§ As amended, considered.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The first Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for South Islington is out of order. The 291 Bill is a Bill to amend Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, but he proposes to amend the whole Act and also to alter the incidence of taxation, which cannot be done at this stage.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)
I beg to move the new clause which stands in my name, and I do so with the object introducing into this Bill some means by which it may be possible to obtain enforcement of the provisions of the Act in many rural districts where it is now neglected. In drawing up the Amendment I have carefully followed the wording of the Act of 1890, although I have introduced some slight modification in the last portion of the clause, so as to give to the medical officer and ratepayers, under certain circumstances, power to call the attention of the central authority to the neglect to put the Act in force. I think this is necessary, because, as the right hon. Gentleman has shown us on more than one occasion, although very large powers exist, there is no provision whatever to secure their enforcement, and they are indeed seldom if ever put in force in many districts where we have a scandalous condition of housing in existence. Bad housing is consequently allowed to go on to the detriment of the health of the locality and of the morals of the people. If this Bill is to become operative, if it is to have greater force than the Act of 1890, we must strengthen it in some way and give someone the power of drawing the attention of the local authorities to their default in carrying out the intentions of the Legislature. I believe that in a question like this affecting the public health no more suitable officer could be found to undertake this duty than the medical officer of health, and although in many rural districts such an officer holds his position on a very insecure tenure, and is only too often paid a comparatively small salary for the performance of very responsible duties, I am sure the House will feel that he is the proper official to discharge this task. I am quite aware that while the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill may be willing to accept the first and second portions of my clause, he may object to the third, on the ground that it brings in the interference of the Local Government Board. In order to meet that objection I would suggest that the enforcing 292 authority should be the county council, and I have no objection whatever to the county council being substituted for the Local Government Board in the third portion of this clause, so that the provision will then run that, upon representations made by not less than four householders to the medical officer of health for the district to the effect that the conditions of housing then existing are dangerous to the public health, the medical officer shall inspect and report, and the county council shall take steps to see that the Act is put in force in the event of the necessary action not being taken by the local authority. I believe that some such provision would make the Act more efficient. I do not think we can too strongly deplore the impotence of the Act of 1890, seeing that in most rural districts it has had no effect whatever in improving the housing of the agricultural poor. It is in order to ensure that the local authority in such districts shall do its duty that I propose this clause, and I repeat that I think the county council may wisely and properly be introduced as the enforcing authority.
New clause—(1) It shall be the duty of the medical officer of health of every rural sanitary district to represent to the local authority of that district any parish or other area within that district where danger arises to the health of the inhabitants of such parish or area from the insufficiency or unwholesomeness of the existing supply of lodging-houses for the working classes.(2) If in any rural sanitary district any four or more householders living in or near to any parish or other area in such district complain in writing to the medical officer of health of that district that danger arises to the health of the inhabitants of such parish or area, or of such district, from the insufficiency or unwholesomeness of the existing supply of lodging-houses for the working classes in such parish or area, he shall forthwith inspect the same, and transmit to the local authority the said complaint arid his opinion thereon; and, if he is of opinion that danger does arise as aforesaid, shall represent such parish or area to the local authority; but the absence of any such complaint shall not excuse him from the duty of making a representation under Subsection 1 of this section where necessary.(3) If within three months after receiving the said complaint and opinion or representation of the medical officer, the local authority declines or neglects to take any proceedings to put this part of the Act in force, the householders who signed such complaint may petition the Local Government Board for an inquiry, and the said Board, after causing an 293 inquiry to be held, may order the local authority to proceed under this part of this Act, and such order shall be binding on the local authority."—(Sir Walter Foster.)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the clause be read a second time."
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
The clause of my hon. friend is divided into three parts, and as to the first two I have, as he has said, no objection whatever, although, in my opinion, it is altogether unnecessary, for I am advised, and indeed I am satisfied, that, with one exception, everything proposed to be done in. those two paragraphs of the clause can be done under the existing law. The hon. Member gave, as I think, a somewhat curious reason for this clause. He said that the local authorities had undoubtedly got very great and extensive powers already, but they do not use them, and therefore he would give them more power. I do not quite follow him in that.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER
No; I said I would give the medical officer of health and the ratepayers more power.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I certainly thought the hon. Member said he would give the local authorities more power. With regard to the position of the medical officer of health, that is a question to which I undoubtedly attach very great importance. But I do not think you would improve his position by the insertion of this clause, and the Committee will have to consider very carefully the fact that he must be placed in a very different position altogether from that which he now occupies if you mean him to be a really efficient official with regard to the housing of the working classes. Everything suggested in the clause can be done under the existing law, with one exception, and that is where the medical officer of health is, called upon to report on the insufficiency of lodging-houses for the working classes; and even as regards such insufficiency, if it be shown to arise either from the unwholesomeness or overcrowding of dwellings, then it is his duty at present to report. But if there is an insufficiency of houses as apart from over- 294 crowding, that, I submit, is not a matter for the medical officer of health, who would not be the most appropriate authority to deal with it. The third section of the proposed clause states that under certain circumstances the Local Government Board should be brought in to coerce the recalcitrant local authorities.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I have considered the clause very carefully, and I have come to the conclusion that if pressure of this kind is to be brought to bear it would be bettor that it should be brought to bear by the county councils rather than by the Local Government Board. The county councils are representative bodies, with local knowledge which the Local Government Board cannot possess in the same degree. What I propose to do, therefore, is not to accept the proposal of the hon. Member, but to accept with some Amendments the clause of the noble Lord the Member for the Cricklade Division, as was suggested to me the other night by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton. I think, with some Amendments, that clause would very satisfactorily answer the purpose in view.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The next two clauses standing in the name of the hon. Member for South Shields are not in order. They are both outside the scope of the present Bill.
