§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. As I understand it, the function of a Second Reading is to debate the principles and fundamental policies and philosophy of the piece of legislation under debate. Points are raised which then surface in more concrete form in Committee. Since there has been no change whatsoever in the principle, policy or philosophy inherent in this Bill, I find it quite extraordinary that noble Lords should want a repeat performance of what has already been so thoroughly thrashed out. This does not mean that I do not appreciate the right of noble Lords to take this all over again, but in exercising my freedom of speech I am not going to take up the time of the House by repeating what I said last time round, and I cannot see any way in which I could alter it, or indeed improve on it.
We discussed the principal objectives and some considerable detail of this Bill when we debated its twin sister, the No. 2 Bill, on 4th August. On that occasion I described—and made available—the Amendments which the Government then had in mind. Having re-read the Report of the debate, I am satisfied that my noble friend Lord Melchett and I explained it fully. During that debate, 22 noble Lords participated and all put their own points of view and even then, if I may say so, there was a considerable amount of repetition. Since then there have been no fundamental changes to the Bill; indeed, all the changes—those that I discussed then and those in the Bill before us today; and, incidentally, this Bill is identical to Monday's White Paper—were put in to meet points put to us both by the Opposition in the other place and by outside bodies; a very large exercise, I should say, in consultation and Parliamentary democracy. Therefore, what I intend to do tonight is to explain the changes which have taken place since our previous debate.
I referred in my speech on 4th August to the Statement that my right honourable 1081 friend the Minister had made on 15th July about the treatment of land owned by the Churches and other charities. There were four points in the Minister's Statement, but one of these related to development land tax which is not in this Bill. Of the other three, two were dealt with by Amendments made at Report stage in another place. First, Churches and other charities will be able to carry out development on land which they owned on 12th September 1974—the date of the Land White Paper—without the land having to come into the ownership of an authority. This is provided for in Clause 4(4)(a). Secondly, where land held by Churches or other charities on White Paper day is acquired when it is no longer needed for the purposes of the charity and can be made available for some other development, the charity will be entitled to receive compensation on a market value basis for a period of at least 10 years from White Paper day.
The third issue is the basis of compensation for charity land after the second appointed day, or the 10-year period if that is longer. The intention here is that charities should receive a value based on the prevailing use of surrounding land. The provisions needed have raised a number of complex issues requiring discussion with interested bodies, and my right honourable friend the Minister is having a further meeting with the Churches Main Committee tomorrow. Thereafter I hope we shall be able to table Amendments to complete the promised package.
I turn now to excepted development. It was, of course, never intended that the provisions in the Bill should apply to all development. The White Paper promised permanent exemptions from acquisition under the scheme, and also transitional exemptions designed to avoid disruption of essential development programmes in the early years. We published a Consultative Document on this in May. There have been wide-ranging and useful consultations. As a result, we now propose a different way of defining the scope of the scheme.
The key to this is a redefinition of the term "relevant development"; and linked with this a new definition of "development land". The effect of the Bill as it now stands is broadly as follows.
The community land scheme will relate to "development land". Development 1082 land is now defined as land needed for relevant development within 10 years; and relevant development excludes not only the minor development in Schedule 1, but also a wide range of other development which is to be included in regulations. All the special procedures in the Bill apply only where development land is at issue. First, the duties conferred on authorities relate as to development land. Secondly, only planning applications for relevant development will be subject to the special procedures in the Bill. Thirdly, the proposed changes in compulsory purchase procedure will apply only where an authority are buying development land.
My right honourable friend the Minister has made available a statement about the content of the proposed regulations, and copies of this are available in the Printed Paper Office. I am sure that this will be helpful when we are looking at the detailed provisions in Committee. We do not think it would be appropriate to define excepted development in the Bill. To get the definitions right, we need to sit down with those concerned with development and look at the detailed drafting of what is proposed. This is something that can be far better achieved where one is using regulations. The position of Parliament will, of course, be fully safeguarded by the fact that the regulations will be subject to Affirmative Resolution in both Houses.
One of the criticisms constantly hurled at the Bill is that there has not been enough time to discuss it, yet 156 hours were spent in unguillotined Committee. Mr. Raison, the Shadow Spokesman, said on Report stage in another place,I do not believe that any Bill can ever have been subject to such a detailed appraisal …".—[Official Report, Commons, 14/10/75; Cols. 1268–9.]I sense, as do many others, a chemical change of mood which expressed itself both in the Commons and in the Press, which has mellowed from a posture of aggressive antagonism to one of suggesting reasoned and constructive criticism. Even the Daily Telegraph, hardly a warm friend of the Bill, recently had an article advocating this approach. What we cannot afford is delay.
When I made my statement on Monday, I was urged to withdraw the Bill and bring it back next Session. There 1083 are many signs that even those who have reservations about this Bill would not now welcome that course. I know very well that there are many in the property world who, while they may prefer not to have the Bill at all, accept that it provides a base for a workable partnership between developers and local authorities, and the longer it stays in limbo the more everything will run down and people will not know where they are. This is a realistic attitude. Noble Lords opposite who detest the social philosophy of positive planning and of returning profit to the community, would do well to consider this in a less blinkered fashion.
My Lords, I believe that what people want now is certainty, not further delay. So, for goodness' sake, let us get on with it, let us discuss it and get this measure through! Therefore, I commend this Bill, like its predecessor, to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Birk.)
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Lord SANDFORD
My Lords, I should like to start with some compliments, although I am afraid there will not be many, to the noble Baroness in response to her speech. The Parliamentary procedure we are now subjected to is almost as monstrous as the legislation itself, although she is not personally responsible for that. Indeed, she and her Department have done their best to mitigate the problems which this appalling procedure has caused us. I think I ought to offer the noble Baroness our condolences, in that the enthusiastic support which she might expect if the Bill were all that its authors claim for it seems to have melted away, and there is not a single member of her Party opposite prepared to speak in its favour.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will allow me to explain. The reason, as I understand it from those I have spoken to—although I have not gone round trying to stop people speaking, or trying to make them speak—is that they consider we have had a Second Reading. This is why of their own momentum nobody has come forward.
§ Lord SANDFORD
My Lords, we will see when we come to Committee! I should like to start by affirming that I do not own any freehold land, and as to my own home, I am a tenant of the Westminster City Council. But even if I did, my attack on this Bill, and the attack on this Bill from this side of the House is not at all in defence of a limited class of large landowners but a defence of the freedoms and rights of millions of citizens, home owners; the defence of the authority of local government, and the defence of the sovereignty of Parliament. It is an attempt to curb and contain the over-weaning and ever-increasing tyranny of the State from everything and everybody, and land in particular.
My Lords, after that, it will probably surprise your Lordships to hear me say that, in some respects, we can welcome the Bill now before us. It is, indeed, a very different Bill from the one we had before us only two months ago. I welcome it for these reasons. There is now some recognition that some regard has to be had for planning. There is now some recognition that the community, after whom the Bill is named, have some right to participate in the exercise of its functions. There is some recognition that Parliament has a right to know firmly and in advance what kinds of development are to be within and what kinds of development are to be without the scope of the Bill. There is some recognition—very slight at present—that local councillors are not elected merely to act as pawns to the Secretary of State.
My Lords, there are some claims at last about the frightful cost of the whole thing; the cost of setting up the Welsh Land Authority has been recalculated and changed from £750,000 to £100,000; this shows the meticulous and precise care with which they look after our money! In Schedule 4, the home owner's normal right to a public local inquiry has been partially reinstated, and orders under that Schedule made subject to Affirmative Resolution. The land acquisition amendment schemes are to be published. The Government have made some efforts to recognise the special position of Churches and charities although, as we shall hear later, they have so far failed to satisfy either.
May I say in passing how much I welcome the presence of my old friend 1085 the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford in this debate, making his maiden speech. All this has happened since our debate last August, to say nothing of the shower of notes on topics that were not in the White Paper. The White Paper on the Development Land Tax has at last emerged, and this is why we have needed another Second Reading debate. We have another Bill, and another White Paper, and also all these notes. However, Her Majesty's Government seem to have satisfied the Sand and Gravel Association, and they seem to have satisfied the parish councils. We congratulate them on that. If anyone else is satisfied, we have yet to learn about it.
My Lords, of course, we regret that the conventions bar us from helping to complete full repentance by the Minister, as a vote here tonight certainly would. Our role, alas!, is now to accept the aims of this monstrous legislation, but by our amendment of it, get the other place to consider the many ways in which it may still be made less offensive to the Constitution, less injurious to good local government, and less of an affront to the rights of private citizens everywhere. Meanwhile, we on this side can console ourselves that no single piece of legislation that the Party opposite has introduced this Session will lose them more friends and make them more enemies than this one.
The enormity of what is being enacted here may only slowly dawn on the electorate. I shall be surprised if we do not begin to see its effect in the May local elections. We shall certainly do our best to see to that. We deeply regret the cost, the injury, the burdens, the affronts that this legislation will lay upon our people, but we console ourselves that its very passage and implementation will surely speed on the day when we have a mandate to repeal this Bill, as we must surely do.
The next criticism which I must levy on this Bill is the degree to which it is unprepared. One would have thought that the Party opposite, if they believed that the nationalisation or municipalisation of the land was an important and widely popular plank in their platform, would have got their plans ready for it. But not a bit. Here we are, 18 months on 1086 Since they took Office, and crucial features of the whole crazy enterprise have yet to see the light of day. The Government's ideas on development land tax were not published at all until after the Committee stage in another place. I do not need to remind your Lordships that the whole financial basis of the Authority's land acquisitions rests on getting their land net of development land tax. No one knows yet how the Government propose that this transaction shall be handled or the tax assessed, and the operation of the Central Land Board in the 'forties foundered on this very point, and if this scheme founders, too, so much the better.
When it comes to the disposal of land for development to builders, the Government seem equally at a loss to know what to do. They do not want the local authorities to convey the land to builders; they want them to convey it to the eventual owner and to bring the builder in by way of building agreements. They say this as though everyone knows just what a building agreement is and would agree at once that it was apt for the purpose and obviously acceptable all round. But, in fact, no such thing exists. Are they thinking of the Section 52 agreements, and if so, why do they think the builders will be willing to enter into them under these conditions. No one yet knows what the Government are thinking of when they talk about building agreements. Whether a workable or acceptable agreement can be devised is, to say the least, extremely doubtful. What is certain is that at present another vital link in the whole system is missing.
My Lords, let us turn to judge this Bill on its own objectives and to be as fair as we possibly can. The first is to enable the community to control the development of land in accordance with its priorities and its needs. But is not that exactly what our planning staffs of local planning authorities have been attempting to do for their electors for the last two generations? The Silkins can take credit for important innovations in the 'forties. The Labour Party can take credit again for valuable improvements in town and country planning in the 1968 Act. The community were indeed given more say in shaping the quality of their environment in those enactments. The 1087 Party opposite were enthusiastic, perhaps overly enthusiastic, in espousing public participation in those days, and at many levels: in structure planning, at local inquiries, even in community forums.
In the course of enacting the Local Government Act, my own Party conferred more planning powers at the more local level of the districts, they gave more say to parishes, they fostered the growth of civic societies. Does this Bill continue that process of giving more people in the community more say?—not a bit of it; the very reverse. At every turn, in every clause, subsection and Schedule, and no doubt in every regulation still to come and every bit of guidance still to be drafted, it is not the local community or the private individual, in any guise, shape or form, which is to have more say, more individual rights or more local responsibility; it is the Secretary of State and his civil servants in Whitehall.
