Lords Amendment: In page 14, line 42, at the end, insert
Provided that if, after a local inquiry has been held in accordance with the said provisions with respect to any order whereby the Minister proposes to acquire land compulsorily, any objection to the order which has been presented is not withdrawn, the order shall not be confirmed except by means of a provisional order made by the Minister and confirmed by Parliament, and for that purpose the Minister may submit a Bill to Parliament for the confirmation of any such provisional order.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
This is the proviso with regard to Provisional Orders, and I must say I cannot help regretting that the Government have accepted this Amendment. I can well understand the conditions in connection with the administration of the law which led the Lords, perhaps inadvertently, to insert it, but I think it is an unfortunate Amendment, which will delay very seriously the operation of the Act. What does it mean? It means that, first of all, when the Minister has made up his mind to set up smallholdings, if he cannot get the land by agreement, there is an inquiry. After that inquiry, he makes an Order. But, under this proviso, if the parties still insist upon protesting, that Order will not come into operation, and the Minister will then have to resort to the procedure of a Provisional Order. That means that he will have to promote the Provisional Order and incorporate this Order in it, and then it must be put through this House. Practically it means 1904 that legislation will be necessary in every case in which an obdurate owner still insists upon protesting.
I have two objections to make. The first is as to the delay which will be entailed. No doubt this Bill is a very important Bill from the point of view of setting up family farms and trying the experiment of reviving agriculture by following the experiment which has been so successful on the Continent in that direction. That is very important from the point of view of regenerating the countryside. But it has also another object, and that is to meet the unemployment emergency through which we are passing, and which will probably remain, not at the present figures, but at lower figures, for a considerable time. There will still be hundreds of thousands of people who are unable to find employment, even assuming that there is a resumption of world trade. From that point of view, it is very unfortunate to interpose a delay of practically a whole year before a Provisional Order can be obtained. It can be fought upstairs, and then it will have to go to a Committee of the House of Lords, and an Act of Parliament will have to be passed. It will involve a delay of something like 12 months, which is a serious matter when you are trying to provide for the relief of unemployment.
There is another objection, and a very practical one. The owner might be fighting for terms. Everyone who knows what goes on in connection with Bills upstairs knows that you very often fight, not because you hope you can defeat a Private Bill, but because you think that by fighting you may be able to extort better terms. Supposing that an offer is made of, say, £30,000 or £40,000, and the 1905 owner thinks he might get more, very often it would be worth the Minister's while to say, "Well, I will give you another £10,000 or £20,000," in order to save time so that this procedure might be used as a means of extorting a bigger price for the land. I think it is very unfortunate that such an Amendment should be inserted, and I find that a similar Amendment has been inserted later on. I shall not raise the same point later if I may be allowed to refer to it here. The same principle applies with regard to the Allotments Clause, where, again, it will not be possible to buy the land for allotments if the owner persists—and not merely the owner, but all others who have a right to protest. There might be some section opposed to this procedure, who might persist in their opposition and try to force the Minister to get a Provisional Order.
I know it can be said that they are running the risk that costs will be given against them, but it is not often that costs are given in these circumstances upstairs. Indeed, it is very rare. If the Opposition is really factious, I can understand a Committee upstairs saying that it is so factious that they will show their disapproval by imposing costs. But that is a very rare thing. If there is anything to investigate at all they will probably say, "We will not think it is a case of costs," so I do not think a man is running very great risk. I understand that the Minister has been having discussions and, for the benefit of those who think there is any mistake made by the right hon. Gentleman, I say at once that I knew nothing at all about it, otherwise I should have protested very strongly. The hon. Gentleman put up an excellent fight against great odds, but he has not the necessary experience to enable him to know altogether what the thing means. On the whole he has done well, and I will not carry my protest beyond that
§ Dr. ADDISON
I can quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's misgivings, and I sympathise with him, but this proviso was inserted with our assent. In the first place we shall have a very large amount of land obtainable by agreement and arbitration, certainly as much as will keep us occupied for two or three years. We have very large 1906 offers of suitable land, and I do not think there will be any great difficulty in arriving at a price. I am glad to say this particular point is more limited than appears at first sight. If a dispute arises as to price, it will be dealt with by arbitration in the ordinary way, and that kind of case will be ruled out from Provisional Order procedure.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
May it not be the fact that the price, though not the ostensible, may be the real reason?
§ Dr. ADDISON
I was going to say in my next sentence that that will not prevent an objection being lodged on other grounds, but it can only be on the ground that we are taking too much land or that there is something inherent in the notice in itself which is unreasonable or unfair. So far as allotments are concerned, it is only in very exceptional cases, because the Minister himself does not ordinarily acquire land for allotments. It is nearly always acquired by the local authorities, and the order of local authorities to acquire land compulsorily is not affected at all. Where the local authority is acquiring land, all it requires is the sanction of the Minister, and this does not apply.
§ Dr. ADDISON
No. It only applies to a local authority acquiring land for allotments. All they require is the sanction of the Minister for a compulsory order. The Minister in this case will be the judge and jury in his own case, because he himself is acquiring the land for his own purposes. It was to try to meet that in the class of case which will arise that we gave assent to this proviso, but I am certain that we shall have a lot of suitable land available without having recourse to these powers at all.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Captain BOURNE
Having originally raised the point in Committee, I should like to express my gratification at the acceptance of the Amendment in this form. I had a good deal of discussion with the right hon. Gentleman and the Department on the subject and, though it was generally agreed that it was very undesirable that the Minister should both act as executive officer and 1907 as judge—for that is what the Bill as drafted meant—it was not particularly easy to find a form of words. I quite agree that this is a rather slow method but I do not think, after a good deal of discussion, it is easy to find better ones. It is obviously undesirable that the courts should act. Also this procedure cannot be applied where it is a question of price. It only applies in cases where the proposal to take land is likely to be injurious to the property in general. I do not imagine that many cases will arise. In such cases it is only fair that there should be some other tribunal than the Minister himself.
§ Subsequent Lords Amendment in page 16, line 26, agreed to.
§ Lords Amendment: In page 19, line 27, at the end, insert: