§ 2.47 p.m.
§ Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales that they, having been informed of the purport of the Community Land Bill have consented to place their prerogative and interests, so far as they are concerned on behalf of the Crown, the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE, DEPARTMENT of the ENVIRONMENT (Baroness Birk)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be read 3a.—(Baronos Birk.)
§ On Question, Bill read 3a with the Amendments.1579
§ Clause 25 [Assumptions as to planning permission on or after second appointed day]:
§ Baroness YOUNG moved Amendment No. 1:
§ Page 26, line 10, at end insert —
§ "(11)(a) The assumptions in subsection (2) of this section shall not be made where—
- (i)during the whole of the period beginning with 12th September 1974 and ending with the date mentioned in subsection (1)(a) or (b) above, the interest in land has been owned by an approved pension scheme, and
- (ii)that period is a period of not more than eleven years.
§ (b)For the purposes of paragraph (a) above, the interest in land shall be treated as having been owned by an approved pension scheme at any time if at that time the approved pension scheme has, or had, entered into a binding contract for its acquisition.
§ (c)In this subsection "approved pension scheme" means a retirement pension scheme approved by the Commissioner for Inland Revenue under section 222 of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1970 or a superannuation fund approved by the Commissioners for Inland Revenue for the purposes of section 208 of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1970."
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 1 and at the same time speak to Amendment No. 2. The purpose of these two Amendments has already been debated in Committee and on Report. The reason for putting down both of them on Third Reading is a purely technical matter. When the matter was debated on Report, my noble friend Lord Colville indicated that we might return with Amendments which would put Amendment No. 1, which is concerned with pension funds, into Clause 25. The purpose of Amendment No. 2 is to leave out Clause 26. Clause 25 is intended to deal with the compensation after the second appointed day, and it therefore seems illogical to have a separate clause dealing with pension funds. The reason why the last subsection has been left out of Amendment No. 1 is that it already appears as part of the present Clause 25 and therefore there is no need to include it. I beg to move.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, the noble Baroness has explained that this Amendment merely achieves a re-ordering of provisions already in the Bill. It writes into Clause 25 (dealing with current use value) provisions which are at present in 1580 Clause 26. It was made clear both in Committee and at Report stage that the Opposition's attempts to provide for special treatment for land held by pension funds were not acceptable to the Government. I do not think that there is any point in going over the issues again, and I therefore accept the Amendment without prejudice to the consideration that will need to be given in another place. I do this because the Government accepted Clause 26, since it had the same effect as the Amendment which had been carried against us in Committee.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 26 [Compensation payable in transactions between certain authorities]:
§ Amendment moved.—
§ Leave out Clause 26.—(Baroness Young.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 43 [Consent for disposals]:
§ Baroness YOUNG moved Amendment No. 3:
§ Leave out Clause 43 and insert the following new Clause —
§ Disposition of material interest by an authority
§ (".—(1) The Secretary of State may make Regulations prescribing the terms under which an authority may dispose of any material interest in land acquired under this Act;
§ (2) Regulations under this section shall not be made unless a draft of the Regulations has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.")
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 3. This, too, is an Amendment which we debated both on Committee and on Report. It was debated at the end of last Thursday afternoon, and in reply the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor began by saying that the Amendment I had moved was incorrectly drafted. The first point I should like to make about this new Amendment is that I hope I have now managed to put right the technical points that were raised on the original one. I believe that the original Amendment was wrong because it referred to the principal council, which is an expression not defined anywhere else in the Bill, whereas the use of the term "authority" which is defined, also covers Scotland. The term "material interest" 1581 covers Scotland as well as England, and is also defined.
§ However, the most important point is, the principle behind this clause. I hope that now that the Amendment is drafted correctly the Government will be able to consider it sympathetically. It is one on which the local authorities feel very strongly indeed. Their first concern is that there is no distinction in the Bill between land which they currently hold, and land which they will acquire under the Bill. They believe that they ought to have the right to dispose of land publicly held, without having to get the permission of the Secretary of State. As I indicated previously, local authorities have acquired this land for a variety of services—schools, social services or highways—and there may be just a very small amount of land which is surplus to their requirements. They feel that if this is the case they should be able to dispose of that land as they think best.