Let me take the first, but by no means the worst, example from Clause 2. If two local authorities need to work together, it is not left for them to apply the standard co-operative arrangements available to them under the law. No, my Lords, the Secretary of State has powers under Clause 2 to decide whether they need to work together and, if so, how it is to be arranged. Under Clause 50, a much worse example, if the Secretary of State considers it expedient he can take away the powers Parliament has given to one authority and give them to another or give them to himself, and in this way he can completely disenfranchise the whole local electorate of any democratic say in how these powers are exercised by the people whom they themselves elected. Mr. Silkin has already threatened to do this in the course of the Third Reading and Report stages in another place (col. 1092 of Hansard).
Whereas up to this time local authorities have been able to dispose of land at their own discretion, henceforward under Clause 43 they can neither acquire nor dispose of land without the Minister's permission. Yet, at the same time, Clause 39 empowers the Secretary of State to dispose of public service land without consulting any local authority in the area concerned or any previous owner,… to dispose of it to such person in such manner subject to such conditions as may 1088 appear to the Secretary of State to be expedient".Are we now to forget all those issues under the Crichel Down case and so on? This bit of the "Brave New World" comes into force a mere month after the Royal Assent, long before the Bill begins to operate.
Then, my Lords, take Clause 20. This is the one under which the Secretary of State imposes by order on local authorities the duty to take over private land for development. There is no obligation whatever upon the Secretary of State to consult them as representatives of their communities about what particular powers they need over what particular forms of development, nor over their readiness to discharge the responsibilities that he wants to lay upon them. Nor is there any scope whatever for any local public participation over how and when each Clause 20 order should be applied in each area. One would think that the community, in some local shape or form, would be involved as they now are, as a matter of regular practice, in establishing and implementing planning policies in their area.
When it comes to deciding the scale and pace of public acquisition of land in their area, the community is not involved, and it is not mentioned in Clauses 17, 18, 19 or 20, or in Schedules 3 or 4. There is no glimmer of a suggestion of any such thing as a community forum, of public participation, consultation or advisory committees by which the local community can express any view about the operations of the Community Land Bill, which is supposed to be for their benefit and is issued in their name. They are left to trust in the tyranny of the Secretary of State and assign their own elected councillors to act as his agents. Such rights and such say as is left by this Bill for Parliament, county councils, district councils, parish and local councils, and private individuals and bodies like Churches and charities, have had to be wrung from the Minister in Committee and Report stages in another place, and we intend to wring some more. But to pretend that after the passage of this Bill more people in each community up and down the land will have more say about the development and quality of their own environment is humbug, and we shall see before long how many local electors have been deceived by it.
1089 My Lords, the Bill has another objective, which is to restore to the community the increase in the value of land arising from its efforts. The impression that this phrase is designed to put about is that up to now this has not happened at all, that all the gains have been ill-gotten, that all the gains have gone to people who did nothing to earn them, and that every community has made prodigious efforts and has had no reward. But, in fact, all these gains have been taxed for the last 10 years, first by capital gains tax, then as development gains tax and now, as Her Majesty's Government propose, by development land tax.
Certainly I would acknowledge—and my noble friends behind me would, too,—that some years ago we could have done with swingeing higher taxation in some notorious cases But now, in this general recession, and in the building industry recession in particular, I should have thought that it was absolutely clear that as soon as progress in fighting inflation permits it there must be not an increase but a reduction in the rate of taxation on development to bring land forward fast enough to get houses built, to keep the housebuilders from going bankrupt and their staffs from yet further unemployment. The White Paper speaks of the aim of restoring the increase in value to the community. The Secretary of State has many ways of doing that at present, starting with the rate support grant, the great armament of regional grants, block grants, specific grants, housing grants and urban programmes of varying kinds, all already in operation, all to hand, all with professional trained staffs operating them.
Now let us consider what the Bill adds to that. Nothing at all to start with. In fact, a huge new department in central and local government has first to be created and established everywhere. Although many weeks ago Mr. Crosland himself was telling local authorities, rather crossly, that the party was over, he and they are now between them sending out 14,150 more invitations to start another party to celebrate the passage of this Bill. This new outfit will cost around £62 million a year just to run; over £1 million a week It begins by borrowing hundreds of millions of pounds more so that they can start buying land, which they are to 1090 do net of development land tax. Although, as I have said, how that is to be assessed and worked out no one yet knows. Eventually they start selling land at market value, and then the profits—and they cannot fail to make a profit on the deal however inexpertly and slowly it is done—go to paying their own salaries and paying interest on the money first borrowed. Meanwhile, and for some months if not years, I presume the community of taxpayers (that is you and I) has to foot the bill.
Eventually there may be a surplus. Again that can hardly be avoided. It might be thought that the local community will then begin to benefit. But no; they can only keep whatever proportion of that surplus the Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks is good for them. They must hand over—and let us get the exact wording from Clause 45—"such proportion of any surplus (notice how cagey that is) there might be in their account—as the Secretary of State with the approval of the Treasury directs shall be paid by the authority to the Secretary of State.How is that for tyranny? And in subsection (5), just to show how benevolent the Secretary of State might be, we have the phrase:The Secretary of State may, out of sums received by him under subsection (2) above, with the approval of the Treasury and after consulting such associations of authorities as appear to him to be concerned"—that is nice of him—pay such amounts to such authorities as he considers expedient.How is that for benevolence?
In what conceivable sense can that arbitrary piece of bureaucracy be a better, simpler, fairer, cheaper system than the development gains tax, the tax which we first devised and which Her Majesty's Government have now been glad to adopt. Why on earth cannot they use what they have on hand? If they want less land and more unemployment in the building industry and fewer houses built, they can increase it. Incidentally anyone can see at once that the exceptions for small builders on small sites which have been wrung from the Government in another place will be of no avail at all in getting more houses built at prices which people can pay unless it is matched and 1091 paralleled by exemptions from development land tax, about which we have heard nothing.
I conclude by saying that the system now proposed involves two Acts of Parliament (one which we are dealing with, and another still to come), is as cumbersome to operate as it is costly to administer, bids fair to bring the housing programme to a full stop, and gives the community not more but less say in shaping the quality of where they live, and worst of all extends prodigiously the tyranny of the State and the erosion of our freedom.
§ 7.6 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has read us a severe lecture for wanting to debate this a second time. I think that she believes we ought to excuse ourselves. Were it not for the charm with which she lectured us, I should say that she has offered a gross affront to your Lordships. Unless she should think that my noble friend Lord Foot, whose name was on the list, has run away in the face of her strictures, let me say that he has not. He has another engagement. Let me go on to what my noble friend Lord Foot said in the Second Reading debate on the No. 2 Bill. He started by reviewing the sad, sorry history of what has gone before, the problems, the anomalies, indeed the scandals, about which we are all aware, and which all of us somehow or other want to stop, and which we have been trying to stop in one way or another for nearly sixty years.
Having said that, my noble friend then wished the Bill well. He wished it well, I thought in more than generous terms; he regarded it as a genuine and honest attempt to have another attack at this difficult problem. He then went on to make various criticisms. The principal criticisms that he made—and they have been made by others from both sides of the House—were that local authorities were the wrong instruments; that the expense of a great new bureaucratic structure was unfortunate at a time like this, and that the problem of betterment could be better dealt with by other means. He concluded that the Bill was dangerously threatened with unworkability, and in that view he was supported from the other side of the House by the noble Baroness, Lady White, who I thought made an extremely effective speech. My 1092 noble friend Lord Foot ended by expressing the fear—and this was a genuine fear on his part because, as I say, he wished the Bill well—that the Government had missed an opportunity to produce an Act which really was unrepealable. I think that we on the Liberal Benches agree with everything that he said.
He has told me since that the more he looks at the Bill the more he thinks it is totally unworkable. This appears to be the view of nearly all professional people who are involved in questions of the land, of pensions, charities, and also of professional men in general. I believe that the Church feels the same, and I shall listen with great interest to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, to hear what he has to say about how far the Church is satisfied with the Amendments which the Government have brought forward.
I also on that Second Reading debate made further and rather different criticisms from those of my noble friend. The chief of my criticisms were first the possibly unwitting damage to our planning system. I would say that our planning system is quite good, in spite of the letter in The Times from Mr. Maurice Ash of the Town and Country Planning Association, suggesting that it was not the best in the world. What the Government are proposing to do here may well damage it.
My second criticism, and the one I feel most strongly about, is this question of the conflict engendered in local authorities being both planner and developer. The Government have introduced various Amendments, two of which touch on the criticisms I have made, and I am grateful for that. The compulsory purchase procedure as to inquiries has been improved; I know there are certain exceptions which want close examination, and I am referring to Schedule 4. The second Amendment for which I am grateful to the Government deals with the elimination of local authorities, in exercising their planning functions taking account of matters other than planning; that is, Clause 17. But the Government Amendments do not deal with the general criticisms that my noble friend Lord Foot and I made and they leave the main strategy of the Bill quite untouched.
1093 I want to protest—and this is partly why I think we needed a second Second Reading—about the difficulties in trying to follow the day-to-day working of this Bill. It has been hard enough for individual Members of your Lordships' House who have been here every day to be able to get the papers dealing with the Bill as it moved from day to day both here and in the Commons. For people outside, however, it has been almost impossible; they have not been able to get the papers from the Department of the Environment or from the various organisations which supplied those papers. I am not exaggerating when I say that many people have been put to great difficulty in trying to follow those workings. I must also comment on the unintelligibility of the Bill. I know it is a highly technical subject and, with such a subject, one expects to have a highly technical and indeed difficult Bill, with all the phraseology that an Act of Parliament must have. Nevertheless, people with long experience of these matters tell me that it is still quite unintelligible to them, that the definitions are difficult to find, that there is no interpretation clause and that it is full of mumbo-jumbo of the highest order.
We have always got the land question wrong and here we are galloping ahead, or so it seems to me, with ideas put forward and accepted at the Labour Party Conference without them having been properly thought over; one may say that they have been thought over for 60 years and it is time we came to a conclusion, and on that I heartily agree. But the Bill shows signs of unusual haste and it may, because of this unworkability, fall into the same difficulty that the great 1947 Act fell into; that is, that part of it that dealt with restoring to the community the increase in the value of land arising from it's efforts. That part of the 1947 Act failed, the Land Commission failed and the Liberals many years ago suggested another version—site value rating it was called—which was never tried. I have never been greatly enamoured of it but I am inclined to think that it would have made a better go of it than the Bill which is before us today and that if, in fact, it had come about in 1909 we could well not have the unfortunate state of affairs reviewed by my noble friend.
1094 As the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, mentioned, we have another Bill to come, the Development Land Tax Bill, which goes, or should go, hand in hand with the Bill that is before us. The fact that it does not go hand in hand with it and that we have to consider it separately in another Session is a great disadvantage. I do not want to repeat all the criticisms that I have made of this Bill or that have been made by others more effectively, but I feel that this present shot is too wild to hit anyone. I wonder whether, despite the difficulties of leaving it over until the next Session of Parliament, despite the danger of freezing everything up, this might be better than the calamity of a Bill which once again proves quite unworkable, so that even what is good in it falls down for that very reason.
