§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is already familiar to the House, but the House is aware that, owing to the Rules of Procedure, it is impossible to proceed with any financial business until Thursday, and therefore we are concerned to-day with a Measure which is, to a very large extent, uncontroversial, and which is wholly nonpartisan. Let me say, in the first place, a word or two about the history of this Measure. It really dates back to the year 1921, when a highly qualified committee on the unhealthy areas of the country proposed legislation of this sort. My right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was the Chairman of that Committee, and so to him in some measure we owe the inception of this Bill. The next stage in the history of the Measure dates back to three or four years ago, when the speaker who is now addressing the House, with beginner's luck, drew a place in the ballot for a Private Member's Bill on the first and only occasion on which he ever did so.
Public attention at that time was very much turned to the question of the protection of the amenities of the countryside, and so a Bill was put down for the protection of rural amenities. That Bill covered part of the ground of the present Measure and it passed, I think, practically without opposition, on two occasions, its Second Reading in this House, and failed to proceed further only because of the lack of time, which is the usual fate of Private Members' Bills. Meanwhile, I think it has served a useful purpose in attracting public attention to the need for a Measure of this sort, and has in some way acted as a forerunner of the present substantial Measure now before the House. The present Measure was prepared and introduced by my predecessor in office, Mr. 40 Greenwood, and met with a very general measure of support from the whole House. It passed its Second Reading without a, Division, and, proceeding upstairs to a, committee, it was thrashed out in a long and very interesting series of discussions—discussions which led to the composition of different points of view, and very largely to the improvement of the Measure. I mention this just to show that a great many of these difficult matters—for there are difficult matters in the Bill—have already been made the subject of prolonged discussion and the composition of different points of view, and new Clauses and so on have been introduced.
May I pause for a moment to say a word which those who are concerned in these proceedings will be glad, I think, to hear, and that is of appreciation of the work which was done on that occasion by one who is no longer with us, the late Member for Henley, Captain Henderson, and to express our deep grief that we are so prematurely deprived of the great benefits of his wide knowledge and deep interest in these proceedings.
Let me now say a word as to the demand for the Bill, because it is freely recognised that these are not times in which the House wishes to be detained by any Measure for which there is not a real national need, and I am confident that I can satisfy the House on that point. The strongest evidence of the urgent demand for the Measure from all those who are engaged in the work of local government as expressed through their representative institutions is that all the great representative bodies of local authorities have passed resolutions approving of and calling for legislation of this sort, and, as the House knows, those bodies are particularly well qualified as representatives to express the general public opinion of the local authorities.
No fewer than 18 private Acts have been passed conferring upon particular local authorities powers similar to those which are to be made general in this Bill. I refer in particular to a Bill which was promoted and passed by the county council of Surrey. It was an omnibus Bill which obtained for all the county districts of Surrey some of the principal powers of this Bill. There is 41 a strong desire on the part of local authorities to obtain these powers. Now it is thought to be very much better that these powers should be given under the control and regulation of public Statute rather than be taken piecemeal by one authority after another. Of course, this House is fully conscious that it can exercise far more control over a public Measure than it has over private local Acts.
As for the general need of this Statute, I will detain the House for a few moments in describing that, because there are many Members present to whom its contents will not be so familiar as they are to those who have been engaged in the many proceedings upon it in the past. This Bill is a planning Bill. It is a Bill to give local authorities power to exercise reasonable foresight and control in the development of their localities. Two particular features I would like to point out in order to reassure Members who are jealous upon various matters of personal liberty and freedom from interference. The first is this: This is a local Bill, and not a centralising Bill. It is not a. Bill to confer arbitrary powers on a distant centralised office. That is not the way in which legislation on this subject is drawn. This is a Bill to put in the hands of the local authorities themselves through their own chosen representatives power to control their own destiny in these important matters. [An HON. MEMBER: "Bureaucracy."] In the second place, this is a Bill which is not to promote bureaucracy, but to promote liberty. Consequently, this is not a Bill of compulsion, but one of permission. It is a Bill simply to put powers which the people want into their hands to use as and when they desire to use them. It is not a Bill to force action down the throats of the local authorities.
Now a word as to the general purposes of the Bill. I should not venture, particularly on this occasion, to propose a Measure to the House even with the most harmless intentions, if it was not appropriate to the general state of the country at the present time, and it is because I think this Bill is particularly appropriate, in view of the great national need for economy, that I have so little hesitation in commending it to the House to-day. This is essentially a Measure for enabling the nation to economise its 42 great resources, particularly in the towns. After many long years, even centuries, during which the country has been building up its population, we are now reaching a point at which the country is becoming fully stocked, if not over-stocked, with population. Its population has nearly doubled, if not within the memory of living men, within the actual lifetime of people of the present time. That fullness which has become the condition of the country surely imposes more and more upon us the task of organising our social life and planning the lay-out of the country, so that we shall have room for all the people there are in it.
Formerly, we might have been more or less haphazard in developing our national resources, but now I suggest, in order to get full value out of the resources of the country, we have to plan and look ahead in order to be able to fit everything in. I will ask the House to turn its mind back to the position of affairs that prevailed when the towns were growing up at the beginning of the last century, at the time of the dawn of the great industrial revolution. 1 t that time, all things were done in haste, without foresight, and I am sure that nobody who looks at the older regions of the great industrial areas of this country can but feel that it was a tragedy that that industrial civilsation should have been allowed to grow up haphazard and without thought, and nobody who sees the condition, as I say, of the older areas of those towns but must be firmly persuaded that it is our business to see that. there shall be reasonable foresight exercised in their growth and in their development for the future.
Let me give the House a few of the practical advantages—I would almost say pecuniary benefits—that can be obtained from the exercise of reasonable foresight and planning. I think the most striking of all instances of the necessity of planning is to be got from contemplating the sewering, the sewerage system, of the country. Obviously, when you first take in hand this public service of sewerage, you must exercise some control over where houses are placed as regards levels, because if you do not, instead of having houses draining into the sewers, the sewers will drain into the houses. Power to deal with that matter has existed for 43 long enough, but that is an instance of the kind of power which this Bill seeks to develop.
Let me give another instance of the direct pecuniary benefit which can be had from planning. Consider, for instance, the case of a residential neighbourhood of a town. You have a fine residential neighbourhood, and the value of the property depends on its being maintained as a residential neighbourhood. If you allow somebody to go and plan an undesirable factory in the middle of that neighbourhood, you greatly waste your capital assets and diminish the value of the property of the community and of the private owner; or if you even allow somebody to run a street of shops down the middle of the residential area, that will at once destroy a great part of the value of the residential area.
I mention these examples of the manner in which, by means of reasonable planning and reasonable control of the assets of a locality, you can actually maintain and increase its pecuniary value. It is well known that in America, where these powers of town planning are exercised, those interested in the financial side of real estate find that the interest rate on mortgages falls and the facility for obtaining mortgage capital actually increases, wherever you have a town planning scheme, because it increases the security and value of the property concerned.
Take it from another point of view. I have mentioned the point of view of the residents. Now take a look at this matter from the point of view of industry itself. It is of the utmost importance to give the best possible conditions for industrial development, and that you should exercise some foresight in making the conditions for industry as good as possible from the point of view of the provision of facilities for carrying on trade. At a time like this, when we want to equip our industries with every possible facility in order to put them in a position to carry on successful competition with foreign competitors, we cannot neglect this particular need of making things easy for them. Let me give a few in-stances. There are various essentials for a factory. There is transport by road and rail and, where it is available, by 44 water. You will require to exercise reasonable foresight and planning in order to put your factories where they will get as good transport facilities as possible.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
There is another most important consideration from the point of view of facilitating the industry. There has been no greater waste in the past, as regards the lay-out of our towns, than the reckless manner in which, during that haste, which I have described, of the industrial revolution, factories were set down without any relation at all to the residence of those who were going to work in the factories, so that time, money and most of all, energy were needlessly wasted owing to the gathering together of the workmen from a distance; and nothing could be more beneficial to industry than that factories should be placed in reasonable relation to the residential neighbourhood where their workmen and workwomen dwell. So you will see that this Bill, as I say, has no effect at all as a Bill for imposing restrictions upon private enterprise. On the contrary, I should claim for it that the purpose and effect of the Bill are to obtain the greatest possible measure of liberty and of facilities for private enterprise, in developing, by means of adjusting, the various individual enterprises each in proper relation to its surroundings and neighbours.
I would not base the whole of the case for this Bill entirely on the question of economy, though I think it is essential for economic development. Without such planning powers as we have here, we cannot get the best out of the country, but there is a second purpose in the Bill, and it is a very necessary one at the present time. That is the purpose of furthering the amenities of life in the country. Properly regarded, after all, amenity is just as much an economic necessity as those more practical conveniences to which I have referred. It is a matter of economic interest that you should so develop the country as to obtain the maximum of health for the inhabitants of the country. That is concerned in such matters as the number of buildings that you put on a bit of 45 land, and the space between them. It is concerned also in other less definite particulars than that.
On what does the health of the people of the country depend? It depends on their having a due measure of fresh air; it depends upon their having access to such pleasant additions to life as gardens, both private and public; it depends enormously on grappling with the grave modern problems of traffic, so as to increase the convenience of access and getting to and from our houses and our work. All these things can be important considerations which make for health, and health can be enormously increased by a little reasonable foresight in the planning of development; and I do not think it will be denied that if you make the community more happy in those matters in which you can make it more happy, and more healthy in those respects in which you can make it more healthy, you will make it also more prosperous and more wealthy.
The machinery of the Bill, on which I would also say a brief word for the benefit of those hon. Members to whom it is not so familiar as to others, is this: As is known, the local authorities have had in the past certain powers of planning, of a. sort. The whole scheme of the Bill is not to introduce anything new; it is to make no new departure. There are here no social revolutions. It is simply to perfect the existing powers, to make them efficient, to run more in the directions in which actual experience has shown that it would be useful to supplement them and to round them off. In the past, local authorities have had no power to plan any land, generally speaking, except that which was ripe for development, and that has not been enough to enable reasonable planning to take place.
This is the very pivot of the Bill, round which all else revolves. These powers are to be supplemented to enable a local authority to extend planning, not only to undeveloped land, but also to land which is already developed, which is already built over. The reason for that, I think, can be put in a single phrase. As a matter of fact, the process of development is not one that stops altogether when land is built on. It is continuous; it goes on. Houses get out of date; the lay-out of streets and so on is 46 found inconvenient, and re-development becomes necessary. In order to control that re-development and bring it into relation with plans for fresh development, it is necessary to make that particular extension of planning.
Another very important matter in which more power is necessary in order to get the best ordering of things by the local authorities is the power to plan ahead for future improvements by local authorities, even in developed areas. I do not think anything could more conduce to an economic history of public improvements in the country than that the local authorities responsible for them should be able to make a reasonable plan ahead of the order in which they will carry out public improvements, and not let them come up higgledy-piggledy, which very often means that none of them are done as well as they might be done. This power to plan reasonably ahead for public improvements will give the local authorities the power to carry out a proper financial scheme for those improvements; that is, to see the finance from beginning to end. It may be asked: What is this talk of public improvements at a time when we need to draw in the purse strings? Nothing in this Bill can have any effect at all in lessening the proper bonds of economy. It is purely a permissive Bill; and as to whether all those undertakings to which I have referred are actually possible or not at the present time will depend, whether this Bill passes or not, on whether they can be afforded under present conditions.
The first important provision of the Bill is the extension of the powers of planning from undeveloped land to developed land in town areas; and the second, is the extension of the power to make plans from the town to the countryside. There, I think, the Bill meets most obviously an urgent want of the whole country. Are we not conscious that the amenity of the countryside is being wasted and destroyed under certain modern influences in a manner in which it ought not to be destroyed if we had the power to exercise reasonable foresight? It is well known that the spread of the town to the country, the invasion of the countryside by the town that has come with modern methods of transport, the internal combustion engine, and the 47 improvement of the roads is responsible for this wasting of the amenities of the countryside. The distribution of power by means of electricity is again responsible for it. We all know that one of the conditions of the modern world in this country is the shift of the industrial centre of gravity to some extent from the north to the south, from the town areas to the fresh country areas in the south. We still have time to see that that development of industrialism in the south shall take place upon reasoned and ordered lines, preserving, as far as is possible, the beauty of the countryside to the people of the country.
Let me make it clear that no provision in this Bill will in any measure impede industrial development in any part of the country. On the contrary, it will greatly facilitate it. It will positively facilitate industrial development in new areas of the country, because it will give local authorities power to put the centres of industrial development into proper relation with those facilities which they need for economic use.
The Bill will give power to form joint committees to make plans for bigger areas than hitherto. The planning authority in the first place will be the authority of the county borough or county district, and these planning authorities may, if they please, form joint committees to frame a joint scheme for bigger areas in, for instance, such matters as trunk roads. We hope to enlist the county council as part of the organisation by giving it a new power to take part in the joint planning authorities when they are formed. Here let me express the most definite hope that many county councils will take up this work and will co-operate and help the country districts in the larger aspects of regional planning, because it is by means of the cooperation of the county councils that many of the aspects of planning can be most successfully dealt with.
Some Members are wont to express, very naturally, a special interest in the question of ribbon development as one of the worst abuses of modern times. The House knows what I mean. As soon as a trunk road is made, houses and bungalows are, without regard to plan, drawn out in a ribbon along the new road, to the absolute sacrifice of all con- 48 venience and of the amenities of the countryside, and the destruction of the utility of the trunk road for the needs of through traffic, because traffic accumulates against the new houses at the side of the road. The Bill will give power to local authorities who desire to deal with that abuse to deal with it by means of zones which they can establish for successive development. It will give the auxiliary power to buy strips of land alongside roads, and to check the abuse by a further auxiliary power, which practice shows to be almost as essential, to control the number and position of side streets to be allowed to run into the new main road. It has been found in practice to be one of the most fertile sources of awkward and wasteful development to establish unnecessarily numerous side streets running into a new main thoroughfare.
Under another heading, the Bill will provide compensation for all legal interests which are injuriously affected by any action taken under the Bill. That is recognised by all practical people as an essential provision for any real progress. We can make no real progress if we leave behind any sense of outrage or grievance on the part of those who are called upon to make their contribution towards the better planning of a locality. On the other hand, where an actual betterment will result to any property from the provisions of the Bill, there will be a recovery of betterment by the authority which is concerned. That is the adoption of a principle which is already known in legislation upon this subject. Hon. Members who were concerned with this Bill previously will remember that there was a vehement controversy on the amount of betterment to be recovered. The question was thrashed out in Committee. At first the proposal was that 100 per cent, of betterment should be taken by local authorities. As a result of a composition of different points of view, it was arranged to reduce that 100 per cent. to 75 per cent. That is the arrangement—perhaps I may call it the compromise—which was made in Committee and is now introduced into the Bill. I should observe, in passing, that this Bill is practically identical with that which was introduced on the first occasion, except for one important particular. Very often in Com- 49 mittee on the previous Bill various accommodations of view were made and adopted for introduction on Report. There was no Report stage so that they could not be introduced, and in furtherance of those undertakings given then the things that were arranged have been actually incorporated in this Bill.
One other matter to which I ought to refer will be achieved by the Bill—that is, the making of provisions dealing with ancient buildings. The Bill will give power to local authorities to protect ancient buildings by a process which I need not particularise. That is to be done by the local authorities subject to the direct control of the Minister in consultation with the First Commissioner of Works, who is, as it were, the expert in such matters and has already certain powers under the law. It has been feared by some that these powers are intended to be used to prevent dwellers in private houses from dealing in a reasonable way with their own property. That is not the purpose of this provision. I will explain its purpose by an instance. The scene is familiar to me of a steep bank of the Downs which was crowned with a wood of ancient trees; a wayfarer who climbed that bank might have seen fronting him at the top the magnificent front of an ancient conventual building, built 700 years ago, the glory of the countryside, every stone of which told of the history of our country. I said that the wayfarer might have seen it. He will never see it again. It was ruthlessly torn down in spite of public protest, and carried off as the sport of an alien. The country has the will to protect itself against such outrage, and, having the will, this Bill will give it the power.
The purposes of the Bill are admirable and the machinery is reasonable, but to whom are you to entrust these powers? They are to be entrusted to the community—to its local representatives. I know that it is possible to produce cases where local authorities have been backward in this respect; that is not denied, but to dwell on those cases as typical is to do the greatest injustice to the excellent work that has been done in housing and town planning and in the preservation of ancient buildings and of amenities by the great majority of the local authorities. Let me advance this consideration: I say, as regards the aver- 50 age, that by placing these powers in the hands of the local authorities, you will secure a much higher standard in this respect than you have secured hitherto.
There is something else to consider. In these matters you cannot run faster and farther than local public opinion will allow, and you want to get public opinion brought to bear in order to improve our standards in these respects. You can best do that by giving the local authorities the power to act. When you give them that power, the light of public opinion will be brought to bear to make sure that they exercise those powers. If you give the local authorities the power to do what the community want as regards these matters, you will enlist in their service the people who are interested in the exercise of those powers, and you will have the people who really care about these matters coming forward more than they have ever done in the past to take part in the work. The Bill is also a Measure for the improvement of amenities in towns, and further, and perhaps most markedly, though not most importantly, a Measure for the salvation of the countryside from the processes of waste which at present attack it.
I do not think we can be held guiltless of a certain amount of recklessness and carelessness in the way in which we are allowing the greatest of all our treasures to be spoiled. I do not hesitate to call the natural beauty of the countryside the greatest of all our treasures. It is the greatest because it is the possession of every man, woman and child, and because it is the greatest inspiration of all that is finest in our national life. It would, indeed, be a tragedy, we should, indeed, stigmatise ourselves as a careless and irresponsible generation, if we took no steps to prevent this sacrifice, if we took no steps to secure for those who come after us the greatest possible amount of all the treasure which was bequeathed to us by those who have gone before. It is because I believe this Measure to be necessary in the interests of economy, and because from the point of view of amenity, it appeals both to the mind and the heart of the country, that I have no hesitation, even at a time when the nation is occupied with great affairs, in asking the House to give it a Second Reading.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
I would like, first, to add one word of tribute to that which was paid by the right hon. Gentleman to the work of the late hon. and gallant Member for South Oxford (Captain Henderson) on this question. I had the privilege of being on the same Committee as he was when this Bill went through Committee, and I am sure those who were then responsible for piloting the Bill were extraordinarily grateful to him for the disinterested way in which, on every occasion, he attempted to help forward the real interests of the nation in this matter. The origin of this Bill is such that we on this side of the House can give it our whole-hearted support. We believe it marks a very real advance towards the orderly and decent development and re-development of the whole of the land of the country. To use words borrowed from the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was speaking on the Second Reading of it in the former House:The necessity for this Bill arises.… because all parties have recognised that careful planning beforehand is necessary in the interests of economy, of efficiency, and of amenity.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1931; col. 207, Vol. 251.]We believe that that necessity is not limited to the land of the country, that there are other matters which should be planned in order to secure economy and efficiency. Anyway, so far as the land is concerned, this Bill does, we believe, give a very large measure of protection to the community from the selfish and disorganised work of the owners of land. We look upon it as a compromise, certainly, because there was compromise on many points in Committee, after very full discussion, but we are quite prepared to stand by that compromise now, not because it gives us all we should like, but because the subject has been debated so recently and so fully that it would seem a waste of time to start another Committee and re-debate the whole of the circumstances once again.
The Bill is a consolidating Measure as well as an amending Bill. It has the virtue, which the right hon. Gentleman did not mention, but which is looked upon as a virtue by some people, of repealing the whole of the former law on town planning and incorporating it in one single document, thus making it far more easy for a layman to follow. The general principle of the Measure is 52 in accord with what we believe to be the best social practice. It was Mr. John Burns who introduced the first Bill of this type, in 1909, and by successive stages, in 1919 and 1025, there has been a gradual extension of the social responsibility for the development of the land; but up to the date of the present Bill that responsibility extended only to the immediate needs of the country. We could consider town planning only in relation to areas that were unbuilt upon but were about to be built upon. In earlier legislation rural areas did not fall within the powers of town planning, nor did the densely-built-up city areas.
On the whole, some 6,500,000 acres had been planned when this Bill was first introduced. It was probably more particularly the vandalism in the country areas that drew the attention of those interested in the preservation of the beauty of the countryside to the urgent necessity of doing something further to protect that communal wealth to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. The selfishness of one or two individuals has, in some districts, ruined the countryside there, ruined it not only from the point of view of its beauty but from the point of view of its value to adjoining landowners. It was to control that selfishness that the provisions of this Bill were extended to the rural areas. Not only was the sporadic development unpleasant to look upon, but, very often, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, it raised very acute difficulties regarding drainage and other schemes which would naturally follow the development of a new area. Where new roads were created and driven back into virgin land, a large measure of the traffic value of new arterial or main roads was lost because of the crossings which were introduced and the dangers resulting from them.
I have the privilege to live in what I believe to be one of the most beautiful parts of England, the Cotswolds, and there certainly we have had very sad experience of people coming to a district and putting up small buildings of what are known as the bungaloid type, spoiling whole areas of countryside. Not only do we meet that difficulty, but there is also the difficulty of the people who come to our villages and towns and remove buildings entirely, taking them to 53 be re-erected in other parts of the world. Clearly that is a thing which anybody who cares for this country would most strenuously resist. It is extraordinary that up to the present time we should have allowed such a thing to go on without attempting to control it in any way. Under this Bill efficient means will be given by which such vandalism can be entirely stopped, we hope.
There is another development which is of great importance so far as the science of town planning is concerned, and that is the development of regional planning as compared with the planning of the smaller areas of local authorities. Even before this Bill appeared, a number of regional planning committees had been set up and had operated with great success, especially around London and in other densely-developed areas; but this Bill gives power for an extension of the regional planning idea, and at the same time, within the larger regional planning scheme, will allow local authorities to fill in the details for their own particular areas by means of supplementary schemes. Thus we shall have what we believe to be the best of both worlds, the regional planning dealing with those matters which ought to be dealt with on a large and regional scale, and the local authorities occupying themselves with the more detailed matters which obviously they could look after more efficiently.
There is another very remarkable advance which is made by this Bill, and that is the application of town planning to built up areas. As the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, at the present time a tremendous amount of reconstruction is taking place throughout the country, and even prior to this general Bill a number of private Bills had been passed which introduced the principle of planning built-up areas. But so far as London is concerned, the question was probably brought to a head by incidents connected with the Foundling Hospital site. When that site came into the market, the London County Council, anxious to preserve it from being built upon, tried to make a town-planning scheme under the old town planning powers—there was a certain amount of unbuilt upon land there—although they thought it was extremely doubtful whether they would succeed. They wished, how- 54 ever, to demonstrate the futility of the existing powers to preserve open spaces in large towns. An inquiry was held by an inspector of the Ministry of Health, and he very rightly decided that town planning could not be applied under the existing law. That opened the eyes of a great many people to the urgent necessity of introducing powers to cover the planning of built-up areas. If chaotic redevelopment is to be prevented it is absolutely essential that these powers should be given to large towns, many of which were built at the time of the industrial revolution and some of which are now coming to the stage when they must be reconstructed, as the end of the useful life of their houses has arrived.
As the right hon. Gentleman has stated, all these aspects of the town planning question have grown much more urgent in modern times, with the growth of mechanical transport and rural electrification, and ribbon development, what one might call "the sprawling dormitories" of some of the towns, has led not only to a tremendous depreciation of the beauty of the countryside but also to traffic difficulties and dangers. One of the best things which can be achieved, and will be rapidly achieved, I hope, by the authorities who have power to plan under this Bill, will be the prevention of strips at the side of the road developing into bungaloid growths. Drainage and the proper laying out of sewerage schemes can also be better dealt with before the houses are built, curtailing the expense, and thus leading to that desirable economy which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are so keen about. We believe that in this matter, as in all other matters, the personal whims and interests of private individuals must be subjected to the far wider interests of the community. In this case one gets an ocular demonstration of the evil of uncontrolled enterprise, and because of that ocular demonstration we constantly call out against it. The problem is just the same in other matters, where there is chaos and haphazard development, because of the absence of centralised control and co-ordinated effort. I feel that everybody, except, perhaps, the most determined individualist, now believes that in this matter, at least, the State, through duly-elected authorities, must step in and take control; and because this Bill gives 55 the State that measure of control which we believe to be essential in the public interest we support it whole-heartedly on its Second reading.
§ Sir J. WALKER SMITH
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
Let me explain at the outset that —I think the Government, in preparing the order of business, might have dealt with matters which are of very much more importance than this particular Measure. I realise that this is a Government Measure, and that it is going to receive the support of the official Opposition. That being so, I know that there must be some very strong and valid reasons for the submission of the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill. At the same time, I am perfectly sure that there are very strong and very valid objections to this Measure. The Bill is a very comprehensive one, and it is a matter of deep regret to me that I feel bound to submit arguments against it. I will do so in as brief a manner as the circumstances of the case warrant.
I will follow as closely as I can the arguments which have been used by the Minister of Health in favour of this Bill. In my view, this Bill is unjustifiable, and there is not such a demand for it as the Minister of Health seems to think. I will try to show the House that ample powers already exist to effect all the purposes which are claimed for this Bill. I am sure that the principles and the objects of this Measure are unjustified, and contrary to the public welfare. I am not very deeply impressed with the evidence which seems so easily to have satisfied the Minister of Health. One of the arguments put forward was that this Measure dealt with a subject which has been included in a Bill presented by the late Socialist Government, and another argument was that this Measure has been dealt with by a. Committee upstairs and is very largely in the nature of an agreed Measure. These arguments do not impress me in the least. This is just the kind of Measure that a. Socialist Government would introduce, but that does not impress me in the least.
These proposals vest local authorities and Government Departments with an 56 enormous amount of power of control over the rights of property, and that is a suitable Measure for a Socialist Government anxious to pack the local authorities in order to facilitate the adoption of the Socialist creed. Legislation of this kind is necessary to carry Socialist principles into effect. The reason why it is proposed to pass more and more of this kind of legislation is that Socialists desire to achieve the carrying out of their principles through the instrumentality of the local authorities. I am perfectly satisfied that Socialists will not achieve the happy results which they anticipate from legislation of this kind, because they would be creating a, Frankenstein which they could never control.
The only, other evidence brought forward in support of this Measure is that the Association of Municipal Corporations and other societies have indicated their desire that a Bill of this kind should be passed, and that these additional powers should he given to them. A deputation to the Prime Minister stated that this Bill conferred enormous additional powers on local authorities, but that argument does not interest me. No doubt professional institutions will find themselves in a happy position by the adoption of more town planning schemes, because the more schemes which are put into operation the bigger will their practice grow. For that reason, they are not likely to turn round and say in regard to the provisions of this Measure, "No, we do not want anything of this kind." What I have stated is the sum total of the evidence upon which the right hon. Gentleman says there is a demand for this Bill.
Now I come to Part II of this Bill which deals with restrictions on the acquisition of land. I contend that there are ample powers existing to-day to do all that this Bill claims to do. This country has not suffered in the past from any lack of legislation dealing with town planning. A comparison has been made with town planning in Germany, but may I point out that the conditions in Germany are totally different from the conditions in this country so far as local government is concerned? In Germany, the local authorities have a system under which they can purchase large areas of land, and consequently the whole position is totally different from that which 57 exists in this country. This question formed the subject of a discussion when the Town Planning Act, 1909, was under consideration and the provision dealing with this question was re-enacted in 1919 and in 1925. Under the Town Planning Act, 1925, there are very ample powers to do any mortal thing that is justified at the present time. I will refer to those powers very briefly. Under that Act, in Section I (I):A town planning scheme may be made in accordance with the provisions of this Act as respects any land which is in the course of development, or appears likely to he used for building purposes, with the general object of securing proper sanitary conditions, amenities, and convenience I[...]: connection with the laying out and use of the land, and of any neighbouring land:Provided that, where a piece of land already built upon, or a piece of land not likely to be used for building purposes, is so situate with respect to any land likely to be used for building purposes that the general object of the scheme would be better secured by its inclusion in any town planning scheme made with respect to the last mentioned land, the scheme may include such piece of land as aforesaid.In that provision ample power is given to do all that is necessary to carry out the general object of a scheme; and almost everything that is required by a local authority is provided for under Clause 1 of the Act of 1925. At the present time local authorities are not confined to dealing with land in their own area. They have power to deal with land in an adjoining area. Under Section 3 (1) of the Town Planning Act, 1925, very great powers are provided which make it compulsory for every local authority, with a population of more than 20,000, to prepare and submit to the Minister a town planning scheme in respect of all land within the borough or urban district in respect of which a town planning scheme may be made under the Act. The Minister of Health now wishes to place his paralysing hand upon-the whole area now covered with buildings. Under the Town Planning Acts there are provisions dealing with 10 different matters, and now it is proposed that special provisions may be inserted dealing with other supplemental matters. Extraordinary and complete powers are given enabling local authorities to suspend the provisions of various Acts. They have special facilities for acquiring as much land as they like under certain Acts, which give them very special terms and facilities.
58 By Sub-section (2) of Section 11 of the Act of 1925 enormous power is put into the hands of local authorities, enabling them to restrict the number of buildings per acre, to restrict the height of buildings, and to impose all sorts of restrictions on the land and property of others; And in such cases the owner is entirely excluded from any claim for compensation. In case anyone may have any doubt as to there being sufficient powers, let me take the evidence of the Ministry of Health itself. I will not draw upon my own knowledge as to the availability of powers, although I could do so, but I prefer to take my evidence from the report of the Ministry of Health for the year 1930–31. There it is stated that, at the end of March, 1931, no less an area than Approximately 7,000,000 acres of land was covered by town planning resolutions or by schemes. That would represent an area 100 miles long and 100 miles broad, an area that would extend from here to Bristol and from here to Birmingham; and there are 595 local authorities all busy planning this enormous area.
§ Sir J. WALKER SMITH
We will wait to see how far it is a very good scheme. It is interesting to note that, in referring to these 7,000,000 acres, the report lumps together those areas which are covered by resolutions and those areas which are already in the form of completed schemes. It may be convenient to lump them together, but it may also be convenient to split them up again into their component parts, because let it be understood that all that a local authority has to do is to pass a resolution to the effect that a certain area, which they define, shall be townplanned—a very simple process—and from that moment the whole of that area is absolutely sterilised so far as regards the freedom of the owner to develop it. Although he might be able to conform with the building regulations and bylaws, the whole area is absolutely sterile, and he cannot, except by the gracious goodness of heart of the local authority, do a single thing unless he does it at his risk and peril. That is what is meant in the case of areas that are covered by town-planning resolutions. When a scheme is completed the owner, 59 the developer and everyone else know the worst. Whatever is contained in a scheme is known, and people's minds may be at rest. The result may be very unfortunate or unsatisfactory, hut it is known, and that is the difference.
Let us see how much of this land falls into the category of certainty, however unfortunate the certainty may be, and how much is subject to this paralysing and sterilising effect. The Minister is good enough to give us the figures, from which I see that only 1 per cent. of this enormous area has yet got out of that sterilised condition. I agree that in respect of another I per cent. schemes have been submitted and are under the Minister's consideration, and will sooner or later be translated from the category of schemes submitted to that of schemes approved, when, instead of there being only 1 per cent. of approved schemes, there will be 2 per cent. and there will only be 98 per cent. of this enormous area under this sterilising influence.
We see, further, that there is no difficulty at the present moment with regard to the use of town-planning powers for built-up areas. There is a number of schemes in course of preparation for already developed areas, in respect of between 25,000 and 30,000 acres of built-up and developed areas. There is, therefore, no shortage of powers with regard to matters of that kind; but, so much does the appetite of local authorities and of the Ministry of Health grow on this legislation that they demand that all the developed areas in the country should fall under these sane sterilising restrictions. I do not believe that this House realises what that really means. There is no doubt that the value of the land which, under the present powers, can be so sterilised, is very considerable. Sir Josiah Stamp, in a presidential address to the Royal Statistical Society some two years ago, calculated, no doubt with great care and accuracy, the value of the total national assets of this country, and he set down the value of the whole of the land of the country —that is to say, the land apart from the developed buildings—at £950,000,000. All that is at the moment at the mercy of a Government Department and of local authorities who may wish to pass 60 resolutions declaring that it shall be town-planned.
But what is the value of the remainder, which they now wish. to grasp? Sir Josiah Stamp estimates the value of the buildings upon the land—that is to say, developed buildings—at £4,500,000,000, or one fourth of the total national assets of this country. That is the value of the assets which the Minister of Health asks this House to place under the control of local authorities, assisted, supported and controlled by the benevolent Ministry of Health. I do not believe that anyone has fully realised what it is that the Minister is asking for. I would ask the House to look for a minute at the sort of powers that already exist and are being exercised, over and above those which I have just quoted from the Act of 1925. The report refers to some special features with respect to a number of schemes that were submitted during the year, and I should think that there is scarcely any matter that might form the subject of a town planning scheme that has not already been proposed in some scheme or other. Here are a few of them.