§ Secondly, they are very concerned that under Clause 43 the Secretary of State would have the right to approve every disposal made by a local authority. They believe that it would be a much better way of dealing with this situation if the rules governing disposal were to be written into regulations. The Government have argued that regulations would be more inflexible than what is proposed in the Bill, yet in earlier debates they have argued to the contrary, that regulations would he too flexible. I believe that by regulations one could strike the right balance between what I am certain all would agree are times when the Secretary of State should intervene on the disposal of a piece of land, and times when local authorities should have complete freedom of disposal. It would, after all, be perfectly possible to frame the regulations so that consent by the Secretary of State would be necessary in certain circumstances. It seems to me that this could fulfil what the Government want and, at the same time, help the local authorities.
§ I believe this to be a very important Amendment. It is important both from the point of view of local authorities, and also from the point of view of whether or not the Bill will work. The financing of the Bill will depend on the success with which local authorities are able to make money out of their land acquisitions and disposals. If they feel right at the start 1582 that they will not be able to operate the Bill in the best interests of the local authority, as they see the position, and presumably, by definition under the Bill, of the people whom they are supposed to be helping, then the Bill is likely to be less effective than the Government would wish it to be. For that reason, I beg to move.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I should first point out that the noble Baroness drew attention to a comment made by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, who dealt with a similar Amendment on Report, when he mentioned the drafting deficiencies in that Amendment. But that was not the substance of the Government's resistance to it. As was explained at Report stage when the Amendment was moved by the noble Baroness, it is unacceptable to the Government to draw a distinction between land acquired under the Bill and land acquired under other statutory provisions. Local authorities will continue to be able to use their existing powers—for example, under the Housing and Planning Acts—to acquire land for private development. Given this, it would be unacceptable to have a situation under which the disposal of land acquired under the Land Bill and disposed of for private development was subject to control, whereas land acquired under other powers and disposed of for the same purpose was not.
It has been made clear that our intention is to issue general consents to disposals which will give local authorities wide flexibility to dispose of land without the need for specific reference to the Secretary of State in individual cases. Where a local authority wish to dispose of land on terms which are not covered by the general consent, they will be free to come to the Secretary of State and seek his consent to other terms. This approach combines the advantages of giving a wide measure of discretion to local authorities, with flexibility to deal with special cases on their merits and by reference to the particular circumstances of each case.
If the Secretary of State had to attempt to foresee and provide for all circumstances within the regulations provided for in the Amendment, the result must inevitably be that there would be cases in which local authorities would want to dispose on terms which would be 1583 precluded by regulations, but which the Secretary of State might be prepared to consent to, having regard to the circumstances of the case. The only answer to this problem would be to have a consent procedure for cases not covered by the regulations; but the effect of this would be to render the Amendment nugatory.
The regulatory approach is therefore undesirable on the grounds, first, that it would remove desirable flexibility; and, secondly, the possibility of giving speedy approval for disposals on exceptional terms in circumstances where speed may be important. It is, furthermore, unprecedented in relation to the giving of consents to the disposal of land. The extent of the control over land disposals by local authorities has varied from time to time, but where control has been exercisable such control has been achieved by a requirement for the consent of a Minister, and never by regulations. I therefore hope that in view of that reply the noble Baroness will withdraw her Amendment.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for once again giving me a very full reply on this matter. I think we are both agreed that we are not really discussing a point of drafting but rather a point of principle; and one of the difficulties about all this is that although the noble Baroness states —as indeed has been stated on other occasions—that it is the Government's
§ intention that local councils shall be able to dispose of land in circumstances where they think it is best, that is not what the Bill says, and we really must stand by what the Bill says. Local authorities feel they are being tied down to a system which has not operated before.
If one looks at Clause 43, it is perfectly clear that it is an insertion into the Local Government Act 1972, beginning —
Except with the consent of the Secretary of State, a principal council shall not dispose of a material interest in any land".
