§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Hore-Belisha)
I beg to move, "that the Bill be now read a Second time."
The situation with which this Measure is intended to deal is that created by indiscriminate building alongside the roads. Its widespread expansion proceeds simultaneously with and probably because of the increased availability and cheapness of various kinds of transport and the growing need and pleasure which are satisfied by their use. Objection to this indiscriminate building is being taken more and more insistently on the ground that it is often an impairment of natural beauty, and it is urged that highway authorities should extend their vision beyond the creation and maintenance of the mere traffic convenience for which they are responsible, and safeguard the environment through which their communications pass. Such a plea would derive historic force from the recollection that the Industrial Revolution, which added to the productive power of man and improved his means of locomotion but begrimed its gifts with soot and slums. Let us, it is argued, regard the possibilities of the internal combustion engine in a spirit less exclusively utilitarian than that which accompanied the first discoveries of steam as a motive power, and, while enjoying to the full its advantages, circumvent its harmful effects on the countryside.
For many years past highway authorities have had power to purchase land compulsorily for the purposes of the construction or improvement of roads or of controlling the development of frontages upon them. They have not, as a whole, however, ever possessed such a power for preserving the amenities of the locality in which the road is situated. It is a strange omission, because if these authorities can be trusted, and, indeed have a duty cast upon them by Parliament, to equip their areas with thoroughfares and to acquire land compulsorily for the purpose, it would be paradoxical to contend 958 that they are not competent to secure the setting in which these thoroughfares lie. When Parliament has been approached, as it has been, by individual counties, Middlesex, Surrey and Essex, to repair this omission, it has readily consented. One has only to travel along the Guildford-Godalming by-pass, for instance, and enjoy the vista, permanently protected, to appreciate the forethought of the county and the wisdom of Parliament. No wanton building can ever destroy that beauty. We now propose, in Clause 10 of this Bill, to extend to all highway authorities what is at present confined to those to whom I have referred. The House will observe that the first part of Clause 10 reads accordingly:Any highway authority may acquire any land within two hundred and twenty yards from the middle of any road the acquisition of which is, in their opinion, necessary for the purposes of the construction or improvement of the road or of preserving the amenities of the locality in which it is situated or of controlling the development of frontages.The width of 220 yards is the maximum width which can be acquired by compulsory purchase, although a further extent may be obtained by agreement. The powers will not necessarily be used to the full permitted width, but will usually be utilised in respect of some limited area of particular local interest which is threatened. The restrain upon a general use of this Clause is the element of cost, for land thus obtained is, in accordance with the usual procedure, to be paid for at its full market value, the only set-off being the extent to which the remaining contiguous lands belonging to the same owner may be benefited, and in particular the increase in value which will accrue to him by the setting back of his frontage on to a widened road. That is proviso (b). But the compulsory power can only be exercised with the consent of the Minister, who must hear any aggrieved party, and for the purposes mentioned, notably "preserving the amenities of the locality."
I understand that while objection would not be seriously taken to the compulsory acquisition of land for preserving amenities which may be threatened from destruction, for that is an object which must be universally acceptable, there is a fear that some highway authorities, far from preserving amenities, might acquire amenities which a landlord himself had preserved and intended to preserve and 959 then destroy them by some unsightly development of its own. Against such a contingency, for I am desirous of meeting all my hon. Friends who approach this Measure in a constructive spirit, I am willing to insert, if it be suggested, any reasonable safeguard that can be devised. I put it on record that it is not the Government's desire that powers should be conferred in a form which would enable them to be abused, and I am examining closely certain Amendments which will make this plain. There is no power, I would point out, vested in the highway authority to speculate with the land acquired under this Clause, for no sale can take place without the consent of the Minister of Health. As I have said, this Amenity Purchase Clause is only likely to be used exceptionally.
There is another Clause, Clause 2, which treats of the same subject—amenity—in a more generally applicable way. Clause 2 preserves a width extending to 220 feet from the middle of any classified road or of any other road in respect of which the highway authority passes a resolution approved by the Minister of Transport. In order that development may be controlled within this width the consent of the highway authority is to be required for the erection of any building or the laying out of any means of access to or from the road. Consent is not to be unreasonably withheld, or made subject to unreasonable conditions, and there is an appeal to the Minister. These restrictions do not apply to any existing buildings or means of access, but only to those which it is proposed to construct in the future.
Exceptional treatment is accorded to agriculture. As the House will observe from Sub-section (4), buildings to be used exclusively or mainly for the purposes of agriculture are not subject to the restrictions, and as it will observe from Clause 3, Sub-section (1), fences or gates may be erected or removed; and under Clause 6, Sub-section (1), consent to access for the purpose of agriculture is not to be withheld. Clause 2 is based on provisions which have been found useful in Surrey, Essex and Middlesex for planning in an agreeable manner the land bordering upon the road. Under the aegis of these provisions mutually advantageous arrangements have been 960 made between the highway authorities and the landlords for laying out service and subsidiary roads. The counties in question have, perhaps, better resources than some others for dealing with their roads in this way. If other counties have not sought similar powers that is to some degree explicable, I understand, because of the incidence of the compensation, which falls to be paid in full from the moment the restrictions are imposed.
It is this financial inconvenience—the catastrophic liability to compensation—which also, I understand, explains the delay of some authorities in adopting the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Acts. To overcome this obstacle in the way of enlightened action we have inserted a novel but eminently fair provision. While the basis of compensation is the usual one of a sum equal to the difference between the market value of the estate or interest when the land is subject to restrictions and what would have been the market value of that estate or interest if the land had not been so subject—there is the usual set-off for betterment—the time at which compensation can be claimed under this Bill is when the claimant feels the hurt of the restrictions. That is, at the time when he proposes to develop the land. Plainly, the fact that restrictions may be put upon the development of land does not inconvenience the owner in any way. The inconvenience only occurs at the moment when restrictions hinder him from doing what he wants to do. It is at that moment, under Clause 8 of the Bill, that he is entitled to compensation. Thus is the burden falling upon the highway authorities spread over a long period and, compared with the old system, becomes easier for them to bear.
How, in view of such an arrangement, proposed for the first time and absent from the Planning Bill which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) introduced, it can be asserted; as it is in his Amendment, that the Bill should be rejected on the ground that it places an intolerable burden on the local rates in the payment of excessive compensation to private landlords is, failing lucidation, difficult to understand. The proposal here is to ease the immediate burden on the rates and to pay compensation to private landlords for injurious affection as recommended 961 by the right hon. Gentleman in the last Bill which he introduced in this House though at stages more deferred.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
Certainly, it was accepted by this Government. It was agreed that the compensation proposals were fair. The only difference between the right hon. Gentleman's proposals and the financial proposals now is that we defer compensation, and thus lighten the burden on the authorities. The Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman complains that we increase it.
There are other inconveniences besides the spoiling of amenity attaching to indiscriminate building alongside the roads. These are particularly apparent when the building marches out lineally from the towns into the country, enclosing the highway as it were between two regiments of shops and houses. There is then direct access on to the highway at innumerable points, and a service of tradesmen's and other vehicles, often remaining stationary, diminishes the usefulness of the road as a through passage. Movement is congested, delays are unnecessarily caused with economic loss involving the whole community.
Were the evil to end there, it would be bad enough, but there is a literally fatal consequence, revealed in the records of road accidents. Two out of every three of the deaths on the roads occur in these built-up areas, and four out of every five pedestrians killed meet their deaths within them. Of the children killed on the roads, more than eight out of 10 are killed in built-up areas largely because the roadway is immediately contiguous to their front doors, and they have nowhere else to run out and play. This kind of ribbon development, stretched taut along so many roads, becomes more difficult to lessen as it extends. Habitations, interests and customs establish themselves and can only be pressed back or removed, if at all, at great expense, and then only after considerable resistance.
The Government have recently invited highway authorities to consider the question and to think five years ahead in the matter of their communications. Clause 1 962 of the Bill encourages them to survey every road in their respective areas and, as the Clause reads,with a view to providing for adequate and safe passage for traffic,to fix, by resolution to be approved by the Minister, an appropriate standard width. The intention is that the road should eventually be widened to this standard width, and accordingly it shall not be lawful to lay out any means of access or make any building or permanent excavation or works within it without the consent of the highway authority. Control of access is an indispensable preliminary to the control of ribbon development. If that were disputed and it were claimed that any one could come out on to the highway where he wished, you would remain exactly in the situation where you now are, and which has called for this Bill.
The restrictions under Clause 1 do not merely cover access and buildings as in Clause 2, but also any permanent excavation or work within the standard width. This is necessary because as the road is eventually to be widened to the limits of that width, any building, permanent excavation or works which might be made would have subsequently to be removed. For the same reason there is no exemption here in favour of the erection of agricultural buildings within the standard width, although agricultural access is not to be withheld. Existing structures and means of access are, of course, protected as in Clause 2. The Bill only provides for the future. The measurements of the standard widths are set out in the first schedule, each one appropriate to the needs of a particular class of road and the largest, 160 feet, being sufficient to allow for the construction of dual carriageways, bicycle tracks, footpaths and service roads. This is the ideal now being recommended by the Ministry of Transport to highway authorities for their arterial roads. The compensation provisions for refusal of consent to access or building are the same as those I described relating to the amenity line in Clause 2. Where the highway authority fails to adopt a standard width, the Minister, after holding a local inquiry, may act in default.
Clause 14 authorises contributions from the Road Fund to be made towards the expenditure incurred in connection with 963 Clause 1, with a view to providing adequate and safe passage for traffic. Where access is restricted on a road to which both Clause 1 and Clause 2 apply, the compensation is payable under Clause 1. Consequently, the Minister will be empowered to make a contribution from the Road Fund. Restrictions imposed on access will often help to protect amenites. We are dealing here with provisions intended to secure the freer flow of traffic on the roads, in circumstances of greater safety. There are two other Clauses in this connection to which I would direct the attention of the House. Under Clause 11, local authorities are empowered to provide and maintain buildings for use as parking places and underground parking places. This should help to remedy the serious lack of accommodation for vehicles off the roads in the larger towns and cities. The value of this and the next Clause will be assessed when I inform the House that a figure worked out in my Department shows that the capital value of the land surface occupied by a single stationary motor coach in a busy street in London is £40,000. For the parking on the roadside of a private car of average size the capital value of the land put out of public use is half that figure, £20,000.
Clause 12 provides that whenever plans for the erection or alteration of a building are submitted to a local authority,the local authority may, as a condition of their approval, require the provision and maintenance of such means of entrance and egress, and of such accommodation for the loading or unloading of vehicles, or picking up and setting down of passengers, or the fuelling of vehicles, as may be specified by the local authority for the purpose of preventing or limiting interference with traffic along the road.The classes of buildings affected are set out in Sub-section (8) of the Clause. It will be within the observation of hon. Members, especially in London, that houses are being replaced by large structures, whether they be flats, theatres, cinemas, or shops, many of which are now attracting to their doors and keeping stationary on the streets, provided at the public expense, vehicles required to be in attendance on the inhabitants, audiences or the customers, and to collect or deliver goods. This Clause is a precaution in the common interest to preserve the streets for their intended purpose and to place an obligation on those 964 who draw vehicles to their premises to provide for them on their own ground. Here is a practical and certainly not an unreasonable contribution towards the public convenience.