In the Alton Rural District it is proposed to prevent a tract of very beautiful and practically undeveloped country from being spoilt by haphazard buildings. That is very commendable, and I entirely agree with it; but the rural gentlemen of Alton also propose to control the character, height, elevations, and density of any new buildings erected. I do not know who these rural gentlemen of Alton are, but I should have thought that they would have had something better to do than to spend their time in controlling the elevations of buildings. That, however, is the sort of power that is available in rural districts already, without any more being given.
Again, at Bingley, in Yorkshire, it is proposed that the town planning scheme shall include extensive moorland, and, in addition, large reservations will be made for private open spaces and for agricultural or recreational purposes. That is excellent there is plenty of power in existence already. Further, the Bradford-Keighley road is to be widened to 80 feet, and provision is made for a section of an important new route from Lancashire towards Harrogate. All that is perfectly good; there are the powers already, and they are being exercised.
61 The next instance is particularly important. It relates to nearly 6,000 acres of the land in the county borough of Blackpool outside the built-up centre of the town, which is itself to be the subject of a scheme in pursuance of powers conferred by a local Act. This is one of the class of eases to which the Minister referred in his speech as establishing the need for these general powers, but in my opinion it is a case which shows that powers of this kind should not be included in a separate Act. The Minister said that some 15 or 16 local authorities throughout the country over a period of some 20 years have obtained private Acts of Parliament for the development of built-up areas. That is a very proper thing for them to do. They have the public of the locality behind them, and everyone knows what they are going to do. They are not going to sit on these powers indefinitely, but want to exercise them. They have a case, and, with that ease and a desire to exercise these powers, they come to this House and ask for specific powers in respect of specific circumstances, and explain exactly what they want to do and why they want to do it. The Bill is referred to a Committee of this House, everyone's interest is considered, and eventually such powers are granted as in the opinion of this House are right and reasonable and proper, having regard to the circum-stances of the locality and of the time, and to the nature of the proposal.
That is the right manner in which to give powers of this kind in respect of built-up areas, but that is exactly what the Ministry of Health do not want. They prefer that these composite powers should be given to everyone, so that local authorities can sit, down on them and do nothing whatever if they so desire—so that they may schedule an area of built-up land and sit upon it and never submit any constructive proposals for years. Then, when at last they do submit proposals, they are out of the control of this House, being dealt with by officials of the local authorities and by the Ministry of Health, without this House knowing anything about them. Legislative and judicial powers are taken almost entirely away from the House and vested in a Government Department. That is what is demanded by this Bill, and I think that the fact that a number of local authorities have chosen other ways and 62 means of developing built-up areas, so far from showing a need for this Bill, shows just the reverse.
The town planning scheme of Bradford, Yorkshire, includes regional roads and ring roads, while the proposal for the Chelmsford Rural District includes the reservation of 19,000 acres—approximately half the area of the scheme—as an open belt for agricultural or recreational purposes. That, no doubt, is a very good thing, but power for it exists already. There are proposals by many other authorities, including almost every feature that the mind of man can conceive. Such powers are available, are being used at the present time, and can be used under the Act of 1925. When one comes to Liverpool there is a provision which does not seem so eminently satisfactory to me. It says:The docks necessarily restrict access to the greater part of the river front in the city for promenade purposes, and the preliminary statement includes a proposal for the reservation of 127 acres of foreshore and other land at Otterspool for a promenade.5.30 p.m.
I hope it is not going to be anything that will impair dock development in the locality. I feel a little more concerned in that I find further on, in the case of Sale in Cheshire, they also propose to reserve 390 acres near the River Mersey for permanent use for agricultural or recreational purposes or other approved forms of open development. Why they are going to reserve that area is not clear, but it may be for the same sort of reasons that Stafford is proposing to reserve 417 acres for agricultural and recreational purposes. I am not sure that it is matter for congratulation. In the case of Stafford it is because the land would be a little difficult to drain and is liable to floods. If difficulty of drainage were to be the criterion, a local authority would find in a town planning scheme a very easy and convenient means of getting rid effectively of its statutory obligations to drain the borough, and a very unsatisfactory way it would be of doing it. If the criterion is to be that as soon as land is a little liable to be flooded, or is low lying, it should be earmarked in perpetuity for agricultural or recreational purposes, that is going a little too far, because in that case the whole of South London would have been earmarked long 63 since, for it is all liable to flooding. It is an eminently unsatisfactory use of town planning powers.
One sees from the statistics that the local authorities who are preparing these schemes are not apparently paying very great attention to the needs of business and industry. They are very busy with their zoning, but I find that only 1.4 per cent. of the land is set aside for business purposes, and 4 per cent. for industrial purposes. I hope that under these town planning schemes we are not losing sight of the fact that we are an industrial community. I agree that local authorities cannot be expected to have the business foresight which will enable them to anticipate what is required for business and industrial purposes, but this is a very dangerous power to put into the hands of those who are not capable of such foresight as is requisite for purposes of that kind. The Minister explains the new powers that the councils have recently received, but they already have very ample powers. I notice that the Minister deprecates the caution that is being exercised, and helps them over the stile of their embarrassment of riches. The county councils do not know whether to prescribe improvement lines on county roads by the Public Health Act, 1925, or under their town planning powers. They have an embarrassment in the riches of their powers and the Minister comes to their rescue. He tells them that sometimes they can do it one way and sometimes the other. There are plenty of powers. Then there are powers for regional planning, of which the Minister has made mention, and there are 103 joint committees. I know that 62 of them are at present advisory committees, but 41 already have executive powers to prepare plans. Included in this number are 11 group committees in the Manchester and district region. These 103 regional committees which are now in existence include some 920 local authorities and cover an area of 15.000,000 acres and a population of 32.000,000, and yet they want more powers. The appetite of the local authorities and of the Minister of Health with regard to this is simply colossal.
I will pass to another section of the Minister's report, which deals with appeals under approved schemes and interim development orders. The Rill bristles with legislative and judicial 64 powers. They permeate the whole structure of the Bill. Let us see if it really means anything. We already have a fairly good insight as to the enormous legislative powers he has under the 1925 Act. We can also anticipate the enormous legislative powers under this Bill. Let us see the sort of thing with which he is dealing in a judicial capacity at present. He is apparently a, sort of court of appeal to settle all the little squabbling differences between the local authorities and interested opponents, and he says that this year there are 42 more appeals to him than in the previous year, an increase which he says is not out of proportion. I do not think it is, either. He says these appeals were in respect of proposals for the erection or use of premises as shops and appeals also to cover a cinema, an omnibus station, a petroleum storage depot, an electrical kiosk and a school, and there are questions of the density and elevations of buildings and proposed streets and widenings. All sorts of questions of that sort come to the Minister, who is already a judicial authority do respect of enormous developments.
I should like to refer to a few details of matters which are at present coming before him in a judicial capacity. The House will be surprised at the enormous number—I believe about 13—of different categories into which appeals have come during the last year. Let us consider one or two of them. Under the heading of "Preservation of special localities" there were appeals for permission to erect shops adjoining grass bordered lanes, and those appeals were dismissed in a number of cases, but only under conditions where there was no clear ground of hardship. That is to say that, if a man wishes to erect a shop abutting upon a grass bordered lane, he has to show that there is no very great hardship in his attempt to do something by way of building and supplying the needs of the community. He is not encouraged. He has to show that there is no special hardship in being refused an opportunity of doing it. But even although he may show that there is no hardship, he is refused permission if he fails to respect local sentiment in the matter. One can understand the gross abuses that might result from the application of such a formula. What sort of chance would a multiple shop have if it had to show that there 65 was no possibility of it being anything in the nature of an affront to local sentiment? The next heading of subjects that come before the Minister for his decision is,Protective permission under interim development orders intended to be limited to definite proposals for development during the preparation of a scheme.That is very abstruse. I do not really know what it means. Apparently the Minister settled it to his own satisfaction. The next is a very illuminating instance in relation to these appeals and, incidentally, it is a peculiar commentary upon the claim that local authorities are the proper bodies to coordinate the various interests of all concerned. I will show from this next example their inability to co-ordinate the work of their own committees, let alone the interests of the whole community. The electricity committee of a local authority was negotiating with a manufacturer a supply of current for works that he desired to build in a town planning area, and the negotiations were carried to the point of the agreement being ready for scaling. Unfortunately the manufacturer had not obtained permission from the town planning committee. He had entered into contracts for the erection of buildings and plant on the strength of the negotiations with the local authority without first applying for permission, which was, in fact, refused when sought. Is not that a most extraordinary commentary upon the claim that local authorities are the right bodies to co-ordinate all the conflicting interests for the whole of their area? One committee did not know what another was doing, and one comes to the point of an agreement with a manufacturer permitting him to buy the land and make contracts for buildings and works and the supply of electricity, and then they say, "We are very sorry. This does not conform to our ideas." That is a matter that came before the Minister of Health to deal with in his judicial capacity. [Interruption.] He permitted them to go ahead. Then, under another heading,Proposed user of existing building for non-conforming purposes.This shows a singular lack of adaptability on the part of local authorities, and therein lies one of the dangers of giving local authorities any further powers. 66 They have not the interest of ownership, and have no appreciation of enlightened self-interest. They will not go with the times, and will not adapt themselves. They will be absolutely rigid in the application of the town planning powers, and that is going to prevent an enormous amount of development, and create very great hardships. In this case there was a residential area, and someone wished to make use of it. No doubt it was getting a little out-of-date and derelict like many of the big squares in London which are gradually being transformed from residential areas into fiats and business premises, and, in some cases, shops. They are pulled down and new erections are built on the sites and everything goes on according to the changed times. There is nothing rigid, and the owners readily adapt themselves. In this case there was a residential area, but there was no doubt that it was in a process of decline. Someone wished to erect there a photographic studio and a place of assembly for receptions, but the local authority came to the conclusion to do nothing. No doubt a certain amount of pressure was applied to them. As soon as any change is required, pressure will be brought to bear upon local authorities, who have no proprietory and ownership interest to leave the thing alone, to sterilise it.
Let us see how the Minister exercises his judicial powers in this particular case. I see that he has dealt with the matter in a spirit of compromise in accordance with the best traditions of arbitration. He has conceded the photographic studio and has rejected the place of assembly for receptions. He has gone part of the way. There was an application to him for permission to erect a small row of shops in a narrow road traversing a village. The local authority said, "No." Why they said "No" I do not know. It may be because that was the place where shops ought to be erected, and that that was the place where the people wanted shops and where the convenience of the purchasing public would be best served. But it was riot the place where, in a town planning scheme, certain plot of land had been scheduled for shops which gave that land an enhanced value. A very unsatisfactory state of affairs existed there because it was a narrow street. It was a Bond Street, so to speak. It was a Bond Street in the making. It was too narrow for shops. It must be a Kings- 67 way or something of that kind before shops could be erected, and then only on a piece of land scheduled by some owner for that particular purpose. I do not like that idea at all.
There were appeals in respect of "Orderly distribution of services," and in respect of "Licensed premises." Is that the sort of thing in respect of which the Minister should constantly be a court of appeal and have to adjudicate upon? Licensed premises! Apparently the locality needed licensed premises, and the question went before the licensing justices. A licence had been granted by the licensing justices, whose decision had been confirmed by the confirming authority. I do not know who was the confirming authority. All that had been done. The local authorities came along and said, "No, it is contrary to our general policy to allow licensed premises in the locality." Are the local authorities to be the appropriate licensing authorities? I have no interest in licensed houses—I never use them myself—but it seems to he a wrong method of dealing with licensing, with the Minister acting as a court of appeal on licensing questions. I do not understand it.
Questions of density come before him and also questions of requirements imposed in granting permission, because the local authority grant permission with such conditions as to render a site entirely useless for its purpose. It is very unsatisfactory to impose a condition which has the effect of rendering the site entirely useless for the purpose for which it is intended. Questions with regard to sewerage come before the Minister. The local authorities try-it is nothing but a try-on—to escape their statutory obligations to provide for the drainage and disposal of the sewage of their district. That matter comes before the Minister for his decision in a judicial capacity. Then comes cases of repudiation by local authorities of their financial responsibility. Just how the Minister dealt with that I do not know. That is another case of a try-on. I refer to another item—the case of a church in a residential area. An appeal came before the Minister in regard to the matter. Because a church was going to be a benefit to the residential area, that apparently was the wrong place for it. Where on earth they should erect it, I do not know. The opposition 68 was mainly based on the contention that a nuisance might arise, the precise nature of which was not specified. I do not think that the Minister's Department ought to be called upon to settle questions whether or not a church constitutes a nuisance either in a residential or an industrial area. I do not think that they are matters for him at all.
I should like to refer to the text of the Bill. I do not propose to raise any points which may be dealt with in Committee. The Minister has said that it is a Bill to secure economy. I wish to tell the House, speaking with a very considerable knowledge of this subject, that it will be the reverse. There has never been a greater fallacy than that in the world. I know that he honestly submits that to the House as his opinion, and it may be that with that in his mind he caused the Financial Memorandum to be prefaced to the Bill. The Financial Memorandum may act, though it is not intended to do so, as a sort of soporific. The town planning provisions should involve no cost! The Financial Memorandum is issued, and it makes it clear that there will be no charge upon the Exchequer. Is one to draw the inference that because there is no direct charge upon the Exchequer there is no national financial loss in connection with it? That is a complete illusion.
I pass over the fact that with these extended powers there will be a considerable increase in the staff of the Minister of Health. It may be increased by 20 or 40. I pass over the fact that it will involve the establishment of town planning staffs in 500 or 1,000 local authorities throughout the country. It may cost £500,000 or it may cost £1,000,000, but I suppose that I should he told that the total expenditure in connection with rents and taxes involves us in a sum which may amount to as much as £100,000,000 a year, and therefore we need not bother about an extra £1,000,000 for staffs throughout the country dealing with the question of town-planning. It is not that fact which is troubling me. What is troubling me very greatly is that if the whole of this developed area once comes under town planning sterilising restrictions it will tend very considerably and grievously to the prevention of developments. No one will be 69 free to develop as he would desire to develop and to that extent development will be retarded.
I have made a calculation as to what will be the cost to the country of that retardation, not taking the narrow view of the Government Exchequer or the local authorities' exchequer. My calculation tells me that the result of giving powers of this kind to local authorities will be that it will have such a deterrent effect upon progress that it will cost the country at least £40,000,000 a year. The Minister smiles. He has not made the calculation. I assure the House that the deterrent effect upon industry and enterprise which will result from the adoption of a Measure of this kind will cost the country not one penny less than that sum. The Financial Memorandum is based upon a fundamental fallacy of economics. I would also suggest that whoever drafted the Preamble of the Bill was also anxious that it should act as a soporific. I do not like to say that it is cunningly or craftily drafted, but I will say that it is a little disingenuous, which is precisely the same thing. Let us see how it reads:To authorise the making of schemes with respect to the development and planning of land.What can be more plausible than that? Who would dream that in the guise of those words—the development and planning of landis included the whole of the built-up area of the whole country of a value of £4,500,000,000 to be placed at the mercy of local authorities? No one would ever dream that it included or referred to anything of the kind. Of course, it does. I compliment the draftsman upon his skill in drafting the Bill in order to appeal to those who are most anxious that the amenities of this country should be protected. It says that it is a Bill to do certain things. What?To provide for the protection of rural amenities and the preservation of buildings and other objects of interest or beauty.6.0 p.m.
The belief that the Bill will do that will secure for the Bill an enormous amount of support, and if it would do it, it would be worthy of every scrap of support that this Bill or any other Bill for the purpose could obtain. But does anyone believe that it will do anything? Does anyone believe that the local authorities 70 are the right bodies to do these things, to preserve the amenities of the countryside and to preserve the beauty, and so forth, and so on? Local authorities have to do it, aided by Government Departments. Who has made the beauty of the countryside? [Interruption.] It is not natural beauty at all. If you go back a few hundred years, the whole of the country was divided into moorland, forest land and marsh land. All the beauty, and all the planning and villages have been the result of individual efforts and of private enterprise by benevolent, farseeing owners who were constantly alive to their own interest and the interest of everybody else. Those are the people who have created those amenities. If you go to a village you greatly admire, you see that all the beauty of the village was created long before the local authority or the Minister of Health had anything to do with it. If you see a blot upon the landscape, you find that it is in respect of, say, a street carried out in accordance with the by-laws, buildings erected in accordance with the by-laws and the requirements of the local authority, in accordance with plans submitted to the local authority and in accordance with work supervised by the sanitary inspector or the surveyor of the local authority. These people who are to be entrusted by this Bill to preserve the amenities are the very people who for years have been spoiling the amenities of the countryside. We hear talk about main arterial roads and ribbon development. I greatly deplore ribbon development, but why is there ribbon development? These main arterial roads arc constructed without taking precautions to see that ribbon development is not possible. Government Departments, in the form of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Transport, aided and abetted by the county councils and the local authorities generally, are the people who construct the main arterial roads, but they have not the gumption, the commonsense, to purchase sufficient land to enable them to control the developments on either side.