§ 7.15 p.m.
The Bishop of CHELMSFORD
My Lords, I apologise if I am repetitious because I was not here for the earlier debate. I shall concern myself solely with the position of Churches and charities, and perhaps I may say that I speak on behalf of all the Churches represented on the Churches' Main Committee, and they in turn are supported in this matter by the National Council of Social Service. When the Bill first appeared last year it had a very depressing effect on many of us and it seemed that inevitably the work of the Church would be seriously cut back in its efforts to provide places of worship and in those many other services it gives to the community in terms of schools, youth work, centres for old people, the disabled and so on. I am staggered as I go round Essex and East London to see the depth and scope of this work.
I do not have to argue this point because the Minister in another place admitted that we do much which would otherwise have to be provided by central or local government—and often, may I add, at much greater expense. Furthermore, a great deal of Church land, especially latterly, as it is released, is used by housing associations, such as the one we have, for housing schemes and especially for amenity housing and other social purposes. We were therefore very grateful indeed when, in July, the Minister opened a door which had seemed firmly barred and bolted, and made concessions which 1095 go some way to meet the short-term needs of the Churches and charities as set out.
The former Dean of St. Paul's once said that gratitude was the expression of a lively anticipation of favours to come; so our gratitude forces us to say that this is not enough, and the reason for this is in the long-term. It does not seem that we will benefit very greatly at all, mostly because the concessions are confined, on the whole, to land held on White Paper day and because the concessions last for only 10 years. Those 10 years, the Minister tells us, will enable us to arrange our affairs in respect of the land we now own. This is a consideration, but we believe that 10 years is far too short a period for this purpose, especially in present circumstances when the land market is depressed and programmes of building and development are subject to heavy delays; and in any case we have lost a year already.
There is in the centre of Chelmsford a piece of land which we have been trying to develop for 20 years, and only now does it appear that we may succeed, if the Department of the Environment provides the necessary funds. This position is certainly not likely to get any better, I would have thought. It is also too short a period for loans to be raised on the security of land held on White Paper day, and such loans are often a very important element in financing large undertakings to which many Churches and charities are already committed, for example things like the building of a comprehensive school or community projects of one sort or another. But, to my mind, the main problem is that the world is changing so rapidly that we just cannot keep pace with it. If this happens it seems that we shall be limited in our efforts, and our assets will, in a kind of way, be frozen so that we are unable to realise the opportunities that change will offer. In the past, as the inner cities have emptied and properties have become redundant, it has been possible to realise them and to finance work in new towns and housing areas. It has been possible to build new churches and community buildings, and also to pay clergy a bit more, which they sorely need. Now this process cannot stop. It is not that we can put our house in order and say that this shall be the pattern of our resources in building and 1096 otherwise at the end of 10 years or even more than that. The world will go on changing. We are told that it will do so at an ever-increasing pace. More buildings will become redundant and more new towns will be built. We need the flexibility which this Bill will seem to deny us if we are to meet the changing needs of those times.
So the Churches, as represented by me this evening, feel bound to press for the abolition of the rigid distinction between pre- and post-White Paper day land. Otherwise, the Churches and charities will inevitably be reluctant to give up pre-White Paper land if what they get in return is subject to restrictions attaching to post-White Paper land. To take a simple example, in the past, voluntary exchanges of land have often taken place between the Church or charities and local authorities when, for instance, a school needed a playground and for similar purposes. I believe that Churches and charities will be much more reluctant to enter into that sort of arrangement in future if it appears that they will be penalised by doing so.
So we press for freedom to develop our own land for our own use, irrespective of when the land was acquired and bearing in mind the admission of the Minister that the work we do is community work. In this connection, we do not see why, as the Government's proposals stand at present, in the case of land acquired after the White Paper day, we are to be treated far worse than the statutory undertakings and, indeed, some commercial undertakings. As I am instructed, it seems that the latter will sometimes be entitled, subject to planning permission, to develop land for their own purposes without the intervention of the local authority, irrespective of when the land was acquired. On the contrary, a charity wishing, for instance, to carry out a housing scheme for old people on a piece of land acquired since the White Paper, but acquired for that purpose, may run the risk of having to sell it to the local authority at current use value and lease it back at full development value, so losing on the way much of the value on which it was relying to finance the scheme. It is not just a question of the land or the building on that land, but of maintaining the property and the work afterwards.
1097 The Minister conceded that the Churches and charities should be able to develop land held on White Paper day for their own use without intervention. We would ask that the phrase "for their own use" should be more clearly defined and should be written into the Bill. For instance, we wonder whether so-called "mixed development" is included. I remember a development where there was an old people's home, a school, a centre, a church, a small street of shops and an office development. The shops were part of the amenity for the old people and the children, and the office development was to provide income for the support of the whole scheme. We should wish to know whether this would be considered to come into the category of "for their own use". We feel that it is not good enough that we should have to rely for guidance in this matter upon future documents sent out from the Department. Could this not be written into the Bill?
I shall not delay the House longer. The noble Baroness has told us that the Minister is meeting the Churches Main Committee tomorrow and it may well be that, as a result of that meeting, everything I have been saying will be wind upon the air. I pray that it may be so. We are grateful for the mercies we have been given, but, in conclusion and in connection with this aspect of the Bill and with its treatment of the Churches and charities, I commend to the Minister the words of Sir Francis Drake:There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing until the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Lord GRIDLEY
My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships would like me to say how much we appreciated the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford. He has spoken eloquently and with authority. We have enjoyed his speech and we hope there will be many occasions when we shall hear him in the future. We all have a warm affection for the Bishops in our House.
Before I cover in my speech the points I wish to raise, I should like to tell the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that I did not speak on the Second Reading of the Bill when it was debated in August. Therefore, in what I wish to say on this subject tonight I shall cover the Bill as I 1098 see it in its form today, with the Government's Amendments. I should also like to make it clear to the noble Baroness that I am connected with the building industry and that I know that at present there is a great fear of this measure. From my experience, I shall hope to elaborate and to place before the Government some of the fears which now exist.
When I retired from a career overseas about 15 years ago, I became an estate agent for about five years and I was involved in the sale of houses and building land. Later, I became a non-executive director of Lawdon Limited, which is a development company whose shares are quoted on the Stock Exchange. Over the years, one became accustomed to the charge in political terms and in letters and publications in the Press that in certain quarters developers were an obscene race apart from other normal individuals and that they were profiteering out of the sale of land and houses. This may have been justified in a few cases but it certainly did not apply as a general principle. I should like to disclose that, as a non-executive director, I was first paid £500 a year, out of which one-third went in tax. Later, that was raised to £750, with one-third going in tax, leaving me with a £500 return in director's fees. I say that so that the point can be recorded and perhaps it may correct some of the impressions which I believe have motivated the spirit of the present Bill.
I am profoundly distressed by the Bill. I believe that it will do nothing but harm to the industry and that it will certainly not succeed in the construction of one single extra house or will help developers at a time of deep depression. To explain why I believe this, I came to know from my experience as an estate agent and latterly when I have been concerned with a development company, that the sale of land and properties is a highly specialised business. It takes years of experience in the building industry to know what land to purchase and what property will sell. Under this Bill, it is the local authority which will have the power to acquire all land needed for development. Can anyone in their right senses really believe that the local authority has the experience and will take into its possession land suitable to a particular developer? That developer will be risking his capital. He must be sure of a reasonable return. He will want to be sure that the houses he constructs 1099 can be sold at the right price; that they are the right type to suit would-be purchasers; that the density per acre (which is an important consideration) is right, that the speed at which the houses are sold (which is another very important criterion) will be satisfactory, and that the Houses will be of the right type for the particular area in which the demand is to be created.
The other important aspect is that services are readily available on the site. I should like to suggest that these are important considerations upon which a developer must make an economic judgment. If he is wrong he can lose all his capital. He can exercise that judgment only from a lifelong experience in the industry. Local authorities do not have this experience. If a local authority acquires land which it will not sell and which is not suitable for development under the criteria which I have expressed to your Lordships, it will not be the local authority which will lose financially; it will be the British taxpayer.
At present this Bill is causing uncertainty to developers in regard to the criteria on which they are to judge their future plans. The development land tax at 80 per cent., later to rise to 100 per cent., does not encourage land sales. This tax causes fear in the minds of the holders of land. As regards this situation, following negotiations far advanced by our company we were about to sign a conditional contract for the purchase of land in a part of the South-East of this country, but I heard this morning that this is not now likely to materialise. As I have said, this proposed tax causes fear and uncertainty on the part of the vendors of land. If the transaction to which I have referred does not go through—andthere is every indication that it will not—there will be lost the provision of 200 houses for families in a scheme which included homes for old people.
If the Bill reaches the Statute Book unamended, a local authority will later have the power to acquire land from the vendors at agricultural value. I believe that vendors of land and others in a similar position will fight this position tooth and nail. It is totally impossible to agree that local authorities will have 1100 the staff, the ability, and the time to deal in a sensible and attractive way with the many pieces of land which will come due for development. Bearing in mind the delays now being experienced—and I speak from experience of this—in planning matters, which have become quite unbelievable in some cases, this extra work must mean an inevitable slowing down of house building.
As house builder developers we are proud of our workmanship, and if we are to become mere contractors for the local authority most of the imaginative building will disappear from this country, and no houses will be built. Other noble Lords who are to speak after me in the debate will no doubt cover other aspects of the Bill. I have concentrated solely on what I know. I must say plainly to noble Lords on the Government Benches, for whom I have a certain amount of affection—I see that at the moment most of the Benches opposite are virtually empty—that though at the Committee stage we will do our best with Amendments to improve it, this Bill, as conceived, will go far towards smashing the building industry. It will certainly not provide one single extra house!
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
My Lords, may I add my congratulations to those expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford. He made a notable contribution to our debate this evening in which he clearly put forward problems which will face the Church in this field. Before going to Chelmsford he played a notable part in his previous appointment and he is still remembered there with affection. I feel sure that if he is able to give us his time in this House he will establish just such a reputation here.
Before saying anything further I should declare an interest in what the Bill deals with. On first seeing the Bill I asked myself why this Bill is necessary at all. Is it to deal with the profits emanating from the development of land? If so, as has already been pointed out, that matter can perfectly adequately, and much more simply, be dealt with by the normal methods of taxation. Is it to give control to the planning authority and to ease the availability of land? So far as 1101 I know, under existing planning arrangements, this can be perfectly satisfactorily carried out now.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said that the Bill would make a contribution towards positive planning. I am not very clear what that term means. But so far as I am aware, all local authorities have to look forward and have to plan, and they can still acquire land which they need to fulfil their plans without all this cumbersome business which we are asked to accept under the Bill. Therefore I asked myself: "Is there an ulterior motive in this Bill?", because the ostensible objectives did not seem altogether to justify the many pages which we are to be asked to deal with. It seemed to me that it was quite probable that this was to form the basis of a more comprehensive scheme of land nationalisation in the future. The basis is here; the mechanics are provided. That would also explain the unseemly haste with which this Bill is being pushed through, so as to give time for further steps to be taken, based on the preparations that we are now considering.