§ MR. STEADMAN (Stepney)
In rising to move the clause which stands in my name, I hope the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government will give it a little more consideration than he did last week, when he described it as a harum-scarum proposal. I am not a lawyer, but I give way to no Member of this House in my desire to see better accommodation for the working classes of this country. If the right hon. Gentleman had really any sympathy with the question or a desire to do something in the right direction he would, instead of ridiculing my humble clause, avail himself of the assistance placed at his disposal, which I have not at mine, to draft it into proper shape. I consider this clause 295 one of the most important that has so far been moved in connection with this Bill, because it touches the very root of the evil under which the working classes are now suffering, and that is the question of the land. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that the county councils and other local authorities have already got this power and that power, and that they are now to be given power to enable them to purchase land outside their own areas, but after all it is the landowner we have got to deal with. He is the most important person to consider, and we have not taken into consideration at all what he requires for his land. The London County Council have purchased six sites under Part III. of the Act at a total cost of £96,000. Two of these sites, including the Millbank site, which was Government property, and therefore paid no rates at all, cost the Council £37,500. The largest site purchased, Totterdown Fields, Tooting, with an area of 38½ acres, cost £45,000, and it is proposed to house something like 12,000 persons on it. That site is agricultural land, and if it were purchased at its agricultural value the price, instead of working out at over £1,100 per acre, would work out at about £40. It paid rates on its agricultural value, but immediately the London Count Council proceeded to purchase it the owner would not sell it at that value, but required its full market value for building purposes. The result is that the Council had to pay an enormous price for this land, which, I maintain, should have been purchased on its assessable value as agricultural land, and not upon its value for building purposes, for which it was not assessed at all. I know this Amendment touches the vital system of the taxation of ground values. Vacant land at present has no assessment, and, therefore, pays no taxation. In some of the improvement schemes carried out by the London County Council a part of the site had to be left vacant, because it was too small for the Council to build on owing to the restrictions imposed by the Local Government Board and the Home Office, It is impossible for a municipality to build on a small plot of land even if it only desires to cover expenses and not to make a profit. I am anxious to see municipalities build houses for the working classes without loss to the ratepayers. The rateable value of these sites now 296 vacant would be £2,683 per annum, if buildings were placed upon them, and the total cost to the London County Council, because they were kept vacant, was £5,378 up to the 31st March, 1899. If all vacant land was assessed, and paid rates upon its full market value, it would have the effect of bringing into the market a large amount of land suitable for building purposes. If used as agricultural land it would be taxed upon the basis of its market value, not for agricultural, but for building purposes. Therefore it would be no longer to the interest of the landlord to hold it back as he does at the present time. We are paying as ground rent to-day a hundred times as much as the agricultural value of the site, as the value of the land, especially in the city, or the near vicinity of the city, is increased through the industry of the people, and not from any merit of the landlord himself. The more the people by their industry increase the value of his land the more the landlord makes the local authority pay for it. Now, in fixing twenty-five years purchase as a basis, I think I have acted very fairly even to the landlords. I was for over twelve months chairman of the Investments Committee of the Hearts of Oak Society, and on many occasions we could invest our money in ground rents at as low as eighteen years purchase. I admit that the value has gone up since that time, but that has been through the industry of the people. It is a well-known fact that if the vacant land is allowed to go un-assessed and paying no rates the landlord is encouraged to hold the land vacant until the time arrives when he can get the highest price for it. The Government might bring in a dozen Bills, but no Bill will solve this problem in a satisfactory manner unless the Government are prepared to deal with the owners of the vacant land, and compel them to sell it at a fair market value to municipalities for the erection of improved houses for the working classes.
For the purposes of Part 3 of the Housing of the Working Classes Act. 1890, a local authority may acquire vacant land compulsorily at a price equal to twenty-live years purchase of the annual value as assessed for taxation."—(Mr. Steadman.)
§ —brought up and read the first time.297
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the clause be read a second time."
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I am sure I am very sorry if anything I said in the course of the debate the other day was at all distasteful to my hon. friend. I think I would like to withdraw the expression "harum-scarum clause," I then used, and substitute for it "the most un workman like clause I ever saw in my life." I really cannot say very much more to-day than on the previous occasion about this clause. At the present moment, under a Provisional Order, confirmed by Parliament, the price of the land is fixed by arbitration if there has been no previous agreement. I do not quite understand what really the desire is of the hon. Member. In one breath he says that all he wants is that the land should be sold at a fair market value. That means what the arbitrators would decide is the price to be paid for it. But in the next breath the hon. Member goes a good deal further. He assumes the rôle of general arbitrator, and decides that, in the purchase of land, no matter of what kind, or where situated, and utterly regardless of all the surrounding circumstances, he would never give more than twenty-five years purchase of the assessable value, whatever he means by that—and I do not propose to inquire. The hon. Member says that this is to apply to vacant land, by which he means land not built upon. Let us see what his proposal may involve. It may inflict the greatest possible hardship. Take the case of a hard-working, industrious man, who perhaps has sprung from nothing, and by his industry has made a fortune which he has invested in land near a town, or perhaps just beyond the boundary. That land is vacant because it is not built upon, and he has given fifty years purchase for it, exactly its fair market value. Now comes the occasion when, under the clause in this Bill which enables local authorities to go beyond their boundaries to acquire land for the purpose of housing the working classes, this man's land is to be purchased by the local authority. The hon. Member will not leave the value of that land to be fixed by an arbitrator. It is to be laid down by Act of Parliament that under no circumstances is the owner to get more than twenty-five years purchase for what he has paid fifty years purchase. I am quite certain that the hon. Member will see, 298 when he looks at it in this way, that the clause will not hold water. I desire as much as anyone the cheapening of land for this great national purpose; but is it right or fair or just to penalise one particular class for that purpose, and throw upon them the heaviest part of the burden, because they happen to be owners of the vacant land? It seems to me that the clause cannot bear argument for a single moment.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE (Wiltshire, Cricklade)
The new clause I rise to move is one which the right hon. Gentleman has said he is willing to accept for the reasons he has stated. I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman, for the very courteous manner in which he has met the views of those on this side of the House who are anxious to see this Amendment adopted in one form or another. I am very glad that the new clause meets the views of my right hon. friend who was President of the Local Government Board in the last Government. The clause has been modelled, as far as possible, on Clause 16 of the Local Government Act of 1893–4. I have accepted a valuable Amendment suggested to me by the President of the Local Government Board——
§ *MR. SPEAKER
A new clause can only be moved after notice has been given. If. the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman are agreed that this is substantially the same clause as appears on the Paper I will not interfere; otherwise it should be moved as on the Paper, and then amended by Amendments.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
I understood that the clause had been already placed before you, Mr. Speaker; and I thought that the authorities were satisfied that it was substantially identical with that which originally appeared on the Paper.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
So far as my reading of the clause is concerned, having very carefully considered it, I think it is precisely to the same effect as that which the noble Lord had originally on the Paper. But if desired the latter can be amended, by Amendment.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
Then I beg to move, Sir.
New clause—The council of any administrative county where a parish council resolve that a rural district council ought to have taken steps for the adoption of Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, or to have exercised their powers under that part, and have failed to do so, the parish council may complain to the county council, and the county council, if satisfied after due inquiry that the district council have so failed, may resolve that the powers of the district council for the purposes of that part shall he transferred to the county council with respect to the parish, and they shall be transferred accordingly, and the resolution shall, if necessary, have effect as an adoption of that part by the district council, and, subject to the provisions of this Act, Section 63 of the Local Government Act, 1894, shall apply as if the powers had been transferred under that Act."—(Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice.)—brought up and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the clause be read a second time."
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has accepted this clause, because it concedes the principle for which I have contended in the Committee stage as well as in the new clause moved to-day. The clause of my noble friend is based on one contained in the Local Government Act of 1894 which has been found to work very satisfactorily in many county councils when put in force in relation to other matters. I hope that the powers conferred by this Bill may be made more operative by this new clause.
§ *SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
When this Bill was before the Committee I objected to giving such power to the central authority on grounds I then stated; but these objections do not apply to the county council. My experiences of the county councils—although not a member of any—both in the West Riding and in Lancashire are of the most encouraging character. They are nearer the locality than the central Government can be; and they have the further advantage of representing the people. In fact, it is one popular authority controlling another popular authority. I am sure 300 that difficulties which have arisen between the central authority and the local authority will not obtain in dealing with the county council. I welcome most heartily this clause, and I am sure the Bill, strengthened by this clause, will work a reform of great importance.