To say that it is not going to be interpreted as the Bill reads is not a very satisfactory answer, and it is certainly not one that the local authorities are prepared to accept. They hold very strong opinions on this matter. Again, I find it difficult to accept that it is unacceptable to the Government to draw a distinction between land which local authorities currently hold and land which they will acquire under the Bill. They seem to me to be two entirely different propositions. I myself have not found the argument of the Government convincing, and as the proposal is something which I believe local authorities would like to see I should like to test the feeling of the House on this matter.
§ 3 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 70; Not-Contents, 52.1585
|Aberdare, L.||Erskine of Rerrick, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Airedale, L.||Goschen, V.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Alport, L.||Grenfell, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Gridley, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Banks, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Platt, L.|
|Barnby, L.||Hanworth, V.||Porritt, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Hawke, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Hood, V.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.|
|Belstead, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Sandford, L.|
|Camoys, L.||Inchyra, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Inglewood, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Carrington, L.||Kilmany, L.||Sherfield, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Kimberley, E.||Somers, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Kinnaird, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Lauderdale, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Long, V.||Strathspey, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Loudoun, C.||Tenby, V.|
|de Freyne, L.||Lyell, L.||Thomas, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Macpherson of Drumochter, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Merrivale, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Monck, V.||Wade, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Young, B.|
|Elton, L.||Newall, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Gardiner, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Geddes of Epsom, L.||Noel-Buxton, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Pannell, L.|
|Birk, B.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Pargiter, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Hale, L.||Popplewell, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.||Shepherd, L. (L. Privy Seal.)|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Henderson, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Chalfont, L.||Hoy, L.||Slater, L.|
|Champion, L.||Jacques, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Collison, L.||Janner, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Leatherland, L.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Lee of Newton, L.||Summerskill, B.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Douglas of Barloch, L.||Lovell-Davis, L. [Teller.]||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Douglass of Cleveland, L.||McLeavy, L.||Wigg, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor)||MacLeod of Fuinary, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Maybray-King, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ Schedule 4 [Acquisition and appropriation of land]:
§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Lord SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 4:
§ Page 58, line 29, leave out ("or inexpedient") and insert ("to ensure satisfactory development of the land").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 4. Again, we return to an issue which has been discussed more than once on previous occasions on the Bill. The words at line 28 on page 58 are lifted straight out of the Local Government Acts. It is clear that once a substantial public inquiry has been held as to whether there should or should not be a new town in a particular place, and a plan has been submitted indicating exactly what land is to be acquired, where, and for what purpose, it would be fruitless and a waste of time for objectors to raise objections to any particular acquisition on the ground that that acquisition was inexpedient. The broad issues would have been settled.
§ We have contended that it is not appropriate to lift those words completely unaltered and apply them in the circumstances that would be operating under this Bill. I think there has been common ground between us that a search should be made for some suitable Amendment by which the word " inexpedient" could be limited, by reference to the purposes behind the Bill, to correspond with the purposes for which land was being acquired in the case of a new town. Then, the bare word " inexpedient" would be 1586 limited by reference to the purposes of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Colville of Culross made a previous attempt to find a form of words which would appeal to the Government. This Amendment is a second attempt to find another form of words which I hope will commend itself to both the House and the Government. I beg to move.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, as the noble Lord has said, it is perfectly true that in discussing Amendments on this power in Committee my noble friend Lord Melchett made it clear that the Government would be prepared to consider alternative wording, if one could be produced, which reflected the spirit of the Government's intentions. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, took this point and at Report stage made a genuine effort to try to meet it, but his Amendment was not acceptable because, again, it would still have left it open to an owner to argue that if the land was not acquired he would be able to ensure that it was developed more quickly, or in a better manner, or more economically. Clearly, within the spirit of the Government's intentions, there ought to be power for the Secretary of State to disregard this objection also. Therefore, that Amendment was unacceptable.