The Bill has not been well thought out, no doubt because of the hurry. Even in the past few days, innumerable Government Amendments have been tabled in another place, and your Lordships have not yet had time to digest these. Surely this is not a very sound basis on which to treat Parliament. Parliament is asked to give its most thorough consideration to these highly technical clauses, but unless there is time to work them out and read them through properly, it will surely be difficult for us to arrive at a proper conclusion. This seems to me to be an authoritarian attitude towards Parliament which, coupled with some of the proposals in the Bill itself, indicates, to me at least, that the present Government are heading towards a more authoritarian form of government.
First, we have the way the Bill has been handled; and there are a great many of the provisions, as yet unspecified, which are to be settled by regulation. I was very glad to hear the noble Baroness say that these will be subject to Resolution in Parliament. But clearly we shall have to see just what the Bill says before we accept this position. Furthermore, the Secretary of State is left with immense 1102 powers. There are no provisions for guidelines as set out in the Bill. There are no limitations upon his powers or upon his sphere of activity. In effect, in the sphere of development land he is a veritable dictator. This is another aspect of the authoritarian or totalitarian theme which runs through the Bill.
It is true that a number of additions have been put into the Bill making safeguards to protect the individual; but they were not in the original Bill. Surely the original Bill indicated what were the thoughts of the Government in this respect. The Bill is also totalitarian because it assumes that the interests of the community as a whole are not only paramount but extinguish certain individual rights without compensation or right of appeal or hearing.
Implicit in the Bill is the suggestion that all supposed requirements or benefits of the community as a whole override individual rights. It ignores the fact that individuals are units within the community. Individual rights, my Lords, as we all know, have grown up and been developed through the centuries from a series of Charters and Acts which are now enshrined in the law of the country, and there has developed a balance between the rights of individuals and the requirements of the community. Much of this is now to be eroded by the authoritarian powers which are to be assumed by the Secretary of State.
As I understand it, the assumption on which the Bill is based is that the requirements of the community create demand for land development, and therefore it is right that the community should have the benefits arising out of this development. This is not necessarily true. There are several towns which were created entirely as a result of private enterprise: such towns as Barrow, White haven and Eastbourne, and no doubt your Lordships can think of many others. There are areas where a factory or a port has been built and the houses have come to fulfil the need to service those enterprises—all the efforts of private enterprise, and nothing whatever to do with the community as a whole. Again, under this Bill no regard is paid to the normal requirements of supply and demand. The normal economic processes will be negatived under these arrangements and we 1103 shall have to see what will take their place.
Furthermore, in these proposals to nationalise some of the land of this country it is surely wrong to treat land in isolation, as a special case, for land is the basis of so many other enterprises that it must affect almost everything that goes on in this country. It is true that we have had previous nationalisation, but it seems to me that once you start embarking on any form of land nationalisation you are getting very near to the end of the road, which is a Communist State. It may be that this is what the Government want. They may find it convenient to mask their objective by such terms as "the needs of the community". However, I doubt, if this is the thought of the Government, whether it is what the majority of the people of this country want. The Bill is a landmark in this progression, and I can see why Her Majesty's Government attach so much importance to it; for, as I have said before, land is the basis from which so much else springs.
Perhaps I may now say a word about the powers of the Secretary of State. Some of this has already been mentioned before and I will not weary your Lordships by repeating it, but, as I understand it, under the old Clause 12 legislation can be amended by the simple process of the Secretary of State setting up a joint board of two authorities, and after this he is empowered to nullify anything that is written in the Bill at all affecting that area. The Secretary of State need not give a reason for taking over land; he does not have to establish requirements. He can confirm a compulsory purchase order on part of an area of land that it is proposed to acquire and defer a decision on the remainder. Think of the chaos that will ensue if that kind of situation arises! How is the remaining land to be managed with a sword hanging over its head? So by a stroke of the pen it is possible for an individual to be stripped of his property, and there is no redress. Nor, so far as I can see, is there intended to be, for the Bill expressly gives the Secretary of State power to deny the right of an inquiry. It specifically, as is quite normal, excepts matters of compensation; but it also says that an objection on the grounds that an acquisition is unnecessary or inexpedient will not be accepted. It is very hard to see what other 1104 grounds there are left to ask for an inquiry.
What about compensation? The individual fares very badly here and his position is somewhat uncertain, but it would appear that the only compensation he may be entitled to is on the grounds of hardship. In this case he has no guarantee that he will get any compensation, either, because there may not be a tribunal for him to appeal to: it is at the discretion of the Secretary of State. The Bill says that the Secretary of State "may" appoint a tribunal. The terms of reference of the tribunal have not been settled in any form. Nothing has been laid down in the Bill, and surely on so important a matter Parliament should be given some guidance as to what it is being asked to approve. What about the limit? It is true that it has been increased to £50,000; but if there is a case of hardship why is there a ceiling in cash terms to the compensation payable? Surely it ought to be paid in full.
May I now say a word about the way in which it is intended to operate this Bill? The first point to note is that where it is proposed to acquire land the local authority will operate, as it were, as the prosecution counsel and the judge, and the defence will not be represented. The second point to note is that whereas under present legislation local authorities receive sums of money from the developer to help with the infrastructure—such things as road and sewers; a process which I should have thought could be extended even further—now it is uncertain whether they will get anything. It is at the discretion of the Secretary of State; and, even so, he has to obtain the approval of the Treasury. We all know how difficult it is to get any money out of the Treasury funds. So we start on a somewhat uncertain wicket. It has already been said that local authorities lack skill in this matter, and I will not pursue that one, but in my experience bureaucratic arrangements in connection with the development of land are not only slow and cumbersome but are extremely expensive, and there is no benefit to be derived from them either for the community or for the local authority concerned.
Something has been said about the need for finance for development, and I think this is an important issue which the Bill has not completely investigated 1105 —or it has not set it out, at any rate. Normally, of course, a builder, as he develops, is building up an asset, and he borrows money from a lender—a bank or an insurance company—and has as security the land and the increasing security of the building which goes up on it. But it seems quite possible, in the case of some of the proposed developments under this Bill, that there will be very little security for the lender. What happens then? Is the local authority to raise the money through the rates, making them even higher than they are, or is the Treasury to be asked to "fork out"? This is a point which could seriously affect both the rate of development and its cost. May I finish by saying that this scheme is not merely the sacrificial slaughter of development and landowning interests, it is an attack on real property in the widest sense, the future ramifications of which may injure the vast majority of the community which it ostensibly aims to benefit.
§ 7.50 p.m.
The Earl of BALFOUR
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow my noble friend and distant cousin Lord Salisbury. He spoke from experience and brought out many important points about this Bill. I should also like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for his excellent maiden speech, very charmingly delivered, and to take this opportunity of thanking my noble friend Lady Young and the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for allowing us to have yet another Second Reading speech; because I must admit that had this opportunity not been forthcoming I think that perhaps I might have missed making to-day what I consider to be one of the most important speeches I have ever made in your Lordships' House.
My Lords, I intend to speak to only two parts of the Bill: first, Clause 2 and then, Part II. In Clause 2 of the Bill, your Lordships will see that it is possible for the Secretary of State to set up joint boards. The Parliamentary draftsmen have on the whole made a genuine and gallant attempt to take advantage of the best of legislation and bring it into line throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, Clause 2 as it stands is making the situation in respect of the Community Land Bill, and to 1106 some extent planning functions, completely different for England, Scotland and Wales. I shall proceed to illustrate why.
Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 (referred to in this Bill as "the Act of 1971") two or more authorities in England could set up a joint board for any planning functions. They could also do it for any functions within this Bill. The same applies to Wales in that two or more authorities may set up a joint board for any of the functions that they intend to carry out in respect of anything to do with planning or any other matters in that connection. But your Lordships will note that under Clause 2(6) the Secretary of State has excluded himself from being able to set up a joint board in Wales and is leaving everything for Wales in the hands of this dreadful Land Authority.
In Scotland, Part I and Schedules 1 and 2 of the Scottish Act of 1972—that is, the Town and Country Planning Act—were repealed by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and there is no equivalent to Section 241 of the Local Government Act 1972 to which reference is made under subsection (4) of Clause 2 of this Bill; so that here it would be possible for the Secretary of State to set up a joint board. But under Scottish legislation the local authorities no longer have any power to do that themselves.
My Lords, I shall now go on to Part II of the Bill. When I came to study this Bill intensively during the months of July, August and September one thing that considerably concerned me was the proposed setting up of this Land Authority for Wales, because I think that the greatest disaster that will be achieved by this Land Authority is the separation, so far as Wales is concerned, of the acquisition powers under this Bill and efficient planning. I will quote briefly from a speech made during the Community Land Bill proceedings on June 26th in Standing Committee "G" of the other place. The right honourable Mr. Oakes said—and I am sure that he was speaking for the Government—We are concerned … with enabling a community—via its democratically elected councils in that area—to plan its environment for the future positively, and not piecemeal negatively as it has had to do at the present time. That is the strength behind this Bill.1107 My Lords, I do not pretend for one moment to like this Bill, but I have never taken a destructive attitude in this House. But here we have a third authority appearing. We have the Land Authority to acquire the land; we have the county planning authority in Wales for the major planning functions and then a district planning function for the secondary arrangements. I feel certain that this is a case where things will go seriously wrong; but I am glad to have had at least an opportunity to investigate as to why this has been done.
My Lords, only two answers really came up. One was that the Land Authority for Wales was a forerunner to the devolution of central Government and the setting up at some time of a Welsh Assembly. I sincerely hope, if ever there is a Welsh or Scottish Assembly, that one of their first functions will not be to proceed to carry out a nationalisation process. This would be both expensive and disastrous. I think that perhaps the other reason was because parts of Wales, the counties of—and your Lordships will perhaps be indulgent over my pronunciation—Clwyd, Dyfed, Gwynedd, and Powys are relatively sparsely populated. Perhaps it was felt that a district authority within those counties did not have the financial backing in rates or was not wealthy enough in its administrative staff to carry out the functions in that respect.
What I should like to recommend as a cure for this problem is to introduce, so far as Wales is concerned, the planning arrangements that exist in Part IX of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. This set up a county, if I may use an English phrase—we have regions in Scotland—and a district planning authority for the more populated parts of Scotland; that is, the Lowlands and up to the coast a little North of Aberdeen. But in the more sparsely populated parts of Scotland, we decided that the planning functions should be carried out by regional or county authorities. This has worked very well. In Scotland, there are nine regions. In Wales there are eight counties out of which I suggest that Clwyd, Dyfed, Gwynedd and Powys should be general planning authorities run by the county, but that the rest of Wales, which consists of South, West and Mid-Glamorgan and the County of Gwent, should be in exactly 1108 the same position as England with county and district planning authorities as would exist anywhere else.
The planning arrangements in Scotland have been highly successful, and I feel very strongly that the old county boroughs of Cardiff and Swansea, within South and West Glamorgan respectively, should have just as much right to take advantage of the provisions of this Bill as the cities of Edinburgh or Dundee could in Scotland or, for that matter, a city just across the Border in the County of Avon. If there is a housing development planned by the city and capital of Wales, Cardiff, the application has to go through the county authority to the Land Authority for Wales, when, just across the Border, the old county borough of Bristol, being now a district on its own, can acquire its own land under the provisions of this Bill and organise its own planning arrangements, as could a district authority anywhere else in the whole of England.
It has been stressed, even in your Lordships' House, that one of the purposes of this Bill is to provide a benefit to the local authorities. I can see no benefit being achieved in Wales by this Land Authority. I have drafted an alteration to the major part of Part IX to fit into this Bill, and I sincerely hope that those of your Lordships—and this is not political—who believe that the Government are wrong and that I am right will support me, because I ask the Government to give it a second thought.