§ MR. JONATHAN SAMUEL (Stockton)
I wish to ask the President of the Local Government Board whether, if the county council were to adopt this section, and put into force the powers of Part 3 in the area of any rural sanitary authority or parish council, the cost, if any, would be made a charge on the county rate or fixed on the rural or sanitary authority? If the cost were charged on the county rate it might be unfair to the other district councils.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
This clause only applies in the case of a rural district council; and then only where it has been resolved by the parish council that the rural district council had failed in their duty in not adopting Part III. of the Act; or if they had adopted it, had failed in their duty to put it into force. Under those circumstances the County Council would be able to take over to itself the powers of the rural district council for housing the working classes, and to carry out the necessary works. The charge would be paid by the defaulting rural council.
§ Clause added.
§ *MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
If the President of the Board of Trade were here he would recall that the principle of the clause I wish to move was repeatedly argued both in the House and in the Committee upstairs, during the discussions on the Act of 1890. If there was force in the arguments for it in 1890, it is redoubled now, owing to the enormous and vital importance of dealing with overcrowding. Twenty years ago the question of housing was one rather of sanitation than of overcrowding; but every year since has tended to make the question turn upon the issue of overcrowding and to the aggravation and intensification of the evils of overcrowding. In view of the present circumstances it would be unreasonable to the teeming 301 multitudes in our great towns, for whom we wish to find some outlet under the provisions of this Bill, if we did not apply the same reasoning and the same arguments to the re-housing of the people under Part 3, as amended by this Bill, that were applicable in former Bills to the question of insanitary areas and the pulling down of unhealthy habitations. Hon. Members are perfectly aware that the principle of excluding extra compensation in respect of compulsory purchase of insanitary areas and houses is applied to Parts 1 and 2 of the principal Act. What we wish is that, where you go outside the area of a district to carry out the purposes of Part 3, you should not be compelled to pay the enormous prices often demanded for land taken compulsorily under the Lands Clauses Acts. We had, on the second reading of this Bill, a most valuable discussion of the enormous enhancement in the value of suburban land that is sure to arise from the operations of county councils and other local authorities in going outside their own areas to compete for land for housing the working classes; what I am arguing now is that we should have the same principles applied to the outside land, as taken for a national and vital purpose, as are applied to land taken for dealing with insanitary areas and unhealthy houses. The evidence given by the Secretary for the Colonies, before the Housing Commission in 1884, was of the utmost importance on this point. He argued that the owner should obtain the fair market value at the time as between a willing seller and a willing buyer, and nothing more. "In practice they have succeeded in getting a great deal more." The Colonial Secretary also points out that "wherever an area was condemned as insanitary, all the owners within the area became subject to the terms of the Act, and their property, whether insanitary or not, could be acquired subject to no additional compensation in respect of compulsory purchase." That is a very strong argument for applying a similar principle to the purchase of land for the purposes of this Bill. In another reply to Lord Salisbury, the right hon. Gentleman said that in Birmingham they had two districts, one of which was an insanitary area, which they were providing a scheme to deal with, and another district called the improvement district, 302 and it was there that they had to pay the 10 per cent. extra.I say," said the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary, 'that an owner in the improvement district should make the same sacrifice as the owners who were doing their duty in the insanitary area had to make for the public good; that is to say, they should be content with the full and fair value of their property, without this excessive additional sum, often much more than 10 per cent.The right hon. Gentleman continues with the argument that owners would not suffer by the application of this principle to them in the improvement area he referred to; and by analogy the argument is good in the present Bill. Asked by Lord Salisbury whether hardship to the owner might not arise, and unpopularity for the scheme, he replied—I do not think that under any scheme that could be arranged the owners would be badly off. They would always get more than they would themselves value their property at, supposing no scheme were in existence. Therefore, I do not think a scheme would be unpopular with the owners; it would be more unpopular with the ratepayers.He gave illustrations as to how this extra 10 per cent. for compulsory purchase operated in Birmingham, and pointed out that where a man had bought real estate three years previously for £2,500, the corporation had to give him,£6,000 for the same land in compulsory purchase under the Lands Clauses Act. My hon. friend the Member for Stepney, in moving his new clause, with the object of which I have the greatest sympathy, conclusively showed that the owners of the building land in the vicinity of great towns are perhaps the most favoured men with regard to taxation. They are assessed for the poor rate at the annual agricultural value of their land, which means that if you compare the agricultural value with the real capital value of the land, which they could command in the market at Token-house Yard, and if they were taxed on anything like that real value, they are clearly being let off an enormous proportion of the share which they really ought to be paying for the purposes of local taxation. I do not wish to labour that point, except with regard to the particular argument before the Committee; but what does it mean? We know that the capital value of building land is from twenty to fifty, and sometimes 100 times the agricultural value of the land, and these owners have been 303 receiving from the community for years an enormous bonus, by reason of the fact that the community and Parliament have not taxed their land at its capital value. I ask whether it is reasonable that these owners who have received these large bonuses should ask for this further concession upon the compulsory purchase of their land. We know very well that the moment county councils and local authorities go outside their own area to acquire land, that land immediately increases in value. The owners thus are certain to get, in any case, vastly more for their land than they otherwise would. And then these very owners have had this bonus in exemption from fair taxation for years past; and, further, this bonus has been doubled by the action of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends in passing the Agricultural Rating Act. In dealing with this problem of the re-housing of the working classes, to prevent overcrowding, which I place even above sanitation, I think the community have a right to acquire this land at its fair value, and no more. We do not want to pay these owners less than the fair value of their land, but we do not want to pay them more, because landowners on the borders of great and growing towns have for years past been the favourites of fortune, and it is only reasonable they should to a small extent share in the sacrifices for these reforms.
New clause—Where land is acquired under this Act otherwise than by agreement no additional compensation shall be given to the vendor in respect of compulsory purchase of such land."—(Mr. Channing.)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the clause be read a second time."
§ *MR. MCLAREN (Leicestershire, Bosworth)
The argument of my hon. friend who introduced this clause has covered a rather wide ground, but it is a ground which we who sit on this side of the House have for years felt requires to be dealt with by some attempt at legislation. Whether we sit here as the representatives of local bodies anxious to acquire land for public purposes, or whether we sit here as the directors of public companies which have to acquire, as railway 304 companies do, areas of land compulsorily, we always feel that there is something wrong in a system which allows those who promote schemes for the public benefit to be practically fined 10 per cent. upon the ascertained value of the land which they require for their purposes. My hon. friend attempts by this clause to strike out what I should call the 10 per cent. fine. I do not understand that he proposes to carry the matter further than that, or that he intends to be as revolutionary in his proposals as the hon. Member for Stepney, or to suggest that any landowner should get a penny less than the fair value of the land which he is called upon to part with; but he does say this: that where a person comes to an owner to acquire land upon which to build houses for the poor of the town it is only fair that the owner should give up his land for that purpose, and not ask any more for it than its fair value. I believe that this 10 per cent. is not a creation of a statute; that there is no Act of Parliament which provides that it shall be added to the price of any land which is purchased compulsorily. It is pure custom created by surveyors and legal persons during the growth of railways, and when the Committee is considering a question of philanthropy as well as of figures it is not unreasonable to say that a stop should be put to an arbitrary rule of this character. Take the case of a railway company. The land it seeks to acquire is agricultural land, and has no building value, and if the landowner sits on that land for half a generation he would not receive more for it than its fair value; but a railway comes; along, takes some of the land and puts up buildings, and it at once attracts other builders, so that, so far from the owner being injured by his land being taken away, he is actually benefited. He not only gets rid of the land he parts with at its true value, but the rest of his land goes up in price. The same argument applies with greater force to municipal enterprise. Under these circumstances I think we ought to got rid of this 10 percent.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
This question was raised in Committee, and the hon. Member pressed it to a division, when the Committee decided by a large majority to reject his proposal, and I see no reason why I should accept the proposal on this 305 occasion. I do not think the hon. Member has brought forward any additional reasons which should cause me to do so. The hon. Gentleman must remember that when land is taken under compulsory powers the 10 per cent. is not a matter of course—it is left to the discretion of the arbitrator to say what he considers is the fair value of the land, which hon. Gentlemen opposite are agreed is what ought to be given, and he usually gives 10 per cent. compensation for the compulsory purchase. It may be that the owner may consider that the land which he has to part with, when used for the purposes for which it is acquired, will be very detrimental to the property which he is left with, and, taking all the circumstances into consideration, 10 per cent. is not, I think, unfair. The hon. Member founded his argument to a great extent upon the cases that occur in Parts I. and II. of the Bill, but those are not at all analogous to any case under which land could be taken under Part III., because in Parts I. and II. different circumstances arise; the areas there are taken over because they are insanitary.