I appreciate that the present Amendment is an attempt to meet these objections, but I am afraid that, again, it is still not right. Apart from questions of who would determine whether or not the development was satisfactory—and that is also a valid point—it would still leave it open to an owner to argue that his development would be more satisfactory, 1587 or that he could do the same development more economically. Moreover, the Amendment would cover only the quality of the development. The Secretary of State would still not be able to disregard an objection to acquisition made on the basis of, for example, the timing of the development. I am afraid, therefore, that this formula, again, is unsatisfactory. It only goes to show how difficult it is to draft any alternative wording and brings us back to the point at which we started, that the original wording is the best possible that we can find and should remain as it is in the Bill.
§ Lord SANDFORD
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I do not think that I can agree that the wording which has been derived from an Act designed for an entirely different purpose is the best that can be devised. Nevertheless, at this stage we shall rest content with the other improvements and Amendments that we have secured, mostly with the agreement of the Government, to the rest of Schedule 4. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord SANDFORD moved Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7:
§ Page 59, line 22, leave out ("to the Act of 1946").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think we are agreed that Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7 are drafting Amendments that take out of the Bill different references to the Act of 1946. This Act does not need to be referred to more than once since it is referred to in Part I—Preliminary. Therefore, it will be for the convenience of the House if I move Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7 which achieve the same purpose, but apply to slightly different references. I beg to move Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7 en bloc.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, if I may deal with Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7 together for the convenience of the House, Amendment No. 5 is an adaptation to apply to Scotland the Opposition Amendments carried at Report stage to limit the right to dispense with a public inquiry in the case of owner-occupiers. At this stage, I propose to accept the Amendment 1588 but, again without prejudice to the view that the Government may reach in another place on the acceptability of the basic Amendment.
So far as Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are concerned, may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that the Title of the Act is not quite correct; it should be the "Acquisition of Land Act". It was incorrectly described in the Amendment that was carried on Thursday and it has been incorrectly described in these Amendments. However, that is a minor point. The Amendments are aimed at improving the drafting of an Amendment that in substance was carried last Thursday. I cannot resist saying that it is about the silliest Amendment that has been carried. Be that as it may, I accept that these are consequential Amendments, but I do so without prejudice to what might happen in another place.
§ Schedule 6 [General duties of authorities]:
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Lord SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 8:
§ Page 76, line 9, leave out from ("form") to end of line 15 and insert—
- ("(a) by a person who owned a material interest in the land immediately prior to its acquisition by the authority, and who has made such application within one month of a notice in writing (which shall be given by the authority to all such persons); or
- (b) by an applicant for planning permission for development of the same class as the development for which the land is being made available and who made such application before all outstanding material interests in the land had been acquired by the authority.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 8 which relates to Schedule 6. This is another issue which we have looked at several times before, although not this point. Both sides of the House have been concerned to ensure that the rights of those people, who, before the land was acquired by a local authority, either owned it or had put in an application for planning permission to develop it, should have special rights over and against all other corners when the time came for the local authority to dispose of an interest in either the freehold or the leasehold of the land, or else to dispose of the right to develop it.1589
§ The point which this Amendment is designed to secure is that which was referred to in another place, and finally concluded by way of a letter from the noble Baroness's right honourable friend Mr. Oakes to my honourable friend Mr. Sainsbury, to which I referred at Report stage. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that the rights which both sides of the House are concerned to secure are not satisfactorily met, unless the previous owner and the applicant are given an indication that the local authority are about to exercise their powers or duties, as the case may be, to dispose of the interest or of the right to develop, because without such notice they cannot exercise the rights provided for them in this Part of the Bill.
§ These Amendments seek to provide notice of one month from the local authority to the owner that the authority are about to dispose of the interest or right, as the case may be. Without notice, it is not possible for the owner or the applicant to exercise the right provided for them in the Bill, and one could get the very situation which Mr. Oakes indicated in his letter, of somebody with a right to be considered before any other person coming along just as the local authority was about to enter into negotiations with a third party for the disposal of the interest of the right to develop. I beg to move.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, the Amendment would alter the time limit in the case of former owners so that they had to make their application within one month,of a notice in writing which shall be given by the authority to all such persons".As drafted, the Amendment is defective since it does not state what the notice is intended to relate to. It is presumably intended to be notice that the authority intend to make the land available for development by persons other than any authority. In fact, it does not say this.