This then is a Bill which prevents indiscriminate building alongside the road in what would seem to be the most effective manner possible under our highway system. It provides for the mobility and security of traffic by the fixing of standard widths suitable for the requirements of any particular road—standard widths to which it is announced beforehand the road is eventually to be widened. Within those widths neither building nor means of access may be made without consent. It makes provision for the fixing of amenity widths in which development can be controlled, and these widths, while applicable to any road, are imposed automatically from the passing of this Bill on all the classified roads. It also gives an extended power to highway authorities to purchase compulsorily and preserve beauty spots or park ways within 220 yards of a road, and to a greater depth by agreement. Experience has shown that it takes time to formulate planning schemes under the Planning Acts, and meanwhile ribbon development has gone on. That is the explanation of these additional powers which we give to highway authorities in the hope that they will have recourse to immediate action. But with a view to securing a consistent policy arrangements are made in Clause 6, Sub-section (2) in these terms:With a view to securing that the exercise of their powers … shall be co-ordinated with the exercise by planning authorities of their powers … the highway authority shall from time to time consult with any planning authorities concerned; and in making a decision … the highway authority shall whether the land affected is or is not subject to a planning scheme, have regard to the need for preserving the amenities of the locality and for securing well planned development.And yet His Majesty's Opposition, in addition to the criticism to which I have already referred, ask for the rejection of the Measure because they say it will fail to deal with the evil of ribbon development through lack of adequate provisions for planning and development. The Bill contains powers more complete and thorough-going to attack this matter than any at present embodied in the Statute Book. If these powers fail, and I firmly 965 trust that civic and local pride will not permit them to fail, it will be evidence that remedies rest not alone on Acts of Parliament, but on the spirit, vigour and ability of those elected representatives who are called upon to operate them. When the Bill was in another place colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman opposite attached such importance to it and to its speediest possible passage into law that they abstained from moving Amendments. I trust that the appearance of this Amendment upon the Paper is not a last minute repentance of so helpful an attitude, and I prefer to believe that we are to hear from the right hon. Gentleman some constructive suggestions for improving the Measure. If so, and they are practicable, I shall be glad to hear them, for it is our object to empower highway authorities to arrest in the most effective way, and without delay, the spreading of this creeping paralysis along our roads. The need is urgent, and this Measure so regards it.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House cannot assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which will fail to deal with the evil of ribbon building through lack of adequate provisions for planning and development and the inclusion of provisions which cannot be operated without throwing an intolerable burden upon the local rates in the payment of excessive compensation to private landlords.I think that the House will wish the right hon. Gentleman well in all his efforts with regard to road safety. I want to say that first of all, because I shall have some other things to say a little later. The right hon. Gentleman has shown very conspicuous energy, and a sense of publicity values which the Prime Minister said a certain late Minister did not possess in putting forward his policy, but this afternoon I think he has gone a little beyond his book. The right hon. Gentleman is trying to give the public the idea that he is doing a big thing on a big scale. Indeed, I think I remember a leading article in the "Times," headed "A big Bill." The Government have received a good many bouquets over the Bill. The truth is, of course, that the Bill is a hoax and that in fact the right hon. Gentleman, perhaps, not for the first time, is really trying to hoodwink the 966 public. The Bill is a colossal bluff, and I will try and prove it before I have finished. It is based upon the old principle of "passing the buck." Ribbon development is to be destroyed at the expense, not of a generous Government, but of the local authority. In other words, he is trying to put upon the backs of local authorities a responsibility which ought to be a national responsibility, and he invites local authorities, many of them hard pressed, most of them with very limited resources, some of them not too enlightened in their outlook, to take on new responsibilities. I think there is no doubt that, as even that most respectable organ the "Times" admits,the Bill undoubtedly throws the onus of checking ribbon development upon local authorities.That seems to be clear enough. This is a case of legislation by reference, not by reference to other Acts of Parliament—indeed, the right hon. Gentleman appears not to have read the Town and Country Planning Act, but legislation by reference to local authorities. It is the old Civil Service wheeze "passed to you for action." Any document that is troublesome can always be farmed out to somebody else, and this problem, being troublesome and expensive, is passed to the local authorities for action. This Bill, feeble as it is, has met with a certain opposition from landed interests. I am not going to complain about landed interests because there are a number of very large landowners in this country desirous of preserving the amenities of their estates who have co-operated very whole-heartedly with some of the larger county authorities in this country, but I want to warn the Minister of Transport—he is rather new to this problem—that some of his hon. Friends behind him, and I can see one immediately behind him now, will find all kinds of reasons why this Bill should not be passed primarily, I think, in the interests of what I would call the more short-sighted of the large landowners in this country.
My fundamental objection to the right hon. Gentleman appearing at that Box dealing with this problem is that the problem of ribbon development is not a transport problem at all. It is a sociological and aesthetic problem. I remember hearing a story of an American judge who had before him a negro 967 arrested for stealing hens and chickens, and he addressed him in these words, after giving the sentence: "You are a man of good education, instead of which you go about robbing hen roosts." Well here is the Minister of Transport, instead of which he is trying to do the Minister of Health's job for him—poking his nose into other people's business. I should have thought that he had quite sufficient responsibility on his shoulders without encroaching on the preserve of an entirely different department. Intrinsically this Bill is not a Ministry of Transport Bill. I should imagine that about one-tenth of it is Ministry of Transport and nine-tenths of it is dealing with national planning. Well or ill, this is what he is doing; he is dealing with national planning. In spite of his opening phrases about the preservation of natural beauty and so on, it is not his job as Minister of Transport to preserve national beauty, "like the man who robbed hen roosts," instead of which he goes about defiling the country with his pylons for conveying electricity and destroying some of the finest natural beauties of our land by permitting great arterial roads where they ought never to have been. The case against ribbon development is a very strong one, but it is not a Transport case primarily.
The Bill does not prevent ribbon development; all that it does is to push the ribbon further back from the roads. The "Observer," a few Sundays ago, described the ribbon developer as "Public Enemy No. 1." That is because be is acting anti-socially in placing financial burdens upon local authorities, as I will explain later, and in increasing the uglification of our great highways. We are against ribbon development because we are against uglification—we are against the bungaloid and other fungoid growths which are now stretching out from every big town into the quiet countryside—and because that kind of development is a misuse of our national resources. Our first argument against ribbon development is that we ought to have organised definite planning rather than a haphazard and straggling growth of our towns out into the countryside. Our second argument against it is that the building of long strings of houses in single rows increases the cost of the social provision which has to be made for the citizens. It 968 is much cheaper to provide water, gas, electricity and sewerage for grouped colonies of houses than for the long ribbon, and the ribbon is, therefore, a social waste. That is an argument against ribbon development with which the right hon. Gentleman is not familiar. We are against it because it is destructive of our national amenities, and we are against it because ribbon development is a most glorious opportunity for the landowning profiteer. The rapid conversion of agricultural land into urban land puts hundreds of thousands—indeed, millions—of pounds into the pockets of the people who cream off a value not created by them, but created by the travelling public.
Lastly, ribbon development is objectionable because of the problem of road traffic. The right hon. Gentleman gains his end by widening the distance between the two ribbons, but he does nothing to remove the ribbon. If hon. Members will look at the headings of the Clauses of the Bill, they will discover that the greater part of the Clauses are not the right hon. Gentleman's business at all. The Minister who ought to have stood at that Box this afternoon is the new Minister of Health, who, I hope, will intervene in this Debate, for we shall be glad to hear his voice on behalf of his own Department. I think that Members in all quarters of the House will feel that we ought to make a protest against the Minister of Transport arrogating to himself functions which are not his. Let him continue his work with his orange groves and his activities for a brighter London, about which I do not complain. Let him do what he can to minimise the danger of road traffic. But planning, no. That function is not his, and I should doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman could honestly say, seeing who sits next to him, that he is acting within his real powers. As a matter of fact, there is a serious demarcation dispute, and I am not sure that the Minister of Transport is not a blackleg. The primary purpose of the Minister, quite rightly, is that of traffic control. Secondly, his purpose is—and I am not so enthusiastic about this—the facilitation of speeding on the King's highway. That is what he is there for. He wants to make life swifter and safer for motorists; and incidentally, and quite rightly, he wants to make road travelling safer than it has been hitherto. In this 969 he will receive the support of a large number of Members of the House of Commons. But the Bill has been conceived from the highway point of view, and not in the least from the broad social point of view from which the problem ought to be attacked. It is really an affront to the House that the right hon. Gentleman should have left his orange groves for this new problem of national planning.
Now as to the attitude of the Government towards the Bill. It is some seven months since there was a lukewarm reference to a Bill of this character in the King's Speech where it was hinted that there might be a Measure of this kind. There was very considerable delay in the introduction of the Bill. That delay could have been due to one of two reasons—either the Government themselves were not enthusiastic about the Bill, and had been pushed by someone or other into making this rather obscure reference to it in the King's Speech, or, when they indicated their desire in the King's Speech for a Bill, they had not considered the question, and have had to waste a good deal of time subsequently in negotiations which ought to have been completed before the announcement in the King's Speech of the possibility of action on these lines. The delay in the introduction of the Bill has been of real profit to the land developers. Mr. Lionel Curtis, who has been very active in this matter, being a prominent member of the Oxford Preservation Trust, which, with other bodies, has been doing its best to promote a Bill against ribbon development, said in the Sunday "Observer" a few weeks ago:Ribbon 'development' has never proceeded so recklessly as in the past year. We foresaw that when we started the agitation, and we faced it as inevitable. But the Government's failure to produce their Bill until months after they announced their intention of legislating has had most serious results. To us the question has been, and still is, how many miles of English road can be saved before the law intervenes to stop the ruinous progress of the ribbon 'developer'?The "Observer" remarks editorially:We must take it that Ministers are quite resolved to get the Ribbon Bill through this Session. A contrary result would be almost as disastrous to their own reputation as to the public interest. To see the feverish defilement of the highway continued into another year would be simply intolerable. It is bad enough to know that 970 the process is going on at this moment, when it could have been stopped by a Standstill Act six months ago.If the Government had meant business on this question at the beginning of the Session, they could have passed a standstill measure straight away. Instead of that, there has been this delay of months in the introduction of the Bill. We have put down an Amendment explaining our views against the Bill, and we have no apology whatever to offer for doing so. The responsibility for the delay lies upon the Government, who certainly were very lukewarm in their interest in this matter when the Bill was introduced, and it is a measure of the value which they attach to the Bill that it has been introduced in the House of Lords. It is very rarely that a Bill of the importance which the right hon. Gentleman attaches to this Bill, and which the "Times" and certain other papers attach to it, is introduced in the House of Lords. The attitude of the Government towards the Bill is a wrong attitude. They are attacking the problem from the wrong angle. They should have attacked it from the angle of planning.
Our Amendment complains of the casting of new burdens upon local authorities. The Minister may give grants under Clause 1 for road widening—which, I must repeat, will not prevent ribbon development—but not under Clause 2. If the right hon. Gentleman is so keen about the preservation of the natural beauties to which he referred in almost trembling tones at the beginning of his speech—I thought he was going to dissolve into tears—if he is as enthusiastic about these natural beauties as he is about his roads, he might have done something to help the local authorities to preserve their natural amenities. There are, however, to be no grants for the preservation of amenities. It may be that the Road Fund is not a proper fund from which compensation or assistance to local authorities should come, but it might have been done in other ways. Seeing that the right hon. Gentleman has more or less taken over the functions of the Minister of Health, perhaps he might also have taken over those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then he could have co-ordinated the whole business, getting the money from the Exchequer and handing it to the Minister 971 of Health for the preservation of amenities. The "Local Government Review," a newspaper speaking outside the controversial atmosphere of this House, made the following comment in a recent issue, namely, that of the 25th May:We are thus headed on to this probable result, that in the agricultural and poorer counties where amenities still exist and protection is most needed, the county councils, however willing to help, may be unable to fact the heavy compensation required for the purpose of purchasing or controlling the belt of land on each side of a road which would be needed for the purpose of preserving the amenities of their roads and protecting the roads from ribbon development.I think that that is a perfectly fair and reasonable statement. Three county councils in this country—those of Middlesex, Surrey and Essex—have powers to deal with this question, but it is worth noting that those county councils are not poor county councils. Surrey and Middlesex are among the richest county councils in the country. There has been no promotion of private Bills from the county of Durham, or from some of our poorer counties like Rutland and so on, whose rateable value is not very large, simply because they have not the resources to do this kind of thing and to pay compensation on a considerable scale. I should have liked the Minister of Transport to tell us, if he knows, to what extent these private Acts and what is called the Middlesex Clause have been used by these three counties. The right hon. Gentleman quoted a road in Surrey, and I am very glad the Surrey County Council had the courage and the resources to protect the amenities, but I should like to know how far the existing powers have been used. They certainly have not been used to the full, because the resources of county authorities are very restricted, and the whole purpose of Clause 2 will be destroyed because of the slender resources of many large local authorities. The great roads of our land are to-day national roads. We do not call them national roads, though they are, and they ought to be a national responsibility. They are used very largely for through traffic. The greater part of local traffic is not to be found on the big highways. The result of the policy set out in the Bill will be that a rich county may widen its roads and the next county will be a bottle-neck which will destroy the 972 whole traffic value of the roads in the adjoining county. The result will be that the right hon. Gentleman is not going to reap 50 per cent. of the value from the expenditure in widening roads. These roads, therefore, ought to be a national responsibility.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to his novel provision about compensation. Our fear is that compensation to the landlords is going to be too generous. The right hon. Gentleman even claims that he is making it cheaper for the local authorities by putting off the evil day when they have got to pay. That is quite in consonance with the Government's financial policy in regard to the American debt. Personally, I am a very unwilling payer of my debts. Most of us are unwilling payers. But it is not a safe guide for Government policy. This is what the right hon. Gentleman's proposal amounts to. He says, "If a local authority likes to buy your land now, it will have to pay for it, but we will arrange that the local authority shall not pay for it now; we will wait until its value has gone up ten-fold." If you buy agricultural land when it is agricultural, the burden is immediate, but it is not fantastically high. If, however, you begin to pay your compensation when the land is going to be developed, and at its maximum value to the landlord, you are not relieving local authorities, but piling burdens on them 10 times as great as the burden which would have been imposed upon them if they had the resources to buy the land before it became ripe for development.