§ *MR. CHANNING
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman for a moment here? My argument is that under Part I. the 10 per cent. is not allowed in respect of property which in itself is perfectly sanitary.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
But in those areas which are so taken over there are insanitary areas. The land which is taken under Part III has never been an insanitary area. In the first place it is taken for the purpose of building houses upon, and it has not been built on before, and I cannot see on what ground the owner of that particular property which is to be used for a particular purpose is to be prevented from enjoying the same privilege that is extended to other land-owners when their land is taken away. I have always acknowledged the importance of this particular question, but I have not heard a word of explanation tonight why one particular class is to be selected to pay a heavier burden than other classes of the community. We ought, in my opinion, to preserve to these people the same rights and privileges that we extend to other classes, and all that I ask is that in these cases, as in all others, it should be left to the unfettered 306 decision of the arbitrator to fix the price to be paid for these properties, and to say whether, in taking these properties over, there are exceptional circumstances which justify him in awarding an additional 10 per cent. as compensation for compulsory purchase.
§ *SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
When listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and the arguments which he used my memory went back to six years ago and the passing of the Local Government Acts for England and Ireland. On those occasions I heard precisely the same arguments—I have no doubt from the right hon. Gentleman himself—but they did not convince the House of Commons or the House of Lords in the case of the English Local Government Act of 1893, and in the case of the Local Government Act of Scotland in 1894. Parliament put these words in the Acts of both countries—Provided that in determining the amount of disputed compensation the arbitrator shall not make any additional allowance in respect of the purchase being compulsory.That is the precedent which we ask the House to follow in the present case, for this simple reason: that in accepting this the right hon. Gentleman is carrying out what he contended for in the previous Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman said—What the owner of this land is entitled to is its fair capital value. I do not ask for any thing more.What we now ask is that these owners, when they come before the arbitrator, shall not be allowed to avail themselves of what I may call arbitrator-made law, and not Judge-made law. A disastrous precedent was set, after the passing of the Lands Clauses Act in 1885, that in addition to the price of the value of the land the owner should have a bonus of 10 per cent. No man more loudly denounced that than the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary, with respect to land acquired by municipal authorities. The right hon. Gentleman maintains that in addition to the full market price the owner should get this further amount. Although it may not be a convincing argument, you cannot shut out the fact that the land which will be required for these purposes must be in close propinquity to large towns, and it 307 will be very much enhanced in value owing to its proximity to those towns. If the owner is to get the full market value, the House, I think, ought to follow the precedent created in the Local Government Acts of England and Scotland, that the community shall not be fined an additional 10 per cent. because they require the land for these purposes.
§ *MR. PERKS (Lincolnshire, Louth)
The clause seems to me to be a most reasonable one, and I can see no reason why the Government cannot adopt it. It appears to me that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board must have forgotten that when a man is selling land for public purposes he not only usually gets the full market value, but he always gets large compensation for damage done to his severed land, and he invariably alleges that that is the most valuable piece of land he has got, and he gets a bonus because the rest of his land is depreciated in value. There is another point, which is this, that land taken in the suburbs of our towns for the erection of artisans' dwellings will bring on to that land a considerable population, and that for mercantile purposes, small shops and so forth, the adjacent land left in the hands of the vendor will be greatly increased in value. Another point is that the great cost of acquiring these lands is not the value of the land itself, but the enormous cost of surveyors, witnesses, counsel, solicitors, and a variety of other people who are almost invariably engaged before the arbitrator or a jury on compulsory purchases under the Land Clauses Act. The fact that there is in the Act a direct provision that nothing should be paid for taking land compulsorily will facilitate, to a very great extent, the acquisition of land by agreement between owners who wish to sell, and the community who wishes to buy, and that will be a very great advantage. We certainly ought not to lose sight of those considerations.
§ MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)
We labour under a considerable disadvantage in discussing this subject in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary. I was myself a member of the Royal Commission to which the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire refers, and I remember perfectly well that the 308 Colonial Secretary was the clearest, ablest, and most valuable witness examined before that Commission. He showed to the satisfaction of the Commission that the proposal put forward for their consideration was consistent in itself, with full and complete justice to the owners of the land. No injury could follow the enforcement of this principle, and full and complete satisfaction would be obtained in all cases of compulsory sale. Now, I cannot see why, if the Government are really anxious to facilitate the question of the building, they cannot agree to this proposal. The landowners are all agreed that there is not the least risk of any kind whatsoever, and the county councils and the arbitrators feel every day the wrong that is done in this matter. My hon. friend has pointed out the enormous and permanent injury that has been done to the country by the imposition of this 10 per cent. in the schemes of the railways of this country. There is no doubt that it has hung round the neck of the railway systems a tremendous millstone, and from that the community suffers to-day. And it will continue to suffer if we add such a millstone to this Bill. Why should we add 10 per cent. over the value for compulsory purchase? I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say there was no statutory obligation upon arbitrators to give the 10 per cent.; but he knows perfectly well that if there is no statutory obligation it is the practice, and is equally strong, and that if it is sought to restrain it it can only be restrained by the insertion into the Bill of some such language as that read by the right hon. Member for East Wolverhampton from the Local Government Act of six years back. Why not add that language to this Bill? The right hon. Gentleman has introduced the Bill much in the form and way in which he desired to have it; there has been no desire on the part of anyone upon this side of the House to do anything but to assist the right hon. Gentleman in passing it and improving it; and surely, under the circumstances, it is not too much to ask the right hon. Gentleman at this stage to accept an Amendment—an addition rather than an Amendment—without which there will be enormous difficulties in enforcing the law after the Bill has been passed by this House. I have the greatest desire to see this Bill become law, but I should like to see the additions. 309 made so that when it has become law it will be a practicable and useful law, and I firmly believe that without this Amendment its object will be considerably curtailed, and in some cases utterly destroyed.