The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, raised a similar point during the Report stage in this House when he suggested that an authority should have to notify the former owner, or developer with owner's consent, if they decided that land they had 1590 acquired would be made available for private development. I understand that one of his concerns is that if an authority acquires land for their purposes—that is, not for private development under the Landscheme—and later decide to make it available for private development, they should be required to notify the former owner who could then make a prior right application. It would be virtually impossible to put into effect the Amendment. The authority might quite justifiably need to hold the land for a considerable period, at the end of which it would be impossible to trace all the former owners of all material interests in the land. This would lead to the land being needlessly sterilised before it could be disposed of. Furthermore, the "relevant applications" specified in paragraph 2(3) of the Schedule are applications to negotiate either the purchase of a material interest in the land in order to develop it, or to carry out the agreed development. By no means all former owners would wish to develop the land they had owned, so the search to find them would be both burdensome and unnecessary.
The answer for an owner of land who might wish to develop it is to make a prior right application within the existing terms of Schedule 6. He would then be certain that the authority would have regard to the application before disposing elsewhere of the land. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said that the owner may not know when the authority have acquired all outstanding material interests in the land, but the owner will know when they are in process of acquiring his, which is the important point; so that he could always ensure that a prior right application can be made in time if he wishes to make one.
In answer to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford: owners will already have exercised their rights (if they want to) at the time of acquisition. So I would ask the noble Lord, on behalf of his noble friend, to withdraw the Amendment, both on the grounds that it is not clear in the drafting what the notice refers to, and that it will not help the situation but will make it even more difficult.
§ Lord SANDFORD
My Lords I certainly agree that there is one way, at any rate, for an owner to secure his prior rights. In addition, my noble friends 1591 and I were anxious to secure the right by another way. I am afraid we have not managed to persuade the Government that this should be done, but I will not press the Amendment. I beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 8 [Disposal notification areas]:
§ 3.23 p.m.
Baroness YOUNG moved Amendment No. 9:
Page 85, line 29, in the correction slip, after ("residence") insert ("in the opinion of the authority,")
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 9 is an Amendment to an Amendment which was carried on Report. One of the criticisms of the Amendment when it was being debated on Report was that no one would be able to say what was meant by this statement about a garden,
or such larger areas as may in any particular case be required for the reasonable enjoyment of it as a residence".
This Amendment is intended to be helpful and to insert into Schedule 8 the words, "in the opinion of the authority", so that the authority would be able to decide in each case.
§ The House will recall that the issue in Schedule 8 is the exclusion of owner-occupiers from disposal notification areas and, under the Government Amendment as originally drafted, the exclusion would not apply to a garden of more than an acre. These words were moved in at Report stage by my noble friends and myself to indicate the difficulties which would arise in the case of a house with a garden of 0.9 acres, which would be excluded from the disposal notification area procedure, and a garden of 1.1 acres which would not. This Amendment is intended to be helpful in determining those cases. I beg to move.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, this is another case where the original Amendment was passed after a Division and therefore we see no reason to oppose this, which is an improvement to the original Amendment. I would say only that I find it rather odd that, on the one hand, the whole purpose of the original Amendment was to enable owner-occupiers to keep from the local authority knowledge 1592 of their intention to dispose of their house and garden. Now, on the other hand, the Opposition have won their Amendment, they ask the opinion of the local authority as to whether the residence and the garden falls within the meaning of the Amendment which has been passed. But I will certainly not resist this, which is all part of the original Amendment. It is just a bit odd.
§ Lord LEATHERLAND
My Lords, before the Question is put, may I draw attention to a technical point which could probably be remedied at a later stage. On page 85 of the Bill, which we are now discussing, we refer to "one acre": yet on page 29, in another context, we refer to 5,000 square metres. Could we be consistent in the various references in this Bill by abiding either by acres, on the one hand, or the metric system, on the other?