The right hon. Gentleman referred, in rather vague terms, to the Town and Country Planning Act which was passed by this Government in a rather modified form, but for which I had some responsibility. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to read a circular which was issued by the Ministry of Health on the Town and Country Planning Act, dated 4th March, 1933. I think if he read that circular, and if he read the Act, he would find that he has not done very much more than is already contained in that Act of Parliament. He said, towards the end of his speech, that it takes time to operate the schemes under the Town and Country Planning Act, but he said dramatically, "Ribbon development goes on all the time, and therefore we have had to have these new powers." What new powers? Powers for local authorities to do what 973 they could do now, and without any kind of financial stimulus to persuade then to do that kind of work. I am quite satisfied that ribbon development—and remember that is the title of this Bill, and that is the question we are discussing to-day—can be dealt with as effectively, and, indeed, more effectively under the Town and Country Planning Act, without involving local authorities in additional compensation to landlords, than is the case in the Bill now before the House. I will quote from what seems to me to be an extremely well-balanced article on this Bill—again in the "Local Government Review":Our general conclusion then would be, that the Town and Country Planning Act contains ample powers for the control or mitigation of ribbon development, and that what is needed is fuller knowledge of its powers, a more vigorous administration of the same, and possibly also some help from the Road Fund, particularly in the case of planning authorities whose area consists mainly of derated agricultural land.In other words, they say that the powers are there, if there were drive enough behind to get the powers exercised. It goes on to say:As regards the present Bill, Clause 1, prescribing standard widths, cannot in itself control ribbon developmenet, even if, as seems unlikely, it is acted on by the highway authorities.This is a journal which speaks for the local authorities—and as regards Clause 2, relating to the purchase of land on each side, with a view to the preservation of the amenities, in the absence of assistance from the Road Fund towards the purchase, this Clause seems more than likely to be a dead letter. In effect the Bill leaves the local authorities practically in the same position as they now are under the Town and Country Planning Act.Well, what is all this bally-hoo about this Bill? [HON. MEMBERS: "Sir Stafford Cripps."] No, it is a term, I understand, imported from the United States. What the right hon. Gentleman has to say about parking places and access to roads is excellent, and everyone wishes him well in that kind of work. I do not want to increase trouble between him and the Minister of Health. Far be it from me to disturb the harmony there is on the Government Bench, but I think we should be entitled in Committee to ask the help of the Minister of Health in devising Amendments which will make the Bill really effective from the point of view of its primary purpose of preventing 974 ribbon development. I do not honestly think that this House is as whole-heartedly behind the Bill as certain newspapers have tried to imply. I am quite sure there are Members on the other side of the House who view this Bill with a certain amount of apprehension. I was interested in reading the "News-Letter," the National Labour fortnightly. It only came into my hands just as I entered the Chamber. It used to be sent to me free, but not now. I miss it; I like it for light reading. There is a letter in it which, I think, must have aroused some feeling of sympathy on the part of the National Labour group supporting the Government.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I assume there is some sympathy for this point of view. The letter, which is an interesting one, is from a lady who lives in a rural area. She says of the Bill:All those who had worked to get a country planning scheme into this Session are bitterly, disappointed with the new Ribbon Development Bill. It does not touch any sort of planning to save the beauty of the countryside. It is purely a traffic Bill … The Bill does not provide for any sort of general planning; it is an enabling Bill, and therefore useless. The compensation clauses may be all right, but the cost borne by the local authorities is likely to deter all but the very rich ones.I am quoting sentences from the letter:Many beautiful and old bridges will be destroyed under the Bill. The whole country should be dealt with and planned … The Bill does not touch the root of the matter—the gambling speculator. He serves no useful purpose to the community. He enhances the price of building sites. He may help the landlord who is too incompetent or too lazy to plan his own land. The speculator stands to lose nothing and makes thousands; the landlord, the builder and the new occupiers pay the price. Until this gambling with the beauty of the English countryside is stopped and a general compulsory planning scheme adopted, there is no hope of saving the 'green and pleasont land' of England. The National Labour party has led the way in the House of Lords debate (as a new and vigorous party) in the fight to preserve amenities. Let it take up the cudgels in the House of Commons and fight tooth and nail for a constructive and comprehensive planning Bill. It may be the last chance of saving what is left of England from the Satanic march of destruction.If that represents the view of certain supporters of the Government, I think it might be well for the right hon. Gentleman to readjust his perspective, and let 975 ribbon development be dealt with in another way. So far as we on this side of the House are concerned, we wish him all good fortune within the due bounds of his duties and responsibilities, and, so far as I know, we shall always support him in that kind of work, but our own view is that his purpose will not be fulfilled in this Bill, because it is an attempt to farm out a great responsibility which should either be undertaken nationally, or with national assistance to local authorities whose financial powers will not permit them to do it. It is because we think that this Bill will not successfully deal with this problem, that we have put down the Amendment on the Paper.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. JANNER
I do not propose to follow the right hon. Gentleman in the attack that he has made on the Bill, although much might be said in favour of some of the criticisms that he has offered, criticisms which may perhaps at a later stage result in the incorporation in the Bill of some provisions that will help the Bill on to the Statute Book in a somewhat better form. There has been and there is a considerable amount of anxiety felt throughout the country with regard to the system of ribbon development which has been rapidly spreading in recent times, and although criticism is being directed against certain portions of the Bill and as regards certain important omissions, nevertheless I think it will be generally admitted that no delay ought to be tolerated in pressing forward with a Measure to deal with this important matter.
The delay that has taken place since reference was made in the King's Speech to provisions for remedying this state of affairs was rightly commented upon in a leading article in the "Times," and I should like to quote a few words from that article, with which most of us will agree:It is impossible to prove that in the interval the ribbon development (by which is meant building alongside the road in a manner prejudicial to traffic safety and to amenities) has been intensified, because no separate statistics of this kind of building are kept, but there is at least a strong probability that such building has been accelerated by the threat of a Bill and that it will be still more accelerated by the provision of this Bill. One criticism has already 976 drawn a picture of the hasty conclusion of contracts on so large a scale that when the Bill is passed it will have become unenforceable.Since that statement was made a considerable amount of time has again elapsed and the position has become even more difficult than it was then. It appears, therefore, that in spite of the legitimate criticism which we have to offer in respect of the Bill we ought to pass as speedily as we can to the Committee stage, so that we may obtain the nearest possible approach to common understanding in order to deal with this pressing difficulty.
In my opinion the language of this Bill, like the language of many other Bills, must of necessity be highly technical. In many cases this language almost obscures the perspective of the matters with which a Bill is dealing. The problem that faces us is one which deals very intimately with the lives of millions of people in this country. People living in the great industrial centres, which many of us represent, are as much affected by ribbon development as are the tens of thousands of commercial enterprises and the large masses of those who use the roads for business purposes. Life in these industrial areas is gloomy and does not present very much hope to many of the people living there. Working people are in very many instances living in miserable surroundings, occupying houses that are very far from beautiful or adequate for the ordinary necessities of life, and they have very little of the amenities of life. The smoke of the factories, the noise of traffic in the street, the sordidness of the whole area that surrounds them necessitates a little ease from time to time, and when they get an opportunity of getting out into the countryside, now that there are much cheaper methods by which they can travel into the country, it is as important for them as it is for the whole of the travelling public, as it is for the commercial public that the amenities of the countryside should be preserved and that they should have the right to enjoy these amenities equally with the other users of the roads. Wide fields and free fresh air are of immense importance to the happiness of those who have not many opportunities of getting to that free air and those fields, and it is vitally necessary that 977 the view when they ride, cycle or walk in the country should not be obstructed by the hideous form of ribbon development that has sprung up in recent times.
I do not think that any one would deny that it is essential that we should examine the position from a non-Party point of view, in the hope that we may be able to produce something which will restore to the people who have the opportunities, or who should have the opportunities, of enjoying the amenities of the countryside, the right to utilise them in the best form. I agree, and my hon. Friends on these benches agree with me, that it might perhaps have been better if the Minister of Health had introduced a more comprehensive Bill. There is no question that one of the big problems confronting us is the problem of overcrowded dwelling houses and areas, and that we should encourage the development of satellite towns as a most important and most effective means for the purpose of remedying the type of building on the roadside of which we complain.
Before we finish with this stage of the Bin will the Minister tell us whether he or the Government are likely to consider introducing shortly some Measure by which the recommendations of the Departmental Committee, which sat to deal with the question of garden cities and satellite towns will be carried out, and that they will be dealt with now at such a time that the advantage of the proposals will not be destroyed by delay? Most of us feel that the creation of satellite towns is an object which should be in the minds of those who are dealing with the very important problem of ribbon development. Those towns would not only afford an opportunity of relieving the roads of those ugly, unaesthetic sights which we see at the present time, but they would give an opportunity to the people living in them to develop a proper social life and would free parents from anxiety, or at any rate cause them the minimum amount of anxiety, as to the safety of their children.
Such development would also be of great importance from the point of view of the motorist, because it would free him from the constant terror that his driving might result in the destruction of life or the impairing of the health of the pedestrians and others who use our roads, many of which are to-day becoming mortuaries for vast numbers of 978 people. I should like to have a reply from the right hon. Gentleman to that question and to be informed whether he has considered that by providing this type of alternative accommodation, as it were, for those who desire to go out from the towns or who desire to build near the roads, it would also minimise the expenses that would be entailed by the people living in those districts, as electricity, light, gas, and the other services would be obtainable at a much cheaper rate. I hope that he will take that matter into consideration and if possible give us an assurance in this direction before we leave this stage of the Bill.
There is also the question of the unclassified roads. We are very deeply concerned about the profits that are made by certain landowners because of the advantage that accrues to them by the use of public funds to increase the amenities of the district where the land is situate. We know that along the great national highways landowners are getting increased value for their land out of all proportion and frequently bearing no relationship at all to the amount of development that they have put into the land themselves. That is one of the big problems that we have to face with regard to the question of compensation. I notice that in the provisions for assessing the amount of compensation in the Bill some attempt is made to take into consideration the advantages that have been gained by the people who own sites in districts where roads have been constructed and amenities provided at the public expense.
There is one matter, and perhaps it might be dealt with in Committee, in relation to Clause 10, which affects the owner who has land contiguous to a site which is to be purchased. Maybe the right hon. Gentleman has overlooked the fact that there may be lands which are not actually contiguous to the site which is being purchased but land which the owner selling has in an adjoining district. This should also be taken into consideration.
The land adjoining these high roads is being increased greatly in value because of the public expenditure that has been put into the roads themselves. The length of classified roads is something like 40,000 miles, while the length of unclassified roads is from 100,000 to 120,000 miles. This is an appropriate occasion not only 979 to deal definitely with the classified roads, but to present those who own land adjoining the unclassified roads from getting undue advantages which have already been reaped by those who own land adjoining the classified roads. We should like to see a different system of rating and taxation brought in the rating and taxing of land values, but from the way this matter has been dealt with by the Government we realise that we are not likely to succeed in that regard. However, we suggest that on this occasion opportunity should not be afforded to those landowners who have land adjoining the unclassified roads to be placed in the unreasonably benefited position that is occupied by many of those who own land on the classified roads. I suggest that the Minister might consider including those sections of land which adjoin unclassified roads, so that this difficulty may be avoided in the future.