§ SIR JOHN BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)
I was rather disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman did not favour us with a smile when he said that the great burden lay on a single class. It has become a commonplace that this class are not only not heavily burdened, but, on the other hand, that they are very greatly benefited by the existing state of the law. He said also that we ought not to take out of the pockets of one particular class to benefit the public. This Bill deals only with land, and it is obvious to anyone who considers the matter for a moment that we want no other class of property. We do not want to buy railway shares compulsorily. We do not want to buy household furniture compulsorily. We do not want to buy watches or jewellery compulsorily. I would put it to the House that in adopting this Amendment we shall not do what many of us do not care to do—we shall not go in advance of public opinion. I think it would be a very wholesome thing if the House by passing the Amendment were to repeal the injunction or advice given to the arbitrators six years ago. A railway director has told us in very feeling tones, and my hon. friend the Member for Leicester has repeated it, that railway companies, and they might have said other companies, have been mulcted in this particular 10 per cent. for compulsory purchase to the detriment of the public. When a corporation intending to make a profit out of its working comes before an arbitrator, the arbitrator always has in his mind that the company is working for profit, and that it ought to be made to pay. But here is the case of a local authority acting for the benefit of the whole community, and, under the present condition of the law, suffering a great hardship. The case is very different from that of a company desiring to make an actual profit. I would recommend to the House this argument. I believe it ought to have great weight with all of us. In this case we an attempting to improve the position of those whose condition is a danger to the public.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
The right hon. Gentleman opposite says there is no statutory authority for making this allowance, but that seems to me a strong argument in favour of the Amendment. It is a practice which has become so inveterate that unless the Legislature interferes no doubt it will go on. The right hon. Gentleman says it is right that the owner of the land should receive the full value of the land, and I entirely agree with that. How does it work out? It works out in this way. When the arbitrator has taken into account every consideration that can be urged by the owner of the land, he adds 10 per cent. The hon. Gentleman has reminded us that six years ago the Legislature deliberately put down an extra 10 per cent. in the case of land acquired by a parish council. I challenge any gentleman opposite to Say why this 10 percent. should be taken away in the case of land acquired by a parish council, and why it should be left in the case of land acquired for the purpose we are now considering. I think the case is stronger in the latter point than in the former. I do hope the House will not take a retrograde step this evening.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER
I want to put before the right hon. Gentleman one or two points in this matter which, I think, have been slightly overlooked. In the first place, this land which is to be taken under the Bill is land in all respects similar to land now taken by the rural authorities under the Act of 1894. It is land like that taken for rural purposes by the parish councils; that is to say, it is not land in town, it is land in the rural districts. That kind of land, by the Act of 1894, could be taken compulsorily for allotments and other purposes, and there was also power to hire land. This Bill does not give us any power to hire land. The powers in this Bill are less than those in the Act of 1894, and there is the reason why you should make them similar. I think we should be relieved from the possibility of having to pay 10 per cent. compensation for compulsory purchase. There is a certain amount of experience in reference to these methods before the House. During the last few years the House has passed two Allotments Acts and they have been failures. The Allotments Acts passed by the Conservative Government 311 between 1886 and 1892 were Acts that gave little or no land to the labourers. The labourers did not get land in any large quantity till the 1894 Act came into operation. The experience of the working of those two Acts has shown that there is difficulty in using the methods of this Bill, and that there is an objection to the additional compensation. Although the addition to the price is comparatively small—it is not worth contending for on the part of the landowning classes—it forms a barrier. It checks the local authorities from carrying out what might be a beneficial piece of work for the locality. In the last two or
§ three years I have brought instances before the House in which local authorities had been asked to pay such prohibitive prices that they have been unable to carry out the orders given to them for compulsory purchase. I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to make this small concession, which, if granted, would, I believe, make the Bill more popular and more efficient for the purpose for which it is intended.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 96; Noes, 150. (Division List No. 167.)313
|Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.)||Flavin, Michael Joseph||O'Malley, William|
|Allan, William (Gateshead)||Flynn, James Christopher||Paulton, James Mellor|
|Ambrose, Robert||Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.)||Pease, Joseph A. (Northumb.)|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Perks, Robert William|
|Asquith, Rt. Hn Herbert Henry||Gibney, James||Pickersgill, Edward Hare|
|Austin, Sir John (Yorkshire)||Goddard, Daniel Ford||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Austin, M. (Limerick, W.)||Griffith, Ellis J.||Price, Robert John|
|Baker, Sir John||Gurdon, Sir Wm. Brampton||Reckitt, Harold James|
|Billson, Alfred||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale-||Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)|
|Bramsdon, Thomas Arthur||Hazell, Walter||Robson, William Snowdon|
|Broadhurst, Henry||Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H.||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson||Horniman, Frederick John||Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)|
|Bryce, Rt. Hon. James||Jacoby, James Alfred||Sheehy, David|
|Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn||Jameson, Major J. Eustace||Sinclair, Capt. J. (Forfarshire)|
|Burt, Thomas||Jones, William (Carnarvons.)||Smith, Samuel (Flint)|
|Buxton, Sydney Charles||Kearley, Hudson E.||Souttar, Robinson|
|Caldwell, James||Kinloch, Sir John George Smyth||Steadman, William Charles|
|Cawley, Frederick||Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cumbland)||Sullivan, T. D. (Donegal, W.)|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Leese, Sir J. F. (Accrington)||Tennant, Harold John|
|Clancy, John Joseph||Lewis, John Herbert||Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.)|
|Courtney, Rt. Hon. Leonard H.||Lough, Thomas||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Curran, Thomas (Sligo, S.)||Luttrell, Hugh Fownes||Wallace, Robert|
|Daly, James||Macaleese, Daniel||Wedderburn, Sir William|
|Dalziel, James Henry||M'Dermott, Patrick||Weir, James Galloway|
|Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||M'Ghee, Richard||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Dillon, John||M'Hugh, Patrick A. (Leitrim)||Williams, John Carvell (Notts)|
|Donelan, Captain A.||M'Laren, Charles Benjamin||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)|
|Doogan, P. C.||Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand||Woods, Samuel|
|Duckworth, James||Murnaghan, George||Young, Samuel (Cavan, East)|
|Emmott, Alfred||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Evershed, Sydney||Nussey, Thomas Willans||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Ffrench, Peter||O'Dowd, John||Mr. Herbert Gladstone and|
|Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond||O'Keeffe, Francis Arthur||Mr. M'Arthur.|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Brassey, Albert||Cooke, C. W. Radcliffe (Heref'd)|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Cornwallis, Fiennes Stanley W.|
|Bailey, James (Walworth)||Bullard, Sir Harry||Cox, Irwin Edward Bainbridge|
|Balcarres, Lord||Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Cross, Herb. Shepherd (Bolton)|
|Balfour, Rt Hn Gerald W (Leeds)||Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)||Curzon, Viscount|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derby)||Dalkeith, Earl of|
|Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Bristol)||Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Dalrymple, Sir Charles|
|Bethell, Commander||Chamberlain, J. Austen (Worc'r)||Digby, John K. D. Wingfield-|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-|
|Bigwood, James||Charrington, Spencer||Dyke, Rt. Hn. Sir William Hart|
|Blakiston-Houston, John||Clare, Octavius Leigh||Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas|
|Bousfield, William Robert||Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Fardell, Sir T. George|
|Bowles, Capt. H. F. (Middlesex)||Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward|
|Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn)||Cook, Fred. Lucas (Lambeth)||Fergusson, Rt Hn. Sir J. (Manc'r)|
|Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie||Ritchie, Rt. Hn. Chas. Thomson|
|Firbank, Joseph Thomas||Llewelyn Sir Dillwyn-(Swans'a)||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Fisher, William Hayes||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Rutherford, John|
|FitzGerald, Sir Robert Penrose-||Long, Rt. Hon. W. (Liverpool)||Seton-Karr, Henry|
|Fletcher, Sir Henry||Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Foster, Colonel (Lancaster)||Lucas-Shadwell, William||Shaw-Stewart M. H.(Renfrew)|
|Fry, Lewis||Lyttelton, Hon. Alfred||Sidebottom, Wm. (Derbysh.)|
|Galloway, William Johnson||Macartney, W. G. Ellison||Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch)|
|Gedge, Sydney||Macdona, John Cumming||Smith, James Parker (Lanarks.)|
|Giles, Charles Tyrrell||MacIver, David (Liverpool)||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)|
|Godson, Sir A. Frederick||M'Arthur, Chas. (Liverpool)||Spencer, Ernest|
|Goldsworthy, Major-General||M'Calmont, Col. J. (Antrim. E.)||Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier|
|Gordon, Hon. John Edward||M'Iver, Sir L. (Edinburgh, W.)||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Gorst, Rt Hn. Sir John Eldon||Massey-Mainwaring, Hn. W. F.||Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G. (Oxf. Univ.)|
|Goulding, Edward Alfred||Middlemore, Jn. Throgmorton||Thorburn, Sir Walter|
|Gray, Ernest (West Ham)||Monckton, Edward Philip||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Hanbury, Rt. Hn. Robert W.||Moore, William (Antrim, N.)||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Hanson, Sir Reginald||More Robt Jasper (Shropshire)||Usborne, Thomas|
|Helder, Augustus||Morrell, George Herbert||Wanklyn, James Leslie|
|Hermon-Hodge, R. Trotter||Morton, Arthur H. A. (Deptford)||Warr, Augustus Frederick|
|Hoare, E. Brodie (Hampstead)||Muntz, Philip A.||Welby, Sir Chas. G. E. (Notts.)|
|Houldsworth, Sir Wm. Henry||Murray, Rt. Hn. A. Gra'm (Bute)||Wentworth, Bruce C. Vernon-|
|Houston, R. P.||O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens||Whiteley, H.(Ashton-under-L.)|
|Howard, Joseph||Peel, Hn. Wm. Rbt. Wellesley||Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)|
|Hudson, George Bickersteth||Pender, Sir James||Williams, Jsph. Powell-(Birm.)|
|Hughes, Colonel Edwin||Percy, Earl||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Hutton, John (Yorks., N. R.)||Phillpotts, Captain Arthur||Wilson, J. W.(Worcestersh. N.)|
|Jebb, Richard Claverhouse||Pilkington, R. (Lancs., Newton)||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R.(Bath)|
|Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick||Platt-Higgins, Frederick,||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Johnston, William (Belfast)||Plunkett, Rt Hn Horace Curzon||Wrightson, Thomas|
|Keswick, William||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp||Wylie, Alexander|
|Kimber, Henry||Pretyman, Ernest George||Wyndham, George|
|King, Sir Henry Seymour||Purvis, Robert||Young, Commanded (Berks, E.)|
|Lafone, Alfred||Quilter, Sir Cuthbert||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir|
|Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.)||Rankin, Sir James||William Walrond and Mr.|
|Lecky, Rt. Hon. Wm. Edw. H.||Ridley, Rt. Hn. Sir Matthew W.||Anstruther|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ *MR. CHANNING
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept the clause I now beg to move, and I wish to express my gratification that he has come to that decision with regard to this question. I frankly admit that he has greatly improved the Bill.
Where land is acquired under Part 3 of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, otherwise than by agreement, any question as to the amount of compensation which may arise shall in default of agreement be determined by a single arbitrator, to be appointed and removable by the Local 'Government Board, or in the case of a council in London, by the Secretary of State."—(Mr. Channing.)
§ —brought up, and read the first and second time, and added.
§ *MR. CHANNING
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will consent to this proposition in the clause I now move. It is not inconsistent with the clause which has already been accepted on the motion of the noble Lord the Member for Cricklade. At the same time I admit that it would from the acceptance of that clause require some alteration, 314 if the principle of it is accepted. The object of the clause, of course, is to give the right to the county council to refer to the Local Government Board to set the Act in operation. I think that is a proposal which ought to be embodied in the Bill in some way or other, and I beg to move.
The county council, on a representation from a parish council, or any twenty ratepayers within a rural district, may claim that the adoption of Part III. in such rural district shall he referred to the Local Government Board, and thereupon the Local Government Board may hold a local inquiry, and after considering the report of such inquiry may make an order requiring the district council to adopt Part 3 within a time and under conditions prescribed in the order."—(Mr. Channing.)
§ —brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the clause be read a second time."
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I cannot accept this clause, for this reason. It would be inconsistent with the clause already accepted by the House. I think it would be unworkable.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL
I desire by the clause I now rise to move to raise the question which I raised in Committee, when the object I had in view received a considerable measure of support and sympathy from both sides of the House. I understand that my Amendment did not raise the question in the best possible manner, but the Government promised to consider the matter between that time and the Report stage. The object of my clause is to make it perfectly clear, at all events, that any county shall have power to acquire land, not only for the immediate, but also for the prospective needs of the locality. From the ground taken up by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I understood him to say that there would be no limit to the amount of land which might be acquired for the purpose of providing dwellings for the people. I wish to examine that statement for a moment. I venture to think it is not quite accurate. Suppose we allow that a local authority has no power to acquire land, except so far as it is authorised by the Legislature to acquire land for a specific purpose. Here it is authorised to acquire land for the purposes of Part III. What are the purposes of Part III.? It is to supply the needs of the locality in respect of dwellings for the working classes. I think that in the present state of the law one is compelled to come to the conclusion that the needs of the locality would be held to mean the existing needs of the locality. I do not mean to say that the Legislature would hold the councils very strictly to provide merely for the existing needs of the locality, but that they would hold them to this extent: that there must be needs actually existing, or needs that would arise in the immediate future. If we leave this matter in doubt, a local authority will stand in an unsatisfactory position. In the first place, the money which it pays for land may be disputed by the Local Government Board auditor; and in the second place, which is probably a more formidable matter, as I understand, it would be quite possible for any ratepayer who found himself aggrieved to consider that the local authority were exceeding their powers, and to go to a court of law asking an injunction to restrain them. So far as regards acquiring land by agreement, I 316 think it will be obvious that it is precisely in those cases where it would be most for the public interest to acquire land, in order to make provision for the prospective needs of a locality, that the holders of the land would be least willing to sell; that is to say, you must contemplate a case in which land is perhaps in the hands of a single holder, or two or three individual holders, who are keeping it out of the market, and where it will' be necessary for the local authority, if they want the land, to got it by compulsion. In that case the local authority would have to apply for a Provisional Order, and I scarcely think that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General will say that a local authority applying for an Order will be able to include in that land to meet needs which may arise after twenty or twenty-five years. I find that the procedure provided by law with respect to petitions for Provisional Orders is very stringent. It is absolutely within the discretion of the Local Government Board either, on the one hand, to dismiss the petition, or, on the other, if it is disposed to regard it with favour, it must, as I read the section, hold a local inquiry. In these circumstances, I do not think you can seriously say that, under the law as it at present stands, a Provisional Order could be got conferring powers on a local authority to acquire land the need for which would not arise for twenty or twenty-five years. It is very desirable, in order to prevent litigation and disputes, that the matter should be perfectly plain. I beg to move the clause which stands in my name.