By this Bill, we are to give these bungling people further powers in order that they may correct the errors that they have committed. There are many instances before their eyes, if only they had eyes to see. Sixty or 70 years ago, the 71 late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain showed the country how to deal with this matter. He devised a scheme for cuffing a road, which is now Corporation Street, Birmingham, and he secured sufficient land on either side of the road to recoup the corporation for all the costs of the development. That has been done in other cases, for instance in connection with the construction of Kingsway. It is unfortunate that the people to whom I have referred are to be entrusted under the Bill with the preservation of the beauty of our villages and the countryside; the very people who have done their best to spoil it.
My last words will be to deal with what the Minister of Health called the very heart of his proposal. I refer to his proposal to place the whole of the developed area of the country into the hands of the local authorities. I pass over the sections which deal with almost everything that mind can conceive and will come to the question of the development of built-up areas. For that purpose it will be necessary for me to refer, to Clauses 10, 12 and 13, but I will not read them. I will try to convey to the House the absurdity of these particular provisions by giving an example. I will assume that these powers are in existence and that they are exercised by, say, the city of Newcastle or the city of Sheffield or the borough of Bolton. Let us assume that it has been proposed and seconded that the whole of the borough of Bolton or the whole of the city of Sheffield shall form a town planning area. Let us assume that there is in Sheffield or Bolton a successful draper who has a shop in one of the main streets, who has served the public well, whose business has extended and the time has come when he wishes to develop further his premises.
Let us see how he would go on under the provisions of this benevolent Bill. Having devoted a great deal of time to the consideration of his proposed extensions, the draper calls in his architect and says to him, "I want to add another storey to my premises, for the purpose of show rooms, etc." The architect thereupon considers the matter and all that is involved, such as labour interests, the rights of light, party walls, etc., and submits sketches to the owner. Together they go into the matter with great care. 72 They are anxious to press forward with the scheme. The architect then says that the scheme will comply with the by-laws and regulations of the corporation and must be sent to the borough surveyor. The, draper, being a prudent man, says, "Let us get a tender first." The specifications go out to the various builders, who send in their tenders for the work, and it is found that it will cost, say, £5,000 or £6,000. Then the plans are submitted to the local authority, who say that they are in accordance with the by-laws, but they add, "You have come into a town planning area out of which you cannot escape. The whole of the city of Sheffield is now one town planning area. We have to warn you that you will proceed at very grave risks." The owner asks the architect what risks he would run, and the architect is then bound to call his attention to Clause 12 of this Bill. That Clause tells the owner that lie is liable to have his new building removed or altered under the terms of the Clause, if, perchance, it does not comply with the town planning scheme. "What is the town planning scheme?" asks the owner. They reply, "We do not know. Nobody knows what the town planning will be. It may he years before there will be a town planning scheme, but if your building does not, comply with that town planning scheme down it will have to come."
The owner then asks what sort of things will be included in the town planning scheme, and the architect will have to call his attention to Clause 12, which contains an enormous number of things, 23 different subjects, which are mentioned specifically in the Schedule; all sorts of special things. The local authority may insert provisions prescribing the space about buildings, for limiting the number of buildings, for regulating the size, height, design and elevation of the buildings. The architect says to the owner, "They can alter the elevation of your building, and do all sorts of things." The owner says, "It is very unfortunate. Is there no way of escape out of this?" and the architect replies, It is just possible under Clause 10. Under that Clause the local authority may, perhaps, out of the gracious goodness of their hearts, give you power to go ahead as a matter of interim development." But that depends upon Ministerial orders, which may be with conditions or without 73 conditions. Then the architect calls attention to Sub-section (4) of that Clause. This is where the conscience of the Minister has been pricked. The Minister is conscious that some provision of this kind is necessary unless serious wrong is to be suffered. He knows that he cannot prevent serious wrong from being suffered, and therefore he makes certain provisions in Subsection (4):In any case where such an application is refused or is granted subject to conditions, the authority may, if they think fit, make a contribution towards any damage which the applicant proves that he is likely to suffer by reason of their decision.Make a contribution A few coppers will be thrown into the hat, out of the gracious goodness of their hearts. After putting the owner to all this trouble and expense, they may, if they think fit, make him a little contribution as an act of grace. The Minister is conscious of the fact that the man ought to have full compensation for the damage that he has suffered. In spite of that, he says that the local authority may, if they like, make a little contribution. The story does not finish there. After the man has been humbugged by the local authority who, perhaps, have tried to bribe him by this little contribution towards the damages that he may have proved that he has suffered or is likely to suffer, he may go to the Minister of Health. He finds that he can make an application to the Minister of Health who can do certain things, but he is not likely to over-ride the local authority, upon whom he relies entirely for the carrying out of his Act.
As a little sop to our friend the draper, permission is given to him to ask the Minister of Health to permit him to appear before someone whom the Minister may appoint, in order that lie may state his case. Therefore, the Minister sends down an inspector to Sheffield or Bolton, who assembles the parties together. Having heard all about the matter, the inspector goes away and the parties concerned wait for the decision of that gentleman who, however, has no power to make any decision. He writes an elaborate report, which goes to a clerk at the Ministry. Then it goes on to a principal clerk, who deals with it. Later, it goes to an assistant secretary, and he has a conference with the inspector. 74 Then it goes to the assistant principal secretary and finally to the secretary, and at lung last it goes before the Minister who, perhaps, concentrates upon it and eventually gives a decision. The House will be pleased to hear that the decision of the Minister is to be final. Thank God for the decision, whatever It may be, but I am afraid that by that time the business of the draper will have gone to blazes.
The need for this Socialistic Measure is in no way established. I claim that I have shown that under existing powers everything that is justifiably imposed in this Bill can be done. I claim that I have shown that the principles and objects of the Bill are absolutely unsound and contrary to public policy, and in the interests of progress, of enterprise and the finding of work for the people of this country, I move the rejection of the Bill.
Marquess of HARTINGTON
I beg to second the Amendment.
I am extremely sorry to find myself on this occasion in disagreement with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health who introduced the Bill. He is very keenly interested in this subject, and I can assure him that those of us who are opposing the Bill are no less keenly interested in town planning. We oppose the Bill not because we do riot wish to see decent, orderly development of our country and not because we do not, with him, abhor very much the desecration that has taken place in recent years, but because we believe that the Bill will not carry out what he intends it shall carry out. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health because I shall not be able to hear his reply to my observations. I have, unfortunately, to catch a train. Under the new dispensation this is Liberty Hall. I know the hon. Gentleman for a good sound individualist, and if by any chance he should desire to oppose this Bill, there is no earthly reason why he should not oppose it.
We oppose the Bill, because we think it is a cumbersome measure, and bound to involve the public in great expense. Nor will it by any manner of means carry out what it is intended to achieve. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Sir J. Walker Smith) who is one 75 of the greatest town planning authorities in the country, I think the Bill is unnecessary and that local authorities already possess ample powers to control development in their areas. It is extremely unlikely, in my opinion, that they will exercise any effective control, because they are the greatest offenders and have been guilty of wholesale vandalism. The Bill also must cost a large amount of public money. It is a great disappointment to some of us who fought the Bill last year for many months and saw it abandoned by the Socialist party, to find that one of the first things the present Government do is to reintroduce this Bill. I heaved a great sigh of relief when the Bill last year and all the vast multitude of papers went into the wastepaper basket, and I do not look forward to the prospect of spending many more months considering this Bill in Committee, because we should be able to put up a long and strenuous fight for a considerable time with the aid of the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness. I do not want to go through that process again in order to stop this most unnecessary and oppressive Bill being inflicted on the unfortunate ratepayers of the country.
There are three points upon which I oppose the Bill. The first is that it is unnecessary; and I need not. dilate upon that. Every hon. Member knows that local authorities already possess immense powers. Parliament has been continuously adding to them. You cannot build anything from a pigsty to a picture palace without the consent of a local authority, and it is really ridiculous to say that town planning has suffered from. lack of legislation. It is true that these powers have not been fully extended to internal development, to built up areas; but any municipal authority can, without difficulty, provided their schemes are equitable and do not rouse opposition among their own ratepayers, get town planning powers to deal with built up areas. My own town council has recently obtained such powers. As long as they are not opposed by their own ratepayers these powers can he obtained cheaply and easily, and it is unnecessary that local authorities should have the further powers proposed by the Bill.
The second point upon which I oppose the Bill is that it will not carry out what 76 it is intended to achieve. It is ridiculous to expect the amenities of the future to be preserved by local authorities. There, again, I need not dwell upon that point. Every hon. Member can think of examples of the appalling monstrosities which have been perpetrated by local authorities. There is not a landholder in England who has not had much trouble to preserve some group of trees in the countryside from being desecrated. Local authorities are far and away the worst offenders. Exploitation during the industrial revolution is responsible for terrible slums and bad houses, and I am not maintaining that there is not much to be done, but to maintain that local authorities are any better than private interests is really ridiculous. The nineteenth century produced some hideous slums, hut nothing so horrible as Be[...]ontree.
The third point on which I oppose the Bill is the question of expense, and here I must return for a moment to what the Minister of Health said, because I think there is a little error. He assured the House that this was purely a permissive not compulsory Bill. Obviously, there was a little mistake there. My right hon. Friend, of course, did not intend to deceive the House—perhaps he has been hoodwinked by the real authors of the Bill—but Clause 35 cannot be described as purely permissive. It says:If the Minister is satisfied after the holding of a local inquiry that a scheme ought to be prepared by any authority as respects any land, he may by order require the authority to prepare a scheme.And—If the authority fail to prepare a scheme.… the Minister may himself act in the place and at the expense of the authority.How can the right hon. Gentleman say that that is permissive?
Marquess of HARTINGTON
To say that if you do not carry out a scheme I shall make one and charge you with it, cannot be called permissive. The Bill gives the most gigantic powers to the Minister of Health and to local authorities. Really the thing to which we object is the enormous growth of bureaucracy under the Bill. The Minister of Health said that it was an economy Bill and would not impose any burden on the Ex- 77 chequer. It is a Bill of 72 pages of complicated provisions and machinery, under which local authorities and the Ministry of Health can play battledore and shuttle-cock at the expense of an unfortunate individual. The right hon. Gentleman can-not really contend that the Bill can be worked without a considerable increase in the staff of the Ministry and of every local authority which becomes a, town planning area. When they are told that the Bill can be worked with the existing staff I ask hon. Members to look back over the history of the last few years and to think of all the other Bills which we were told would not mean an increase of staff. This Bill must mean a large increase in staff. How can any municipal authority go in for a town planning scheme and carry it out without a director of the town planning department, who must have his assistant, and his skilled surveyor to draw his maps, and his clerks to answer the telephone and work the typewriter. That is a staff of at least five as the minimum, and it is pretty clear that the increase in staff throughout the country will be very large.
It must also be borne in mind that no town planning can possibly be regarded as permanent. It is not possible to lay down your zoning once and for all; it must be subject to modification. The world changes very quickly, and a plan of 25 years ago, before the motor omnibus became so general, would not be maintainable under present day conditions. You cannot possibly stereotype your town planning for all time, it is necessary to make full provision whereby schemes can be modified as occasion demands. A scheme which was laid out before the development which led to a considerable migration of industry from the north and midlands to the south could not be. maintained unles you are, prepared to stop that beneficent change. In the case of the garden city of Welwyn, one of the most successful schmes, they are now engaged in modifying the original plan. A larger number of working-class people are required; there are not enough working-class houses—
Marquess of HARTINGTON
I know that in the neighbourhood of Welwyn there has been an acute shortage of 78 working-class houses. I am not criticising the Welwyn Garden City. It has been an extremely successful undertaking, but they are having to modify their original scheme. To-day a scheme which was originally planned as an agricultural zone is being modified in order to be used for working-class houses. If the necessity for modifying schemes is recognised you must have a staff to deal with such modifications, which have to be approved by the Minister, and it means a vast amount of trouble, worry and expense, and a heavy burden indeed on the public. The Bill, in fact, will entail a great amount of expense and the employment of a large number of new officials. Having regard to the record and character of local authorities it is futile to believe that it is going to bring about any real improvement.
At one moment last summer I was tempted to withdraw my opposition to the Bill. I went to see Stonehenge, for the first time. Hon. Members know that as you go down the dip towards Stonehenge the whole beauty of the place lies in the banks upon which Stonehenge stands. The first. thing which hits you in the eye are some snug little houses, not badly built little houses, and a little tea garden. It. is certainly worth while to stop that kind of desecration of a great national inheritance. I made some inquiries, and I found that these little houses had been erected by the Office of Works. It is futile to expect the people to whom you are going to entrust these vast powers under the Bill to carry them out in the way the Minister hopes they will be carried out.
The Bill will cost a great deal of money. I have had some little experience in dealing with town planning authorities, and I say that a considerable amount of extra trouble and expense in developing land for residential and industrial purposes is being incurred owing to the necessity for modifying schemes. They cannot be carried out in perpetuity; you will have to keep machinery which will enable them to be modified. The Bill also means a permanent addition to the bureaucracy in every authority throughout the country, and I hope the House will fight it tooth and nail. It is not a party point. There is a fundamental difference between us. The Socialist believes that on the whole the individual runs his business badly and that it can be much better 79 managed by the State. The individualist believes that, whatever mistakes the individual may make, the force of supply and demand and enlightened self interest will produce better results. That is the real difference between those who support this Bill and those who oppose it. The Bill raises in an acute form the difference between the individualist and the Socialist. The Bill is a Socialist Bill. I wish more Members had been here when the late Solicitor-General welcomed the Bill, because he said it was a Socialist Bill and went as far as he thought possible in the direction of Socialism on the land.
The Bill must give rise to a very large expenditure and must add very largely indeed to the difficulties of anyone who wishes to develop land industrially or residentially. There is an alternative to the Bill. During the last few years there have come into being various very estimable public bodies, voluntary societies like the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Rural Community Councils. All of them have done extremely useful educative work. Local authorities are extremely sensitive to public opinion, and these voluntary bodies are eminently capable of informing and educating public opinion. It is a fact that the bad development or the wasteful use of land is unsound economically and not only wrong aesthetically. I believe that these voluntary bodies would be able to do a very great deal to induce local authorities to use the colossal powers which they now have and which they are not using.
It is a common criticism of speeches in this House that they are merely negative, that they contain no constructive proposals. I myself, faced with what I think is a very bad proposal, have supported a direct negative as the best way, but I would add this: T believe there are people who would blame Joseph for not exploring every avenue to prevent an unfortunate difference of opinion with Potiphar's wife. I have made a constructive suggestion. We are all agreed that something ought to be done. I believe that by the voluntary effort and educational work of these various public-spirited societies a great deal could be 80 done to improve the standard of development of land, and to see, for instance, that unsightly advertisements are not put up alongside roads, and that people use suitable materials for the buildings in their localities. The Bill ought to be opposed by everyone who does not definitely hold Socialist opinions It will certainly not do what it is expected by the Minister to do. Those who think it will have a beneficial effect on future development are doomed to be very grievously disappointed.
The last thing we ought to do, at a time like this, when the great need of this country is economy, is to saddle the nation with a Bill which will undoubtedly mean a large increase in the bureaucracy. One of the great necessities at the moment is freedom from the ever-increasing swarm of officials. We want to secure sonic cessation of the never-ending flow of regulations and rules and committees of inquiry directed from Whitehall. Our great necessity is to break the chain that binds us. We shall make a great mistake if by this Bill we forge a new and heavy set of fetters.
§ Mr. BUCHAN
My Noble Friend has delighted the House with a speech of a type far too rare in these days, a speech based not only on sincere conviction, hut upon a real code of political principles. He has given us that fine, stalwart, massive thing, the true Whig creed. I am a Tory and not a Whig, and therefore my Noble Friend's fundamental principles, from which his arguments must logically follow, do not greatly move me. But I am a great lover and admirer of all ancient things. Like the promoters of this Bill, I want to preserve ancient monuments, and I am certain that one famous historic monument, the Whig point of view, will never decay as long as my Noble Friend is in public life.