A perfectly legitimate complaint has been made by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) with regard to the local authorities. It is true that the local authorities are going to experience a tremendous amount of difficulty in providing the funds necessary in order that the amenities which are being asked for in the Bill shall be put into proper force. It is not long since the Chancellor of the Exchequer took from the Road Fund a very large sum of money—I think it was £4,470,000. I do not know whether it is too late for the right hon. Gentleman to approach his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and ask him whether he might not consider it advisable to utilise the money which has been taken from the Road Fund for its proper purpose, that is, to provide facilities on the roads, also, if possible, to provide opportunities for local authorities to have satellite towns and grouped dwellings in their areas. I think Clause 6 should have a proviso enabling a local authority to withdraw its consent to alterations being made or buildings being put up alongside a road if those buildings or those alterations are not made within a reasonable time. There are a number of other matters which might be dealt with more properly in Committee.
I hope that the House will accept and welcome the Bill and that we shall speedily proceed to put it into force. If possible, I think we should devise a 980 method whereby, instead of making our assessment upon the value of the land at the time the Bill becomes an Act, we can make it retrospective. To allow those who are about to make contracts to wait until the Act actually gets on to the Statute Book means that everyone who has any hand at the side of the classified road will take the fullest advantage of what is going to happen, and will do his utmost to get a contract through in time to enable him to reap the largest compensation value that he possibly can. Those people who had land adjoining the roads knew very well that a Bill was to be introduced, they knew what was intended to be done, they knew their land would be involved, and I do not think they could fairly be heard to say that they were in any way prejudiced if the Bill that they expected actually appeared on the Statute Book with a proviso for compensation to be paid on an earlier valuation. In the hope that the Minister will give support to reasonable Amendments which it is intended to move in Committee, I think the Bill should be pressed forward as quickly as possible.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Major J. A. HERBERT
I crave the indulgence of the House which I understood is usually afforded to a Member addressing it for the first time, and I hope the House will bear with me for a few minutes. First of all, I wish to congratulate the Government most sincerely on tackling this evil of ribbon development, which is causing ugliness and congestion besides making the highways unsafe for motorists and other poor mortals of all ages. Although the Minister has been called various names, I sincerely hope that through this Bill he will add another achievement to his long list of successes since he has been in office.
Ribbon development has really a sad history when we think of the Town and Country Planning Act, which was welcomed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) with the thought that no further legislation would be required on the subject of town planning and the claim that it was a Bill incorporating all the Acts in one document, Which would make it easier for a layman to follow. It was hoped that local authorities would revel in the pleasures of planning and that no more would be required. Since 981 then we have seen a great housing boom which produces a thousand houses a day. It is regrettable that the majority of them have been built along the highways of the country. I sincerely hope that this Bill will in no way delay the great housing scheme which is now receiving a fresh incentive through the new Minister of Health. I also hope that the builder may not be chased down the side streets with the local authority under Clause 2 exercises its powers to call in the Minister as referee to compensate in a new manner. I feel that the Minister in that capacity may require the services of an umpire to grant compensation under Clause 8.
I hope also that the rich county will not be the envy of its poor neighbour, and I am glad that the Minister made it quite clear that it could not recoup its losses by using Clause 10 as a building Clause and itself starting land speculation on its own. This is a traffic Bill dealing with highway authorities, but such authorities are elected primarily to see to the needs of their districts and not so much the needs of the country. I feel that the Bill gives great powers to these authorities, but it does not propose any central co-ordinating authority. Although the Minister has talked of a five-year plan and is urging local authorities to look so many years ahead, I feel that there is some justification when highway authorities are sometimes accused of being slow in initiating policy; because very often they can barely afford to supply local needs, still less subscribe to national roads which go through them, bringing no trade whatever to their districts. The through roads of the country are in many cases a liability rather than an asset.
This Bill standardises certain highway conditions, and I hope the Minister will use it to implement a great national road policy so that the first-class roads to be built and developed shall be developed under a central authority knowing the national needs of the country as a whole, leaving the highway authorities to deal with their local needs. I fear that without a national policy development will be on wasteful lines, imposing hardships on all sides. With a national policy the Bill will fulfil its name and its object so that we may look forward to the time when the amenities of our 982 beautiful country may be enjoyed by the many who I hope will come to it to enjoy them.
§ 5.11 p.m.
Marquess of HARTINGTON
I count myself fortunate in being the first to have the opportunity to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend on the distinction with which he has performed the difficult task of making his maiden speech. It was full of sound common sense, and every word of it bore evidence of careful thought, and we shall look forward to future contributions to our debates with interest and pleasure. I support the Second Reading. I believe this is on the whole a very good Bill and one with the object of which every Member of the House is in agreement. I protest, however, against suggestions that have been made in certain ill-informed quarters that we should unduly hasten its discussion and that it should be rushed through without careful discussion and without Amendments being put down. In a Bill that is carefully discussed there is no risk whatever of slipshod wording getting through, but when you have a Bill with which the House is in almost unanimous sympathy there is a real risk that errors or faults may escape undetected, and the more unanimous we are in our desire to see the objects of the Bill carried out, the more careful we should be to make sure that it does in fact carry out those objects and not some others which may be entirely different. During discussion faults in drafting are almost invariably brought to light, and it is important that this Bill, like others on which the House is not so unanimous, should be very carefully discussed.
The main part of the Bill, Clauses 1 to 9, I believe to be thoroughly sound. I believe it right that the highway authority should have the right of controlling the means of access to the highway. It is essential that the highway authority should have the power to prevent what is intended, let us say, for a short cut from London to Bath becoming a residential street which anyone desirous of proceeding from London to Bath would go many miles round to avoid. That is what has actually been happening in certain cases recently, and it is most desirable that the highway authority should have the power to prevent that 983 sort of thing. I believe it is desirable that the highway authority should have the power not only of restricting the means of access but of setting back the building line.
I was astonished at the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), that this difference of 220 feet was insufficient, and that we would still get ribbon development only a few yards further back. He told us the story about the nigger and the chicken. I might well retort that he had at the Ministry of Health the opportunity of learning a great deal about this sort of thing, instead of which he has, apparently wilfully, misunderstood every provision of the Bill. He quoted a very long letter from a lady who obviously knew nothing whatever about it. Once you set your building line back 220 feet there is no reason why your streets should follow parallel with the road along which you are anxious to avoid development. The important thing is to secure that the building line should be set so far back that anyone developing property will be compelled to make a road of his own. I believe that the figure in the Bill of 220 feet will prove ample for that purpose. Once you have made it 220 feet from the road, you have to make a road of your own and, for technical reasons which I need not go into now, it is far more likely that your development will run at right angles to the highway than parallel with it. I believe those provisions of the Bill are thoroughly sound and will to a very large extent achieve the object which we all have at heart.
I should like to see some encouragement for the formation and the laying out of new roads. That, after all, is the real crux of the matter. If you are going to have houses—and we all want to see more houses built—you must have a road by means of which access can be secured to the houses. For many years past, ever since the Liberal party made that colossal blunder over the land taxes, Act after Act has discouraged the sinking of capital in the land. That has been a very powerful factor in preventing the development of land by means of roads intended to serve a particular group of new houses and has tended to promote and encourage the building of houses along the public highway. Local 984 authorities quite rightly, before they take over any new road or street from the developer of land, have the power to insist that every building block in the street shall be occupied and the street made up to their own specifications. That is all right so long as the specifications are reasonable, but I have come across cases, particularly in the last few years, where the local authority has insisted on a really absurdly high standard of maintenance before they will take the road over. Their object, of course, is to avoid having to spend money on the road for many years to come. But it is quite right that they should have the power to insist on the road being made up to a reasonable standard.
I deplore the constant attacks which are made on the speculative builder. He has fulfilled a very useful function indeed, for many thousands of families, who were formerly housed in bad and insanitary conditions, are now living in houses which are much better than the common standard of a few years ago. The speculative builder, if he feels that he will have to face the heavy liability of making up his road to a much higher standard than he contemplated when he began his operations, will be much more inclined to cut out that risk and build alongside an existing highway. If anything could be done, not by legislation but by means of a circular from the Ministry of Health, to impress upon local authorities that it is desirable to encourage the development of building property, not alongside existing highways but by breaking fresh ground away from existing thoroughfares, it would have very beneficial results. There are other factors which tend to encourage this form of development. There is no doubt that the Housing and Town Planning Act, by creating a sense of insecurity among owners of property, has stimulated this ribbon development to a large extent. Just as the fear of having an enormous bill to face in making up a road to a much higher standard acts as a deterrent to the breaking of fresh ground, so the operative Clauses of the Housing and Town Planning Act have created a sense of insecurity among owners of property and made them anxious to snatch a profit while they can lest prices go down.
The creation of a housing estate is a very speculative business. You have to sink your capital many months, sometimes 985 years, before you get any return; and values may alter very much in the meantime. You may never get a return on your capital, and there is always a sense of uneasiness that your property may not be secure. Indeed, the Housing and Town Planning Act is a deterrent to the best form of development and in my opinion is responsible for much of the ribbon development which is disfiguring the face of England to-day. That cannot be undone, but I hope that this Bill will check the evil, if it cannot wholly prevent it. We must face the fact that in some cases the Bill—which I hope we shall pass without a Division—may add to the cost of houses. There is little doubt about that, but in the long run it will lead to a reduction in the rates. The public occupying the houses will not have an undue burden imposed upon them; the house may cost more, but if you secure a development of the right kind it will mean in the end less expenditure of the rates.
I confess to some little apprehension about the operation of standard width. The contingent liability of having to make up your road is bad enough when the road you have made is in accordance with what you believed to be the requirements of your development, but, if you are compelled to make a wider road in accordance with somebody else's idea, the contingent liability becomes much more. That is a risk which will have to be taken, and I do not see how the Bill can be amended to meet it. I hope the Minister will insist that these little quiet residential roads are not made a source of anxiety and great expense to those who have made them, as is happening to-day. So far as Clauses 1 to 9 are concerned the Bill is good. I feel very differently about Clause 10. I cannot see the necessity for this Clause. There is great danger in conferring such enormous powers as are given by this Clause. I am well aware that in the well-run counties in the South of England provisions similar to those of Clause 10 have operated with complete success—
Marquess of HARTINGTON
I cannot see that powers so extensive as to enable any authority to acquire land within 220 yards of any road are necessary. A local authority, under the Bill, has power to 986 prohibit the erection of any building within 220 feet of a road and also the far larger power of restricting any access whatever to the road. Given that power the local authority has sufficient control over the form of development which may take place on any highway; and to give this further power of acquiring compulsorily all land for 220 yards on either side of the road is going much farther than is necessary. They will be able to acquire the land for a quarter of a mile wide along the line of every road in England. The Clause provides:Any highway authority may acquire any land within 220 yards from the middle of any road the acquisition of which is in their opinion necessary for the purposes of the construction or improvement of the road.The words "which is in their opinion" really means that a local authority can acquire any land they want. That is going much too far. And this provision, moreover, is wholly unaccompanied by any safeguard that, having secured the land at its amenity value, they shall not subsequently proceed to develop it themselves or pass it on at a profit. It must also be realised that by making fresh roads themselves a local authority can make further inroads into any property which they desire to acquire. Suppose a local authority acquired a considerable block of property with the intention of preserving it as an open space. In the course of time that local authority might wish to create a building estate or make a municipal omnibus station, and it might be said by the ratepayers, "Why should we go to the expense of buying fresh land when we have a large area of our own lying idle." That block of land might be made up by the corporation and if they constructed one more road through it by doing so they would acquire the right to acquire compulsorily another 220 yards on either side of that road. That is a most unsound provision, it gives far too much power, and which is wholly unnecessary. The power of controlling the right of access to the highway is quite sufficient.
The purpose of the Clause is that some buildings may be erected more than 220 feet away from the road which might be considered to have an unsightly effect and mar the whole prospect. Any local authority worth its salt could use its enormous powers under Clauses 1 and 2 to deal with this matter. If you take 987 any populous district in the South of England and look at a one-inch map you will find that there is comparatively very little land left if you take 220 yards from either side of every road. The Clause goes too far; it is unnecessary, and we should do well to omit it or, at any rate, to put in drastic safeguards to prevent any abuses which might well occur.
With this exception it is a good Bill, and I shall do my best to facilitate its passage. I understand from the conversations that I have heard that it is intended to take the Bill on the Floor of the House. I hope the Government will consider sending the Bill to Committee upstairs. In the atmosphere of the Committee it is possible to get much closer terms with the Minister than it is on the Floor of the House. You cannot get a real discussion across the Table, at any rate not the same kind of detailed discussion which it is possible to get in Committee upstairs. I cannot speak for hon. Members opposite, but I cannot think that they intend to oppose the Bill. I have spoken with some hon. Friends of mine who have on occasion opposed Government Bills, and I can say that if the Bill is taken upstairs there will be no obstruction and it will be dealt with in ample time to secure the Report stage and Third Reading. I think that you can secure a much better consideration of the complicated provisions of this Bill in Committee upstairs than you can on the Floor of the House. There is one further point in regard to excavations. In Clause 1 there is a rather curious phrase:To erect or make any building or permanent excavation … upon land.The question is whether that phrase means the underground working of minerals. If it does we are up against some serious complications. The Ministry of Mines take the view that excavations upon land do not mean underground working. The Ministry of Health take the view that it does definitely mean underground working. The Ministry of Transport take the view that they do not know. My view is that the Bill should not apply to underground working. You will get into the most appalling complications if you attempt to apply the provision of the Bill to underground workings for coal or any other mineral, and it might have disastrous effects on employment in whole districts. If it is not intended to apply 988 to underground workings it should be stated clearly in the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House and I shall do everything in my power to assist its passage.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. HOROBIN
I should like to support the Second Reading of the Bill, if there is a Division. Before making what I hope are one or two constructive comments upon it, let me add my small voice to the request that has been made, that if possible the Bill should go upstairs to Committee rather than be taken on the Floor of the House. In a Bill of the size of the India Bill it was difficult enough to get the time necessary for a proper consideration on Committee stage, and it is inconceivable that the Committee stage of this Bill can be given the necessary time, even with the best spirit and good will in the world, unless the greater time which is available in Committee upstairs is given to it. I would like to make one observation generally in regret of the difficulty which this Bill is making quite evident in our whole procedure in attempting to preserve rural amenities. It is a very curious fact that both sections of the critics of the Town and Country Planning Bill—those who, like the last speaker, were opposed to it, and those, of whom I was one, who supported it—agreed on almost only one point, and experience since has indicated that we were right, namely, our feeling that it was not likely to be put into force energetically unless the county councils were made the authorities to deal with the matter.
This Bill is really making the position to-day almost fantastic. When the highway authority is not to be the planning authority the likelihood of rapid action is going to remain so small that I fear the hopes of the preservation of amenity are likely to be greatly hindered. We have to-day a very active Minister of Transport and a new Minister of Health. I doubt whether anything can be done by way of amendment of this Bill, but as one of the first and most important points brought up on the introduction of this Measure I ask the Minister of Transport whether he will not get into touch with the new Minister of Health and see whether an Amendment, which I do not believe would be very controversial but would be an enormous improvement of the law, could not now be brought 989 about to make the planning authorities for rural areas the highway authorities, namely, the county councils.
I think the Bill has been obviously drafted with an effort to be fair. There are one or two points where I think the Minister should be willing to consider sympathetically Amendments that will secure the good will of the landed interest. I believe the right hon. Gentleman will agree, and I am sure his colleague at the Ministry of Health will agree, that where useful action has occurred in the way of town planning it has been unquestionably where you have got the good will of the landed interest. If you cannot get a feeling of fairness and of sympathy on the part of local landowners, the opportunities for obstruction, for demands for compensation, becomes so enormous that nothing in fact ever happens. There is at least one provision in the Bill which from that point of view does require very careful consideration. It may appear small, but I do not think it is. It is the provision for notice. There is a new principle imported into this Bill with regard to notice to landlords whose property is affected. I do not know whether the House appreciate that under this Bill it is possible vitally to affect the landed interest without ever giving notice to the individual landed proprietor. I contend that that is an impossible position.
How can you expect a large landowner in Westminster, say, or any other part of London, who owns land all over the country—such landowners are well disposed as a general rule, contrary to the clap-trap of so many Members; it is usually the big landlord who is willing to be friendly and the small one who is not—bow can you expect a big landed proprietor or even an agent to read the local newspapers of 20, 30 or 40 districts to see whether notice has been given informing him that in future his land cannot be developed without serious restriction? It is true that the experience, especially of the Surrey and Essex authorities, has been that where notice had to be given to every individual landlord it has been found to be very awkward. Standing by itself I do not think that that is a sufficient answer to any objection. If you are affecting a man's property inconvenience to yourself is no defence.
990 I would make this practical suggestion to the Minister of Transport: There is possibly a way out which will avoid the difficulties of having to give notice to a great many owners, sometimes not easily traced, and yet avoid the possibility that you may damnify a man's estate. Such a provision is in the Town and Country Planning Act, I think in Clause 7. The principle is a very simple one. It is that the authority shall keep a register, upon which any landlord shall be entitled to be registered, and once he has got himself registered it is the duty of the authority to give him the necessary notice. If such a provision were incorporated in this Bill it would put every landlord in the position of saying that such and such is his land, and then any action under Clause 2 of the Bill would automatically come to him without his running the risk of finding that his property had been very seriously damnified without his knowledge.
In Clause 2 once more we have the very unsatisfactory principle that the Minister decides and the Minister's decision is final. I believe that no opportunity should be lost by supporters of the National Government in endeavouring to get Ministries to alter the most undesirable and bureaucratic dislike that they have of enabling His Majesty's subjects to get to the courts. I speak as a most convinced supporter of the preservation of amenities. I believe that the mere knowledge that owners have the right to go to the county court would have a very salutary effect upon high-handed action, and would enable the authorities concerned to go ahead, knowing that no feeling of resentment had been left behind.
I now come to what are really more important matters. I believe that the Bill contains something which it ought to omit and omits something which it ought to contain. The first of these is Clause 10, to which reference has already been made. Though I agree entirely with what the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) said, my objections to Clause 10 are not confined to his objections. I do not think I need refer further to the objection on the part of the landed interest, because it has been already stated with great authority by the Noble Lord. But there are equally strong objections on the part of those whose principal interest is in protecting amenities. I think it was the late Lord 991 Balfour who said that he had great distrust of wooden guns. If ever there was a wooden gun for protecting amenities it is this Clause. If adopted on a large scale it might even lead to land nationalisation. But it would give a false sense of security.
I wonder whether the House appreciates that as regards new roads the powers in the Clause have been the law of the land for over a quarter of a century. They appear in the Road Development Fund Act. The only reason why they have not been put into force is, of course, that the cost of acquisition is prohibitive. Any Bill which is devoted to protecting amenities and pretends to give authorities a power which, while it irritates and annoys and causes anxiety to the landed interest does not give them the power to do anything really valuable, is undesirable. It has been mentioned already that there is no protection against an authority building upon any land that it does not want. Those Members who have some experience of attempting to preserve amenities will agree that local authorities are one of the worst offenders, particularly when it comes to pinching bits of commons. One great trouble we have always had is with local authorities, when they want to put up a public convenience or a telephone box. The first thing that comes into their mind is to take a corner off the village green. It is particularly undesirable that we should give large powers to local authorities to buy lands without seeing that they keep them preserved for their proper purposes. There are in various Acts provisions attempting to deal with that point, the best of them being Clause 174 of the Local Government Act of 1933.
Here I would offer a suggestion to my right hon. Friend the Minister. In view of what happened in another place and the doubts expressed in this House I think the Minister would be well advised to consider abandoning Clause 10 altogether, doing so specifically in order to put himself into the position of asking as a quid pro quo the amendment of another Clause and the insertion of something which should be in the Bill but is not. Here I ask the House to turn back to what will be the really operative Clause of the Bill, namely, Clause 2. I do not think the Minister has so far appreciated the real anxiety of those who 992 are interested in amenities, with regard to the limitation of Clause 2 to classified roads only. Naturally my right hon. Friend is primarily concerned with the traffic problem, and from his point of view these smaller roads are of little importance. But he must try to forget about motor cars and traffic altogether in this Bill. The real danger in Clause 2 is that the restrictions upon classified roads are going to push ribbon development on to the unclassified roads, and if you are to have ribbon development looked at from the amenity point of view it is better to have it on the classified roads.
When the Minister of Transport came upstairs to meet some Members who are interested in this matter I put a question to him on this point. It is true he had to answer on the spur of the moment and did not give a considered reply, but he made two attempted answers. One of them, I think, carried immediate conviction. In substance it was that a considerable number of unclassified roads are in built-up areas. He then made another attempted answer, particularly directed to rural amenities, an answer which I think upon consideration he will see was without any foundation at all. He said that a considerable number of these small roads were in the rural areas.
§ Mr. HOROBIN
I do not think anything I have said can be taken as an attack upon the Minister. I am merely following up a discussion which took place at a meeting, open to all Members, where the Bill was explained by the Minister. If there are other possible defences for this Clause no doubt we shall hear of them in due course, but the only two defences of it that we have had so far, are those I have indicated. I ask is it not possible, if we omit the unclassified roads in the rural districts, that a considerable number of them will be built upon immediately. If no building takes place then clearly the question of restriction is neither here nor there. The power will be there but it will not 993 become operative. On the other hand, if building does occur it is precisely on those small roads in rural districts that it will take place and it is vital from the point of view of amenities to protect them at once. I have had an opportunity of finding out how real is this danger. We have all heard of the effort to create a green belt round London. There is a rural district council through whose area this green belt is to run, and I learn from the district surveyor that the total mileage of unclassified roads in that one rural district alone is no less than 160 miles. These are unclassified roads which will not be protected from ribbon development, in a district right through the middle of which the proposed green belt is to pass.
§ Mr. HOROBIN
I will come to that point in a moment, but to give an indication of the urgency of the matter, I mention the case of a small estate in that district, fronting on an unclassified road which will not be protected. It was sold only a short time ago for £200 an acre being obviously, as the phrase goes, full of building value. It is true that local authorities have power under Clause 2 but they have to treat each case individually. They have to take each road and go to the Minister to get powers in regard to it. We know, by experience, that the probability of that being done and consent being given with sufficient expedition is exceedingly slight. There seems to be no possible objection to making the safeguard in Clause 2 cover all roads, other than unclassified roads, in built-up areas. We have now in the law of the land the technically defined expression "built-up area" so that it will be possible to meet the Minister's legitimate point about the outskirts of the towns, but we should, automatically, give protection to the smaller roads all over the country in regard to which it is most needed.
There are other points with which I do not propose to weary the House at this stage as they are more suited to consideration in Committee. In offering my congratulations to the Government on bringing forward this Bill and expressing the hope that it will immediately become law, may I also suggest 994 that the Minister should seriously consider the possibility of facilitating its passage and making it more effective in operation, by, so to speak, doing a deal? I suggest that he should omit Clause 10, which is of very doubtful value, and include in his real armoury the additional weapon to be gained by applying the necessary, legitimate and universally desired powers now being given to highway authorities, automatically to every road, classified or unclassified, running through those rural districts, whose beauty is a national possession which is being only too rapidly destroyed.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. MICHAEL BEAUMONT
Like everybody else who has spoken, with the exception of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), I intend to support the Second Reading of this Bill, and I hope also to support it in its further stages. I believe it to be a step in the right direction and an attempt to remedy an evil against which there is considerable public outcry—an evil which we all desire to check. I am bound to confess, however, that I cannot greet the actual provisions of the Measure with the enthusiasm displayed by some of the previous speakers. I am extremely doubtful as to whether they will put that effective check on ribbon development which we desire. The most remarkable speech of the afternoon has been that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield. That such a speech should be delivered by the author of the Town and Country Planning Act reminded me of the story of the American business man, who used to write letters of introduction on behalf of people whom he did not know, to this effect. "I have not an extended acquaintance with Mr. So-and-so, but I admire his nerve."