New clause—Where it appears to any council which has adopted Part 3 of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, that land will be required for supplying the needs of their district in respect of lodging-houses within any period not exceeding twenty-live years, such land may be acquired under the provisions of that part."—(Mr. Pickersgill.)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,. "That the clause be read a second time."
§ *MR. HAZELL (Leicester)
I have an Amendment down later on, which I understand is out of order, covering very much the same ground as that now under 317 discussion, so that I should like to say a few words in support of the clause of my hon. and learned friend. It appears to me that this House is in danger of rivetting upon the nock of the local authorities so many fetters that it will be very difficult to carry out any housing schemes at all. I do not know whether there are many in this House, but there are a number of people in the country, who regard what they are pleased to term "municipal trading," with a great deal of suspicion. But if we have confidence in local authorities and believe that they know the needs of their localities and are able to carry on their schemes with wisdom and honesty I think we ought to give them rather a freer hand than they will have under the Bill at present, which confirms the custom of their paying an exaggerated price for land which they require. Unless this clause is inserted we shall put the local authorities in a position different from that of any private buyer. It is notorious that private undertakings when they desire to acquire land watch the changes in the market and seize the opportunity to buy at a favourable time, but Parliament so hampers local authorities that they are obliged to buy land at a high price, if at all, and if they have more than they want they must sell it again. We are on the eve of great developments in electric traction, and it is perfectly clear that a far-sighted, clearheaded local authority would see that when electric tramways get out into the suburbs great areas of land, which are now used for agricultural purposes, would be most suitable for housing the working classes. If they had a freer hand and were able to look forward to the future it would be possible to buy that land now one-fifth or even one-tenth of the price which would have to be paid for it in the future. Therefore in the interest of local economy I hope the House will agree to the clause.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir ROBERT FINLAY,) Inverness Burghs
When this matter was before the House on a previous occasion the Government promised to consider it. We have looked into the question, and we find that the matter has been several times before the Courts. The effect of the decisions has been that the local authority cannot apply land taken for the purpose of erecting 318 lodging - houses, or indeed for any purpose for which they have statutory powers, to any other purpose of a permanent nature without, of course, the authority of a fresh Act of Parliament, but that in the case of land taken for the purpose of erecting lodging-houses they may apply it temporarily, and even for a very considerable space of time, to any purpose not inconsistent with its being ultimately used for the purpose for which it was acquired.
§ SIR ROBERT FINLAY
Not entirely If the land is not required for lodging houses it must be sold, except where otherwise directed by the Local Government Board. No doubt a considerable amount of discretion is left to the Local Government Board, but in one of the cases to which I have referred the learned Judge went so far as to say there was no obligation if by any possibility at any future time the land could be applied.
§ SIR ROBERT FINLAY
The Court of Appeal did not adopt that dictum; it was a mere dictum of the learned Judge, and was not necessary for the purpose of the decision. It really amounts to this—that land cannot be permanently used for any purpose other than that for which it is acquired. As regards the acquisition, I apprehend there is no rigid fetter upon the local authority; they are not bound to show that they are going to build upon the land at once, but there must be a reasonable prospect of their building upon it in the near future. The sanction is really in most cases to borrowing for the purpose of buying land, and if it appears that the local authority have not genuinely in view the erection of lodging-houses as certain to take place in the near future, it is hardly a case of buying land for the purpose of erecting lodging-houses. I would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved this clause to see how it would work in practice. He proposes that if land is acquired for the erection of lodging-houses, it should be so used within any period not exceeding twenty-five years. How is a section of that kind 319 to be worked unless the gift of prophecy can be conferred upon the local authority, and also upon the authority who are to sanction the loan? How is it possible to say whether the land will be wanted in the course of twenty-five years, and, if so, whether the loan should be sanctioned? If it is not required for twenty-six years, it would be beyond the scope of the Act. I submit that such a clause is not practicable or workable, and that it is far better to leave the Bill in a somewhat elastic state as at present, so that if the land is genuinely being acquired for the erection of lodging-houses, somewhere in the near future, the sanction to the loan will be given. I am quite sure from cases that the local authorities are by no means very rigidly tied down as to the exact quantity of land that is acquired. If they see that in the course of the next few years they will want lodging-houses to accommodate, say, 500 people, and that there is a probability of an extension being required, there would be nothing to prevent them asking for sanction to a loan to acquire a larger quantity of land. Under all the circumstances, I submit that the clause moved by the hon. and learned Gentleman is not really wanted, and I trust the House will not accept it.
§ *MR. PERKS
Surely instead of being left, as the Attorney General suggested, to feel our way throughout the decisions of the various Coruts, about the effect of which he himself did not appear to be very clear, it would be far better to try to adapt this clause so as to enable a local authority to exercise the power of purchasing land which may be required, say, not within a limited period of twenty-five years—as that, I admit, might land you in the same dilemma as the Workmen's Compensation Act has with reference to the height of scaffolding—but within a reasonable period. Local authorities may be permitted by definite statutory enactment to acquire sufficient land for meeting the future necessities of the localities. It does not seem to me to be beyond the capabilities of the Law Officers to devise such a clause, and I submit that it would be far better to do that than to leave the question to be threshed out under conflicting decisions in the different Courts of Law.
§ *SIR F. S. POWELL
The House should bear in mind that the acquisition 320 of land may not prove to be any advantage to the purchasing authority. The land must be paid for by loan, and the interest on the loan rapidly accumulates, so that at the end of twenty or twenty-one years a local authority would find that they had paid in interest, beyond the amount of the purchase money, such a sum as made the purchase a very dear one, and one by no means advantageous to the authority. The House ought also to remember that the management of land always involves expense, that there may be various losses, such as the non-payment of rent, and that such a transaction, when it comes to be worked out as a question of finance and economy, may prove to be most expensive. These points ought to be considered before we give such a power to a district. I certainly think that many districts are far too sanguine as to their future. Many districts grow and grow again to the satisfaction and the wealth of all; but many districts, on the other hand, do not grow—infact, they rather decay; and I think in some of these cases it would be a great mistake to acquire land in the manner suggested. There is also this further consideration: there is such a thing as fashion among the working classes, and I do not know that in all cases land acquired by a locality for the working classes will be popular amongst those classes in twenty years' time. A district which is very attractive to-day may, in the course of those years, lose all its charms; for it must be remembered, when you plant a large colony in a country district, it ceases to a large extent to be a country district, and the attraction then goes. I am very glad the Bill has been so well received by the House, and I rejoice to find that it will soon become law, but I certainly think that a clause of this kind would be not an improvement, but an injury to the Bill.