There was one point which he made and one of his chief reasons against the Bill with which I would deal for a moment, and that was his profound distrust of the competence and good intentions of local authorities. I am bound to say that there is a great deal in that argument. In the past local authorities have many times been guilty of shocking vandalism, just as the worst vandalism in our university towns has often been 81 due to the colleges themselves. But I believe that the local authorities are becoming more active and enlightened owing to pressure from below.
My Noble Friend admitted that there was a great deal being done to educate public opinion by voluntary societies. No one who has had to do with things like the National Trust or the various societies for protecting rural England and rural Scotland can fail to realise what a sound public opinion is growing up in the country on this matter. I believe that the local authorities are changing rapidly in accordance with this pressure from below, and that the best way to get the local authorities to meet their responsibilities rightly is to put the responsibility fairly upon their shoulders.
Therefore, I find myself in general agreement with the purpose of this Measure. But I am bound to say that there are certain points of detail which I hope will be given further consideration in Committee. I am a little alarmed, for example, at the power given to local authorities to repeal Clauses in existing Acts of Parliament. The reason for the provision is obvious enough, and it is true that something similar has been in former Town Planning Acts like the Act of 1925. But the proposal is so startling a departure from constitutional practice that I hope there will be some chance in Committee of devising provisions for preventing its abuse. Then I wish that the Measure were a little more explicit on one or two things. Take, for example, this point: The question of the establishment of a greyhound racing track in an area where the inhabitants do not desire it. That question arose in an acute form last year in South London. As I read the Bill, I understand that a point like that would come under a planning scheme. The second Schedule allows a scheme to deal with open spaces, both public and private. I assume that it would be possible to act in an emergency by means of interim orders such as are provided for in Clause 10 when a planning scheme is in contemplation. But I would like to be assured by my right hon. Friend the Minister that the Bill does really cover a problem which is certain to arise, 82 which indeed has arisen, in many parts of the country.
The main point of the Bill is, of course, that the discretion of local authorities is no longer limited to areas ripe for development, but is extended to rural areas the development of which is still far off, and to areas which have been developed badly. That is to say, it provides not only far the future but it enables us to correct some of our mistakes in the past. I always feel a certain shyness in speaking on the question of the preservation of England. I can never forget what Dr. Johnson said to Boswell when Boswell asked him if he thought that old England was lost. Johnson replied that he did not mind so much it being lost; what really worried him was that the Scotch had found it. But this Bill applies not only to England but also to my own land, so perhaps I may be allowed to make a few short observations upon it.
The first is that the Bill has the great merit of taking a sufficiently large unit in planning. That seems to me to be the very heart of the matter. To-day the area of local interests has enormously extended. We live in tar closer contact, and a well-developed locality may be ruined by the lack of principle of its neighbour. Even a county may be far too small a unit. What is really wanted is regional development, so that areas which have an economic or geographical unity, such as a river valley or a range of hills, can be taken as a whole, and what is well done in one locality may not be spoiled by what is ill done in another.
My second observation is that on this question we ought to avoid any fussy aesthetic standpoint. There are many people who are thrown into a state of nervous collapse when they hear of any development, and cry out that old England is ruined. That is really not common sense. Moreover it is not the old tradition of the land. As population has increased the face of England has changed again and again. If Members of this House could be transported back to the England of the Middle Ages they would find nothing of the traditional English beauty, but a land on the whole rather ugly, great stretches of undrained marsh, great masses of shaggy woodlands, and perched upon points of vantage raw, new, Norman castles like gaunt factories. If 83 we went back to the 17th century we should find very little in England to recognise. We should find the same masses of swamp, the same shaggy, unkempt woodlands. The beauty which we admire in rural England and which most of us imagine to have been. going on for ever is, really rather a late creation. It came in the 18th, century when hedges were set, when woodlands were cared for and when the river valleys were drained. And mark this—it came because of its relation to the habits and the life of man. The beauty of rural England, its specific charm, is the beauty of a habitable and settled place and not of a wilderness. It is worth remembering that that familiar beauty would never have come into being had it not been for development.
There is another thing to remember—that our English landscape has enormous powers of absorption. It can take a raw new invention and make it part of itself. The great instance is that of the railways. When they were first made lovers of beauty were aghast and cried, "The ancient English peace has gone." To-day I think if I wanted to find something really peaceful, the very essence of rural peace, I should take a country railway station on a sleepy summer afternoon. You may reply, that our eyes have become dulled to ugliness. But that is the whole point. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and if a thing no longer strikes us as ugly then, for us, the ugliness has gone.
It seems to me that it is our business to ensure that the new uses which our people require shall be attained with the minimum of disfigurement. I do not believe that there is any one of these uses which, if properly handled, cannot be made at any rate inoffensive, and may even add to the charm of the landscape. I take one of the most controversial cases of all, that of the pylons which carry the electric power cables. No doubt these pylons, if mishandled, can be made horrible monstrosities. But the other day I watched the line of pylons coming over the shoulder of Schiehallion descending from the North into the Perthshire valleys and it seemed to me that they were more impressive and picturesque than ugly. Then take the arterial roads. I believe that they could be made things of real interest and beauty like the Roman roads, pointing 84 the contrast between motion and rest which is the very essence of all romance. The vital thing is that they should avoid the villages as far as possible. If they do that, then, by canalising the traffic, they may really accentuate and deepen rural peace.
In the world in which we live it is necessary to change, but it is not less necessary to see that in the process we do not lose those older things which are part of our life. If we want a maxim to guide us let me suggest this. The land must be developed in accordance with human needs—yes, but all human needs, and not merely some human needs, not merely the obvious needs of the body such as shelter, food and transport, but also the no less urgent requirements of the mind and the spirit. I believe that if we only show wisdom and foresight, then, between these two great classes of requirements there need he no conflict whatever.
Remember that in this matter we are acting as trustees not for any class but for the whole people. Indeed, those who have the strongest interest in the preservation of England are the poor, for if you destroy the English landscape they have no alternative. They cannot like richer men find equivalents in their gardens or their parks or in foreign travel. I believe that our people to-day move about the land in a way they have never done before. I believe that all classes have discovered in a way they have never done before the riches of their heritage. The movement to provide youth hostels up and down the land is a proof. At any railway terminus in the North of England or in Scotland during the summer you will see great bands of "hikers" bound for a day in the country. It is true that many of them are carrying portable gramophones and concertinas but that is only the first crude manifestation of a worthy instinct. I believe that that instinct is very deep in the hearts of our race. We do not want future generations to rise up and call us not blessed but accursed, because in our apathy and stupidity we have allowed their lawful estate to be destroyed.
§ Mr. EADY
I rise to give my support to the Bill, and I am not doing so with a view to supporting any Socialist principle, or because I am a Conservative, or 85 because I am a Liberal. I certainly should not have been so keen to speak in support of the Bill had I not heard the remarks of some of the previous speakers. We have been referred back to the 17th century and we might be talking of 100 years ago to hear some of the references which have been made as to the difference between what was required then and what is required to-day. I am a local councillor and have been for many years interested in town planning questions. At present I occupy the position of deputy chairman of the city improvement and town planning committee in connection with my local authority so that I can claim to have some experience on this subject. In supporting this Measure my object is not so much the preservation of architectural rights or amenities as much as consideration for the future progress of our country. My support is given to this Bill because I know it is a good Bill. It possesses many good qualities but in one thing particularly it answers the purpose at present. It repeals previous legislation and brings us up to date and places all on one footing so that we know where we are and we have something on which to work in dealing with this question. In my opinion it was absolutely necessary to have a Bill of this character.
We have been referred back to many precedents and have been told how ridiculous it is to talk about what the future is going to bring, but we are suffering to-day from what happened in the past. I am interested in an industrial centre, a town which includes a large proportion of industrial property and I know what our difficulties have been there in trying to regulate and spread out the advantages of various Measures, and the enormous expense which has been involved. Any legislation which will improve that condition of things will be welcomed by me. To take one thing alone, this Bill will help us in connection with the development of residential areas and in making ring roads, and in various other important aspects of town planning. We have to consider, in relation to town planning, what future traffic may be. In the lay out of various schemes it is essential to consider all these matters, and in my opinion there is no one to-day competent to say what the future holds for us in this respect. It may be that we shall require roads very much wider and more 86 open than those which we are trying to make at present.
The Bill has received and is receiving the support of councils throughout the country, and I have here a letter from one association of local councils indicating that it has that support. Its many advantages have already been pointed out by the Minister. Both from the health point of view and from the economy point of view, it should be of great assistance and, in my opinion, local bodies could not continue to carry out their work in this respect without these regulations. The question of housing schemes has also to be taken into consideration in relation to town planning and the construction of ring roads. There is no one more in sympathy with preserving the beauty of our rural districts than I am and in giving my support to this Bill I sincerely hope that the House will see its way to pass it as it stands. The question of compensation and betterment has been raised. It is natural that in the arrangement of these matters there should be a certain amount of give and take. In negotiations for the taking over of land or any property, there is bound to be give and take, but I am bound to say that I have never heard of much betterment being returned. I have much pleasure in, supporting the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. M. W. BEAUMONT
I rise to support the Amendment. It was, I confess, with surprise and regret that I learned that the Government, which is so pressed for time that it has to take the whole of the Private Members' time during the Session, proposed to devote its one spare day to a Measure of such a controversial and doubtful nature as this. I know that this subject is very dear to the heart of the Minister of Health. I know that as a Private Member in the last Parliament he introduced a Measure similar to this. I have not the least doubt that he believes as sincerely as I disbelieve that this Bill will achieve the objects for which he hopes. But I confess I had hoped that, in common with all of us who have had to give up personal and private projects at the present time, the right hon. Gentleman would have surrendered his desire to push forward this Bill at the present juncture. In addition to the considerable doubts which some of us entertain as to the value of the Bill in itself, I believe that in the minds of a large 87 proportion of the Members of the House the Measure at the present time is as inexpedient as it is undesirable.
I do not know whether the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment will divide the House upon it. That will depend on many things, but for myself I am determined to support this Amendment in order to destroy once and for all the idea that this is an agreed or non-controversial Measure. It will be remembered that a similar Bill got its Second Reading without a Division in the last Parliament, and when we tried to introduce radical but, as we thought, beneficial Amendments in Committee we were taunted by the then Minister of Health with the fact that we had not opposed the Second Reading here, and were told that by not doing so we had consented to regard the Measure as an agreed Measure. There is to be nothing of that sort this time. My Noble Friend said he was going to fight it now, and that he hoped to fight it all along the line. This cannot be looked upon as in any sense a non-party question. There is the additional and much more important reason, that whatever may have happened to it before on Second Reading, it should be strongly and violently opposed now. Since then, the country has entered upon a period of great financial stringency, and, whatever the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary may say, there is no question that this Bill will certainly urge, if not compel, a, considerable further expenditure by local authorities, if they are to carry it out effectively. It has been, or it may be, suggested that a scheme may be prepared with the staff already in the employ of a local authority. So far as borough and urban district councils are concerned, it may be so, but I am bound to confess that what very slight experience I have had of those councils leads me to suppose that their officials have already quite enough to do, without taking on additional extremely complicated and technical work. Whatever may be the case with urban councils, rural councils are certainly not in a position to take on this work with the staff that they have.
I have been a member of a rural district council for a considerable number of years. In my capacity as councillor, I have dealt with this matter, and I know, so far as my council and the others all 88 around are concerned, that there is not a rural district council which could possibly prepare an effective and efficient scheme. I know the Minister will agree with me that a bad scheme under this Bill would be infinitely worse than no scheme at all. There is not a council that could prepare such a scheme without an addition to its staff. The financial position of the country is bad. We went to the country and received a mandate for ruthlessly cutting clown the expenditure of local authorities on education and salaries, and in Departments of the Social Services that many of us value so highly, and the only minor Bill, if I may so call it, brought forward by the Government is one that will empower and compel local authorities to prepare schemes which, I am absolutely convinced, will require the expenditure of more money. The Minister has told us that this is an economy. I know he is talking in perfect good faith, but I am perfectly certain that we cannot embark on this very difficult work without highly expert, highly paid, and highly skilled advice. This is no time to urge or to promote local authorities to increase their expenditure on a matter which, however desirable it may he, and assuming all the virtues which the Minister claims for it under the Bill, is still of infinitely less importance than those innumerable and vital services that we have had to cut down So much for the question of expediency.
I want for a moment to turn the attention of this House to another side and to reinforce, if I can—I doubt if it is necessary—the arguments on principle which my Noble Friend laid before the House so well when he spoke just now. I wonder how many Members realise some of the things that would be possible under this Bill. Take Clause 17. My Noble Friend the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Cranborne) wrote an admirable letter to "The Times" newspaper about a week ago, and hon. Members who may be in doubt on this matter might well read it. Whatever the Minister may tell us is his intention under Clause 17, as it stands now it would be possible for a rural district council to prepare a scheme to schedule a house of anybody in the country, and to say that no member of that house should lay one brick on it or take one brick off. It is all very well for the Minister to say that that 89 is not his intention of the way in which things should be used. Unfortunately, he will not always be Minister of Health. He may go to higher and greater things, and a worse man may take his place. I am averse to entrusting anybody with such powers, and averse to passing any Measure which would annul the old saying that the Englishman's home is his castle. If I were even prepared to trust him, I am not prepared to trust a rural district council with an appeal to an unknown Minister of Health in the future.
I will say nothing to the discredit of rural district councils. I have been a member of one, as I have said, for some years, and I believe that they do a great deal of really admirable work very well. They are not, I submit, qualified to decide what a man shall or shall not do, from an aesthetic or from a purely utilitarian point of view, to his house. The Minister admitted that there were many cases of vandalism in rural district councils in the country, but he submitted that they were not a majority of cases. It may be true that the general run of rural district councils do more good than harm, but I do say definitely that for every case of vandalism by a private owner you can find three that have been perpetrated by a rural district council. You are putting absolute powers over the whole of the land in this country into the hands of these bodies, if they choose to use them. I do not wish to take up the Minister's time with instances. I know he will say that he hopes the thing will not be run in that way and that there are plenty of safeguards and powers of appeal to the Minister and that there are various methods by which people who are aggrieved can force delays or possibly get decisions reversed. The point I wish to make is that, if it is possible, and it is admittedly possible, that an appreciable number of rural district councils, or a plurality of rural district councils, might use their powers in the way I have described, then this is a bad Bill which is subversive of liberty and is giving powers to people who are definitely not fitted to have them.
I do not wish to detain the House. There are many aspects of this Bill into which I might go. There is the method by which the rural district council can run a main road through a man's 90 garden, and, unless it is the garden of a house belonging to the labouring classes —whether Members of this House would be included in that category or not I do not know—the rural district council may claim that by the introduction of the road that man has received a benefit, and he may be charged 75 per cent. of their assessment of the increased value. If he does not wish to sell the hit of land close to the house on which he presumably intended to build, he may have to pay the 75 per cent. and carry the loss. I do not doubt that that is not the way in which the Minister wants or expects these powers to be used. I know he will say that this is an exaggerated and isolated case. That we should pass a Bill to make such a thing possible is the greatest possible error. I submit that both on the question of expediency and on the question of economy, as on the question of general principle, this Bill is not worthy of a Second Reading, and I hope the House will reject it.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Major Sir Archibald Sinclair)
First, I would like to speak on the question of housing and town planning from the Scottish point of view. Scottish public opinion will not be backward in welcoming the Bill, or in approving its simple principle, which is the giving of power to local authorities for planning, the development of land, both built-up land and undeveloped land, and both urban and rural land. Only the other day I was addressing a large conference in Edinburgh, assembled by the Housing and Town Planning Council of Scotland, and attended by representatives of local authorities from every part of Scotland. The chairman of that conference, with the full approval of the Members, declared that the introduction and passage of this Bill was one of the things most urgently required from the standpoint of housing and town planning in Scotland. We in the Government have no wish whatever to crib, cabin or confine the development of industry. On the contrary, the policy of the Government is to encourage and stimulate its free and spontaneous development to the utmost. Particularly in Scotland, we take the liveliest interest in the work of a voluntary body such as the Scottish Development Council, which exists to promote the development of Scottish economic re- 91 sources. Town planning, far from hindering this process, will no doubt assist and accelerate it.