I remember the right hon. Gentleman when he was Minister of Health defending the virtues of the rural district councils as planning authorities and explaining how the Town and Country Planning Act was going to do away with all the horrible excrescences that were disfiguring the countryside. That he should come down to the House now and speak in favour of a national authority and national planning, as opposed to district planning, is indeed astounding. But when he adds to that, opposition to a Bill which is going to take some power 995 from the smaller authorities and give it to the bigger authorities—at least a step in the right direction—his attitude becomes more astounding still. The right hon. Gentleman has actually moved an Amendment on which, presumably, he will ask his party to divide. It is an Amendment for which he has given no constructive justification whatever, except a reference to Clause 8 with which I shall deal in a minute, and which seems to prove nothing except that the right hon. Gentleman has failed entirely to understand the effect of that Clause. All this is, as I say, perfectly astounding and it moves one to remark as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) once remarked about a speech of mine "Well, who'd have thought it."
A great deal of the criticism which the right hon. Gentleman made, though not, I think, germane to his Amendment, was, I fear, well-founded and it is worth considering for a moment the history of this matter. Like the right hon. Gentleman I am astonished that this Measure is being dealt with by the Ministry of Transport. I agree that it is primarily a planning Measure, and I should have expected it to have been in the hands of the Ministry of Health. But unlike the right hon. Gentleman I do not think there is anything in that point about which we need get excited. I want to see ribbon development checked, and whether it is done by the Minister of Transport or the Minister of Health or the Minister without Portfolio is a matter of complete indifference to me. The important thing is whether the Bill is going to have the desired effect or not and I propose to tell the House briefly the reason why I fear the Bill may prove ineffective. The Town and Country Planning Act was supposed to be a cure for ribbon development. In the Debate on the Second Reading of the second incarnation of that Measure, the then Minister of Health, now rewarded for his labours by transference to a higher sphere, said: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 right hon. Gentleman went on to describe it and added:The Bill (the Town and Country Planning Bill) will give power to local authorities who desire to deal with that abuse, to 996 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 or 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1932; cols. 47 and 48, Vol. 261.]That hope has not been fulfilled, as we knew and said at the time it would not be fulfilled. My Noble Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington), who spoke so ably and forcibly a short time ago, and I, throughout those discussions, said that the main objection to that Measure was that it would not work. I know of a town in which since the passage of that Measure there has been seven miles of ribbon development, and when one considers the matter, one realises that it must be so. Everybody who had a bit of road frontage in the neighbourhood of a town, the minute the Measure became law, rushed to develop that frontage, and the small local authorities had neither the machinery, nor the money nor the knowledge to check effectively such development. I ask the Minister to believe that those of us who criticised that Measure are just as keen as he is on checking the evil. But some of us have had to administer that Measure. I myself have had to wrestle once a month with the town planning committee in my rural district, and I know something of the difficulties entailed to district authorities in rural areas by these proposals which sound so simple in the House of Commons.
This Bill is now being introduced, in effect, because in this one particular at any rate the Town and Country Planning Act has failed. This is to be the substitute. I should be less than human if I did not remind the House that during the Committee stages of both the previous Measures I moved Amendments to make the county council the operative authority. Both by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, who now demands a national policy and by the right hon. Gentleman who succeeded him as Minister of Health, I was told that the deal with a purely local problem, that it rural district councils were the bodies to 997 could all be done by them and that to take power out of their hands and give it to larger authorities would be an insult to their intelligence which was perfectly unnecessary and totally undesirable. On both occasions my Amendments were carried to a division and were defeated. Now, less than four years afterwards, the Government ask us, in part, to do exactly what I wanted done at that time.
Why did that Measure fail? In the first place it failed on the score of expense. It is all very well for Members of this House who deal, alas, with hundreds of millions of pounds of the public money, to say that money spent in preserving the amenities of the countryside is well-spent. I agree, but when you come down to the case of a small authority having to increase its rates by 6d. or 1s. 6d. or 2s. in the pound for a purpose which appears to be more for the benefit of people outside the district than of people inside the district, the problem becomes very much more difficult. The reason why the Town and Country Planning Act has not worked and cannot work, is because no council can bear the expense, an enormous proportion of which comes out of the rates. The bulk anyhow of the small rural district councils dare not face the expense of that Act, and they would not be returned at the ensuing election if they did, because the cry of the increase in the rates would be too great.
The second reason why it has failed is the enormous pressure that can be put on the small local councils by the large employers of labour, who are very often interested in the production of these schemes. I do not say improper pressure in the least, though that is not unknown. A builder produces a scheme, and he is a large local employer of labour. The council turns the scheme down, and the builder says, and with truth, "All right; I cannot go on employing people if I cannot get on with my scheme." The voters, who are very few, it should be remembered—it does not mean much to turn a local election in a rural district—immediately react and put pressure in turn on their councillors to put the scheme through. There is one further difficulty, and that is that these plans for development do not come up as a large whole, but come up piecemeal, house by house, building by building, some of them quite unobjectionable in themselves, but forming collectively ribbon development and 998 an eyesore to the countryside. Very often the local council permit first two or three buildings to be erected, and they cannot then in logic refuse the rest, and what was intended to be an individual case becomes, as I say, ribbon development, because it has come piecemeal and has not been viewed as a constructive whole.
This Bill does very little to remove those difficulties. It is true that it transfers the power to a larger authority, and that is a good thing as far as it goes, but I do not believe that even the highway authorities, the county councils, are free enough from the disabilities which I have outlined to be able to work the Bill really effectively. I have often been accused of being an opponent of local authorities, but I say that in no spirit of opposition to them. I know full well bow well they do the work for which they were created, but I do say that, neither by their constitution, nor by their power, nor by the careful scrutiny that is kept on their expenditure, nor indeed owing to the fact that they have such small electorates, are they suited or able to carry out properly the very wide powers which this Bill gives them or effectively to operate the very big questions of policy which this Bill will raise.
It may be that it will be impossible really to safeguard the amenities of the countryside. You have destroyed the original safeguard of the old landed class, to whom the land and its amenities were sacred. For good or ill, that has been done, and you cannot replace them. I venture to say that for that purpose at least the worst individual is better than the best public body, but if the attempt is to be made, if it is worth trying to save something out of the wreck of the English countryside, I am convinced that it can only be done, not by a local authority, but by a national body, responsible to this House in some such way as the Tariff Commission is responsible to this House, and drawing its funds from a national source. I believe that sooner or later, if the Government mean business, they will have to face up to this question, and a proper planning authority will have to be set up if they want to save anything at all.
There are only two more observations that I desire to make. One has already been referred to by the hon. Member 999 for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin) and by my Noble Friend the Member for West Derbyshire, and that is the question of Clause 10. I cannot for the life of me believe that Clause 10 is workable, and I think it is extremely dangerous, because, whatever the Minister may say, there is nothing to stop the local authorities under that Clause from speculating in land. The safeguard put forward by the Minister, the consent of the Ministry, really is not worth the paper it is written on, because they could not in decency refuse consent. Observe what would happen. A council comes to the Minister and says; "We wish to buy this land to preserve the amenities." The Minister replies, "Right; here is an agreed valuation; you have it at a reasonable price; go ahead." Some years later the whole town planning scheme changes. One of the dangers of these town planning schemes is that they do change, almost from month to month. The local authority comes to the conclusion that it is not such a bad thing after all to develop the land, so it comes to the Ministry and says, "We have a nice fat offer for the land, which will give us a good profit. May we sell it?" I think the Minister would have the very greatest difficulty in refusing his consent, and then you get the position that land compulsorily purchased from a landowner at an agricultural valuation is sold at a fat profit by the local authority for development. If Clause 10 as it stands now is passed, I do not think you can avoid that.
Clause 8 (1, a, i) lays down the, I believe, entirely novel and certainly amazing dictum that before a man in certain circumstances can get compensation for not being allowed to develop his property, he must prove to the satisfaction of the local authority, and ultimately perhaps of the Minister, not only that development is immediately practicable, but that there is a demand for such development. How on earth is anybody going to prove that there is a demand for development? More often than not the supply creates the demand. People must live somewhere. There are houses, and they go and live there. For the local authority to say that there is no demand, because they think people could live just as well up the hill, although they 1000 may not want to do so, is absurd, and I cannot see how under that Clause it will not be possible to deny all compensation for injurious affection, because I cannot see how it is ever going to be possible, except in the rarest cases, to prove that there is a demand for the specific development of a certain piece of land.
The right hon. Member for Wakefield complained that Clause 8 meant that you would buy the land at an enhanced value, but it does not mean anything of the sort. It is only a matter of compensation when you are not going to buy the land. If you do buy the land, you pay the existing agricultural price. Therefore, the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's charges against the Clause fall to the ground. I ask the Minister to consider most carefully whether he will not at least put into Clause 8 a reasonable definition of what the unfortunate landlord owner has to do if he wants compensation, or, better still, drop the Sub-section altogether. With those what I might call Committee stage remarks, and with the assurance that, although I shall put down a considerable number of Amendments to deal with points on which I think the Bill should be amended, I shall on future stages give the Bill my hearty support, I will conclude by saying that I hope it will get on the Statute Book and prove more effective than I think it will, and I shall certainly support the Second Reading.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
It is peculiar that so many hon. Members should have apologised for criticising the Bill, while at the same time professing to be friendly to it. They all come from one side of the House. This is a Measure of very great importance, and we are not minimising it at all. We want to stop the development of ribbon building and to make the roads better and clearer and safer for our people. The Minister said that Clause 10 extends to all local authorities power to acquire land for the construction or improvement of road development. I take that to be one of the bases of the Bill. There is no doubt that the improvement of the roads of the country is of as much importance as the prevention of the development of ribbon building, but it is a question of cost. The Minister said they would get market value under paragraph (b) for the preservation of amenities and so on, and he went on to make 1001 the remarkable statement that compensation would be subject to the case of betterment. What does he mean by betterment? The highway authorities, by developing the land or taking it over, are giving it a betterment which it never had before.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
The Minister made a very striking statement with regard to accidents on the roads. He said that two out of every three people killed were killed in the built-up areas, and that four out of every five people injured were injured in built-up areas. Looking at it from a road transport point of view, we want better roads and more safety on them. We are not satisfied even with regard to the ribbon development that is going on now, because the roads are not widened where they ought to be, and there is something more required than has yet been proposed. When ribbon development begins, the road ought to be made secure for those public vehicles which have to travel along it. It was also said by the Minister that they were taking in hand the question of a five-years plan. I mentioned some time ago in this House that the amount of money demanded by the local authorities under a five-years plan would be a very heavy sum indeed. It is not much use raising the question of a five-years plan in a Bill of this kind. It does not affect me whether the Bill is introduced by the Minister of Health or by the Minister of Transport, so long as the work is done and we do not impose on the highway authorities a heavy burden which they ought not to be called upon to bear.
Clause 14, of course, gives a contribution from the Road Fund of a standard quota of cost or varying according to the amount paid. That means to say that provision is being made for payment for the land required. Is every site to be valued independently, or will there be a standard valuation applied in similar circumstances in different parts of the country? Every piece of land that is to be taken over by the highway authority should be valued according to the character of the land for disposal. Clause 11 is an important part of the Bill, and ought to receive more attention 1002 than it has received this afternoon. It says:The powers of a local authority under section sixty-eight of the Public Health Act, 1925 (which relates to the provision of parking places for the purpose of relieving or preventing congestion of traffic) shall include power to provide and maintain buildings for use as parking places, and underground parking places, for the like purpose.I can understand that in a congested area underground parking places may be necessary, but I cannot see that they will be necessary on these new roads where there will be so much open space. Does the Minister intend to make it possible to provide only parking places along these new roads? Other things beside parking places are necessary. Will it be laid down that local authorities shall make better provision for playing places for children? The statistics show that the better the highway the more dangerous it is for pedestrians. It is necessary, therefore, that playing places for children should be provided. Is it the Minister's intention to have in the parking places mentioned in Clause 11 buildings where cars can be supplied with petrol and have small repairs effected? We must do our best to bring about the greatest safety on the roads, particularly on the new roads, but it must be remembered that highway authorities will be called upon to foot the bill. The making of these new roads as laid down in the Schedule will be a heavy expense, probably too heavy for a large number of authorities. I suggest that the Government should pay for the creation of these roads because they will be national assets, and better amenities and greater safety for the people are national questions. It is better that something of this kind should be done rather than that we should depend entirely on what can be done by the Road Fund.