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. We are now coming to the end of our consideration of this Bill; and first I want to thank noble Lords opposite for their cooperation in enabling us to stick to our timetable of sending the Bill back to another place tonight, so that they can consider our Amendments tomorrow.
We have had many hours of debate. My noble friends and I have, not surprisingly, had to make it clear that we could not accept Amendments which would run counter to the principles of the Community Land scheme. But within these limitations I believe a number of useful changes have been made to the Bill in your Lordships' House. Leaving aside drafting Amendments, I estimate there are about 20 significant Amendments which have been made following points put forward by noble Lords opposite; we have achieved a complete redrafting of Part I of the Bill: arrangements for publicity and consultation in various parts of the Bill have been significantly improved; and our long debates about the effect of the Bill on agriculture have been reflected in some quite significant Amendments. Again, I am grateful to noble Lords opposite for the contribution they have made here.
I sympathise with the dilemma of the Opposition, who are torn between their 1593 avowed stance of acceptance of the principle of the Bill, amending merely to improve, and the root and branch opposition that many Amendments have revealed. These tortuous postures remind me of a man discussing with a marriage guidance counsellor how to make his marriage work and at the same time firmly instructing his solicitor to start proceedings for divorce. The aircraft of misunderstanding or misrepresentation have been flying around wildly and I think it is time they were grounded. This Bill is not about nationalisation of land. This word has been thrown around by the noble Baroness and some of her colleagues, and I take it that it is meant to be a bogey, scare mongering word.
The principle of the Bill is that land which is to come into development—and only such land—should pass through public ownership largely by way of local authorities representing the community. Land which is not developed will not be affected in any way. Nor will the Bill mean "the end of freehold'' as has constantly been suggested. I have made it clear, again and again, that the Government are entirely committed to the extension of owner-occupation; and we have never deviated from the principle—stated in the original White Paper—that land for owner-occupied houses will be made available freehold.
That the community should keen the freehold of land for industrial or commercial development is essential if the community is to reap continuing increases in value. But this principle is not novel. Many industrialists have successfully built factories in new towns. Many commercial concerns have developed shopping centres in partnership with local authorities. They have neither suffered, nor been disadvantaged because their land has come through public ownership, with the freehold commonly remaining with the selling public authority. To hear the speeches of some noble Lords opposite, one would think this was the first Bill ever to authorise public authorities to buy land compulsorily, or that it made major new changes in procedures. In fact, there is nothing in the procedures which depart from precedent; and the power of acquisition —though deliberately a wide one—is absolutely in line with other powers 1594 which Parliament has, over the years, conferred on public authorities.
Here, my Lords, I think we come to the nub of the matter: the battle between private interest and public good. Over the years in our democracy there has been a steady shift from complete laissez-faire to a more acceptable social balance. Despite this open and recognisable evolution many noble Lords do not seem to have appreciated that times have changed. This is not really surprising in this House where landed interests are involved. My Lords, we believe that everybody has the right to own his own house and the land it stands on. But the argument that special provisions benefiting residential owner-occupiers should extend to those with more than an acre exposes the real interest of noble Lords opposite. The great majority of owner-occupied houses in this country have less than one quarter of an acre. So in setting a limit at one acre we are being generous, and generous to a minority.
My Lords, finally, let me return to the two objectives set out in the White Paper —positive planning and the recoupment of betterment. No one has openly disputed that these are highly desirable objectives, yet it is socially and politically significant that while paying lip-service to these objectives, Amendments have been passed which drive a coach and horses hell-for-leather through the basic principles. It is argued that our existing planning system is adequate, and that betterment can be left to taxation. I have said again and again that taxation is not sufficient to make positive planning possible. We need to strengthen our planning system; and at the same time, public ownership provides a more effective and complete way of recouping betterment.
My Lords, land is a scarce commodity; it is a very precious asset, and the way it is developed is vital to everybody, not only to those who own land, but to the vast majority who do not own a title of an acre. It is also vital to future generations who will have to live with many of our contemporary plans and to whom we owe a tremendous responsibility. I believe they will find this measure not only acceptable and natural but that they will also consider, in years to come, that it is not, indeed, a very radical measure. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Birk.)
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has said, we have now come to the end of this very long debate on this Bill. I should like to begin by thanking my colleagues who have been so extraordinarily helpful throughout the proceedings. I should particularly like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and his team who have worked so hard on the question of agriculture. My noble friend Lord Balfour is unable to be present today, but I think we would all agree that single-handed he has done a quite remarkable job. I should also like to thank in particular the noble Lords, Lord Sandys and Lord Middleton, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for their great help. At the same time, it would be wrong for me not to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and her office for the help they have given in supplying us with a great deal of the information, without which we should have had even greater difficulties than we have had already in understanding this legislation, and for writing so promptly on all the points raised in Committee. I would like to express our appreciation.
My Lords, at this stage it would be useless to pretend other than that this is a highly political and highly contentious Bill. It is one to which we are fundamentally opposed in principle, and it is one which we have undertaken to repeal when we are returned to power. Therefore, it is only right to state the reasons why fundamentally we believe this to be a bad Bill. To begin with, now, even after the Amendments that have been agreed—there have been very considerable Amendments since the Bill was first introduced into another place the Bill still does not have the full support of most professional organisations—except, so far as I can find out, the Sand and Gravel Association.
The Amendments moved by those of us on this side of the House to protect the pension funds and the retirement funds of the 12 million people in occupational pension schemes have been contested by the Government. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the National 1596 Housebuilders' Federation remain unconvinced that the Bill will work as the Government either expect or hope it will. Indeed, only today the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors have published a memorandum on the development land tax White Paper.
The development land tax is an issue which, of course, must be considered with the Bill, although it is one which we have not been able to debate as we have not seen the Bill into which it will be incorporated. But the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors make the fair point that the development land tax may mean that the first objective of the Government, as originally stated in their White Paper on Land, namely:… to restore to the community the increase in value of land arising from its efforts.may succeed. Because of the rate of development land tax it may make impossible the achievement of the second aim; namely,… to enable the community to control the development of land in accordance with its needs and priorities;…".The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors consider—afterall, they are experts in this field—that because of the level at which it is proposed to levy this tax, land owners will be most reluctant to bring forward land for development. Therefore, there will have to be a compulsory purchase order in every case, with all the consequent delays which that procedure involves. Surely, delays in house building and in industrial development cannot be what the Government either want or intend; yet, almost certainly, that is what will happen.
My Lords, local authorities are by no means happy about the intentions of the Government, particularly with regard to disposal of land—a point we have already debated this afternoon. I think it would not be unfair to say that neither the Churches nor the charities are satisfied with the present proposals of the Government. This is a matter which has been debated at length in this House, and I hope that the other place will accept the very valuable Amendments moved into the Bill by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London; because for hundreds of years Parliament has acknowledged the unique role in the community of the Churches and charities.
1597 If only the Government Amendments stand, neither the Churches nor the charities are fully excluded from the provisions of the Bill, or at least only for a very short time. To make an artificial distinction between pre-and post-White Paper day land—and by giving them compensation which will not be based on market value in the future—is not a way to treat these long-established institutions, which, by any definition, serve the community.
The voice of the Welsh may have been effectively silenced during our Committee procedures, at least temporarily, but no one outside studying the Bill can fail to notice the different treatment accorded to Wales and the Welsh compared with the treatment of England and Scotland. By Amendments put down on this side of the House, we have amended the Bill so that the Land Authority for Wales must send copies of its agency arrangements to its local authorities so that they may be published and the public informed as to what is going on. That is all that we have been able to do, but at least it will inform people in Wales as to what is happening.