I regard this Bill, not merely as a necessary step for the preservation of the beauty of the countryside, which is undoubtedly the rarest and most precious heritage of Scotland; but in these hard times, when our minds are fixed on stark economic realities, I have no hesitation in presenting this Bill as a sound business proposition. The experience of the United States has already been referred to by the Minister of Health in introducing the Bill. There we find not only that shrewd real estate men persuade local authorities to frame and apply schemes of town planning and development, but that they have actually themselves contributed to the cost. Of special importance to Scotland will be those provisions of the Bill which enable local authorities to deal with and plan built-up areas. The special difficulties of slum clearance in Scotland, many of them deeply rooted in the history of our country, were brilliantly analysed about two years ago in a speech which was made in this House by the senior Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) who has just made such a remarkable contribution to our Debate. I will mention only one of those difficulties, and that is perhaps one that is the most peculiar to Scotland; it is the resistance to the ravages of time that is offered by those stoutly-built stone buildings which remain long after the internal fittings are completely dilapidated and after the design of the buildings has ceased to conform to modern ideas of sanitation or comfort. Consequently, there is a tendency in Scotland for slum areas to remain encumbered by dilapidated buildings, which means that ground is encumbered which would be of high economic value.
You need look no further than our capital city for striking examples, on the one hand, of the rambling, irregular, uneconomic development in the outlying parts of our city, where you find smoking factories, warehouses, breweries, and big tenement dwellings jostling one another in complete confusion, while, on the other hand, you will find an example of far-seeing and imaginative town planning in the new town of Edinburgh, which 92 was started by the Corporation on land which belonged to them just over 100 years ago, and carried out in strict accordance with a carefully devised plan. Here you find, in startling juxtaposition, the stately, orderly, and dignified new town, which has added to the world renown of Edinburgh and given gladness and pride to its citizens, and those tenement dwellings in their grim environment, which at no additional expense could, by the application of foresight and intelligence, have been made so much brighter and healthier for the present and future generations. The city authorities of Edinburgh have to their credit that great pioneering enterprise, the new town. They have no share in the blame for the suburbs, for short, of actual purchase they had no power to deal with the situation there; but they have great problems now in front of them in the old town, and if dilapidated and unhealthy houses are to be demolished and suitable sites provided for university extensions and much needed public buildings, they will need, and they can be trusted to make good use of, the powers which are contained in this Bill.
If I mention the city of Edinburgh, I would like also to refer to the work of the city of Glasgow, which has shown a gratifying example of municipal energy in the use of town planning powers. Four separate schemes, which altogether include all the undeveloped land within the city boundaries, have been prepared, and one has already been submitted for approval. To those who have been criticising the Bill during the course of this Debate, I would recall that it is interesting to see that, notwithstanding the very large area involved—I think it is something like 4,000 acres, and it is the whole of the undeveloped land of Glasgow—the objections and representations lodged by the owners against the municipal schemes have been remarkably few and relatively unimportant. I think those schemes are examples of the results that can be achieved by close consultation and cooperation between owners of land and local authorities, and are indeed a practical demonstration of the fact or, if you like, the theory that private interest in the ownership of land and public interest in its proper control and the regulation of its future development are not incompatible but may be fused together in a coherent and carefully prepared scheme. 93 Fine work is also being done by the Aberdeen Joint Town Planning Committee in connection, with a scheme which is framed on a scale appropriate to the dignity and beauty of the granite city. With few exceptions nearly ail the large burghs of Scotland have schemes in preparation, but interest in town planning has, of course, languished during the time of economic depression which has reduced, as Scottish Members know, whole areas of Scotland to a state of industrial stagnation. But the truth is that the present period should be utilised for determining the proper regulation of future development. Now is the time to prepare for the return of long delayed industrial activity and prosperity, and to avoid the mistakes which were made in the industrial revolution by laying our plans for the siting of new roads and new industries and the allocation of land to its most advantageous uses.
Altogether local authorities in Scotland had in preparation or in operation, at the end of 1931, 52 schemes under the Town Planning Acts, covering 177,000 acres, and in addition to these statutory schemes, four regional schemes are now in course of preparation in four great areas of Scotland, namely, the Clyde Valley, Ayrshire, Fifeshire, and Central Scotland; and those great areas, covering an area in the aggregate of no less than 3,000 square miles, cover really the whole of the industrial belt of Scotland. The preparation of these regional schemes has, of course, involved close co-operation between a number of separate local authorities, but they enable the broad outline of future development over a large area to be determined, leaving the details of the schemes to be filled in later in the form of statutory schemes prepared by individual local authorities, and in this way these statutory schemes in the local authorities' areas become individual but correlated units in a unified scheme. If the Bill proposes to invest the authorities engaged in regional planning with statutory powers, and contains provisions which will simplify the difficulties which now arise in giving simultaneous application to the larger regional and the smaller individual statutory schemes, it will be welcome to these regional planning committees in Scotland.
But we have in Scotland to consider not only urban and industrial develop- 94 ment, but the protection of our very special heritage of natural beauty. The Highlands of Scotland will form the playground of future generations, generations perhaps with an appreciation of natural beauty more sensitive than we have today. Even in the Highlands there is, and I hope will continue to be, industrial development, but wise planning will prevent the disfigurement and wanton destruction of what is perhaps the most impressive scenery in these islands.
Let me just say a very few words on the form of Clause 52, which is the Scottish application Clause, and on the Sixth Schedule. Normally, up till now, in our legislation the application Clause, the Clause which applies a Bill to Scotland, has contained certain specified modifications of the Bill expressed in general terms. Where the application Clause is long and complicated—and in this particular Bill the Sixth Schedule, which is part of the machinery for applying the Bill to Scotland, contains no less than eight pages—this makes the administration of the Act by the local authorities troublesome and difficult. In Clause 52 of this Bill, the Clerk of the Parliaments is directed to prepare and certify a copy of the Act as it applies to Scotland as if it were a separate Act, and it is to receive the Royal Assent on the same day as the Act itself. The Act certified in this way will take effect as a separate Act and may be cited as the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1932. In passing this Act of Parliament, we shall in effect have passed two Acts of Parliament, and Scotland will not have a separate Act of its own to administer. This will clearly make matters much easier for the Scottish local authorities and, I think, will no doubt constitute a useful precedent for other legislation.
In conclusion, let me only say that, among those who will go into the Lobby to-night in support of this Bill, there will be none who will do so with greater interest in the Measure, I am sure, than Scottish Members of all parties, and none who will more whole-heartedly congratulate the Minister of Health on his achievement in having pushed this Bill through, in having started it as a Private Member and guided it through a great many of the Shoals which Private Members find great difficulty, in navigating, 95 with great skill and persistence. He now has the pleasure, upon which he is to be felicitated, of exploiting the opportunity which his office gives him to bring in a Bill which will be of great benefit to the country as a whole and from which we in Scotland believe we also shall derive great benefit.
§ Captain WATERHOUSE
The House has listened with great interest to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down, and I have done so with special interest, because no speech that we have heard to-day more adequately expressed one of my contentions. I would draw attention to the fact that my right hon. Friend spoke of the stately, orderly, and dignified new town in Edinburgh, of the wonderful developments in Glasgow and in Aberdeen, of 52 schemes covering 177,000 acres in smaller towns, and of four regional schemes covering no less than 3,000 square miles; and one may wonder, I think, with justification why, if under present legislation powers of this sort are available and can be used by progressive local authorities, the Minister comes to this House now and produces a Bill of some 60 or 70 pages for our consideration.
I have been in the House of Commons for three Parliaments and each one, it seems to me in looking back, has had rather an atmosphere of its own. That of 1924, coming after the collapse of the first Socialist Government and not very long after the fall of the Coalition, breathed a spirit of great hope. There was a band of active young men who thought that if only we could get in. sufficient legislation, we should make a new heaven and a new earth, that we should make the people of this country better and happier and wiser. We passed a great deal of legislation, but we certainly did not make them very much happier nor richer nor wiser, because they proceeded very shortly afterwards to send the Socialist Government back to this House a second time. After two years we parted company with that Government, and now, after we have been sent back to this House with a message of vigour, of energy, of striking out on a new and bold policy, with carte blanche to do what we think is best for the country as a whole, the very first Measure of 1932 is a re-hash of a dis- 96 carded meal of the Socialist Government. That meal, when introduced, savoured a good deal more of the atmosphere of 1924 and 1925 than of that of 1931, and it is entirely divorced from the atmosphere which ought to inspire this House in 1932.
It is true that it was said to be an agreed Measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), in Committee upstairs, said a, great deal about the agreement on this Bill. He was very frank, as he always is, and he told us quite frankly that on that occasion he was the spokesman of the local authorities; and we know that the local authorities want this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General, who led the Opposition upstairs in Committee, again spoke of it as a great Measure, but he, too, has come under the magician's wand in the Ministry of Health. Once anybody, however sane and rational, gets into that Ministry, he becomes converted to the most extraordinary schemes of wild and rash expenditure. The House will remember that this great Measure, which went through with such aplomb upstairs, passed 21 days in Committee, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, if he proceeds with it, he will be able to look forward to many more pleasant days upstairs. I should like to echo the words of my Noble Friend and to amplify them, because he did not develop this particular line, and say that this Bill is a hoax. It does not do what it says it is going to do. It starts off, as the Minister emphasised, by professing to give the local authorities tremendously wide and extended powers. In point of fact, while it does that, it gives to the Minister still wider and more extended powers, and it brings him definitely two or three steps further up the ladder which leads to the complete dictatorship of this country. I am prepared to resist both tendencies—either to give a dictatorship even to such a charming and capable person as my right hon. Friend, or to give widely extended powers to the local authorities.
Let us take the Measure at the Minister's own value. Let us suppose that it will give these widely extended powers to local authorities. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has shown us the powers that the authorities have. They have powers so great that they have neither the time, the 97 talent, nor the temerity to use them. Why then do they want more? A very great friend of mine who is aged 6 was given a small constructional toy at Christmas. He was very interested in the toy, made several things with it, and was very pleased with it; but, unfortunately, on the back of the box containing the toy was a picture of London Bridge which could be made with a much larger model of the same toy. Having seen the picture, he lost all interest in the small box, and wanted London Bridge. If it had not been that the paramount authority over this small friend of mine said very firmly that London Bridge was not coming his way until he had mastered the small model, he would have been miserable the whole holiday. Surely it is for this House, as the paramount authority of the local authorities, to say, "Use the powers that you have, and then come and ask for an extension, and possibly we will hear you sympathetically—and possibly we will not." In the Second Reading Debate last year, the Minister of Health used these words:It means that we are enabling the local authorities of the country, individually and jointly, to control the future development of all the land in Great Britain."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 15th April, 1931; col. 200, Vol. 251.]That statement alone ought to be sufficient to damn this Measure. I do not want to hand all the land over to local authorities. I do not want to see these tremendous extensions of power from town to country, from unbuilt-up to built-up areas. I want, if anything, to see a greater freedom to a more educated population. Under the various Sections of this Bill the local authorities can lay down minute regulations for the whole of our lives. They can say exactly where we have to live, where we have to shop, where we have to work, where we have to pray, where we have to drink, where we have to die, and finally where we have to be buried. Their powers are over-riding. They can go into your house, and if they do not like it they can tell you to pull it down. If they do like it, they can say, We are so fond of your house, you can make no alterations in it. You may not put in a bathroom or another window; if it is too small, you may not add to it, and if it is too big, you may not pull any of it down."
98 All these powers are to be given to local authorities, who have never proved themselves to be worthy of having such wide extensions of power. They are to be made the arbiters of architecture throughout the country; they are to be made the judges of beauty. What a farce it is that these authorities should be lifted to the zone of aesthetic deities In the towns one will often find that not the least ugly building is either the county hall or the town hall. In the country you will find the great arterial roads bounded by wire fences held up by concrete kerbs going mile after mile across country. That is a far bigger blot on the landscape in many cases than a few advertisements which, by the way, are being removed fast without any legislation at all. As my Noble Friend says, the local authorities themselves are the main perpetrators of the greatest disfigurements on our landscape to-day.
I will leave that side of the question and come back to what seems to me to be the most important aspect because I believe it is the real significance of the Bill. While it gives to local authorities the extended powers I have mentioned, it is the Minister who is really given very great powers. Under Clause 4 he may order two or more local authorities to prepare and adopt a scheme. Under Clause 5 he may allow a local authority to be represented upon a joint committee. Under Clause 6 he may revoke a resolution to prepare a scheme. Under Clause 7 he may vary or revoke a scheme. Under Clause 10 he has power over interim development of land. Clause 11 seems to be the most important of all because there he has by his own fiat a right to override statutory powers given to companies and undertakings by this House. It is true that these powers over canals, docks, harbours, electricity, and waterworks are somewhat modified by Clause 40, but even there the Minister himself has to decide whether or not the modifications are wise and should be applicable in any particular case.
The Minister is made throughout the whole Measure the judge in his own suit. Under Clause 18 the owner of the property may get some redress for any disturbance. He may get some compensation if he is ruthlessly disturbed 99 in his occupation, but in Clause 19 is a schedule of 10 headings under which the Minister may rule out compensation in almost every conceivable way in which it might be earned. Under the following Clause, when we come to the question of improvements, we find that the local authority is empowered to take 75 per cent, of any improvement value, and the redress of the individual is shadowy indeed.
§ Captain WATERHOUSE
Of course—75 per cent. of the improvement. They take the 75 per cent. of value in Income Tax and Super-tax. A large estate embraced under these schemes may on one side have an improving patch of land. It very often happens that way. Of that improvement, three-quarters is taken by the local authority. On the other side, there is a worsening area. It may have been affected, because, near the residential quarter, the town planning authority have allowed large factories to be started. The owner has a claim against the local authority because of that, and his claim goes—before whom? Not before a Court of law, as claims in this country have gone for the last 1,000 years, but before the Minister, who is himself responsible for this Bill and is the patron saint of local authorities.
This Bill is going to cost a lot of money. It will affect taxation possibly in a small degree, but it will affect rates to a very large degree. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has little control over the charge on the rates. Great as is my personal regard for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he is, after all, the arch-wizard of all the magicians in the Ministry of Health, and, if anybody can get round him for money, it will be my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. Therefore, we are left naked in the particular direction from which this attack will come. Our armour there is weak already; it is, therefore, up to us who believe that it is essential for this country not to spend a "bob" more than we need on anything unessential, to do all that we can to persuade my right hon. Friend not to proceed with this Measure. I understood from the Press that it was only because of some technicality of Par- 100 liamentary procedure that this Measure was proceeded with to-day. I was told before we rose by somebody who has knowledge of these things that it was only put down because something bad to be put down and there were no other dishes sufficiently well cooked to be put on the table. If that be so, we sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman. We have had an interesting discussion, and we have heard two or three excellent speeches. Let the right hon. Gentleman send us home happy by getting up and saying that he does not intend to proceed with a Measure which is more suitable to times of piping prosperity.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
I should like to have an opportunity of replying to one or two small points that have been raised from our side of the House in opposition to this Bill; they are small, although they have been made to appear big, and they can be easily answered. I should like to take the opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Eady) on his useful contribution to our proceedings, which was given from the point of view of one who knows both local government and the work of town planning. In the second place, I would like to support what was said by the Minister as to our sense of the immense loss we have suffered in the death of the hon. and gallant Member for the Henley Division (Captain Henderson). He would have met the challenge of the hon. and gallant Member for South Leicester (Captain Waterhouse) with the spirit it deserved, and with his knowledge he would have been able to show us that the hon. and gallant Member really has not got a leg to stand upon. I will not trouble to remind him of the views of those in other parties who have supported this or comparable Measures, but the support of the late hon. and gallant Member for Henley is a sufficient indication of the fact that anyone who goes into the question of the preservation of the countryside with an open mind must realise, of whatever party he is, that there is only one way of preserving it, and that it is to be found in this Bill.
I do not say that points cannot be put forward which deserve consideration in Committee, but those points ought to be Allowed to fall into their natural perspective, and anyone who brings to this subject the clear mind and the mili 101 tary mind—that is, seeing how to get things done by the shortest road—which the late hon. and gallant Member for Henley possessed, must realise that the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for South Leicester really only serve to put grit in the wheels. They are made either in ignorance, or in wilful blindness as to the main object before us. It is a matter of bitterness to those of us who live in the countryside and want to preserve it, who have been working for 20 or 30 years to preserve it, and have failed because there is no body who will try to preserve it. The facts are perfectly clear, and those, first from one party and then from another, who have sought means to deal with the situation have all come to the same conclusion and drafted the same type of Bill; yet now we find their efforts attacked on the ground that this is a Socialist Bill. What do they mean by "Socialism" when they are attacking this Bill?