Let us look at what is happening under the Bill regarding the Land Authority in Wales. I am pleased to see that in new Clause 9 the Government have at long last realised that economies must be made, and in subsection (3) your Lordships will note that the amount of the initial debt has been reduced from £750,000 down to £100,000. That is the first sign of an economy. Then, in Clause 12 you will see that the Land Authority has to prepare a statement of account regarding land acquisitions, et cetera.
Imagine, my Lords, that there is a development in Newport. The district of Newport, a developer in Newport and an industrialist close to it all want the same piece of land, and all three go cap in hand to the Land Authority to get it. Whichever one can talk the best gets that piece of land. But just across the border 1109 the City of Bath or the City of Bristol would be doing it on their own, and would not have to go through the Land Authority. The Land Authority have to keep an account, so it is more likely that the land will go to whoever offers more money for it. Here we are completely and utterly dividing planning from land acquisition within the provisions of this Bill.
Clause 16 says that there shall be a land acquisition and management scheme organised by each county authority for the whole of the United Kingdom. But in the last subsection it says that this shall not apply to Wales. All the way through this Bill your Lordships will see, time and time again, that a part or section does not apply to Wales. To divide planning from land acquisition within the provisions of this Bill is criminal and it will not work. Let the local authorities carry out the function which they were set up to carry out. Let them get on with it. Even on disposal notification areas, Clause 23 says that before the Land Authority for Wales passes a resolution it shall consult all the local authorities. But that is all; they do not need to pay any attention to it.
Even the supplemental provisions in Clause 47 cheerfully say:The Secretary of State may act under this section in a case where it appears to him expedient that an authority should cease to be responsible for exercising… any functions under this Act.If your Lordships turn over the page again you will see that this section shall not apply in Wales. So once that Land Authority is set up, you can never do away with it. Schedule 3 to the Bill, regarding the Land Authority for Wales, says:The Land Authority for Wales shall consist of such number of members, not less than six and not exceeding nine …Will your Lordships' House accept that from six to nine people should manage the land acquisition for the whole of Wales, when a hundred councillors should be doing the same job? If ever I heard of a case of sending a boy to do a man's job—and he will do it badly—this is the best example I have ever known. Leave it to the local authorities, let them get on with their own job. After all, they are elected. This Authority is bringing bureaucracy into existence to an extent 1110 which I believe is almost impossible to understand.
I have spoken, and I have spoken with all the strength I have. I ask the Government to think again, and to adopt the same principles as we have in Scotland, which might work for Wales. I am sorry that I have spoken for a long time, but I say honestly to your Lordships that I have never felt more certain that this is wrong. Scrap Part II of this Bill and put in Part IX of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, and you may find the right answer.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY
My Lords, I do not think I need to declare an interest, as others of your Lordships have done, because I speak as a tenant farmer on this Second Reading of a Bill which I consider useless and probably unworkable—though I am encouraged by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who has said that it is definitely unworkable—and certainly unproductive and unnecessary. From a farmer's viewpoint, this Bill is just another unnecessary piece of legislation—if one can give it that misnomer—in common with CTT, wealth tax, tied cottage abolition and a multitude of other things—you name it, and we have got it! Or perhaps I should say we have had it, because that is how it appears to the farmer. I am sorry to have to drive the nail in even further, but for the first time in my farming life I have watched farming stop going forward and then go full astern. The reason for this is the mass of legislation which is directed against the individual, and particularly the small businessman and farmer. This is the cause of the farmer's misery rather than the present temporary—as I hope it is—uneconomic price for agricultural produce. If it really is State control of everything that the Government want, why do they not say so?—and then I can prepare to farm as they do in Russia, and watch you all go hungry!
Having tried to explain that I do not like this Bill very much, I must nevertheless thank the Government for having come forward since the Second Reading in August with some substantial Amendments. I hope that noble Lords opposite will not think I am looking a gift horse in the mouth if I ask what unknown god interceded to get these concessions. If the noble Baroness will tell me, I shall 1111 be only too happy to make obeisance to this unknown god, because I fear that I may need him again in the future. At this stage, if I may, I should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his maiden speech. He seems to have been very successful in dealing with this unknown god, and perhaps if the noble Baroness cannot tell me where to find him I could get help from the right reverend Prelate.
If, as I suspect, there is no known emetic by means of which we could get rid of this Bill at this late hour—even if we did revive the medical profession—I should like to raise two matters. First, I should like to ask for clarification regarding exempt buildings in agriculture; and, secondly, I should like to make yet one more plea—following that made by the noble Marquess—for realistic compensation to be paid, particularly to the farmer whose land has been taken for development. Your Lordships will know that farmers, and in particular the National Farmers' Union, have never been happy about compensation for farmers who have been dispossessed. This Bill once more highlights the problem. As I understand it, when land is taken under the Bill the farmer is compensated, to start with, at market value and, after the second appointed day, at its existing use value. If the Government argue that they object to farmers or landowners making huge chance profits because of their land having been designated for building—and I must say I am inclined to agree with them on that—surely it is not right for farmers, when their land is taken away from them, to be worse off. That is certainly going to be the case if they are to be compensated only at existing use price. I need hardly remind your Lordships that it is the last few acres that give the profit and that the majority of the acres merely pay off the farmer's overheads. Surely your Lordships will agree that the only fair and easy method is equivalent reinstatement. The Government have accepted equivalent reinstatement for the Churches. Why not for the individual farmer or the businessman? This is another attack on the individual, and I seem to remember that somebody once said something about the sanctity of the individual—but perhaps that is "old hat" now.
1112 I should like to ask the Government for clarification at some stage or other regarding Schedule 1 as it concerns farmers, and in particular horticulturalists and those who go in for intensive farming, running piggeries, chicken-houses and so on. Am I correct in saying that these two categories could be classified as excepted development, as opposed to exempt development, which would allow a local authority power to acquire the land and develop it themselves in what I believe are called "exceptional circumstances"? There is particular confusion here, since I understand that during the Report stage in another place the Government accepted that agriculture included—and I quote—horticulture and the use of land for market gardens and nursery groundswhereas Schedule 1, lines 12 and 13, specifically excludes market gardens and nursery grounds.
I cannot believe that the Government really mean what is said in Schedule 1. This could, ridiculously, lead to local authorities becoming market gardeners. I am sure that all they would grow would he rotten tomatoes. Of course, they might be useful for demonstrating against future legislation, but they are hardly what is intended by the Bill. Perhaps the Government would be prepared to avoid this messy business by making sure that all agricultural development—and I emphasise agricultural development as opposed to dwelling houses—is "exempt" rather than "excepted".
I am sorry if I appear to be petty and suspicious over this difference between "exempt" and "excepted". It is perhaps unfortunate that the two words are placed so close together, because it makes for confusion. But it is a fact that farmers have become increasingly suspicious of Government and, as a result, now need an increasing amount of reassurance that they are not being taken for a ride. We consider the Government to be far more unpredictable and unreliable than the weather. Make no mistake, my Lords, this Bill is yet another attack against the individual and, as such, should be resisted. For unless we do so, what will be taken over next?—the Press, our minds, and perhaps our thoughts and beliefs?
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Lord DIGBY
My Lords, we have here another Bill to complicate our way of life; another Bill based on seeing the mote in our existing law without really considering the beam that we are putting in its place. This has been our besetting political error since the War. We see the anomalies that exist, but ignore the ones produced by new legislation. This Bill is based on two quite separate premises: first, that profit from development land should accrue to the community and, secondly, that local authority planners know best and will produce a better Britain by both initiating and controlling development. In my opinion, the first is already catered for by taxation, and the second is false, or at the very least unproven.
With regard to the financial aspect, during the transitional period between the first and second appointed days, the basis of compensation will be net of development land tax, so that by definition there can be no gain to the community above the amount that would have been received in taxation; the community will, in fact, be worse-off because of the loan charges on the capital required to buy the land, the legal charges involved in conveying it and the staff required to operate the Act. Even after the second appointed day no one with experience of administrative costs will believe that the extra 20 per cent., accruing by purchase at existing use value, will do more than cover the administrative, legal and financial costs involved in planning, negotiating, surveying, purchasing, leasing and finally selling the developed property. There can be no overall financial grounds, although at a very parochial level it could be argued that at least local authorities get some of the surplus, if any, whereas under the taxation system it all goes to the Treasury. But I notice that even here such surplus money as the Secretary of State allows a local authority to retain can be expended only with the consent of the Secretary of State—another case of central Government professing to support independence of local government but retaining the financial reins firmly in their own hands.
Again, the amount left to the local authority is decided by the Secretary of State. We have heard it is likely to be 1114 40 per cent. to the Treasury, 30 per cent. to the local authority concerned and 30 per cent. to other local authorities. It is this last 30 per cent. that concerns me as I am interested in an agricultural region, the South-West. It would appear that the first authorities to move into surplus are likely to be rural where green field sites of agricultural value are developed for residential or commercial purposes, with large profits; whereas in the older towns there may never be a surplus as valuable commercial property may be developed into housing at a loss. If 30 per cent. of these rural surpluses are diverted to the towns it will be a real loss. It may be argued that previously these surpluses were in the hands of individuals, which is true. But, on the whole, they were invested locally, due to such provisions as roll-over and the tendency to invest heavily in agriculture. If that investment is removed rural areas will suffer.
At this stage I should like to digress a little on to the subject of agricultural investment which is more relevant to this Bill than your Lordships might suppose. I have looked at agriculture in most corners of the world and am always amazed at the size of agricultural investment in Britain compared with almost any other country. As we are one of the most densely populated countries, this is a very vital factor in our economy. Why this high investment in Britain? First, a Labour Minister of Agriculture, Tom Williams, laid a basis in the 1947 Act that assured farmers of a fair return on invested capital. Secondly, there are the British love of the land and a tradition of agricultural improvement. Thirdly, the development of agricultural land for industry and housing, although a loss to food production in itself, provided the capital for increased efficiency and thus finally a net increase in food supplies. Confidence in British agriculture is now at a low ebb. Tradition is no longer admired, and if the profits of green field development are syphoned off to the towns this Labour Government will nullify all the great and valuable achievement of their predecessor in 1947. So I believe that the financial argument in the Bill is at best unnecessary and at worst wasteful of resources and positively harmful to our economy.
So I should like to turn to the second premise, that the planners know best. 1115 With many years' experience in local government I much appreciate the value of our planning system. It is easy to complain about planning failures, but one has only to go abroad to countries where planning is less strict, or corruption is prevalent, to realise the overall success of our planners. However, one must accept the fact that they are planners and not entrepreneurs, not developers, and not skilled in the economic side of development. The Government in their exposition of the financial effects say that administrative costs together with any expenditure on capital improvement will be recouped on disposal. That is Civil Service thinking with no thought as to whether the market will stand it. We hear, "will". We hear of property developers in Rolls-Royce, but we forget the ones who have gone bankrupt. Development is not easy. It has risks. I doubt whether the public service will make a success of it. People brought up in the property boom, that is now dead, will be very surprised how long it will take the community land accounts to achieve a surplus. At present we have landowners, house owners, builders, developers, surveyors, all looking for development opportunities, a multitude of ideas from many sources. Do the Government think that this could really be replaced by the local authorities? I cannot see it.
