frankly, this surprised me, because no Bill has been examined in greater detail in another place than this; they having spent 155 hours in minutely examining it in Committee. One would have hoped that out of those consultations between all the Parties we could have had something like an agreed Bill.
My Lords, I beg their Lordships opposite, and their misguided allies, if any, on the Cross-Benches, to recognise that the Government have opted for a mild reform—this is as I see it—rather than a revolution in land holding. More simple ways of tackling the land problem have been advanced. For instance, we could have served notice that all absolute freehold in land was to end and that, on the appointed day, all land should be leased in trust for the Crown; in other words, the community. That was more or less the feudal idea, and it had the merit of requiring service as payment for possession. At some time perhaps a commensense arrangement of that kind may win acceptance, but that day is not yet.
This Bill is in fact tailored to the concept of a mixed economy. There is nothing wrong with that, but that is where it should excite enthusiasm among all of us who want to make the mixed economy work. The arrangement between public ownership of the land and a private developer is not new in municipal politics. It has worked remarkably well, for instance, in the creation of some new town centres. The noble Lord, Lord Clitheroe, and my noble friend Lord Rhodes, share with me knowledge, and perhaps real joy, at what a partnership between a private developer and a municipality has done for once dilapidated Blackburn, a town which I know very well, and with which some of your Lordships have no acquaintance at all.
I would wish that this had been a consensus Bill. From today's debate, there seems no hope of achieving that. But it would be imprudent, even dangerous, for noble Lords opposite to accept leadership from the more reactionary of their colleagues in unduly obstructing this Bill. 1417 By so doing they will appear in the eyes of many moderates—if that is not a derogatory term these days—to be condoning the offences of the land racketeers; of the greedy men who have been able to hold the community to ransom when it asked to turn a swampy field into a car park, or to use a piece of infertile heath as the site for a house for old people. We all know that that kind of thing has happened, and it will be to our shame if we do not prevent it happening ever again.
This Bill gives us a chance to renounce the kind of arrangement which has existed up until now. There is no need for me to labour the arguments for action to end the shame. Despite their flamboyant defiance advanced this afternoon, noble Lords opposite know very well the evil. That has to be remembered! You are aware, my Lords, that what has happened argues that your Lordships should accept this Bill as perhaps the last chance to achieve by evolutionary means, consultation, over the next ten years an end to the injustices which have so long been associated with land tenure.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ The Earl of KINNOULL
My Lords, as the twenty-first speaker in a long and, in view of the weather outside, not so heated debate, I rise not to speak at length, as I intend to reserve most of my remarks for the proper Second Reading of a legitimate Bill when it reaches us. I share not the view of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, who seems to dismiss as being fuddy-duddy my noble friend Lady Young's protestations on the charade of the proceedings today. I take the view that on a blazing hot summer afternoon, as it was, on 3rd August, when most Members should be with their families on holiday, the Government have arranged a long debate on an illegitimate Bill in what can only be described as a device to assist with a wholly and wildly overloaded Government programme Session.
The House ought in no way to agree to curtail or be bulldozed on the proceedings and stages of this Bill when it reaches us. The nationalisation Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said earlier, is undoubtedly one of the major social changes. I agree with her, but I do not agree with the Bill.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I did not call it the nationalisation Bill; it is the Community Land (No. 2)
§ The Earl of KINNOULL
My Lords, I agree that it is very difficult to understand, but I am discussing a Bill which is in essence a land nationalisation Bill concerning urban development. The House has a particular duty as a revising Chamber to examine the Bill thoroughly when it comes. I well remember, as I am sure many do in this House, the proceedings on the Land Commission Bill when it passed thorough the House. On that occasion I remember my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor led for the Opposition with great skill and moderation. Listening to my noble friend this afternoon I can see that we have an equally skilful successor.
That Bill, the Land Commission Bill, after a thorough consideration left this House with 146 Amendments, 96 per cent. of which were accepted in another place. That, I believe, was a tribute to this House. I feel, with others, that the proceedings on this Bill, when it comes, will need similar examination. I would join with my noble friend Lady Young in seeking an assurance tonight that in the autumn the Government will either give this Bill proper time through all its stages—and when I say "proper time" I mean with a proper time lapse between stages—or that they will postpone the Bill to next Session.
We have heard more than once that this Bill is the third attempt since the war—and the noble Lord, Lord Castle, says possibly the last attempt, and I do not agree with him—to nationalise land. The reasons for nationalisation given by the Labour Party since the war have shifted, but there remains the determination to thrust down the throat of the British people this obnoxious social policy. The present determination I believe in no way reflects a majority view, and indeed it is a minority Government which introduce it.
The old reason for land nationalisation was to stop the land speculators from making a fortune at the community expense. The Labour Party of course were not alone in thinking that, and it was left to a Conservative Administration 1419 to put the profitable land speculator out of business. This was done very effectively in December 1973 by the development gains tax, when the teeth of the land speculators were plucked out. Now in the White Paper called Land, published in September 1974 by the Government, we see that the reasons for nationalisation have changed. We see now that the apparent urgent need is for positive planning, and a key to this treasure chest is nationalisation. I believe that that argument must be the thinnest veil of disguise given this century by any Government to mask their political dogma.
I would make two brief points on the Bill this evening. The first is really a rhetorical question: how will the individual fare under this Bill? The noble Baroness, in her introduction to this Bill, said that under this Bill this afternoon no Minister or local authority would behave in an arbitrary fashion to an individual. Those I think were her words. That is a pleasant reassurance, but it is a reassurance which, as one studies the Bill, does not appear to be the theme which one picks out or indeed the meat of the Bill, but perhaps the noble Baroness was referring to certain Government Amendments which still have to be seen in the Bill in another place.