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
Does the hon. Member mean that he is against everything which is under public control? Is he against public control of the police, or will he be glad to have his house protected by an individualistic police force? Would he like Shanghai to protect itself by an individualistic army or navy? What nonsense it is! Everybody knows that as the country grows and develops there are certain services which must be provided communally, whether it be under the system of a public trust, which is the popular method at the present time, or a local authority or a national authority. Whatever authority it is, it must be a communal authority, with communal resources. Opposition has been put forward to-night simply in order to try to prevent authority getting its way. My hon. Friend the Member for the Aylesbury Division (Mr. M. W. Beaumont) would not say such things in the rural council from which he came. The people are wanting to do these things and power must be provided, and we cannot have people who have just recently come into the movement for saving the countryside, or who have just looked into this Bill, putting dust into the machinery just as we are on the point of getting the powers we want in order to achieve our purpose. 102 Those who understand the needs of the countryside must rally together, and implore my hon. Friends who have taken the line to which I have referred to realise that those of us who have been working in support of these powers are as keenly anti-Socialist as they are in desiring to do nothing that will bring about the stagnation of individual effort in other directions. I ask them to realise that this Bill offers the only means of preserving the countryside. What are the Alternatives? The only practical alternative was put forward by the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington). He agrees that in certain respects further powers were needed, and in such cases, he said, a local authority could come to this House to get the necessary powers. His own town, the borough of Derby, and the Surrey County Council got powers in the last Session. My hon. and gallant Friend has been talking about economy. Is it economy to ask each local authority which desires to take action to go through the whole business of getting a private Bill passed through this House? That is not economy. The really economic thing to do is to pass a general Bill and give the power in that way.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
Does my hon. and gallant Friend mean to say that he does not trust local councils with power to spend money? To say that is to go right against the whole principle of local government. I quite agree that local authorities are liable to be extravagant, in some areas, particularly, though not perhaps, so much at the present time, and they are also liable to be unwise; but what other control could we have? The spoliation of the countryside is going on. My Noble Friend instanced the case of Stonehenge, and was almost converted to this Bill, but was prevented from being entirely converted when he found that Stonehenge was under the Office of Works. I wish he had taken note of Clause 32, which is one of the most encouraging features of this Bill. Hitherto Government Departments have taken to themselves separate privileges, have refused to come under such Measures as these, saying that although they agreed with them, generally they did not wish to 103 be put definitely under the powers of a general Bill. In one or two instances their attitude has been very awkward. During the Committee stage last year I expressed the view that there should be no exception of Government Departments or Crown authorities, and it marks a very great step forward to find that Government Departments are more ready to come into the scheme than they have hitherto been. If that were the only reason why my Noble Friend the Member for West Derbyshire was critical of this scheme I feel that had he not had to leave in order to catch his train he would have been converted to supporting the Bill.
We must have somebody to exercise control. I admit that local authorities are not ideal bodies—there cannot be any idealism about such a generality as local authorities—and that they are as variable as we who are in this House, as variable as human beings generally are, and the only thing to be done, as my hon. Friend the Member for Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) said, is to give them powers corresponding to the growing needs of the people. Who can represent the people so well as elected local authorities? I admit that people do not take enough trouble to ensure that local authorities always represent them, not nearly enough people share the burden of local government, but there is no other body to undertake this work. The only other suggestion has been that it ought to be entrusted to private bodies such as the Scapa Society. Many of us have had a good deal to do with private societies, and a good deal has been done through their efforts, but we know that all the work falls on the same set of people, and that they are apt to grow weary because they cannot get a move on, being unrepresentative. They do a great deal of good work, but they have not the status of a local authority, and they would not be trusted with any such powers as are proposed in this Bill.
Our civilisation develops and we cannot stop; we are bound to face new developments. The internal combustion engine and the discovery of petrol have led to the arterial road and to ribbon development, and it has now been brought home to the mass of the people, as we in the country have known for a long time, that some measure of con- 104 trol must be applied. There is a further development ahead, for with the coming of aeroplanes we shall have to provide aerodromes. It is an economic thing to look ahead, so long as any measures taken are sufficiently elastic. Welwyn Garden City was developed by private enterprise, but it involved an immense amount of trouble in view of the fact that the promoters were not possessed of the powers of a local authority, and it is an experiment which would probably never be repeated without them. On the whole it has been developed on fairly good lines, and the general lines have good and will hold good. We wish the same thing had happened in London after the great fire. At that time Wren wanted to town plan London, but the people could not wait for his scheme. It is essential to have this combination of social effort and individual effort as civilisation develops. We cannot possibly run things on purely individualistic lines, and the question arises of what powers are to he entrusted to communal authority. I am all against. official bodies entering into the possession of land for mercantile or commercial purposes, but when it comes to a question of the direction of the general management these powers are much the same kind of thing as commercial law.
I can assure the House that when this Measure goes into Committee all the objections which have a real basis will be thoroughly examined, but I implore the House to recognise that this Bill is the culmination of a series of efforts by Members on all sides who have studied this question. There is unanimity amongst all the bodies which have been working for the preservation of rural England—and Scotland—as well as the preservation of the towns. My last point is that I have been asked definitely by the London County Council to say that just as they approved of the general principle of the previous Measure so they express their general support of this Bill, although reserving to themselves the right to put forward again certain Amendments which were not included in it last time. There is a large measure of agreement about the Measure, and I hope the House will support it, and see it through its further stages without much further delay. It is a practical Measure combining the efforts of all persons and interests who have been seeking to preserve that rural England 105 which is fast running away from us. Every day we waste we are losing more of the countryside.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
The supporters of this Measure seem to have misunderstood the objections which my hon. Friends have been making to this Bill. I agree that the principle underlying the Bill is generally accepted, and we agree in the main with the arguments which have been put forward by the Minister. There are certain provisions to which we object, and while I am in general agreement with the principle of this Measure I could not do otherwise than give my support to the Second Reading. I must, however, be allowed to say that there are many provisions in this Measure which will require the most careful scrutiny during the Committee stage if the Bill is to have any chance of surviving the Third Reading. Whatever one may think of the Bill itself, one thing is certain, that it does interfere deeply and seriously with the rights of property owners in this country.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
Does the hon. and learned Member suggest that this Bill interferes in that respect more than the last Town Planning Act?
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
Yes, I believe this Measure interferes with the rights of property more than any existing town planning legislation. I think that one observation will make that point clear. The existing town planning legislation is confined to dealing with undeveloped areas, while the Bill we are now discussing deals with highly developed areas, and that is a totally different proposition. This Bill interferes seriously with the rights of the property owning class who are still not criminals or untouchables, and possess certain rights. How are those rights dealt with in this Measure? One most extraordinary thing about this Bill is that from beginning to end there is no provision made for an inquiry at the instance of the property owners. The local authority and the Minister can demand an inquiry, but not the owner of the property, whose rights are going to be interfered with, and which are legal and exclusive rights. That is not a mere committee point; it is a fundamental matter which must be disposed of before the Bill is set down for the Third Reading.
106 My next point is that the powers given to the Minister are quite extraordinary. The Minister is endowed with an amazing discretion, and he has amazing and difficult powers to exercise. Under those powers, as the Bill stands, the Minister has unfettered discretion to act without consulting anybody or seeking the advice of any tribunal qualified to give him advice. The last Town Planning Bill provided for a tribunal, and when that Measure came up for its Second Reading a tribunal was embodied in the Bill. Why has the tribunal been removed from this Bill? Why is the important matter of compensation to the owners whose property is dealt with to be left to the unfettered discretion of the Minister, without recourse to any competent tribunal such as that which was provided under the 1931 Measure?
First of all, I will consider the question of compensation. A town planning scheme may do much damage to the property of an owner. With some pretence at equity there is a provision in the Bill by which, in certain circumstances, compensation may be awarded, but the compensation does not begin to run from the moment when it should run. A local authority may, by passing a resolution, proclaim a scheme, but from the moment that resolution is passed until it is carried into effect, there may intervene a period not only of months but of years, and during the whole of that intervening period the dead hand of the local authority is laid upon the owner, rendering him unable to develop that property. The owner is hampered and restricted in that way, and yet he is not entitled to one penny compensation during the interim period. Surely that is a most inequitable and unjust arrangement, and it should not be possible for any local authority to define the boundaries of an area over which they are going at some time or other to have a town planning scheme and leave the wretched owner, during that intervening period, in such a position that he is unable to develop his property and unable to claim a penny of compensation for being deprived of his legal rights.
Why should the amount of compensation be left at the discretion of the Minister? What justification is there for depriving the subject of his ordinary common law rights and his right to have compensation assessed by a court of law? 107 This question is left absolutely to the discretion of the Minister and civil servants. The owner is subject to any decision which may be arrived at, and he has no means of disputing that decision. With regard to betterment, surely the House of Commons will not allow a Bill to pass containing a b betterment Clause in anything like the shape of the Clause in this Bill. The betterment which is dealt with under this Bill is not that which accrues to the owner, it is not the cash betterment which is realised and accrues on the sale of the property, but it is a hypothetical figure. That is an intolerable position. We all know what are paper profits on the Stock Exchange which may be affected by a disturbance in the stock markets. What appears to be a paper profit to-day may have melted away to-morrow, and an owner may be called upon to pay 75 per cent. of the betterment. Obviously, the only reasonable proposition in regard to betterment is that, if it is to be recovered at all, it should be recovered only after sale and after the betterment has been translated into cash. It also seems to me to be a most iniquitous position that the claim of the local authority for betterment should be a prior charge over every other charge that may exist on the land. What is now proposed seems to undermine the position of mortgagees, and there is no justification whatever for putting the claim of the local authority for betterment in a prior position over and above the claims of any other person.
I submit that these are some of the matters which must be dealt with in the Committee stage, and which ought to have been eradicated from this Bill before it was introduced. I do not think that Members of this House are likely to be scared by the argument that this is a Socialistic Bill. Here is a Bill which in its present form makes a very serious inroad upon the existing rights of property owners, and it does not provide anything like equity for the present owners of land. It does not provide machinery by which the owners can secure ordinary common law rights; on the contrary, it provides what may very well turn out to be a heavy burden upon the owners of property who may find themselves confronted with an artificial value placed upon their property from which they do not derive any bene- 108 fit, and upon which they may be called upon to pay very large BUMS. This Measure does not give owners the right to put forward claims for compensation, and it vitally interferes with the rights of property. For all these reasons I do not think that this is a Measure which ought to command any very great enthusiasm or support among the supporters of a National Government. I shall vote for the Second Reading, but I wish the Minister of Health to understand that unless some of the features of the Bill to which I have referred are radically altered during the Committee stage, this is not a Measure which we can support on Third Reading.
§ Mr. GEORGE BALFOUR
I only desire to say a few words in order to put on record in the Journals of this House my very definite opposition to what I regard as a very definite Socialistic Measure. My right hon. Friend, in introducing the Bill, said that it was highly non-contentious, and he traced the history of the matter back to 1921, saying that it was originated with the object of protecting rural amenities. All Members of this House who remember the period 1918–22 will now recognise that the class of legislation which was passed during those Coalition days—passed on advocacy in very much the same phraseology as that used by my right hon. Friend to-night, touching no point of principle—has never been got rid of to this day, and has done much injury to the industry and trade and commerce of this country. My right hon. Friend said that he would be able to satisfy the House as to the urgent national need, but I listened very closely to everything that he said, and the only argument that he placed before the House was that this Measure was called for by a large number of local authorities. We are not in this House to look after local authorities; we are here to see that there is left inviolate the liberty of the subject, that in Measures such as this the rights of individuals and of private property are protected; and not to advance the cause, quite rightly and properly advanced by hon. Gentlemen opposite, of Socialism, which is embedded in this Bill.
My right hon. Friend said that this Bill is not a Bill of compulsion but is permissive. I would answer that statement by referring him to one Clause in the Bill which deals with larger local 109 authorities. In Clause 48 it is specifically laid down that in any place with a population of more than 20,000 the local authorityshall before the first day of January, nineteen hundred and thirty-four, or such later date before the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and thirty-eight, as the Minister may in any case allow, prepare and submit to the Minister a schemeand so on. It is laid down that they shall prepare a scheme. Under the Act of 1925 that was entirely permissive, but in this Measure it is made absolutely compulsory. I touch upon that point to show how mistaken my right hon. Friend is I am quite sure that he would not knowingly deceive the House—in saying that this is in any sense a permissive Bill. In passing I would remark that it is strange that this highly Socialistic Bill should be brought before the House at a time when we are not faced, as far as we know, with the necessity for providing facilities or amenities for a growing population, because, for the first time in the history of this country for the last 20 or 30 years or more, we had to record last year a decline in our population. It is a strange time, when we are endeavouring to solve many economic troubles, at which to press a 60-page Bill like this upon the House of Commons.
I would invite the attention of the House to a point referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor). Imagine a Conservative party—and I speak, naturally, for the party to which I belong, although we are all doing our best to give full support to the National Government for the time being—imagine any Conservative party allowing, by a Bill of this kind, any amount due to an authority from a person whose property is increased in value not only to be a charge on that person's interest in the property, but to take priority over all other charges upon the property. Suppose that a local authority claims that, by laying a sewer or doing something else, they have increased the value of a property from, say, £1,000 to £1,500. Then three-fourths of the additional £500 is payable to the authority, and if, on the original £1,000 worth of property, the owner has a mortgage of £700, three-fourths of the added value of £500 is chargeable on that property in priority to 110 the mortgage. A moment's reflection will indicate that such a proposal is not only utterly ridiculous, but utterly un-British.
It is not the function or the duty of the party to which I belong to support measures which are whole-heartedly supported by hon. Gentlemen opposite in pursuance of their political ideas, though I respect and appreciate the reasons why they put their views before the House in Bills such as this. We did our best to defeat this Measure during the existence of the Socialist Government. If the Government are able to push such a Measure through, naturally the Opposition have to take what they can get; but to say that we, now that we are part of the National Government, should adopt a Socialistic Measure of this kind, is, I think, something which goes very near to betrayal of the Conservative party. I wish to register my whole-hearted disapproval of this Measure.
§ Mr. HICKS
The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour) has stated his opinions in order that they may be recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I would like to do the same, but in the direction of supporting this Measure. I remember very well, when the Measure was brought forward in the last Administration by Mr. Greenwood, the then Labour Minister of Health, the excellent speech made from this side of the House by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in general support of the Measure, and I also remember the many days which the Bill spent in Committee, where the Tory party was very well represented, and where every phase and feature of the Bill was debated and accommodation reached. I think it is very satisfactory that the Government have seen fit to reintroduce the Bill, and, so far as the Members of the Labour party here are concerned, we welcome it very much.
I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Barrow (Sir J. Walker Smith). He and I have discussed this matter on many previous occasions, and we must congratulate him on the vigour which he introduced into the Debate in bringing forward his points of view. He expressed some concern about local authorities getting on with this work, but I am sure he is not unmindful of the fact that the municipal authorities do an enormous amount of building. In 1924–25 111 they were doing practically 75 per cent. of the total building work of Great Britain, and they constitute no unimportant body to be concerned with this particular aspect of the matter. The progress made in town planning since its first introduction into this House, and the number of very public-spirited and competent men who have given it their blessing, have been reflected in the great response that has been made in the country. According to the latest statement that I have, something like 624 authorities had schemes at one stage or another in 1931, and the area covered was well over 7,000,000 acres. That shows that the public spirit of the municipal authorities of Great Britain is particularly interested in town planning.
The economic side of the question was well reflected in the speech of the Minister in introducing the Bill in the last Parliament, when he stated that millions of money had been spent in street widening which had to take place as a consequence of commercial and other developments demanding more space and more room. I am sure that, if the people in the villages of the Middle Ages had been able to look forward as we are able to look back, much more planning would have been carried out than has been the case. Our towns and cities have grown up very higgledy-piggledy and, from the point of view of transport and communication, they are very difficult. Most of our cities are centres of incredible congestion and confusion. They are smoky, dirty, unhealthy, wasteful, noisy and disordered, and they hamper progress. They are becoming increasingly uneconomic. Roads which were built for wheelbarrows and horse-drawn traffic have to accommodate high-powered commercial vehicles. You have only to get into the streets of our cities to find the incredible congestion that confronts you. Building land is too expensive for horizontal development, buildings have to go up in the air, and, instead of one lorry being able to meet the requirements of a business house, there have to be two or three in the street. There is enormous waste of time and energy through high-powered vehicles moving along at a snail's pace. I have said before that I could go through the Strand with a wheelbarrow as fast as anyone else could with a Rolls-Royce, and, while that may be slightly ex- 112 aggerated, it really represents the situation. The curtailment of our power is a very serious thing. If we are to utilise the money that is invested in industry and means of communication to the best advantage, we ought not to be checking and impeding it. We ought to give it opportunity for expansion.