One of the most extraordinary, though not altogether unexpected, effects of this Bill is that the more that is known of it and understood about it the more alarmed the public have become, for the fundamental presumptions of planning have been changed. Under the Bill, local authorities will have the power, and, on the second appointed day, the duty, to acquire development land. Although I quite see the point the noble Baroness Lady Birk, made just now—that it does not mean the ending of freehold for owner-occupiers—the balance has now shifted in favour of acquisition by local authorities and against the individual, whereas until this Bill came before us the balance was, in effect, the other way. Even the Amendments to exclude owner-occupiers from the notorious disposal notification areas will not altogether help the individual. In my view, a house in a disposal notification area will be unsaleable. It is useless for the Government to say that owner-occupiers have nothing to fear. No one knows the size of the disposal notification areas, or who will be under threat in them.
1598 My Lords, the House of Lords is primarily an amending Chamber, and we on this side of the House have done all that we can not to destroy the principles of the Bill but to help to support individual rights which now exist. We have moved Amendments to exclude the single dwelling-house plots, to provide for much greater public participation, and for the Secretary of State to be obliged to set up hardship tribunals and to apply the principles of legal aid. We have done what we can to help the country in its vital efforts to produce more food. We have made sure that acquisition of land is kept within the planning framework, for it is a framework of which anybody connected with planning has come to be very proud. We are glad to acknowledge that the Government have given way on a number of important matters, and in particular matters of public information and some of the matters on disposal notification areas. But sometimes one cannot avoid the conclusion that, on the question of owner-occupiers, it is not because it is a matter of principle but because there are a great many of them and it is politically expedient to look after them.
My Lords, in the course of the Committee stage I asked: what is the community? I tried to get an answer and for my pains I was told that I was wasting the time of the Committee. The community, according to the Government, is the local authorities, although many would challenge that statement. Many people think that under this Bill it will be bureaucracy, with the 14,000 extra civil servants. But everybody is agreed that you cannot exclude from any definition of the community the Churches, the charities or the pension funds and all the work they do, or the house-builders, without whom there would he no houses at all, or the industrialists or the owner-occupiers. All are members of the community. This is a Bill whose stated purposes we believe could be fulfilled under present legislation and by taxation. Whatever else it may be, it is certainly not a Bill for the benefit of the community.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Lord WADE
My Lords, for reasons with which I will not trouble your Lordships I have been unable to take part in the proceedings on this Bill, but the task has been performed so well by my noble 1599 friend Lord Foot and my other colleagues that anything I might have said would have been redundant. As my noble friend Lord Foot is unable to be here today, I should like to offer a few observations, and they are somewhat critical of the Bill.
The noble Baroness said that the objectives were positive planning and recruitment of betterment. I believe that neither of these objectives will be achieved. I welcome some of the Amendments which have been passed. So far as they go they may lessen some of the complexities and faults in the Bill. By no means have all the points been met. I shall listen with great interest to what the right reverend Prelate has to say; I think the Churches still have some problems, as have voluntary bodies. But as I see it, the crux of the matter is that the Bill does not set out in the right way to achieve what so many of us desire; namely, better positive planning and a more enlightened and effective method of recruiting betterment. We have not been able to discuss the development land tax which is, of course, closely bound up with this subject. Here I would merely say that I agree that it looks as though the rate will be too high, in which case it will have the same effect as the 1947 Act in that respect.
As to the method, as opposed to what is now known as art annual variable site tax, I believe the whole idea of collecting betterment in this way is wrong, but obviously on Third Reading it would be a mistake for me to embark on that matter. Looking at past history—and there have been many attempts to deal with this subject—I would forecast that this Bill will turn out either to be a dead letter, and fail in that respect, or it will create a reaction. Where you rely overmuch on compulsory purchase, as this Bill does if it is to do anything, there is always a reaction, and finally—though I am not making any forecast on behalf of future Governments—the Act is repealed. I could mention many such examples, and that is what I fear in this case.
Having listened to these long debates, I feel that we have been going through a rehearsal for a lengthy and complicated funeral. I am getting on to rather dangerous ground and I will not proceed with that metaphor, as I am sure it is not entirely appropriate. But I am very sorry, because it is important that there should be wise planning. It is important that 1600 values created by the community should be enjoyed by the community. While so far as I am concerned the objective is clear, I have little doubt that the Bill will fail to achieve the objective.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I think this might be a convenient moment for my noble friend to make a Statement.