Consider the case of an individual with a property of over one-quarter of an acre of garden. Under Clause 4 the individual has no protection because he has a property of over one-quarter of an acre. Suppose his neighbour says to himself, "This man has too big a garden; I will apply for planning permission for half the garden," which he is perfectly entitled to do under planning legislation. Indeed, this is done, and all that happens is that the owner gets a notification. Who decides a planning application under the Bill? The answer is the local authority. Who will eventually buy the land if permission is given? The local authority. What right of appeal has that individual under the Bill? The planning laws under the Bill are being altered, and indeed the Minister may well suspend the right of appeal; he will have power to do so. Can the individual fight to resist the sale of this land? The answer is, Yes, but the local authority is to be given strengthened rights of compulsory purchase order.
1420 What compensation will the individual receive? As we all know by now, up to the Second Appointed Day the market value will be the basis of compensation. But what will the market value be? No one and no valuer can say because there will be no open market value, and only the district valuer will be purchasing. The best that the individual can hope for is to apply to the financial hardship tribunal. That, I submit, is the future that can face the individual under this Bill. The second point to which I wish to refer briefly concerns planning. I happen to be one, like the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who has a great respect for the system of planning that has evolved in this country. It is a system designed over the years to meet the special needs of our islands with their very high-density populations and the problems that go with it. It is a system admired and copied by many countries, but it is not perfect; it has certain defects, perhaps the worst being its slowness, but it is democratic, and that system is about to be tampered with and disturbed under this Bill.
The Minister and local authorities are being given what appear to be jackbooted powers. The future green belts and their protection seems to be in some doubt and even certain existing planning permissions can be suspended under the Bill's provisions. The planning system which is being handed over to local authorities, some of which have neither the experience nor the staff, represents a break which is far too abrupt; there should be a gradual takeover, if there is to be a takeover.
The policy of land nationalisation is a policy which the country has rejected twice before. It is a policy that has commanded in the past and I believe now commands little to no co-operation from either individuals or industry. Because of this and because of the lack of co-operation, I believe the policy and the Bill will be doomed, as others have proved. The introduction of this Bill at this stage, in the midst of an economic crisis, is yet another extra load of costs to be borne by central and local government, and one really wonders and ponders which priority comes first with this Government, political dogma or the country.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
My Lords, I must first declare an interest. I am a landowner and I live in the overcrowded part of the South-East of England. My grandfather sold a lot of land on the Guildford to Merrow Road and he invested the whole lot in Japanese war bonds in 1938, so we saw no benefit whatever from that money. The minutia of this Bill have been discussed and have been shown to be wanting by many of my noble friends. On the ticker tape this evening there is an announcement that the Government have underwritten the copy of the Magna Carta to go to the United States for £1,250,000. When the great-great-great-grandfather of my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stour-ton forced King John to sign the Magna Carta he was not interested in individual liberties. He was saying to the King, "Take your horrible thieving hands off my property", and by pure accident that defence of property developed into English liberties.
Why was the Court of Star Chamber abolished? Because it allowed the King to take too much of people's property. Why was the King not given power to tax without the consent of the Commons? Because they did not want the King to get his hands on too much of people's property. Why was habeas corpus passed? So that people could not be imprisoned without due course and process of law, so that the King could not get his hands on too much of people's property. Therefore the foundation of English liberty is based on property—Proudhon said that all property was theft, but Proudhon was not a believer in liberty. In England we have had liberty without democracy from 1650 or 1688 to the beginning part of this century. One cannot have true and real democracy without individual liberty. Look at the number of countries that call themselves democracies and then look at the number of countries that really are democracies. England is a country in which democracy and freedom really mean something, and this is based on my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton's great-great-great-grandfather saying to the King, "Take your thieving fingers off my property."
It can be said, and it has been said—and I said it when my Party were in Gov 1422 ernment—that there have been indecent profits made out of land. The noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, and the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said it. But now the balance has gone too far the other way and I think it was summed up by the noble Lord, Lord Castle, who talked about the "seagreen incorruptible", and we know who that applied to. It applied to Robespierre, and Robespierre was a tyrant. This is what frightens me about this Bill; namely, that it goes to the fundamentals of our liberties and not just to the taxing of indecent profits.
§ 8.18 p.m.
Viscount COLVILLE of CULROSS
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Castle, said that he wished we could have a consensus on this Bill. I am afraid that that is not to be so. The noble Lord need not think that he can frighten us by what he indicated might happen if there was no consensus. There are, in fact, a number of emotions that struggle with each other among those who sit on this side of the House, but the more I have read about this Bill and the more I have listened to people speaking about it, what has come to the forefront is an overwhelming feeling of incredulity. That is the feeling I get when I read some of the things that have been said by the supporters of this Bill in the Government in another place and some of the things that have been said in this House today.
A junior Minister in Standing Committee foretells the golden age. He foresees profits flooding in and local authorities and ratepayers gaining the benefit. I should like to examine this a little as we go on. I am bound to suggest that, if it is profits that are sought by the Government, the Treasury and local authorities, I should find it hard to devise a slower or more uncertain way to achieve them than by this Bill. If it is positive planning that is the object—and I tend to agree with my noble friend Lord Kinnoull that that is a fairly thin veil—a little explanation is necessary. After all, there have been powers of positive planning since the 1947 Act. There was the development plan system which was explicitly on the positive side of planning.
I am afraid that local government has not in all cases acquitted itself very well. It may very well be that in the City of 1423 Oxford all was exactly as it should be, but the worst case which I know of lay in the county outside where, to this day, in the old county of Oxfordshire, the current development plan was approved in 1955 and was based on survey material collected in 1948 and 1949. That is the current positive planning which has only been added to by certain informal and rather sketchy documents as time has gone by. If it is positive planning the Government are looking for, why is it that they will not wait for the structure plan system and the local plans, which they themselves introduced in 1968, to come to fruition? What is wrong with them? Are they condemned before being given a chance to work? No, my Lords, I do not believe that it is just positive planning; I feel that there is a little more doctrine in it than that.
I do not wish to denigrate local government. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, who said that we should not do so and I agree. But local government has not previously had much experience of some of the things that it will have to do under the Bill. Local authorities do not seem to have had very much experience of identifying land for development. The Department of the Environment has just finished a study of the release of land for, I believe, housing development in four selected areas in the South-East. I believe I am right in saying that less than half, in terms of planning permissions, was granted on land found and identified by the local authorities. More than half, therefore, came from the initiative of people who brought forward planning appeals against the wishes of the local authorities and were found on appeal to the Department to be right. This, in one of the areas of greatest pressure, does not fill me with inspiration that the local authorities will be quick to find land on which to develop.
One of the main difficulties from which local authorities suffer derives from the very characteristics which have been so heavily underwritten by Ministers in another place. They are of course perfectly true of characteristics of local authorities. We are told that they are elected; that they are democratic; that they are accountable to the electors and that they will not be re-elected if they act oppressively. What this means in practice is not 1424 quite what I feel everybody would hope for. The electors are very fond of the bit of Green Belt over which they look from their houses. They expect "planning", as they call it, to preserve their views, even if they live in a house which has recently been constructed in the view of somebody who lives a little further inland. They do not like that sort of planning and they say so loudly and at great length at the public inquiries which I attend.
There are other people who have a very strong interest in the status quo. There are traders in the existing shopping frontages. There are people with other business—hoteliers and so on—who do not wish to see their trade taken away and who will not thank a local authority which grants planning permission for a rival show which will detract from their profits. What is more natural than that? The instinct of local authorities always tends to be on the side of caution and safety; to do the known thing, the thing that is accepted and the thing they know will not raise hackles among those very people who have to elect them again.
Talking about the GLC, I remember what I believe to have been a perfectly genuine though, as it turned out, misguided, attempt at town centre redevelopment. I do not lay it at the door of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt. It was the previous Party, but I do not believe that it was any the less well intentioned. The scheme in question was the plan for Covent Garden which has now been completely overthrown but which was pursued with a great deal of earnestness and ingenuity by a local authority with, I imagine, more powers and more expertise in land acquisition than almost any other in the country. Yet it made mistakes.
§ Lord CASTLE
My Lords, is the noble Viscount not just proving that local authorities are sensitive to local public opinion?
Viscount COLVILLE of CULROSS
My Lords, I was not taking that point. It was the Department of the Environment which turned down the plan before the GLC had a chance to think about it again.
The next matter to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention is this. 1425 We are told, under the Bill, that land will be brought forward. I wonder whether the major defect of the Bill is that noble Lords opposite and the Party that has introduced the legislation have simply taken leave of any attempt to think how human beings behave? Who are these starry-eyed people, these idyllic creatures, these selfless persons who are prepared to bring forward their land for development with absolutely no penny of profit for themselves? Human nature does not work like that. With a development land tax at 100 per cent. or compensation at current use value, there will be no incentive. One need not be a money-grubber, a greedy hoarder or a speculator to refuse to sell one's house or one's small shop where one is very happy to an entrepreneur who is assembling land for a central area redevelopment. A little bit of cash may help but, if there is no profit in it, people will be much more likely to stay where they are. If that is so, it will be over to the force of the law. There will be compulsory purchase orders based on structure plans, local plans, action area plans and all the paraphernalia of planning which we know about so well.
The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, should not think that the land in the centre of towns will come dirt cheap that way either, because current use value, with disturbance, injurious affection and other forms of compensation can, as he knows full well, come to a very substantial sum. It will not be cheap for local authorities to acquire such land.
§ Lord PITT of HAMPSTEAD
My Lords, the noble Viscount will, however, admit that, even though it may not be cheap, with the reduction in development land increase, which is what we have had in London, there will be a quite considerable reduction.
Viscount COLVILLE of CULROSS
My Lords, your Lordships will find that I shall come full circle to that point in a moment and that I shall ask some questions about it of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, that it is a very important point.
No wonder, with these sort of duties coming upon them, that the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said that Cambridgeshire would have to take on 70 new staff including some very highly skilled persons. My noble friend Lord 1426 Middleton from Yorkshire told us the same tale and we have heard the same thing from Northumberland. I am afraid that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, who seems to think that the local authorities can do all this so much better than does the present system—and of course the local authorities have power to do it under the present system—but with no spur and no assistance from private enterprise, will find herself sadly disappointed when it comes to the point.
My Lords, let us take a few examples of this: first, the urban development involving the big house standing in a substantial garden—not just the right reverend Prelate's Victorian vicarage, because the same development takes place in non-church circles as well. If one looks at the returns sent in to the Department of the Environment under Circular 102, I think, of 1972, it will be possible to see how much of the development land relied upon by the Government and local authorities as being available forms redevelopment of residentially-zoned areas in towns. Who will bring forward his house and garden for redevelopment when he has no incentive? What order of priority will the local authority find for that sort of thing? It is a small, intricate job requiring individual attention, and not the broad sweep of local authority powers that some people think would be necessary for land assembly and redevelopment.
I can say this to the noble Baroness. She thought it was inconsistent to say that agricultural land would be threatened, yet there will not be land brought forward for development. I do not think it is inconsistent at all, and I shall tell the noble Baroness why. I have talked about urban redevelopment and the problems, costs and the amount of skilled personnel involved. The local authorities will find it much easier to go out scavenging into the country on the edge of their towns on to green field sites, on to agricultural land, where it is so simple. All they have to do is get the necessary planning consent and the necessary compulsory purchase powers. There are no people to be bought out, no compensation to speak of. That is why the two points about which she spoke are not inconsistent, but will, I am afraid, happen all too frequently, and to the detriment of the farmer.
1427 What about this problem of the industrialist? We have a long way to go into the mysteries of non-designated relevant development, and I am not going to bore your Lordships with it this evening. But the scheme under the Bill will not be encouraging for the industrialist seeking to expand on to his own land which he has bought for that purpose. I know that in these cases there may be an exemption from the duty to acquire, but under the scheme of the Bill every disincentive is put in that man's way. He can find out whether the local authority is to exercise its option of acquiring his land only by making a planning application. As I read the Bill, if he makes a planning application he gives the local authority an irrevocable right compulsorily to acquire his land, and it is the general policy of the Government that whereas housing land may be sold off freehold, commercial and industrial land will be leased out to those who want it. Of the leases from local authorities of which I know none of them is at a knock-down rent. All have rent reviews, and the net result of this in the end will be a more expensive set of overheads for the industrialist than if he had been allowed to build on his own freehold; and more overheads, and more expensive overheads are very often passed on in extra prices to those who buy the products.