Gifted men like Dr. Raymond Unwin, architects, civil engineers and other experts, have given town planning their very great blessing. They have seen the need of it, and they have engaged in general propaganda and have influenced Governments from time to time to give facilities for expansion and have persuaded municipal authorities of the importance of accepting it as well. In the ranks of the building workers there is a residue of skill waiting to be called upon to transfer the ugliness and muddle into something like decency and order. Our job in this country is not only one of new building and new planning, but it is largely one of demolishing and rebuilding, and, when we have to demolish and rebuild houses of which the lease has run out, or which are no longer suited for our requirements, with land so valuable, we ought to have some voice in saying what type of building should be erected in their place in order to meet our advancing needs.
I am pleased with the way in which the Bill has been introduced, and, if we do not get a chance of congratulating the National Government in any other matter, we have it on this Bill, and I want to seize the opportunity with two hands for fear that I may not be here to address them on a subsequent occasion. The Bill gives us many points of vantage. It provides for facilitating regional planning schemes covering the areas of several local authorities. The Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) said that we wanted to have freedom from officials. I presume that in his area the general housing problem has been fairly well settled for quite a long time and that they are not built up; but there are 3,000,000 people living in overcrowded conditions in the slums in our cities and towns, and we are all very concerned about them. We want to give them an opportunity of fresh air. The Noble Lord does not want the municipal authorities hampering the builders, but the back-to-back 113 houses in much of the slum property that exists were what the builders built first, and the municipal authorities came after them, instead of the municipal authorities being the first and deciding what types of houses should be built. I hope we shall have a chance to decide when we are demolishing slums. According to the report last year under the Rent Restrictions Act, fewer than 12,000 houses have been demolished in slum clearance schemes, and, with the millions who are waiting to be shifted into better environment, we ought to give the Bill our blessing in order to be able to deal with the problem with greater rapidity. We are making it possible for one representative to represent two or three authorities, if desired, in order that the committee may not be too large. I am sure the atrocities we have heard of have been largely due to the fact that we have not had municipal supervision. If we had had it, the atrocities would have been reduced to very small numbers. We give the Bill our general blessing, and we trust that everyone will support it. The Labour party agreed in Committee to many of the recommendations that were brought forward. If the Measure is open to very substantial Amendment by the National Government, the Labour party would not necessarily be bound to the support it gave, because it agreed to compromise on a number of features in order to get something like unanimity. I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading and all the blessing it can, and I am confident that local authorities will learn to respect the House of Commons and will be very grateful to it for the powers that it is giving them.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Mr. Ernest Brown)
I am sure the Minister has no need to be troubled about the tone and temper of the Debate, or much worried about the criticisms that have been put. The tone of the speech of the hon. Member who has just spoken is, of course, reciprocated on this side of the House, but I have missed one thing. In all the discussions on these Measures there has been a perpetual complaint which has been absent to-day on the part of members of Front Benches, Opposition Benches and back benches—I may be responsible for my share of those complaints—at the action of Ministers in producing Bills full of obscure references 114 to other legislation. I had hoped to hear a compliment to the Minister on producing a Bill in which there is the very minimum of legislation by reference. I mention that point because some of the trouble we have had in the Debate arises from a misunderstanding of the Bill and a failure to separate the new proposals from the re-enactments of old proposals which are the major part of the Bill. It does not merely give power. The major part of the Bill is a re-writing in much simpler language of the code which has governed town planning and has grown up since 1909. The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour) seemed to be trying to import a little prejudice into his speech when he talked about the results of a Coalition, and said you now have the use of the word "shall" instead of "may," and that that goes back to the old and bad days. But he is quite wrong. The provision in Clause 43 to which he referred simply re-enacts the obligation imposed in the Local Government Act, 1929, a good Conservative Measure, as applied to the Town Planning Act, 1925, also a good Conservative Measure.
I give that as an illustration not in order to make a gibe at the hon. Member, but to show that the kind of criticism that has been too frequently given arises from a failure to discriminate, when talking about the powers of officials, between what is a re-enactment and a re-writing in simpler form of the old law and what is a new provision. I was very interested, because before coming down to the Debate I noticed that the late Mr. Lyttleton, when he spoke on the original Town Planning Bill, in 1909, made a criticism of that Bill that it was so obscure. He said:In its ingenious concealment of what it intends, and its mysterious reference to archaic matters which are difficult and laborious to find, I must say that I can find no other fit parallel than the works of Mr. Meredith and Mr. Henry James, if I may, with respect to these distinguished authors, compare anything they have written to an Act of Parliament,It is because my right hon. Friend has not followed that precedent that much of the criticisms which we have heard today has been directed to the Bill. I am not going to argue at all whether this is a Socialist Bill or a non-Socialist Bill; I should say that it is an all-party Bill. There is no question that the late 115 Mr. Lyttleton, speaking for the Conservative party in 1909, actually seemed to respond to all these processes. He said that town planning and garden city work is a sphere of work in which, to quote his own words,Private enterprise has been the schoolmi-stress of the public authority.My hon. Friend, in taking that point of view, was rather misreading the history of the last 20 years in this regard. I will deal with one or two of the criticisms which have been made. I was rather surprised at the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Sir J. Walker Smith), who in his able review quoted extensively from the Ministry's report. In using that report so extensively as the basis of his speech he was most unkind to the officials who helped to draft the report. I think he might have been a little more gracious to them and paid them a compliment, seeing that he used their material so extensively as the basis of his speech to-day. Like several other speakers, he talked about new powers and paralysing Acts. All kinds of illustrations have been given, but, as far as I have been able to analyse them with reference to other documents, they fall into two categories. They fall into the complaint about legislation which already exists and which is now being rewritten to the benefit not only of the State and local authorities but of all concerned in town planning and all property owners concerned in town planning measures by local authorities; and criticisms of the Departments. The main criticism is about expense. There I challenge the statement which the hon. Member made. He gave a figure of £40,000,000. All I say about that is that he is the architect of his own calculations and the builder of his own hypotheses. It is a fantastic sum to anybody who has done any real work with regard to town planning, and he ought not to have given any credence for a moment to such a fantastic sum. This, as the Minister said, is indeed a measure of economy. [Interruption.] My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Leicester (Captain Waterhouse) doubts that fact. Let me quote from the late Mr. Lyttleton again, nearly 20 years ago. He said, speaking on the original Bill: 116It is a lamentable fact that millions of pounds have been expended in this country in acquiring and pulling down expensive property which has been erected haphazard, and which those responsible for the development of towns have had to remove to enable that development to take place."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April, 1909; cols. 743–4, Vol. 3.]Those are not the words of any wild, rabid Socialist, hut of a respected Conservative leader a quarter of a century ago, and they are truer to-day than they were when uttered in. 1909. The hon. Member for Bradford Central (Mr. Eady) whose maiden speech we so much admired because he brought practical knowledge to bear upon it, referred to the question of built-up land. It is because local authorities have not had power to deal with those built-up areas that they have found slum clearance and the better planning of the down grade side of their cities such a costly tiling for them and for the community—not merely costly in terms of money, many millions of money —but in terms of health, happiness, and the general well being of the community.
That one indication alone should be sufficient to convince my friends who have been talking so casually to-day about the expense of this Measure, that the great local authorities in this land are not only taking their part in planning schemes but are doing more than that, namely, asking for their own local Acts. Surely the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness when he tells the House that the powers which local authorities have under their own Acts are good powers, well chosen and well used will realise that a Bill which will obviate the necessity for every local authority to promote its own private Bill if it so desires through the expensive processes of our Parliamentary system, will surely be a real Measure of economy. It will be for every progressive authority a vital measure of economy because at the moment there are 18 public authorities, including the Surrey County Council, who have applied for their own Acts in order to do what the powers under this Bill, the Minister's powers, old and new, and the powers given to local authorities, small and great, are designed to do.
We appreciate the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) in this matter. I had not the good fortune to be on the Committee last year in the Standing Committee, but I shall look forward to seeing him 117 here this year, because I know the interest he takes in the matter. He may be assured that the points which he and his friends made will be considered. I am sorry that the Noble Lord could not stay. We were glad to hear his voice. The hon. Member for Aylesbury had rather an inherent distrust of local authorities, and while we respect that view, I canot think that it is widely shared throughout the House, or indeed in the country as a whole. There are private vandals and there are public vandals. We do not stand at this Box to idolise local autihorities. I remember that a very wise Member of this House once said that he only once met a perfect man in his life, and he was a perfect fool. There is no such thing as a perfect local authority, and there is no such thing as perfect private enterprise.
My hon. Friends arc pressing it very hard when they talk about rural district councils as if it was dangerous to give them powers. Even on that point surely hon. Members should welcome the Bill. I gather that the hon. Member opposite would not be so averse from seeing the county councils get the powers as he is to rural councils, and therefore he should welcome the Bill. The very structure of the Bill is designed to assist county councils to come into schemes so that areas covered may be wider areas than are possible in small rural district councils. That, in turn, answers the plea about the expense of officials. There will be no increase of staff at the Ministry for this matter. As to the wider areas, every progressive authority in the land is already equipped with its staff, and it is their duty, if they value the life of the growing community to see that life is planned not haphazard but with a view to giving room to work, room to play and room to live for the maximum wellbeing of the community.
§ Mr. M. W. BEAUMONT
Does the hon. Member suggest that the bulk of the authorities will be able to carry out the provisions of the Bill without any increase of staff?
§ Mr. BROWN
Certainly. That is why I say the hon. Member should welcome the Bill. The criticisms about the new powers are mainly, so far as I have been able to analyse them while I have been sitting here, directed against powers that have existed under previous Acts— 118 under the Act of 1909 and under the Consolidating Act of 1925, the Act of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. The criticisms have been mostly of powers which have been in existence for years and which even the hon. Member who removed the rejection of the Bill says that the local authorities use, when they do use them, not unwisely.
The hon. Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) put various points, but I would point out to him that he was not quite accurate. He said that the tribunal which was to be set up under the original Bill had now disappeared and that the property owner concerned could only appeal to the Minister. That is not so. It is true that in the original Bill there was a proposition for a tribunal. That tribunal was the official arbitrator, who now exists and who does the arbitration under the existing Acts, and two other persons, but it disappeared because of opposition in the. Committee. The appeal is not to the Minister but to the official arbitrator, I believe that, on consideration, the hon. Member, if he will consult his friends, will agree that the official arbitrator is much more likely to do justice, inexpensively, than the process which the hon. Member seemed to desire to recommend.
I do not know that I need deal with any other points. All the points that have been made in the Debate will be carefully noted by the Minister in Committee. We do not regard the Committee stage of last year as the conclusion of Debate on this matter. This is a new House and it must decide for itself. Because it is a new House there will be a new Committee, and every Member of the Committee will bring his or her particular knowledge to bear. I recommend the Bill to the House not as a Socialist Bill, or as a Conservative Bill, or as a Liberal Bill, or as a Coalition Bill, but as a Bill badly wanted, to do. three things, (1) to make the law coherent and simple; (2) to widen the area of orderly development and (3) to prevent the desecration of the countryside not only by local authorities but by many private individuals. I have good personal reason for knowing something about this matter. It was my good fortune to be born in Torquay, one of the beauty spots of the world. There was a no man's land between Torquay and Paignton, called Preston, and private enterprise dumped 119 the gas works on the sea-shore between those two places. That is a perpetual reminder to me of the need for oversight in the management and control of the beauty spots of our land. L hope that the House, after reading the Debate and facing the Committee discussions, will come to the decision that this is a Measure of reform and a Measure of true economy. For these reasons, I commend it to the House.
§ Sir JOSEPH NALL
I would not have intervened in the Debate but for one or two observations which were made by the Minister of Health. With the objects which are sought to be achieved by the Bill, as outlined by the Parliamentary Secretary, no one will disagree, but it is the method of carrying them out to which many of us object. The Minister of Health referred to ribbon development. Wherever one goes one sees the evil of ribbon development that is being perpetrated by the very authorities to whom powers are being given in the Bill. Mile after mile of the new highways are ruined by the ribbon building which is going on as a result of housing schemes. If it was proposed to deal with a matter of that kind quite arbitrarily and to say that no property shall have direct access to an arterial road, but that the excess must be from a side or a secondary road, that would be a, matter of principle which would support, but the evil of ribbon development which one sees gives access to countless new houses to arterial roads and that is being done by the very authorities who, according to this Bill, are to be asked to check that kind of thing.
I do not share the confidence which the Minister expressed in local authorities on matters of this kind. I have never served on a local authority, I often wish I had, but when I was in the House some years ago I served for three years as chairman of one of the Committees upstairs dealing with Bills from local authorities. What I had not seen as a member of an authority I saw in a different light in the very lengthy arguments which took place as to whether various authorities should have more power or whether they were fit to use them. I came to the conclusion, after those three years of listening to learned counsel and witnesses upstairs, that the average local authority cannot be trusted to carry out Measures of this kind. Some 120 of them can, but others cannot. They are not all bad and they are not all good. What has impressed itself upon my mind is that Bills of this kind which require local authorities, either on their own account or in conjunction with other authorities, to devote their time to vast schemes of development in the open country, tempts the members of local authorities to devote time to construction on a large scale outside, and in so doing they neglect more important and more urgent matters of administration in their own home centre. In no case is that more obvious than in some of the big county boroughs and cities. The attention and energies of the local authorities are devoted to far-flung schemes of town planning, miles away in the countryside, often outside their boundary, and they are tempted to forget the domestic matters of overcrowding in the old centres of their boroughs. Bills of this kind encourage that kind of thing.
What is the result? Look at half-a-dozen of our big county boroughs or our big cities, and what do we find? They are engaged on vast schemes of housing and planning the development of territory which a few years ago was not in their borough. You can see as you go round the outskirts of these cities some wildly extravagant schemes, which do not in the least achieve the object of housing the poor people, for which they are intended, and when you come back into the centres of the cities you find that while some of them have effected vast clearances of old property they are so involved and engrossed in developments in their new areas beyond the old borders that they pay no attention to rebuilding on the sites which have been cleared. You often find that a site which has been cleared is an eyesore and a source of disease and trouble to the remaining inhabitants. That has been done in the city of Manchester, which I represent. Local authorities have a vast field of activity. In my view the lesser authorities, the urban district councils anti small non-county borough council, are least fitted to participate in these widespread activities and developments. They require to be done within proper limits and subject to proper safeguards, and they should be done by county councils not by the smaller authorities. The work would be done far better and more effectively, and without any local prejudices.
121 At no very distant date we shall have to amend our general outlook on the matter of local government. Local government to-day imposes a tremendous burden of expenditure on industry. The increase in municipal expenditure compared with pre-war years is entirely out of proportion to any improvement in the services which are rendered, and this measure and measures of this kind are not in the long run good for the country at large. The greater part, or, at any rate, the more essential parts, aimed at could be achieved in simpler form by allowing the smaller authorities aid borough councils to look after their own job and not be drawn into measures of this kind. The Parliamentary Secretary has referred to the fact that there was some argument on the Bill last year as to whether the Minister or the tribunal should function in certain cases. There are a number of cases in the Bill in which if the Minister is not the final arbiter he is left with considerable discretionary powers. That is thoroughly bad. The more it goes on, the more widespread it becomes in Bills of this kind, the more impossible it is for the Secretary of State or the Minister to have any personal hold over decisions. Although the name of the Minister appears in measures of this kind the decision, in fact, to a great and increasing extent must rest with the Departmental officials who, however able they may be in their proper sphere, are not usually possessed of that judicial capacity which is necessary to adjudicate upon a dispute between one authority and another or between rival owners and rival authorities.
There has been too much effort to divert the processes of the law away from the courts, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman in Committee will relieve his Department of the burden of making decisions and will not resent suggestions which will be made for relieving his Department of the wide scope and liberty of action which it is sought to give in this Measure. Ministers come and go. Ministers change, and the policy of the Department changes with the change in Ministers. It is wrong that matters which have to be adjudicated upon from time to time should be liable to change with a change in the head of the Department. When the Bill goes upstairs I hope that, 122 necessary as some parts of it may be, the Minister will meet the views which will be expressed on the more arbitrary aspects of it, particularly those parts which lend themselves to extravagance, for which there is no immediate need, and those parts which require payment for betterment in the event of that betterment accruing to an owner. In spite of what the Parliamentary Secretary said that "this is the 1925 Act over again, why grumble at it; it was a Tory Measure'; that is what is the matter with it. Our party was as bad as most other parties in passing Socialist Measures. There are many new Members in this House, and a good deal that has been done in the past we may now take the opportunity of undoing.
§ Question, "That the word now 'stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second Time, and committed to a Standing Committee.