The Bill ensures a high price to landowners for their land; at the same time, it will cripple local authorities because of the high rates which they will have to levy in order to meet the charges imposed. We need preservation of natural beauty and safe roads, and that is work—and very necessary work—for the Ministry of Transport. Ribbon development on the roads is very objectionable. We often find on a road probably 100 small bungalows, all of one elevation and 1003 of one height and size, which are monotonous and neither useful nor beautiful. The Minister of Transport really ought to take this matter into consideration from the amenity point of view and advise the local authorities or the highway authorities, whoever have the power, not to acquiesce in a flat type of elevation, which gives neither beauty nor service. My hon. Friend below the Gangway made a point about the Government having advertised this Bill in advance. It has been known in the country for a long time that it would be introduced, and he stated that speculators have taken the opportunity of making money out of it. I am sure that he is right. Speculators have made more rapid advance during the last half year than they have made during any other period of time.
My hon. Friend also mentioned the question of classified and unclassified roads. I raised that question some time ago, and I am still of opinion that the classified roads are not being increased at anything like the rate which is necessary to meet the traffic requirements of the country. The roads provided ought to be of a higher classification, and there ought not to be so many rural or half-made roads such as we find now. The Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) made what struck me as being a mercenary point when he said that many of the great landlords would lay out roads on their estates in order to open up their land, but the cost was so heavy, if the roads had to be made to satisfy the needs of the local authorities. I wonder whether he thinks the local authorities are so slow as to be led into taking over any kind of cinder-track. If he thinks that roads made in a haphazard manner with no stability are going to be taken over by local authorities, he is living in a fool's paradise. It is because they have taken over too many of these roads, which have imposed a great burden on the rates, that they will now refuse to take over a road which does not satisfy the requirements of the local surveyors. I hope the Noble Lord does not think that landowners are going to impose on local authorities a lot of half-made roads in order to help them develop their estates. Weak roads are the most expensive, because they have to be rebuilt at the public expense.
1004 I do not think there is anything wrong with the provision to enable local authorities to acquire land within 220 yards from the centre of the road, and as the highway authorities will have to provide the money, any betterment ought not to go to the landowners, but to the local authorities. It will bring them a little recompense for whot they have done. I hope that the Minister will take seriously into consideration, not only the making of new roads, but the condition of the present roads, particularly in rural parts of the country. Many of those roads are twisted and have narrow turnings, and it is remarkable that there have not been more accidents in the rural areas. I hope that that point will not be overlooked, and that attention will be given to the straightening and widening of roads. I also urge that roads should be regraded and put into higher grades. Only one-fifth of the roads are graded, and that number is too small, because, on every road that is built, there will be sooner or later, heavy traffic. If we spend money in half building roads, which will not be suitable for the traffic that will eventually come upon them, we are making a great mistake. If we are to preserve lives and lower the accident rate, we must make the roads of such a character that they will not be so prone to skidding and to accidents at bends, and we must make the passage of traffic in narrow places easier. We must do all we can to see that roads are built according to the First Schedule, and are laid out in such a manner that they will be a credit to the authorities and everyone concerned. We are perfectly aware that the highway authorities will have to pay through the nose for this Bill. It would be much better if the Government came forward with a handsome contribution from the national Exchequer in order to help the localities through the difficulties in which they will be placed in carrying out the purpose for which the Bill is introduced.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir EDWARD RUGGLES-BRISE
Like most of those who have taken part in the Debate, I welcome the fact that the Government have introduced a Bill for the prevention of ribbon development and the improvement of our roads. The only regret I have is that there has not been an adequate Measure on the Statute Book for many years past, 1005 long before the evil became so pronounced. I wish, indeed, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison), when he was Minister for Reconstruction, had devoted his abilities and his ideas to passing an adequate Bill at that time. I was surprised this afternoon to hear his colleague, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), repudiate the parentage of his stillborn child, the Town and Country Planning Act. It is regrettable that nothing adequate should have been done so far to deal with the admitted evil of ribbon development. It is within the knowledge and daily observation of every hon. Member. I have my own personal experience at home, apart from what I see when I travel further abroad. I have near my home a village noted for its beauty intersected by two roads which give four exits from the village. Unhappily, already two of those roads are partly suffering from ribbon development, and a third is threatened. The fourth is within the ownership of a land owner who has some sense of public duty and some regard for the beauty of the countryside, so that there is one road out of the four protected from these bungaloid excrescences.
When we consider this Bill we have to examine it from two points of view. First, there is the test of whether it is adequate to achieve the purpose in view. The second test is whether, in attempting to achieve this object, it goes beyond what is necessary. In my view the answer to both those questions is in the affirmative. I consider that the Bill will be adequate to achieve the purpose in view, namely, stopping ribbon development and effecting improvements on our roads, but at the same time I think it goes farther than is necessary to achieve that object. Glancing rapidly through the Clauses of the Bill, we find that by Clause 1 complete control is given to any highway authority over any road in its area. That is a fairly wide power to put into any Act of Parliament. In Clause 1 no appeal is allowed to any aggrieved person. There is no proviso to say that consent shall not be unreasonably withheld in the event of any owner of land desiring to acquire access to any of the then existing roads. My right hon. Friend the Minister will surely agree that while giving adequate power to the highway authorities he 1006 should also ensure that there can be no reasonable grievance against the Bill when it is put into operation. Surely the best way to get a Bill of this kind working quickly is to dispose beforehand of all possible points of friction, and to get for it a general consensus of good will. Therefore, I ask the Minister to consider whether he cannot put those very reasonable safeguards into Clause 1.
By Clause 2 all classified roads in the country automatically become restricted. Sub-section (2) is rather curious, and I should be glad if the Minister would let me know what is the purpose of it. That Sub-section gives power to a highway authority to adopt the powers of Clause 2. It appears to be a wide power and not really necessary. I welcome in Clause 2 the proviso as to consent not being unreasonably withheld, and the fact that such a proviso appears to be necessary in Clause 2 reinforces my argument that it should also appear in Clause 1. Clauses 2, 3 and 6—making a rapid survey—contain provisions for the safeguarding of agriculture. I, for one, very much welcome the fact that the agricultural interest should have been considered in the drafting of this Bill. It is a sign that there is a greater appreciation of the interests of agriculture, not only on the part of the Government but, as I believe, on the part of the country as a whole. But even if agricultural interests are adequately safeguarded—and, of course, it will be necessary in committee to probe into the safeguards—I question whether general interests other than those of agriculture are really adequately safeguarded in Clause 8. It will have to be scrutinised with great care in committee.
Clause 8 provides compensation for injurious affection. In my view that compensation is hedged about in a way that somewhat destroys its value. Secondly, the onus of proof is placed on the owner of land when submitting his case to the arbitrator, which is a difficulty which it is almost impossible for him to face up to. I think that Clause 8 will require a good deal of revision in respect of the terms surrounding an award to be given by the arbitrator. In general, as regards Clause 8, this observation should be made. In this Bill we are giving a highway authority great power—power to restrict access and to restrict building development and power to purchase compulsorily. The 1007 highway authority really becomes, when it is before the arbitrator, almost the only potential buyer left. We all know that when anything is for sale in the market a reasonable sale can only be effected when there is reasonable competition for the articles to be sold, and if by Statute we place the only potential buyer in such a position that he can have previously destroyed the value of the article to be purchased, it is not unfair criticism to say that we have put him into the position of being a buyer at his own price.
The inevitable effect must be that the value of all frontages throughout the length and breadth of the land will be considerably depreciated. Some people will say that is a good thing, but I feel sure the general sense of this House would be that no hardship should be inflicted on anybody just because he happened to be the owner of land near a road. Rather, the general sense of the House would be that there should be equity in regard to every individual transaction. Further, having repreciated the value of all frontages owing to the fact that access is denied to all the back land, the value of the back land itself is, of course depreciated. Therefore through this Bill—I do not think it was intended, but it will be one of the inevitable effects—we shall definitely lower the value of all land in England, Scotland and Wales. Let us consider the consequences of doing that. There will be many reactions which do not at once appear on the surface. Nearly all agricultural and a great deal of other land is mortgaged. What will the mortgagees do if this Bill passes into law? They will see the value of the land which is the security for the mortgage depreciate. Many mortgagees do not now call in their mortgages on agricultural estates, for the reason that sometimes a part of an estate has a potential building development value. They rest content so long as that value is there and consider that the security for the mortgage is adequate, but if we destroy that value, cut out, so to speak, the apple of the eye, there will be a likelihood of a great calling-in of mortgages which must lead to a great deal of distress.
What happens when an agricultural owner is fortunate enough to realise a portion of his estate which has a development value? When he gets paid he nearly always applies the money to the betterment 1008 of the remainder of his estate. He will spend part of the money in doing up the existing buildings or, may be, provide the estate with more new and up-to-date buildings, with the latest equipment; or he will spend some of the money on drainage works on the estate; or afforest or replant a portion of his woodlands. There are very few sources from which fresh money ever comes into agriculture for equipment, and we shall dam up one of the few remaining sources if we depreciate the value of any land which may have a development value.
I do not think the Government have quite appreciated the full effect of the Bill which they have presented to the House. Taking the Bill up to Clause 8 I think it is agreed that it goes very far to accomplish the purpose the Government have in view, and if that is so, I am the more astonished that the Bill does not stop at Clause 8, and that when we read on we find ourselves confronted with a Clause of the nature of Clause 10. Clause 10 had a very stormy passage in another place, and there are signs that it may have an even stormier passage in this House, and I would ask the Government to consider whether it might not be in the best interests of the Bill, and help to secure the earlier carrying out of their intentions, to dispense with Clause 10 and proceed with a Bill having the utmost amount of good will from the House. After we have given powers to highway authorities in the earlier Clauses, Clause 10 duplicates and exaggerates those powers to a fantastic degree. It gives the highway authority power of compulsory purchase over any road with a total width of a quarter of a mile. That means that an enormous part of this comparatively small country will, if the Bill operates, pass out of the hands of private ownership and directly into the hands of municipal authorities. I do not think that can be the intention of the Government. No reading of the Clause can lead one to any other conclusion. It opens up the possibility of the municipalisation of land on a very large scale indeed.
Further, it virtually makes a present to the public of all development frontage values by making the highway authority the only available potential purchaser. We get this extraordinary position. Under the earlier Clauses of the Bill the highway authority can first restrict both 1009 access to and the building development of land. It can do much, therefore, to depreciate the value of the land. If the case goes to arbitration and the highway authority does not like the award of the arbitrator it can brush it aside with ease and proceed to compulsory purchase, which in the end means that the highway authority will buy at its own price, or possibly no price at all. I beg the Government to consider the full implications of Clause 10. Again, there is no restriction as to user placed upon the highway authority. Once they have acquired under Clause 10 they can do just what they like with the land. The Minister, in his opening speech, did indicate that he would be prepared to make some qualification, but, as the Bill stands, I assert that there is nothing in that Clause which prevents the highway authority from doing whatever it likes with this land after it has once acquired it. For instance, a highway authority may have forbidden an owner to develop his land, but the highway authority comes along and compulsorily acquires, under the Bill, the very same land, and immediately proceeds to develop it. That position would be absurd. The authority can, if it likes, having bought out the original owner, exploit the land. It can sell the land at a profit to some other owner or develop rows of cottages in front of the owner's own house, cutting him off from the amenities which he has enjoyed.
Those are points which make Clause 10 one which I could not possibly accept. I yield to no one in my desire to see ribbon development checked in this country, and I believe that the first eight Clauses of the Bill would achieve that object. I cannot possibly support the Bill, however—I speak only for myself—if Clause 10 remains in it, for the reasons which I have endeavoured to give. There is much anxiety on the part of every hon. Member to assist my right hon. Friend in the object which he has set before us this afternoon, and it is genuine and wholehearted; but he will achieve his object much more readily if he proceeds with an open mind and is prepared to receive, as I believe he will be, all reasonable suggestions, and to receive them without Clause 10 in the Bill.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Sir JOHN WITHERS
As one who has taken an interest in this matter in the past, I would congratulate the Minister upon the Measure which he has brought forward. The task which he has undertaken must be done quickly. It is satisfactory to know that the Bill is accepted in most parts of the House subject to various criticisms. It is very difficult to make a Bill like this fair, because with every advantage that you offer to the public you run the risk of infringing the rights of the individual. The Clauses in regard to compensation have been very carefully drawn, and I can see no serious objection, although objections have been made both by those who do not want any compensation to be paid and those who want heavier compensation. Both are dissatisfied, and it looks therefore, as though the Bill were, in all probability right.