I am afraid that this is after all a piece of Socialism. I am not sure why the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, was a little upset when my noble friend suggested that there was something to do with nationalisation in this. I thought that it was part of the creed of the Party opposite that there should be nationalisation, and I should not have thought that the noble Baroness would have waxed indignant when my noble friend suggested that this was to be the aim of the Bill.
There is one interesting point in the Consultation Document which accompanied the Bill in another place—and we have it here. In paragraph 16 we are told how all new development will take place upon land which has first passed through the hands of the local authority, except for the minor exemptions. Then there is one other exemption:Even where development on land owned by public authorities, for instance, on statutory 1428 undertakers' operational land, requires planning permission it would not be subject to this limitation—that is the necessity to go through the local authority—because ownership by the public body concerned would be sufficient to satisfy the condition concerning public ownership.That is what the Bill is really about: it is the condition concerning public ownership, even if it is to be done through British Railways, or through the noble Baroness's British Waterways, or through any other nationalised industry or statutory undertaking. That is what the Bill is really all about.
There is one point that flows from this. In her opening speech the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, spoke of the myth of the attack on owner-ocupation, and later the noble Baroness, Lady White, mentioned this again, and she was reassured that we had all misunderstood what was in Clause 4; I hasten to say Clause 4 of this Bill, not of the Labour Party's basic constitution. I do not think that my noble friend Lady Young was solely concerned with Clause 4. None of us has so far been able to fathom the provisions of Clause 25 which relates to the disposal notification area procedure. I have read avidly what the right honourable gentleman the Minister said about this in another place. I believe that we shall have to come back to have a substantial series of discussions on Clause 25. I do not understand how it is that the right honourable gentleman says that this provision—which plainly, on its face, gives a local authority an opportunity to buy any man's house the moment he wishes to sell it to anyone else—is simply a little matter to give that person notice that the local authority are buying land in that area.
If that is so I shall want to know under what powers the local authority are proposing, or are enabled, to buy the land mentioned in Clause 25: because if they are powers other than powers under the Bill or under the planning Acts, I should have thought that we need a very substantial amount of further explanation. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, may be able to touch upon this this evening; if not, I warn him that we shall return to it.
I should like to mention one or two other individual matters which have been raised. There is the question of the Land 1429 Authority for Wales. There are a number of mysteries here. For instance, I have looked at the Welsh Development Agency Bill, to which my noble friend Lord Elton referred. This seems also to have powers, among other things, to provide sites and premises, services and facilities for industrial undertakings, and there can be a direction to the Agency to do this, and the Agency do it with further agency agreements with local authorities. There are other powers in Wales, which obtain in the local planning authorities, whereby they can carry out development. We want to know how all this is to work and, in particular, how it is to fit in with the devolution proposals for Wales, which I believe must be the foundation of all this. I shall not ask the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, to deal with this matter tonight. But I am afraid that it will not do for the noble Baroness to leave us to wait, with our thoughts uncollected, until the Committee stage. I very much hope that some document can come my way before then—perhaps next month—which will explain some of this in rather greater detail than has been available from discussions in another place—
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, the noble Viscount had a word with me about this and I undertook to let him have a paper next month, and it will also be circulated to all noble Lords on both sides of the House.
Viscount COLVILLE of CULROSS
My Lords, that is a very happy solution. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, would like to say a word about Part IV regarding unoccupied office premises, which has not been mentioned by anyone in the debate. What are the local authority or the Secretary of State to do with these premises when they have been compulsorily acquired at knock-down value? Where is the market? What is he to do? Why is the existing law inadequate? Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to answer me when he has received whatever message it is he is in the process of receiving.
Like other noble Lords who have spoken today, I am interested in the necessity under Clause 43 for all disposals of land, and. I think, appropriations, too, of more than seven-year leasehold to require the sanction of the Department. Again the Government's 1430 discussion of this matter in another place leaves me acutely unhappy. There is supposed to be some give and take, some question of swings and roundabouts, as I understand it, but I cannot understand why some of the minor exemptions which have been given to local authorities over a period of time are now being taken away wholesale because of something to do with the Community Land Bill.
My Lords, I said that I would return to the point about finances mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will be able to explain—if not tonight then on some other suitable occasion—a little more about how this will work. We are told by the noble Baroness that the money from this Bill can finance projects the cost of which would otherwise fall on the rates. I should like to consider how this works in terms of paragraph 40 of the Consultation Document, which says:All land account surpluses accruing to local authorities will be available for the following purposes: for the repayment of debt"—That is capital repayment and will not, in itself, allow them any money to spend on anything else. It goes on, secondly:to finance expenditure in a key sector project which is within an agreed programme"—Money which, I should have thought, would have been obtained from the Public Works Loans Board if it had not been obtainable from this source. Therefore, all that this does is to relieve the Public Works Loans Board from the capital advance necessary; and, thirdly:to finance expenditure within the locally determined sector on the basis that the agreed level of borrowing for this sector was reduced pro tanto."Again, this relieves the Public Works Loan Board; but that does not mean to say that they get any more money because the money from the Community Land Bill is reduced pro tanto and they get less from the Public Works Loans Board.
Where, in all this, is anything other than loan repayment of interest available for those in local authorities to spend? One must take it a little further. The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, rightly said that if you fail to compensate anybody on compulsory purchase at more than the 1431 current use value, the local authority will acquire the land cheaper. He is right. The people who will suffer are the Exchequer because hitherto they have received either 8 per cent. or, I suppose, in the end, 100 per cent. of the profit in the form of taxation. This will cease. The local authority will obtain land cheaply, but the Exchequer will lose all that taxation and central Government will be short of income they had hitherto received. The noble Lord, Lord Castle, shakes his head. I cannot see what is wrong with my logic.