The basis of this Bill is that the planners know best, but it is noticeable that in almost every clause the Secretary of State retains the final power. If he has such confidence in local authorities he should show it by leaving them to take the decisions. This Bill is not only mis-placed but mistimed. Local government is already fully stretched and in the face of pressures to reduce staff and cut costs this Bill will merely add new burdens. What is really needed is to get some confidence back into the building industry and money to finance it. Builders and developers rely on land as their main asset to get bank advances to finance their building. Can local authorities provide this finance? If not, the small builder may well be driven out of business for lack of capital with no collateral in the land to finance his workaday expenditure. But if local authorities do provide the finance they will have to take the risks 1116 of failure; and I suspect will tend to favour the large, well-established firms, again at the expense of the small builder who is such a vital cog in our construction industry. My Lords, I believe in the cobbler sticking to his last. Perhaps local authorities' great expertise in control and planning can be extended to development; but I doubt it.
§ 8.27 p.m.
My Lords, may I add my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate on his maiden speech and say how much we enjoyed it and how much I, for one, admired the dexterity with which he entered a debate on a highly controversial Bill but acceded to the Rules of Procedure and was in no way controversial. May I also pay my compliments to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and sympathise with her in what is an enormous task. Whatever she may feel about the contents of the Bill, my guess is that she probably hates it already. So there is a modicum of common ground, at least, between us. I had much sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, when he made a mild but rapier-like rebuke to the noble Baroness for the way in which she introduced this Bill. We did not, or at least I did not, complain of the length of her speech, but the inference was that this was an awful bore, we had been through it all once before, and why had we to go through it all again. My first reaction, apart from the fact that I did not take part in the first Second Reading, is that Parliament has been put under appalling pressure with this Bill. We are always told we must get through things quickly. It happened with the Referendum Bill and now we have this Bill.
The first thing the Government did was to introduce a No. 2 Bill so that it could run concurrently with the original Bill, and thus when it came to the Second Reading here we could dispose of it. I believe that to be a thoroughly objectionable practice, although one appreciates the reason why it was done. Then the Government produced the White Paper. I accept that this was supposed to be helpful, but it must he almost unprecedented for the Government to introduce a White Paper which contained the Bill as it went to the Report stage in another place, and included in it all the Government's Amendments but none of those of the Opposition, despite the fact that there 1117 were 275 Amendments yet to be considered. Although this may have been intended to be helpful, it shows a quite appalling disregard for the purpose of Parliament. When people become cynical about Parliament and bureaucracy, this kind of action gives ample justification for it.
The proper Bill which we are now discussing appeared in the Printed Paper Office at only three o'clock this afternoon. As everybody knows, it is a complicated Bill. It is complicated for those who are professionals and it is devastating and desperate for the layman. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henley—and what a pity it is that he has left the Chamber, because I am sure he would like to know that I agree with him—that it is not fair to your Lordships. Nor is it fair to advisers, whether in the Government or outside. Here is the noble Lord, Lord Henley. I was just saying how much I agreed with the noble Lord, but he has missed that gem. As I said, it is not fair to advisers, whether they are Government advisers or people outside. It is not fair to those people who will be affected by what has been described by the Minister as the most Socialist piece of legislation that this Government are likely to produce.
It is not possible to deal with this Bill in the constructive and proper way in which it should be dealt with. It has now come to your Lordships' House, which is to go through the Bill like a dose of salts. There were 275 Amendments in another place and I understand that 300 Amendments have been put down here. Parliament is being asked to deal with approximately 600 Amendments in the course of two weeks, in the full knowledge that a mass of "unknown" is still left behind which civil servants are working on now—the regulations, the advisory notes, the circulars to local authorities, all of which this Bill invites and prescribes but about which nothing is as yet known. One just has to think of the unwritten and unscrutinised paper work which this involves. I, for one, regard it as an intolerable way to deal with any legislation, let alone major legislation, in Parliament. How can we make sure, if it is to work, that it works as well as possible? My sympathies go as much to the advisers of Her Majesty's Government as they do to anybody else.
1118 What is the root cause of all this? There is one reason—the meteoric rise in property values four years ago, a rise from which some people and institutions benefited. Because they have benefited, they have been classed almost as "spivs", or Rachmanites or almost as enemies of society. My noble friend Lord Sandford said that they were referred to almost as ill-gotten gains. But who are these people? They are not just a few already wealthy people; they are hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country who happened to own any property, even the smallest house. And what was their crime? They were affected by the market. Some of them took advantage of the market which happened to go up but which can, and has, gone down. Some who had to sell their property had the advantage of the market situation thrust upon them. That is the cause of this Bill.
If it was wrong that there should have been that advantage, the fair and simple way to deal with it was by taxation. Having made people feel that in some ways they are anti-social the Government say, "Now we must get in on the act so that the community, not the individual, will benefit". They make the mistake of inferring that the local authority is synonymous with the community, and of inferring that the large profits of the past will be available in the future, that they will accrue to the benefit of the local authority and, so the inference goes, the rates or the taxes will thereby be lower. But will there be these profits?
The Government have said that 14,000 people will be required to administer this Bill. Even on the Government's own admission, this is a staggering number of people, and I want to know where these 14,000 people will come from. Many of them are professional people. I have given notice to the noble Baroness that I shall ask this question, so I hope that she will be able to answer it. Are these people hanging about waiting to be employed, or will they be drawn from those who are already in private practice? I should like to know how many of these 14.000 will be land agents, surveyors, planners, lawyers, valuers, and how many will come under the aura of administrative staff.
There are to be hardship tribunals. Again, where will these people be drawn 1119 from? Who will run them? How many will be required? Will they be run by inspectors or by QCs? How many people will constitute a tribunal and how many tribunals are likely to be set up? Once a person is a member of a tribunal, is that, rather like a profession, his job for the rest of his life? You join a tribunal and there you are. That may seem an absurd question to us, except that Clause 27 refers to the Secretary of State having the ability to give pensions to the members of tribunals. My belief is that the people are just not there. If they are not there, the Act will not work, and if they are the functions of the existing private sector will be grossly impeded.
What will happen then? In order to avoid such disruption, inflation will be given a severe twist as increased salaries will be flung around on a competitive basis to try to retain people in their existing jobs. Under the old system, if there were profits they were put back into circulation—possibly by charities selling off part of their land and doing up their property; sometimes by individuals doing up their houses and thus giving work to the builders; possibly by a person buying a motor car and giving work to the motor car manufacturers; possibly even by buying stocks and shares and so putting money into industry. What they did not do, and what would have been wrong, was to put their money under the bed, because then their money went out of circulation.
I do not believe that there will be these profits, nor do I believe that there will be anything to put back into circulation. Nobody will benefit, not even the community. Instead there will be an outrageous intrusion into the lives and property of individuals. There will be a massive demand for scarce professional resources. A huge bureaucratic labyrinth will be set up which nobody wants, which nobody understands, not even those who are obliged to make it work, and which will be insensitive to the individual and to common sense alike.
At a time of major financial crisis when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is having to borrow money from abroad, it seems crazy to undertake a system which will require a capital cost of £1 million every single day to buy land and £1 million every single week to administer it. That is the Government's own estimate 1120 and one knows how often Government estimates are grossly undervalued. As my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley said, many aspects of the Bill will have an insidious effect on agriculture and will run counter to the expansion of the food industry, as has been demanded by the Government in their White Paper, Food From Our Own Resources. Many people engaged in agriculture right across the board, whether they are owners, owner-occupiers, tenants or work people, view with despondency the vice-like grip on the raw material of their industry which the Bill gives to the urban-orientated planners. All this, I suggest, is unnecessary. Taxation could have achieved what is required more fairly, simply and cheaply.
My Lords, it was the Secretary of State who said that it would be tragic to embark on a social revolution only to end with a bureaucratic fiasco. I agree with him, and I think that is what he is likely to get.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Lord GAINFORD
My Lords, first, it is my pleasure to add my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate. I was interested to hear his problems and worries about the Church, and I hope that should these arise in the future we of your Lordships' House will be able either to dispose of them or at least diminish them.
My contribution is to nut forward some views of one category of person whose work is likely to be somewhat considerably influenced by this Bill, namely the local government officer. It is understood, if not actually feared, in some quarters, that this Bill will give wide powers to the Secretary of State and the local authorities. On a first consideration of the main points of the Bill, whatever power may be granted to any local authority the additional work involved will be very heavy. New departments or groups and sections inside existing Departments will have to be set up and staffed. I understand that in various local authorities there has been talk, and there have been fears and worries, about possible redundancies. Now it seems that the new schemes resulting from this Bill will need either new staff to be recruited or the present staff redeployed, having more work to do, to say nothing of possible overtime.
1121 Let us consider a few of the teams of men and women who will be required to deal with any plot of land, big or small, that comes within the scope of the Bill. I have noted six categories. First, we need an intelligence service for data on land ownership, acquisition and disposal. Secondly, we need accountancy for recording and considering all financial implications. Thirdly, we need the vital valuation for assessing the market, and current use and other land values that may be considered according to what use the land has been put to and what it will be required for. Then, fourthly, comes the legal part: all stages in obtaining, disposing of, or the development of, every plot of land will create many problems for the lawyers of many local authorities. Fifthly, there is the matter of acquisition and disposal. Finally, we come to the management of the land owned before disposal and land under leasehold, and the work involved in preparing land acquisition and management schemes. All these and other teams will involve much expense to organise and get into working order. There are some local authorities, particularly at county level, whose existing administrative staff may be able to deal with the situation at a comparatively quick rate but the cost to them all, at the very least, will be extremely heavy.
Thinking back to the comments expressed in your Lordships' House on Monday, 13th October, when the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, made a Statement about this Bill, I think the protests about it being hurried through will now be shared by many local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, prophesied that we should make a hash of this Bill by rushing it through. Let us hope that any hash we make will not be so bad as he fears. But even if it is passed in this unwelcome hurry, those to whom powers are authorised will make an even worse hash if there is a rush to implement them. But I do not think this will happen. Putting this Bill into practice must be a slow process. We should remember that the local government officer need not be regarded as a tiresome, exacting official. He has a duty to find ways to help people when he has to wield his authority. He has to help them to try to meet their problems as well as telling them what has to be done.
1122 The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, feared that the authorities might be judge and prosecuting counsel and that there would be little opportunity for defence. I am speaking from experience, because I have been to many people in connection with building regulations and explained to them what must be done, I have had to listen to their stories of their difficulties in meeting the regulations, and then trying to find out the best way to sort out the problem. As they cannot work very fast, the one thing that is certain is that when this Bill is passed and becomes law you are not likely to find a local government officer knocking on your front door the next day. However, he will work as fast as he can, although not rushing headlong into the activities that this Bill requires.
I should like to ask the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, whether she can give any encouragement about the building industry. My noble friend Lord Gridley has expressed fears and prophesies about the worsening state of the trade. My work is in County Hall in the Architect's Department and my main concern is with what happens on building sites. I receive reports from clerks of works on the sites, with long lists of how many men are working there and what they are doing. Constantly I have to work out how many man-hours are spent, normal man-hours and overtime, and I also have to calculate how long it is likely that it will take to complete the building.