§ MR. JONATHAN SAMUEL
I believe that this clause has been moved with the very best intentions, but I hope my hon. and learned friend will not press it to a division. I feel quite sure that it is much better to leave the Bill rather indefinite than to fix a period in the way suggested. In my opinion, as one having some experience in municipal work, a clause like this is practically impossible; you cannot estimate in any given town what will be the requirements for a period 321 of twenty five years, because some towns grow very rapidly, while others grow but slowly. There is also this danger. You have in every town a number of men who are speculators, and there is a possibility of their speculating in land and then becoming members of a local authority which may require to purchase that land for use within the period of twenty-five years. I may say that I do not consider that this Bill will be of very great value in any case—I have said so before—for the simple reason that no corporation is likely to undertake to purchase land outside its own area. I am sorry the clause put down by the hon. Member for South Shields, by which a municipality would have power to extend its boundaries so as to take in the land they may require, has been ruled out of order, but, in any case, I think it would be a danger to give these local authorities power to purchase land outside their own areas for the building of lodging-houses or houses to cover a period of twenty-five years in advance. Such a power might suit an authority like the County Council for London, but for an ordinary municipality it would be a danger, and, if exercised, might become a very serious burden on the ratepayers. I think the best thing is to leave the Bill, as the Attorney General says, in an elastic state, and therefore I hope the clause will not be pressed.
MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Canarvonshire, Eifion)
I think the objection of my hon. friend is more applicable to the Bill as a whole than to this particular clause. No doubt in all cases of this kind there is a danger of jobbery being indulged in by the local authority, but I am sure that that danger is greater and stronger with respect to the powers immediately given by the Bill than to the provision contained in this clause. The object of the clause is to enable corporations to buy without being driven into a corner in order to provide for the future. The probabilities are that corporations will not be induced to enter into any engagements for the future unless they have an opportunity for doing so advantageously by getting land very cheap. There is also an objection of the Attorney General which, on consideration, I do not think will be found to be so strong as he supposes. He suggested that this clause gave power to anticipate for a period of twenty-live years only, and that it 322 might turn out that twenty-six years would elapse before the land was required, and he seemed to imply that, therefore, the clause would be entirely inoperative. I differ from that view. It seems to me that the effect is that where a local authority contemplates the possibility of building within twenty-five years they may purchase without the consent of the authority or the approval of the Local Government Board, but if the twenty-five years elapse and their anticipations have not been verified, and a year or two more is required before they can build, they would then require a direction from the Board before they could keep the land any longer. I fail to see that any difficulty would arise, and I hope the clause will be agreed to.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER
I am sorry to gather from the remarks of the Attorney General that he will not add anything of this kind to the Bill. I have once or twice pointed out that we want, as far as we can, to give the local authorities encouragement to obtain land. Everybody must remember that there are a great many difficulties connected with taking land outside the area of the municipality. In the first place, a municipality by so doing will be putting property within another rating area, and will have no opportunity of bringing that property within the borough or municipality which purchases the land. It would also be spending money outside its own area, and would be removing its own people out of its own area, and adding to the rateable value of another authority, and to its own detriment to a certain extent. The only thing that would induce them to do this work is the idea of doing good to the people of their own district. Moreover, in a few years time they may possibly be in the position of having land outside their own area which is only partly occupied by their own people, and they may have built up a whole village or district which will be occupied by people unconnected with the original municipality, and paying rates to a municipality which has done nothing in the way of housing the people. Therefore, I think if you were to extend the Bill by putting in the words "within a reasonable period," or something of that kind, it would be an inducement to local authorities to acquire land. I gather from the Attorney General 323 that in his view the administration of the Bill would give the local authorities that wider power of acquisition, and that the Local Government Board in sanctioning a loan would always act liberally in this respect. I think that is the strongest concession we can obtain on this particular point, and having that admission from the Attorney General, no doubt with the sanction of the Local Government Board to such an interpretation of the manner in which the Act will be administered by that Department, we must be content. At the same time I am sorry we cannot put into the Bill words to make it clear to the local authorities that they will not be limited in taking land to the immediate necessities they desire to meet.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I can assure the hon. Gentleman opposite that this matter has been most carefully considered by the Attorney General, in conference with myself and the officials of the Local Government Board, and if we were of opinion that there was the slightest doubt upon the matter we should have endeavoured to frame an Amendment to meet the necessities of the case. But that was not the view of the Attorney General, and I entirely concur in his opinion. If hon. Members will look at the words of the Bill I think their apprehensions will be altogether removed. There is absolutely no limitation in the words of the Bill on the power to purchase to which the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman is directed, so long as it is for the purpose and subject to the provisions of the Bill. Neither is there any obligation to sell under any circumstances unless the land is not required for the purpose for which it was purchased, and even then the Local Government Board has a dispensing power and is able to say that the land need not be sold, although it is not required for the purpose for which it was acquired. I hold that the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman would be unfortunate, and would be a distinct limitation of the powers already possessed by local authorities, and I can conceive cases in which it would be an absolute hindrance. The hon. Gentleman desires to limit the period to twenty-five years. There is no such limitation in any Act of Parliament of which I am aware. Take a case in which a local authority has bought some 324 land for the purpose of housing the working classes. Adjoining that land there may be a small or large plot of land which it would be extremely desirable to purchase, land which in a few years is sure to go up in price, and which, if it was not for the limitation of the hon. Gentleman's Amendment, the local authority might be very anxious to purchase. I am speaking of land which might be subject to a lease for thirty years. Any Amendment of this nature would absolutely defeat the object and purpose of the Bill, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will not go to a division, because I think it is quite unnecessary.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
MR. GRANT LAWSON (Yorkshire, N.R., Thirsk)
The Amendment I have on the Paper appears to be somewhat mystical in its drafting, but its object is very simple. It will leave the incidence of rating in connection with this matter exactly as at present. When I moved this Amendment in Committee my right hon. friend said he would consider it before Report, and as I have perfect confidence in the justice of my Amendment, and also in the right hon. Gentleman, I shall say no more for the Amendment, but simply move.
The Amendment was—
In Clause 1, page 1, line 26, to leave out the words 'special and.'
§ MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)
On a point of Order, Sir. Do I understand that this Amendment will have the effect of changing the taxation under the Bill? If so, of course it is not competent for it to come before us at this stage.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
At present the expenses of a district council under Part III. are "special" expenses unless the county council make them "general" expenses. Under the Bill as it stands they would be "general" expenses unless the Local Government Board made them "special." It reverses, so to speak, the presumption of law, but the effect, I believe, would be practically the same.
§ MR. CALDWELL
It must be a change of incidence if you are changing them from "special" into "general." Would the same ratepayer pay under the Amendment in the same proportion as under the Bill? That is the point, I think.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! There is no question before the House, as these observations were directed to a point of order. I was not aware that any question of this kind arose, and I have not examined the section referred to, but I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that this does not cause a change in the incidence of taxation.
§ MR. JONATHAN SAMUEL
I rose to; a point of order, though I did not say so. J understood from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Thirsk, when this matter was discussed on a previous occasion, that it would alter very considerably the incidence of local rating. If that is so, I think before deciding on the question we ought to have a full explanation from the Attorney General.
§ *MR. CHANNING
asked whether this proposal would not have the effect of transferring part of the rates from agricultural ratepayers to the ratepayers in respect of houses or other property in villages or towns.
§ SIR ROBERT FINLAY
said the effect of this Amendment would be that the expenses would be "special" unless the county council made them general.
§ Bill to be read the third time upon Thursday.