§ Lord CASTLE
My Lords, my understanding of the Bill is that the central Exchequer gets 40 per cent. of the surplus. This was explained by my noble friend Lord Pitt when he spoke.
Viscount COLVILLE of CULROSS
Yes, my Lords, it does. And this leads up to what I should like the noble Lord, Lord Melchet, to help me with. Would he do so, if not tonight, then before the Committee stage of the real Bill reaches this House? Can we see some of the balances that are supposed to be forthcoming because of this Bill? I am not prepared to believe that profits will flow and money will be available to finance projects otherwise falling on the rates unless I see a more convincing argument, which carries the logic through, than anything I have seen so far. Cannot we be told how it will balance out over the economy as a whole and how the losses I have mentioned in the Exchequer field will be made good in part, as the noble Lord, Lord Castle, said: and how we are all going to be richer in the end than under the increased flow, or under the same flow, of development land being brought forward under the system we have known hitherto?
Until I have seen that, I am not convinced that this Bill is going to do anybody any good at all. What I do think—and perhaps noble Lords opposite may get one spark of hope out of my saying this—is that I believe that this Bill will just work. It will work slowly, excruciatingly slowly; it will work painfully and it will work grudgingly; because all of it will go against the grain of everybody who owns land in this country; but I believe that if they go on long enough they can bludgeon it through.
1432 The secret of this Bill is in its timing. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, put her finger on it when she said that for three or four years there will be land available in the land banks already owned by developers so that house building rates will not decline. It may be that it is a coincidence that noble Lords opposite in the Government have allowed those who had land banks with planning permission on the 12th September last to continue under the old taxation system, with no danger of having their land compulsorily acquired. The result is, as the noble Baroness rightly said, that house building will continue for about three or four years. The Labour Party statistics of starts in the private sector and the public sector, if the economy otherwise picks up, will continue to be admirable. It will not be until after the next Election that the chickens will come home to roost. Because those chickens will come home to roost—and this is the reason for it—because in the end it will be shown that this simply does not work, quite apart from any feelings that we may have, we shall have to repeal it.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, this has been a long and interesting debate. I am glad to say that the fact that we are discussing in this No. 2 Bill the version of the Bill which is about to be amended in Report stage in another stage, has not inhibited noble Lords. I think that our debate has proved that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, was right and that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, were quite wrong in saying that this discussion of the No. 2 Bill was going to make the job of this House quite farcical this afternoon. We have had a good and sensible debate on a good and sensible Bill. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Foot, in regard to what I thought was an excellent and reasonable speech on the subject, that I listened with great interest to what he said about the choice of local authorities as agents in implementing the Bill. I think his points about a possible regional tier were very interesting but probably a question for further local government reorganisation rather than something that could be done in this Bill.
I should like to make two points about the choice of local government. One is that the smaller the unit the more people 1433 feel it is close to them locally, Secondly, local authorities do exist in the set-up at the moment. Therefore I do not think his remarks about a large new bureaucracy having to be established are true. The Government Amendments that may be made to the No. 1 Bill in another place, are, I understand, almost all being brought forward to meet points raised by the Opposition during the Committee stage in another place. I have no doubt that when we eventually get the No. 1 Bill, it will get a warmer welcome than noble Lords opposite have been able to give to the No. 2 Bill.
My Lords, I was grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and the noble Lord, Lord Macleod of Fuinary, for their generous welcome to the Government proposals on churches and charities. I accept that there are still some points to be agreed. As the right reverend Prelate knows, discussions with the Churches Main Committee are still in progress. I do not think that I heard the right reverend Prelate say, "Hear, hear!" when noble Lords opposite complained that our provisions were not yet drafted because consultations are going on. I assume that what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and her noble friends wanted were provisions introduced before consultation was complete and a Bill presented to this House as a completely definitive version and one that the Government had no intention of changing at all. That is the only possible explanation I can see for their jibes at my noble friend when she said that Amendments had not yet been drafted.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I would not wish it to be thought that I would make a jibe at the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and least of all to do anything to interfere with consultations between the Churches and the Government. My objection to this procedure is that we are debating on Second Reading a Bill in which major and important changes are in process of being made and we do not know what they are.
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, I may have a different view of your Lordships' House from the noble Baroness; but I thought that the point of having Bills coming here, being discussed and going through their stages was so that changes such as these could be made. If these 1434 changes must be made to the Bill when it comes here, this House would be an excellent place for changes concerning Churches and charities to be made. I am astounded that the noble Baroness is saying that these have got to be done before we get the Bill. Is she saying that this House is incapable of making these changes to the Bill?
Viscount DE L'ISLE
My Lords, I have been here longer than most. Bills are normally presented complete on Second Reading.
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, I think I have dealt with that point already. I was going to say that this is a complicated Bill. I acknowledge that it is complicated still further by the presence of the Bill in the other place. I hope that in return noble Lords opposite will acknowledge that it has been further complicated by the usual hysterical attitude taken up by the Conservative Party and the Tory Press whenever we on this side of the House attempt to fulfil an Election Manifesto pledge. Given these complications, I should like very briefly to go back to basic principles and try to answer the question: "Why introduce this Bill at all?"
The present arrangements for the supply of land for development in this country are a mess. We simply cannot allow them to continue. First, they are unjust. None of us—except, as I understand it, the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith—ever want to see again the situation as it was in 1972–73, when soaring land prices put huge unearned gains into the pockets of landowners and speculators.
§ Lord MELCHETT
I will just finish the paragraph, if I may. This was, as I understand it, the "unacceptable face of capitalism" so detested by Members of all Parties. Thousands of ordinary men and women suffered as a result of the speculation in land and property during that period; indeed, many are still suffering, and many areas remain blighted today as a result of the anti-social behaviour of speculators several years ago. If either the noble Earl or the noble Baroness wish to intervene—
§ Baroness HORNSBY-SMITH
My Lords, the noble Lord accused me of 1435 being the only Member on this side of the House prepared to see wholesale exploitation and profiteering, and I categorically said in my speech that I did not support it, that nobody on this side did, and that I felt it was far better dealt with by taxation of that exploitation and betterment and not by compensation. The noble Lord will read it in Hansard tomorrow.