It is very nice indeed when reports come in that more dwellings have been completed and handed over, but unfortunately, although we do not seem to have any lack of contractors coming forward to give their estimates, and smaller builders coming in as sub-contractors, it is very difficult to find a sufficient number of men to do all the work in the time required, and although the buildings are going up they are frequently well behind schedule. If the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, can give any encouragement to the building industry then, despite all the things I do not like about this Bill, at least there will be one good thing coming out of it.
"More haste, less speed" is an obvious remark now with the implementation of this Bill, and I recall the words of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, a 1123 former Chairman of the Greater London Council, on 4th August. He said: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."—[Official Report; 4/8/75, col. 1391.]The surer way to get this Bill into progress is to make it work slowly, because the slower it is implemented the greater will be the efficiency.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I should like to begin by adding my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, and to say how much we all enjoyed his speech. We shall look forward to hearing from him on many occasions in the future. We have listened to an important Second Reading debate, and I should like to add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for making the time available for the debate, and for sending me the innumerable Government memoranda that have come out since 4th August. The noble Baroness criticised us for asking for a Second Reading debate on the grounds that it is totally unnecessary; she maintains we have already discussed the principles of the Bill. She said that the two principles behind it are, first, positive planning and, secondly, returning development value to the community. As I think has been well pointed out by almost everyone who has spoken in the debate, if these are the two principles behind the Bill—and I believe that to be true—it is, of course, totally unnecessary to have the Bill at all, because both things are capable of being carried out at present under existing law.
Therefore, one might just as well argue that the whole Bill is unnecessary, as to argue that this Second Reading is unnecessary. Indeed, one might just as well argue that the Second Reading on 4th August was unnecessary on a Bill that was the most extraordinary hybrid, unheard of in this House before, and that the correct time to have had it was today when at least, even at three o'clock, we had the Bill which has been completed in the House of Commons. So I make no apology for having the debate today, because although I am making a debating point about the principles of 1124 the Bill, I take it far more seriously than that.
I agree with the right honourable gentleman Mr. Crosland. I believe that this is the most important Bill, and the greatest measure of Socialism that this Government have yet produced, and because of that, it deserves to be taken very seriously indeed. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, nodding his head in agreement with me. Perhaps it is worth having a Second Reading debate to discuss the principles once again because they are well worth discussing more than once. Indeed, they will be discussed on many other occasions in the future, because being big and important principles—dare I say it even to your Lordships' House this evening?—we are unlikely to reach the final conclusions today, or in a Committee stage, or even in the course of the passage of the Bill at all.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford raised extremely important points about Churches and charities. We have now had an opportunity to look for the first time at the Government's Amendments on these points. I hope very much that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will take to heart the points made by the right reverend Prelate. I had the very great pleasure of speaking in a very important debate in this House in June on voluntary organisations. One of the very pleasing matters which came out of that debate was the tremendous area of agreement between both the Government and the Opposition on the need to strengthen the voluntary organisations in this country. This is necessary for a whole variety of reasons, not least the fact that in these very serious economic times, when, inevitably, there will be a fall in education services and statutory social services, we should look to voluntary organisations to fill the gaps left.
There is no doubt at all from the memoranda I have received, not only from the Churches but also from the National Council of Social Service, that charities are very worried indeed about these proposals. As has already been pointed out by the right reverend Prelate, the limit of 10 years has already been reduced by one year, and is now only nine years, because it starts on 10th September 1974 which, of course, is White Paper day. By the time the Bill becomes law, which will not, in any event, be until the 1125 middle of November, and by the time it comes into effect, which might be 1st January, the limit will be reduced to eight and three-quarter years. Time is moving on very rapidly for the Churches and charities.
I ask the Government to consider very seriously the claims that they make, because I believe that not only will the Bill seriously damage existing institutions, but it will also damage new charities which spring up quite frequently to meet some totally unexpected need that we cannot foresee now, and which will be damaged because they will not own any pre-White Paper day land at all. They can only have land or buildings that they can acquire currently. This is a Part of the Bill which needs close examination. I hope very much that the noble Baroness will take to heart what has been said, and will consider carefully the cost to the Churches and charities. On this side of the House, we will do all we can to support any representations that they may make, because we believe that their needs in every sense fulfil the needs of the community, often in ways that statutory organisations cannot do.
The other matters in the Bill which I think deserve the closest attention on Committee stage have again been referred to this evening, and are matters which concern the rights of the individual. I accept that the Government have made Amendments on compulsory purchase orders and procedures at public inquiries. But the fact remains that a fundamental right that individuals have now to object at an inquiry on a compulsory purchase order is taken away from them in many instances. I accept that there are many cases in which a compulsory purchase order is right and necessary. I have often been on local government committees which have decided to acquire something compulsorily for a very good purpose. But, at the same time, there is an equal right of the individuals who are affected to object to a compulsory purchase. I should have thought that this fundamental right was something of which all of us in this country were proud, because it meant efficiency in Government and gave a democratic right to the individual—it balanced the two.
Even after the Amendments of the Government, there will be no right of individuals to object where there is either 1126 an approved structure or a development plan. In this way, not only is a right taken away, but there are certain aspects in regard to which the legislation becomes retrospective, because most people have no idea whether there is a development plan in existence in the area in which they live, and if they move to a new area they will have no rights at all, because they will not even have had the right to object in the first place. The right honourable gentleman Mr. Silkin said in another place that to have two inquiries would be bureaucratic nonsense, but I think he has misunderstood the point. He is taking away the fundamental right which we must do our best to reconsider, because the position as it stands today is the right one and it ought not to be altered.
We are again taking away the rights of individuals in the new type of local authority ventures called disposal notification areas. Here, we do not know what the local authority are necessarily going to do. We do not know that their rolling programmes will be published. We do not know whether individuals will wake up one morning and find themselves in a disposal notification area, where they cannot sell their house without telling the local authority that they are going to do so. It is easy to see what will happen to the value of their house. It is easy to see that something which people may have expected to have is being taken away from them.
The Bill not only affects Churches and charities, but fundamentally affects pension funds. I should declare an interest now, because I have just been made a director of an insurance company. But there is no doubt that there are over 12 million people now covered by occupational pension schemes of one sort and another. The group of people growing most rapidly in these schemes are trade unionists, where large numbers have suddenly been brought into occupational pension schemes. This is something which I, at any rate, welcome very much. Pension funds depend very much on their investments, frequently in property, to keep up the value of the ultimate pension that someone will receive. There is no doubt that they are very concerned at the effect that this Bill will have on future pensions. Therefore, I think that the Bill fundamentally attacks the rights of individuals on their retirement.
1127 My Lords, perhaps there is one other aspect which both the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and I may suffer from. I suspect that, like myself, she is not very knowledgeable about agriculture. I may be mistaken in this. She may find it a subject as difficult to master as I do, but I think she cannot have failed to be impressed by the arguments that have been put forward this evening by my noble friends Lord Ferrers, Lord Digby and Lord Stanley of Alderley, all of whom are very knowledgeable on this matter. One thing I think we all share in common in this country today is the knowledge of the fact that we need to import half the food we eat, and that one of the ways we can help ourselves, our standard of living, our cost of living, our balance of payments, is to produce more food in this country. When the major criticism of so much of industry is that there is a shortage of investment, it seems an absolute tragedy that this Bill should attack the basis of farming, of what is without doubt one of the most efficient farming industries in the world, and one of the most efficient industries in this country; there is no doubt at all that the farming community are deeply disturbed.
So, too, of course, are local authorities. One might expect them to be satisfied with the Bill, but the number of memoranda I have had from them over the summer indicates that what might have been a Bill which they would have liked and in many ways would give them increased powers is threatened by the extensive reserve powers of the Secretary of State. This is a very serious matter and I endorse the argument put forward by my noble friend Lord Sandford. It has denied to so many local authorities, and to the communities in them, the power to participate in the decisions which are being taken, and has threatened them, if they fail to carry out the provisions of the Bill, with a total takeover by the Secretary of State.
I am very concerned, too, about the position of amenity societies. Under the Bill wide discretionary powers are given to local authorities to acquire land, and although subsequent amendments have been made saying that local authorities must have regard to the development plan, this is so vague a term as to be 1128 virtually meaningless. At a great many public inquiries—and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who is such an authority on the world of amenity societies, will know this—many plans have been altered by amenity societies speaking on matters to do with the improvement of the environment. The fact that they will be denied this opportunity in many cases and that their views will be virtually ignored can in no way be conducive to better planning.
My Lords, I hope that I have said enough to indicate that we on this side of the House take this Bill very seriously indeed. It is a fundamental Bill. It is a Bill that strikes at the fundamental rights of individuals in this country. We shall move a series of Amendments designed to maintain the rights that individuals now have, and where possible to extend them. I shall be moving Amendments to ask for legal aid for those who appear at public inquiries, because the legislation is now so complicated that it is asking too much of an individual to understand it without the advice of a solicitor. It is, after all, difficult enough for us, who at least have some experience in reading legislation and in trying to follow subjects, without asking the millions of owner-occupiers in this country to do the same in very complicated situations. We shall, therefore, be moving Amendments on the public inquiry procedure, and on many other aspects that have been debated this evening. I hope that the Government will listen to them and will appreciate that what we are trying to do is to defend rights which at present exist and which are being taken away.
My Lords, I should like to hope that the fear of the noble Lord, Lord Henley—that the Bill is unworkable—is true. I should also like to hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, said in August, that it will only gradually be implemented. But if organisations and individuals are still worried this is not really surprising. The fact is that we have seen a Bill full of dictatorial powers altered in a lot of detail, but I do not believe that the spirit that activates it has altered at all.
I was astonished to read in the report of the debate in another place of Tuesday 14th October, these words coming 1129 from the right honourable Minister, Mr. Silkin. He was replying to an Amendment that would have extended the time in which local authorities are required to prepare plans for land acquisition and management. It now appears that these plans must be ready by the 31st December, and it is easy to see that, as we have only just started this Bill in this place, they will have at the most six weeks, out of which will have to be taken the Christmas holiday. My honourable friend Mr. Raison was moving an Amendment to extend this period, and Mr. Silkin said this:If they …—that is the local authorities—… are not prepared to do this by 31st December, my right honourable friend …—that is Mr. Crosland—… is prepared to do it for them. My right honourable friend has quite a lot of power in this matter. Not only can he step in, he can create organisations that can step in, and he can even find other local authorities who would be prepared to step in on this issue. I am sorry that it is early in the morning because I would like every local authority that is deliberately dragging its heels to listen to what I have to say. They know perfectly well, and have known for the past eight months or so, that this is exactly what the situation would be.My Lords, those are the words of the Minister before the Bill becomes law. What will they be like when it is law?
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, in view of the tenor of the debate, I think perhaps I should start with something on which we are all entirely agreed and add my congratulations and gratitude to the right reverend Prelate for his very interesting maiden speech. I listened very carefully to what he said, took it to heart and soul. In view of the fact that the Minister is meeting the Committee from the Churches tomorrow, I think it would be far better if I did not attempt to pre-empt or guess at what will take place there, but I hope that a great many of these matters will be resolved to the right reverend Prelate's satisfaction.