§ Lord MELCHETT
I will certainly read with great interest in Hansard tomorrow what the noble Baroness said. When following the speech with great care, I found it difficult to believe that she was talking about the same Bill as many of her noble friends opposite and, indeed, the rest of your Lordships' House.
The present arrangements are also appallingly unfair because local authorities—which ultimately means individual ratepayers and taxpayers—have to buy land for schools, roads and open space at a price which embodies the value of the planning permissions they themselves have granted, and the expensive roads, sewerage and so on that they have paid for out of public money.
If I may say so to the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, I do not think his analogy about the Rembrandt being sold is at all fair. If the National Gallery purchased a Rembrandt and repainted it, and then were able to "flog" it for twice the price they paid for it, and were stopped from getting that increased value, that would be a valid analogy with the situation in regard to what, as I understand it, local authorities are doing with land. I do not think that selling Rembrandts has anything to do with it.
§ Viscount RIDLEY
If the noble Lord is advising the National Gallery to start repainting Rembrandts, that would be an act of the utmost phillistinism.
§ Lord MELCHETT
I hope the noble Viscount will not advise local authorities, including the one of which he is an eminent member, to stop building roads, sewerage, and all the other facilities which increase the value of land in much the same way.
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, I have already given way, and I have a great deal further to go. I was underlining our 1436 view on this side of the House as to why the current situation is unfair. On top of that, it does not have the advantage that some people apparently felt that fascism gave the Italians; namely, efficiency. The present arrangements are extremely inefficient. Investment badly needed for productive industry gets diverted into agricultural land—and boosts the price of that out of the reach of working farmers—in the hope of speculative gain. The private land market collapsed shortly before we took Office because it was unable to cope. Financial institutions are still reeling from the blow. How can necessary development take place in such an unstable situation? Developers need a steady supply of the right land—and even they admit that the present system cannot give them that.
So we have a situation that is unfair and inefficient. Noble Lords opposite, as I understand it, offer taxation as a solution. If I have it right, they envisage something rather like our present proposals, where local authorities would buy net of the tax element. That at least is an advance on their previous thinking. But I cannot help asking myself why noble Lords opposite are suddenly so keen on introducing a new and swingeing tax. I would hesitate to suggest that it is because of the ease with which it could be repealed, were it not for history. One attempt by Lloyd George and three attempts by the Labour Party to tackle these problems have all been repealed or abolished, three times by the Party of noble Lords opposite, once by a National Government.
Of course, taxation is a partial solution. But it completely ignores something of fundamental and primary importance: the need to plan positively in the best interests of the community as a whole. As my noble friend stressed at the beginning of the debate, we must get away from the idea that planning is simply about stopping undesirable development. It is not, and it must not be. The time has come to shift the balance more in favour of actively planning to create the right communities in which people want to live, not just the communities that emerge from the drawing boards in the offices of profit-making companies.
Turning to what has, I think, been one of the main themes of today's debate, I have been asked several times: can the 1437 country afford this scheme? Is it not inflationary? Does it not mean that local authorities will have to disregard the Government's strict instructions not to increase staff numbers or expenditure? This was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and many others. I confess I find all this difficult to understand. How can it be said that "we cannot afford" proposals which will immediately bring down the cost of land for public purposes, and ultimately yield substantial profits from dealing in land for private development? We estimate, in answer to the noble Viscount, if he is listening and not talking to his friends—
§ Lord MELCHETT
I am not sure whether "Oh yeh" is a Parliamentary term. My Lords, I was going to tell the noble Viscount that we estimate that when the scheme is fully working, with acquisition at current use value, local authorities will be saving about £350 million a year on the cost of buying development land for their own purposes. Then it is asked: Will the scheme ever be profitable?"
Viscount COLVILLE of CULROSS
Has the noble Lord the figure of what the Exchequer will be losing in tax?
§ Lord MELCHETT
I think I am coming to that in a minute, if the noble Viscount will bear with me. My Lords, I was going on to discuss the question of whether this will ever be profitable. Of course it will. Authorities will in future be buying land net of development land tax, and selling land which is ripe for development. Again, when the scheme is fully operational, the net gain on disposals of land, after acquisition costs and administrative costs, is likely, in our view, to be of the order of £350 million to £550 million per year, in England and Scotland.
I can assure my noble friend Lord Pitt of Hampstead that nothing in the Bill about the proposed sharing between local government and the Exchequer will stop the Layfield Committee looking at the split in its overall review of finance in this field. Of course, the speed with which we can move towards our objectives will depend on resources: and the resources 1438 available will have to be decided in the light of the general economic situation and of other calls on public expenditure. But, as my noble friend explained, we have designed the scheme so that we can cut our coat to suit our cloth. So the present economic situation is no excuse for not getting the machinery set up and making a start on bringing in the scheme, in step with the availability of resources.
Noble lords may say: "However little you do now, it is bound to be inflationary." Well, in the long-term, I hope we can all agree, the scheme will certainly not be inflationary, as it will be self-financing and will allow us to reduce local authorities' overall borrowing requirement. To answer one of the points which the noble Viscount raised, it is of course the financing of that borrowing requirement which falls directly on the rates, and which will be a future saving on the rates. In the Government's view, in the immediate future, the net effect will be small. The costs of land acquisition will be at least partly offset by an increased tax yield from the development land tax. Of course, as I have said, the precise balance will depend on the speed of the transition to full local authority participation. But I would stress that the scheme will not make any significant increase in demand on real resources, since only a transfer of assets is involved. After all, people are buying and selling land now. All that will happen in future is that more of these transactions will involve the public sector. To use the economic jargon, this is not a resource cost, but a transfer payment.
A great deal has been said in this debate about the alleged lack of fairness in the way the scheme will operate. I confess that I fully expected these charges to be levelled at the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, gave us a foretaste of this criticism last Thursday when he alleged that great sections of this Bill had never been discussed in another place, and that it had been only half digested because of the Government's forcing through the Bill with the aid of the guillotine. The facts are that, as my noble friend Lord Castle said, every single clause and Schedule to the Bill were discussed in another place at great length—there was a total of more than 150 hours in Committee—and that no guillotine was imposed.
1439 Noble Lords have drawn attention to the wide powers which the Bill gives to local authorities and the Secretary of State. I think this kind of argument might be summed up in the words of a memorandum prepared by the organisation Justice. They say:The Committee takes the view that legislation which is merely a loose frame for administrative action and which gives no real guide to what is going to happen in practice should not be accepted by Parliament. Apart from being constitutionally unacceptable, this mode of proceeding creates an impossible degree of uncertainty, which is inconsistent with the rule of law.I chose this quotation deliberately because, in my view, it gives an extreme position. The Bill is certainly not "a loose frame": it gives a very clear picture of the Government's basic intentions. The key points, such as the definition of "relevant development", the bringing in of the full duty under Clause 20 and of the Second Appointed Day under Clause 27, are clearly spelt out in the Bill and are subject to the appropriate Parliamentary procedures. In addition to that, I am able to tell the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, that I am advised that the proposed Amendments to the provisions regarding public inquiries will not be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is a point she raised.
What we have done is to ensure that there is adequate flexibility both over timing and over the detailed application of the scheme. This is not a constitutional issue. If I may pursue the constitutional line of argument to its logical conclusion, we should then find ourselves with a Bill which laid down precisely at what moment in time everything should happen and precisely how local authorities, and for that matter the Secretary of State, were to act in every circumstance. That is the way to achieve absolute certainty. It is also the way to ensure that no measure of this kind, which introduces ideas and concepts which will need to meet the test of being worked out in practice and amended in the light of experience, could ever work successfully. As my noble friend explained in her opening speech, it is of critical importance to the success of the scheme that its implementation should be carefully phased. So this "absolute certainty" 1440 approach is both misguided and unacceptable to anyone who wants the scheme to have even a chance of success.
Turning to the compulsory purchase powers, the Bill makes changes in the procedure of the compulsory purchase of land, and these have naturally been the subject of some concern. The Government have all along made it clear that there is no question of authorities being able to buy land compulsorily in a completely arbitrary way. Some of these assurances are now reflected in the Bill, and the rest in proposed Amendments which are available to your Lordships. I will therefore, if I may, deal with compulsory purchase on the basis of what the Government are now proposing.
First, the Bill provides that although an authority will not have to state the "purposes of acquisition"—which would not be appropriate where there is a general power to buy land on the basis of its suitability for development—it will have to give reasons. No local authority will be able to acquire land compulsorily without justifying it. Secondly, the Secretary of State is empowered to disregard objections to compulsory purchase where these are made on the grounds that acquisition is unnecessary or inexpedient. This is precedented in the New Towns Act 1946 and, as with that Act, the planning framework will provide a specific context in which there will have been an opportunity for public participation.
Thirdly, the Secretary of State is empowered to dispense with a public inquiry or hearing: but apart from the reserve powers mentioned by my noble friend, this can be only where the planning status of the land has already been considered at a public inquiry. This means that where an authority propose to acquire land compulsorily there must always be a public inquiry, either into the planning status of the land or into the compulsory order itself. The result, in our view, is a fair and judicious balance between the interests of the individual and of the community. Individuals will always be able to put their case at a public inquiry or hearing before their land is acquired, but they will not be able to have two bites at the same cherry.
A great deal was said about the position of private owner-occupiers and private house-building. The Government 1441 are fully committed to the maintenance of a strong private house-building industry and to the principle of owner-occupation. Not only did the White Paper promise special treatment for owner-occupiers and for land destined for owner-occupied housing but the Government have been at pains to show, by the provisions in the Bill, the importance they attach to the contribution which the private house-building industry can make. We believe that the arrangements now proposed give the industry two things: a long-term assurance of land availability, and a flexible transitional system that will give builders time to adapt to the new situation and which will ensure the continued flow of land while the changeover is taking place.
There is no inconsistency, in our view, between saying that land for housing will be freehold and the idea of building agreements or building on licence. A building agreement is only a means of getting the development carried out by a private builder. It does not affect the fact that the owner of the house gets the freehold when the house has been built. I hope that answers at least one of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, at the beginning of the debate on this subject.
The noble Baroness also went into some detail about the position of residential owner-occupiers, and this point was also raised by several of her noble friends. The Bill represents no threat to the interests of residential owner-occupiers. Local authorities have long had powers to acquire owner-occupied property where this is necessary to allow essential development to go ahead, but the Government have made it clear that the scheme is not designed to change planning priorities or to affect the rate at which development takes place. So there is no reason for fears that the implementation of the scheme will mean that all owner-occupied property must be acquired for other development. In any case, where owner-occupied houses do need to be acquired, the owners will continue to receive the market value for their houses and they will be entitled, as now, to the full range of statutory payments under the existing Compensation Code.
The noble Baroness raised the question of the disposal notification area—a point which was also taken up by the 1442 noble Viscount. Again, I must say that I am afraid I found the comments of the noble Baroness, at least, thoroughly misleading. The local authority does not serve a notice saying that it acquires the land. It says whether or not it intends to do so. Local authorities already do just this in reply to the local land charges search made by a purchaser before that purchaser buys the land. If the local authority want to go ahead with their purchase they have to by agreement or make a compulsory purchase order to which objections can be made in the usual way. What disposal notification areas do is, first, let local authorities know when land is about to change hands so that if they would have bought the land in any event they can try to buy it at this stage when the owner is interested in selling it—in other words, that is in the interests of the owner of the property. Secondly, they extend the categories of blight so that those entitled to blight protection can make authorities buy if the property is blighted—once again, something for the protection of the owner-occupier. Owner-occupiers will not be liable to development land tax if they realise development land value of their houses and up to one-quarter of an acre of garden. That is the only significance of the one-quarter of an acre of garden.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, because I am grateful for his full explanation. But this is an extremely important point that I have raised about owner-occupiers.
what he has said is true, that owner-occupiers need not worry at all about this Bill, I simply do not understand the provisions of Clause 4 at all and why they are drawn so tightly. I wonder, if he cannot answer this question now—this is very complicated and I am not quite sure
followed all his arguments—whether he would write to me about it.