The most extraordinary thing about this debate—and I take the point made with some charm by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers—is that in fact nothing new has arisen. We have been over exactly the same ground as we went over on 4th August. I must say I appreciate that we 1130 have given the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, a chance to speak, and the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, as he put it, the chance to make the most important speech of his life. The only trouble with that line of thought is that if we were to continue to do that we should have innumerable Second Readings on every piece of legislation until everybody had had a chance to have their way, and we could not operate in that way. What struck me forcefully was the rather macabre, almost panic way we were told we were having reds behind every blade of grass on the one hand, while we were also told by the noble Marquess and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, the Bill was so authoritarian. If that were the position we should not need to have all this discussion.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me. He was going very much at the beginning on hearsay evidence. He was reporting what his noble friend Lord Foot was supposed to have said, which was entirely different from what I understood the noble Lord to have said to me earlier this afternoon.
My Lords, if the noble Baroness cares to go through my noble friend's speech on 4th August she will see that I have reported him not by hearsay but exactly.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I was referring to what he said to me this afternoon. As it was in the Prince's Chamber perhaps I ought to consider it privileged and not refer to it any more.
§ Baroness BIRK
No, my Lords, the Prince's Chamber; so I shall not say anything more about that. If this measure were as authoritarian as noble Lords have suggested, then, as has been pointed out by some noble Lords, we should not need as complicated a measure as we have, with such enormous trouble taken and with such a vast amount of consultation. On the other hand, noble Lords who grumble that it is so complicated would be the first to jump into resentment if they felt that everything was not spelt out. What they have been asking for all the way through is in fact being 1131 spelt out in the Bill. This is what in fact the Amendments consist of, which I was explaining when I opened this debate this evening. This has lengthened the Bill, but it has been in response to what the Government have been asked to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, referred to the unknown god who had conceived this amended Bill, who had produced it, and he would like to know who it was. May I say that it is a combination of the reasoning, listening power, and consultations of a Labour Government. So that is the answer to that mystery. I felt at one point that I had the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, a little on our side. I listened with great interest, and he was kind enough to give me notice in advance of his feeling about Wales. I explained then and—I shall not go into it at great length now because no doubt it will appear again at some point before us—that Wales, we consider, is a small unit, and much more self-contained than the other countries. I got the feeling from him that, unlike the rest of the speakers on his side, so far as giving power to the local authorities was concerned he was very happy about it. All he was unhappy about was that Wales did not conic into this scheme.
Probably the saddest part from my point of view about this debate is that while I am sure noble Lords have taken the trouble to read the Bill, and they talk about its objectives, they deliberately do not want to understand what it is about. I really must return to the objectives. They are positive planning plus community ownership. I shall not go into detail about this because I went into it in considerable and, I thought, extremely clear detail on the Second Reading on the 4th August. To say that this operation can be achieved by tax is certainly not enough, because we take the view that the important thing is the ownership of the land and the opportunity to plan positively. There is a tremendous difference between that and the present situation, when local authorities have the opportunity of negative planning, of stopping things, but do not have, to the extent that they should, the opportunity to plan their areas for the future, and this is really what we are talking about.
Frankly, whichever way one looks at it, those who say that the Bill is not 1132 workable really do not want it to be workable, and if it were workable and could be made workable then they do not like the principle, and over and above everything noble Lords opposite are determined to ensure that it is made unworkable by saying, even before there is a chance for it to come into being, that they will repeal it. If we really want to do something about land in this country, by talking like that and not even giving it a chance to get off the ground, noble Lords opposite are killing it before it has a possible opportunity.
On Second Reading on 4th August I went into considerable detail on the question of phasing, yet it would appear from what we have heard from noble Lords opposite that that debate did not take place, even though it was a debate in which 22 noble Lords took part including a number from this side of the House, and at the end of it my noble friend replied in a most expert and comprehensive way. Despite that, we are treated to these diatribes which conclude that whether it be manpower, finance or anything else, it will all happen straight away. The second appointed day, when the whole phasing period has been gone through, may be anything up to 10 years hence, yet noble Lords opposite are still talking as though it is all going to happen immediately, on the first appointed day. Incidentally, the first appointed day will not be in January, but probably some time in the spring.
The public acquisition of land is hardly abnormal, but what is abnormal is the way in which noble Lords opposite are blaming everything—not only what is happening to builders, and I will come to that subject shortly—on a Bill that has not yet been enacted. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, went through almost every ill that has attacked society in the last few decades, if not centuries, and appeared to be blaming them not only on the legislation which has already been passed by the present Government but by every former Government, including Tory Governments. They are blaming the Bill for the present situation in all manner of things, including agriculture, industry and building. You name it, noble Lords opposite blame it on a measure that is not yet on the Statute Book. This really is absolute nonsense, if noble Lords will forgive my saying so.
§ Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY
My Lords, the noble Baroness may think it nonsense, but that is not how we think. At the end of the day we will produce the food and if we do not like it, we will stop producing the food. The noble Baroness may not like what I am saying, but it happens to be true.
§ Baroness BIRK
I was speaking about another part of the noble Lord's speech. I agree completely here with the noble Baroness, Lady Young; I, too, am not an expert in agricultural matters, but as I understand the issue on which the noble Lord just intervened, the point he is making probably depends on the size of piggery and not on the size of the pig, and if I may I will write to him on that specific point because I do not want to get it wrong. The noble Lord did me a great service because I had forgotten to mention agriculture, for this is another area where noble Lords opposite have blamed this Bill, which is not yet on the Statute Book, for the state of British agriculture at the moment. This is plain nonsense !
I was fascinated when the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, let the Amendment cat out of the Committee bag when he said that we are to be faced with over 300 Amendments from the Opposition, so it is clear that there will be plenty of opportunity to take up all the points that have been made, including, I imagine—if this extraordinary debate tonight is followed—Amendments which will attempt to deal with pieces of legislation and structures in our society entirely outside the Community Land Bill. So far as agriculture is concerned, I stress—as this has been mentioned by many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Digby, the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers—that the Bill will not affect the rate at which agricultural land comes into development. In exercising their functions, authorities must have regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry and I am sure that noble Lords are aware that at a much earlier stage in the passage of this Bill there were consultations, concessions were made and agreement was reached on some agricultural matters. We intend to amend the General Development Order to provide for consultation with the Minister of Agriculture for acquisitions of over 10 acres of agricultural land. I welcome the 1134 concern for agriculture shown by noble Lords opposite, but I cannot resist pointing out that it was they who, when in Government in 1973, removed the provision for consultation with the Minister of Agriculture under Article 11(2) of the General Development Order, and that it was they who ordered the presumption on white land to come into one in favour of housing development, in the White Paper, Widening the Choice: the Next Steps in Housing. Whatever the merits of that—and I shall not discuss that point because I can see the arguments in favour of housing but they were nevertheless hardly calculated to help agriculture—I believe that this is something they should be concerned about when they are talking about agriculture now and in the future.
I also found most extraordinary the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, and others on the question of building and the property market. The noble Lord quite rightly referred to the difficult state of that market and to the bankruptcy of developers and builders, but all this has not happened as the result of a Bill which is still not yet on the Statute Book. It happened during the period we are in now with the operation of a free market. It seems to me that developers and property people can hardly have found the operations of the crazy boom and collapse syndrone in land a gilt-edged testimonial to the advantages of the free market. When noble Lords talk as they have done about housing, this is really extremely irresponsible, because the problem with housing has been because of building and the fact, as Maurice Ash pointed out in his letter in The Times, that it is building margins and the costing of housing which have been the problem. All that can result from the Bill when it becomes law will be a far better attempt at planning and at allocating land so that there will be more chance of building.
I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, mentioned the support of the Bill from the Sand and Gravel Association and the parish councils, but he forgot to mention a few other important bodies, though I am sure that this was a pure slip of the memory. For instance, the Bill now commands broad support from the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Town and Country Planning Institute, 1135 from the Sports Council and—and this is extremely important—the Central Council for Physical Recreation, which now supports it in the light of what has been said about amenity. I recognise the anxiety that many people felt about the effect of the Bill on recreational land. Even though I would not claim the wholehearted support of the Confederation of British Industry—that would be going a bit too far—or of the Housebuilders' Association, their attitude towards the Bill has nevertheless changed substantially since the Government's proposals for exempt and excepted development. I am sure that the same will be true of many other bodies when they have fully considered our proposals.
I do not intend to make a long speech now, as I made a short speech at the beginning and I feel that we have had a fairly full, if not very satisfactory, debate. Probably we shall have days more discussion in Committee also. All I would say is that in the recent and not so recent past, this House has shown a very remarkable and inspiring lead in social reform in many measures. In some ways it has had the edge on the other place. It would be a great pity if, in this area of social justice in which the future of our country, the shape of our communities, and the distribution of land (which is a very scarce commodity) are at stake, your Lordships' House should return to the antediluvian impression that a great many people had of it; and indeed still have, sometimes quite wrongly. But if the attitude to the Bill and its treatment is such as has been suggested from what has been said tonight, I am afraid that this will not only do great harm to the Bill, and will make the passing of it even more difficult—although it will go through—but will also do great harm to this House—
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, would she be kind enough to give the answer to the question of which I gave her private notice beforehand?
§ Baroness BIRK
I beg the noble Earl's pardon; I got rather carried away on the wider issues. I think the noble Earl is referring to the hardship tribunals—
§ Baroness BIRK
I am sorry. I did deal with that, although I did so rather quickly. I included this when referring to one of the matters which I said noble Lords were taking for granted would happen immediately; and it was all part of the phasing. The matter which the noble Earl has in mind comes into what I have already said regarding phasing, but I shall repeat it. The figure of 14,000 is a projected figure, after the second appointed day when we have reached the state of current use value. We do not start off with employing 14,000 people. It has been made quite clear in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister that, to start with, local authorities must see how they can best deploy the work forces they have. In many cases they will be sharing expert help, and the staff will gradually build up according to the amount of work. I do not propose to give way again on this point, because it will come out in Committee, but that is the answer—
I am sorry, my Lords; I did not mean to interrupt the noble Baroness. But I did ask her—and I gave previous notice of this—whether she could give the break-down of how this figure of 14,000 is split up as between land agents, valuers, surveyors and others. That is what people want to know.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, it is quite impossible at this stage to give that information. If I gave some arbitrary figures, noble Lords would be quite right in asking how I was able at this stage to say that there would be so many lawyers needed and so many land agents needed. That would be the most extravagant and wrong way to go about it.
We have to take some figure in staff numbers, but I cannot at this stage say how the break-down works out. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is right; it is still a notional figure. This may not be the figure. At present it is a general outside figure. But it is thought that about one-third of that number will have to be highly skilled workers, while the others will tend to be in clerical and other grades.
I turn to the other point of which the noble Earl gave me notice, regarding the hardship tribunals. This is another matter which will not come into being until we reach the second appointed day, and so 1137 it is very far ahead. But here again, supposing we did not make provision for that, I am quite certain that the noble Earl—we may not agree politically, but he has a sympathetic manner, and so I expect he has a sympathetic disposition as well—would be one of the first to ask what provision we would make in cases of hardship that would possibly, and could probably, arise in any scheme, no matter how careful we were.
Therefore we have inserted the provisions dealing with this matter, but it would be wrong for me to start thinking up—and it is not there, so I would have to be thinking it up—the detail of how this is composed. This makes me feel that I was entirely right in what I explained when I opened the debate. I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Young said: that we have been over this course before. We went over it on 4th August. We have not got any further forward with it; the same arguments have been deployed, and we are getting bogged down on the sort of detail which should, and no doubt will, arise during the Committee stage.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.