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, I think already have answered the noble Baroness at great length. What I have said is that this Bill makes no difference to an owner-occupier's position under the existing law. A compulsory purchase order can already be issued on an owner-occupier if the local authority wishes to buy an owner-occupier's house and if there are good reasons for doing so. They go through the existing procedures. The 1443 clause to which the noble Baroness is referring—if my memory serves me aright—is providing for local authorities, permanent exemptions from the duty to acquire, so that local authorities will never be under the duty to acquire these particular categories which are set out in Clause 4. That is a separate point from the question of what authorities may do under existing procedures which will not be affected by the Bill. The position of owner-occupiers will not be affected by the Bill at all.
I was saying that owner-occupiers will not be liable to pay the development tax on the development value of their house when that is sold either. The move to current use value will not have a major significance for owner-occupiers; for most houses already change hands on the open market at current use value in any event.. The proposed changes in the provisions of the Bill dealing with compulsory purchase provide, as I have said, safeguards for residential occupiers generally—that is not only for owner-occupiers. Unless acquisition is based on a plan or a planning permission which has already been subject to a public inquiry, there will have to be an inquiry or hearing into an objection to a compulsory purchase order made by a residential occupier. I think that the noble Baroness, as I said, did not fully get Clause 4 right when she originally spoke about it. I was going to go on to deal with Clause 4 but I think I have done so already.
To turn to the manpower position which was raised by several noble Lords and mentioned by my noble friend Lady Stedman, so far as the, land scheme is concerned its introduction next year may obviously call for the filling of some key posts, but in their land acquisition and management schemes authorities will be looking for the maximum utilisation of existing staff by means of sharing arrangements and redeployment. My noble friend Lady Stedman asked what we were doing about ensuring that skilled staff will be available when they are needed. I hope that what I have already said about the sharing of staff and redeployment will go some way to setting her mind at rest. I can also tell her that discussions are still going on between the Department and the professional bodies 1444 about training arrangements. Where manpower forms a real constraint, the scheme is sufficiently flexible to take account of this.
§ The Earl of ONSLOW
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way for one brief moment? He has given detailed estimates of the amount of money the community is to gain by this legislation. Therefore, presumably he can give detailed estimates of the number of people the community is to employ to put this procedure into practice. So could he please give the House those numbers?
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, I think the figures are available. If my memory serves me aright, the number will be 12,700 when the scheme is fully operational, of which about one-third will be professional and two-thirds will be support staff. I think the noble Earl was asking me the cost. Of course, the point of those figures is that they relate to when the scheme is fully operational. We do not know any more than the noble Earl does when that will be, and the cost will obviously depend on the point in time when all those staff are employed.
My Lords, I think I ought to come to the end of what I have to say. I would turn briefly to what I see as the last bastion of the Opposition's defiance to this Bill. As a leader in The Times of 29th July put it, many local authorities,…are well aware that they are not equipped to go into property speculation in a big way. Many more demonstrate it by their tardy and unimaginative use of the land that they do own. From this point of view, the Bill is as misconceived as ever.Last month The Times was saying of local authorities:They have not the staff, or the funds, nor is their character such that they possess, or could acquire, the imagination, judgment or motives to fit them to exclusive primary initiative in all development.In May, a leader in the Daily Telegraph put the view a little more forcefully when it said that with this BillA great deal more power over all of us will be handed to local politicians and bureaucrats who, far from being benevolent and farsighted public servants, will often be petty, incompetent, politically extreme and sometimes corrupt.With my noble friend Lord Castle I was frankly astonished that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, adopted this line of attack. Her noble friend Lord Colville of Culross said that he thought things 1445 were done very well by the Oxford City local authority. However, judging by the fears of the noble Baroness about the way local authorities will behave and the possibilities for corruption, she must have had very unhappy experiences in her long and eminent career in a local authority.
If I may say so, this argument about the ability and the rightness of local authorities remains the major divide between this side of the House and noble Lords opposite. My noble friend Lady Birk has already explained the reasons for our choice of the local authorities as the primary agents for operating the scheme and for the separate arrangements in Wales. We are absolutely confident that the new local authorities will all eventually be capable of operating the scheme. Indeed, I find it difficult to see why there should really be any question about this. Noble Lords opposite would do well to remember that public authorities already buy approaching half of the land coming into development each year for their own purposes. My noble friend Lady Stedman with her great experience in local authority affairs confirmed this view of the abilities of local government.
A number of local authorities are already successfully undertaking the kind of role they will have under the land scheme—for instance, as expanding towns or in schemes under the £80 million programme introduced by the last Conservative Government in 1972. We expect a number of authorities to be ready and eager to operate the scheme in full as soon as they can be given the opportunity. I have to admit, of course, that local authorities have had some difficulties recently. They have had to cope with a disastrous reorganisation. In the planning field they have had to settle how to operate the split of functions that was laid down in the Local Government Act 1972. However, given the careful phasing of the scheme which my noble friend outlined at the start of the debate, we see no reason to believe that local authorities will not be able to fit themselves to take on their new responsibilities. I very much welcome what my noble friend Lord Pitt of Hamp- 1446 Stead said about the preparedness of the Greater London Council in getting ready to implement the Bill.
The Times, the Telegraph and noble Lords opposite complain about this power being given to local authorities. Where is the power now? As my noble friend Lady White said, it is with property companies, financial institutions, landowners and property speculators. Opponents of the Bill are presumably happy with this situation. Indeed, when noble Lords opposite were last in Government they went further and successively eroded the functions of local government by putting water and health in the hands of non-elected bodies. We are now trying to redress the balance a little and in a way which will not put a penny on the rates.
With this Bill, the Government will give the power to plan positively in the interests of the whole community to democratically elected local authorities. Land values created by the community will be enjoyed by the community. The sooner that happens the greater the benefits to everyone in this country. I urge this House to give the Bill their full support.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.