I should like to make two points of general criticism, not in any way in derogation of the Bill, but in order to show that one is considering the matter with an impartial mind. They are that the Bill is a permissive one and that undue expense may be placed upon some local authorities. Both those points are mentioned in the Amendment which has been put down, and undoubtedly there is something in them. In the matter of permission it will be difficult to make the Bill work in poor districts, where the local authorities have not the money and where the ratepayers are small people who naturally object to their rates being increased, and in a large number of such cases where the Bill should be operated, it will not be put into operation. Would it not be possible to put some compulsion into the Bill, that, upon the order of the Minister and a resolution of this House, a particular local authority should be compelled to put the Measure into operation. I make that suggestion, solely for the purpose of meeting a danger arising out of the permissive character of the Bill.
In regard to the next point, that of undue local cost, I notice that the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont), who is not usually in favour of using public money for this kind of purpose, was strongly in favour of establishing a public fund for carrying out this work in the public interest. I think his attitude is right, and that the Government 1011 ought to finance the scheme to a great extent. I do not think anything definite will be done in this direction unless you, have, first, compulsion, and, secondly, the provision of adequte money to enable the powers to be exercised.
Every speaker has dealt with Clause 10. When we had the privilege of hearing the Minister speak on the matter upstairs this aspect of it was brought to his attention, and he courteously said that he was prepared to consider all criticisms. It is, as the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) has said, a fairly serious matter. The Minister said that he has acted throughout on the basis that he is dealing with sensible, high-minded and responsible local authorities who were out to do the right thing. It does the Minister credit that he should have such confidence in the local authorities. There will be, or there may be, local authorities who will not be up to that standard, and who may think that they are doing a very clever thing by buying land under the Bill for amenities and reselling it, or embarking upon a sewage farm or cottages, or something of that kind. We hope that the Minister's view of the local authorities is right, but the matter ought to be put beyond temptation, and it is by no means impossible to do that in the Clause.
The Minister knows that when land is sold for a particular purpose it can be earmarked for that purpose. When a building estate is developed every person who buys a plot may have to enter into certain covenants as to user, in the way of maintaining a garden, for instance. It would be simple, when a council buys land in order to preserve the amenities, for standard clauses to be inserted in the agreement to provide for user in a particular way and that the land should not be used in any other way. As to what Committee should be set up to consider the Bill, it would be highly advantageous for everybody, and especially for the public, if the Committee stage of the Bill were taken on the Floor of the House, and I would support that proposal. I hope very much that it will meet with the favour of the House. I again thank the Minister, and hope that the Bill will go through.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. ORR-EWING
I rise to support the Bill, not only because I think it will be useful but because I am glad of the 1012 realisation which has grown up and which has brought the Bill into being. I would make one or two suggestions in regard to what appear to be possible improvements. I was delighted to hear the Minister say, when introducing the Bill, that he was prepared to consider making improvements in Clause 10 and in the allied Clauses—or so I understand. I hope I was right in assuming that he will be prepared to accept some Amendment which would make it possible for an owner of land as it were to contract into a system of maintaining the land unbuilt upon and thereby maintaining the amenities. If such an Amendment could be accepted, it would do much to remove distrust which may possibly be felt in some quarters.
I feel strongly that there should be a power of appeal by local residents in the event of a highway authority refusing to use the powers upon non-classified roads. I know this raises the extremely difficult point as to whether it would be right for a third party to be introduced into a matter which lies between the highway authority or the local authority—a publicly elected body—and the Ministry, but we must recognise that all local authorities are not as progressive as they might be, and the local authority might be in power and have to remain in power, under the law governing its election, just long enough for considerable amount of damage to be done. As regards the protection of amenities, I should like to see power by which one local authority could assist in the purchasing or acquiring control of land which lay alongside a road which was under the control of another authority, but which was, by its maintenance free of buildings, an amenity to people living outside the immediate district. It is essential that this power should be given to local authorities in regard to high land seen from a distance, so that such land may be kept in an unspoiled condition.
A further point arising out of Clause 10 and of the whole idea which is there contained, and possibly in other Clauses, is as regards the definition of "amenity." A definition, of course, is almost impossible. The dictionary definition is unsatisfactory and extremely varied. The word, to my mind, smacks very much of the expression "nicely situated," "bath, h. & c.," and so on. Still, some word must be found, and I suppose the word 1013 "amenity" is as good a word as any other. But there appear to be a considerable number who are not prepared to accept the fact that amenities are or ever could be in danger, for it is only on that that I can find any justification for their attack on Clause 10 in particular. It is perfectly easy to do as the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Malden (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) did and attack those who build houses and bungalows at the outlets of villages in the form of ribbon development, and yet the same hon. and gallant Baronet went on to speak of the wish that exists in the minds of some owners of land to rid themselves of that land and benefit themselves by the high price which they would obtain for that land, for the purpose of allowing somebody else to build upon it. In putting that argument hon. Members are asking to have the thing both ways—first to have the advantage of the land clear of all building, and at the same time they are expecting to have the advantage of the price of land which is built on.
If amenity means anything at all, it means the maintenance of such surroundings as will make it possible for people to live pleasantly, healthily and happily or to travel pleasantly, safely and happily. But until lately that amenity was never in doubt. We have on this question of amenities rather a parallel case to water supplies. Until comparatively recently there was no difficulty in anybody obtaining permission to take, or even taking without permission, water from any lake or river. But, because of an increased demand for that necessity, steps have to be taken in many localities to control the drawing of water from such places. So it is with amenities. As we threw a stone into the cities and started on our system of rehousing and slum clearance, and in widening rings pushed people out from the towns to the countryside, so those amenities became more and more valuable the more they became reduced; and I am pleased indeed to see the contents of Clause 10, believing that it is not only necessary but absolutely essential that we should have power, that the local authorities should have power, to maintain those amenities which are being so extremely rapidly reduced. I would go a little further than that. I cannot help doubting whether those who are opposing this particular Clause have ever 1014 examined the implications of that opposition. We have recognised for a great many years—I was reading an Act this afternoon of 1801—the right of the community—the authority representing the whole of the community—to purchase or acquire land if it is considered necessary for the community that it should so be acquired.
Opposition to this Clause would seem to fly directly in the face of what has been so accepted for a great number of years. If I am right in that, I would say that the opposition to Clause 10 attacks also what I have always thought to be one of the basic principles of at least one party, the Conservative party. If those who own land are not prepared to give to the community the some powers and the same rights to protect that which is worth protecting which they have themselves, then I would definitely say that they are flying in the fact of what I have always considered to be a very old foundation of the spirit of the party to which I belong—that it is the duty of those who have power, that it is expected of those who have power, to do everything they possibly can voluntarily, without being forced to do it, for the good of the community. That is why I support the Clause.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Mr. MABANE
My right hon. Friend must surely be gratified at the wide measure of approval which this Bill has received this afternoon. Until the last speaker rose it had received approval in general from Government supporters; now for the first time, I think, from a Conservative Member there has been approval of Clause 10, a Clause to which wide exception has been taken. I am sure that the whole House was disappointed by the speech of the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). The Minister asked for constructive suggestions. He developed the theme of the Bill with the brevity and lucidity we have grown accustomed to expect from him. He specifically said that he did not stand on this or that point. In response, he received not a single constructive suggestion from the right hon. Member for Wakefield. If that is the only contribution which the Labour Opposition can make to a problem of this character, it will be one more reason why the country should refuse to give 1015 them further support if and when a General Election comes in the near future. I desire to support the view that it would be much better if this Bill were taken on the Floor of the House. It is a common opinion in this House that ribbon development is beastly and dangerous and must be treated as a matter of urgency. The Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) and the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin) both supported a suggestion that the Bill should be sent to a Committee upstairs. I know something of their experience and skill in Committee upstairs, because for five months I listened to their powerful debating of the Town and Country Planning Bill, the result of which was that the Bill was delayed a long time between its Second Reading and Report stage. The House and the country would not wish such a long period to intervene between the Second Reading of this Bill and the Report stage.
I desire to deal with one point which has not been referred to this afternoon save by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) and by the Minister in his opening speech. It might be supposed by anybody who had listened to the speeches and had not read the Bill that the Bill contained 10 Clauses only. Most hon. Members have said that they approve of Clauses 1 to 9 but not of Clause 10. They have stopped there. They have made no reference to Clauses 11 and 12, and I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that Clauses 11 and 12 do exist. Their existence is the only reason for my intervening in this Debate. The Debate hitherto has been almost exclusively in the hands of Members representing rural constituencies. It is because these two Clauses affect urban interests that I, a Member representing an urban constituency, claim the privilege of making some comments. These Clauses deal with a subject which is described in a general title as Parking Places and Means of Access. I want to ask the Minister to tell the House why it is necessary for these Clauses to be in the Bill at all, because they have nothing at all to do with ribbon development. They contain extensions of various powers which have been granted in the 1016 past. Indeed the theme of these two Clauses might be "Leslie, or Little by Little." The Minister has in Clause 11 extended very considerably the power granted by Section 68 of the Public Health Act, 1925. That Act empowers local authorities to acquire land to provide parking places. This Clause empowers local authorities to erect and maintain buildings for this purpose—in other words, to build garages and in the speech of the hon. Member for Wigan it was made clear that already the thought has been provoked that this may not stop at garages. He suggested that local authorities might sell petrol. They might have a repair shop. These municipal garages might in a short time be turned into complete service stations. I am sure that if the House examines Clause 11 it will be very chary of granting to local authorities the powers granted under this particular Clause.
Clause 12, which, again, has nothing to do with ribbon development, provides that a local authority may require owners or occupiers of buildings to provide means of access and egress, and, as the Minister explained, places where goods may be loaded or unloaded and passengers taken up and set down. In general that might seem a good idea, but if this Clause is considered carefully it becomes evident that these powers might bear very hardly on particular owners or occupiers of property. The controlling section of the Clause is Sub-section (8), which says:This Section applies to any building whereof the external or containing walls contain a space of not less than 250,000 cubic feet.If it, is proposed to make an alteration to any such building, then the local authority before approving the plans may require that occupier or owner to make provision off the road for a space where passengers may be taken up or set down. I want to ask how that applies in the case of a retail store established in a building containing 250,000 cubic feet, a building with a frontage to the street of 40 feet, a depth of 120 feet, and a height of 55 feet containing a space exceeding 250,000 cubic feet. That is not a large building. If anyone takes a lease of premises of that size, or premises on the ground floor in a building of that size, and proposes to alter 1017 the premises, the local authority may, before passing these plans, require the occupier to make provision off the roadway for taking up and setting down passengers. If that were so, the possibilities of establishing business premises of that character would be seriously diminished. It does not seem to be an effective reply to say that no local authority would ever require such a thing to be done. The point I want to make is that the power is there. If it is said that the local authority would never use it, I think it is better that the power should not be in the Bill at all.
I have referred to buildings of 250,000 cubic feet, which is one definition in this Clause of buildings to which these new powers apply. There is another definition, and I should like to ask the Minister whether the later definition would include a shop? I presume that it would not. Sub-section (8) also states that the Clause applies to "any place of public resort," but, so far as I can see, the definition of a place of public resort which is to be found in Sub-section (6) of Section 6 of the Public Health Act, 1890, does not make it quite clear whether a shop is a place of public resort or not. If it is to be regarded as a place of public resort, Clause 12 becomes still more dangerous.
I have intervened merely to draw attention to these two Clauses, which seem to me to be of considerable importance, but which have not been mentioned by any other speaker, except briefly by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson), and by the Minister, who, however, in referring to them, did not state the actual powers he was taking, but merely gained the sympathy of the House by a general statement that he was making it easier for the roads to be cleared of traffic, without saying how he proposed that that should actually be done. I hope that the large number of people who would be affected if the Clauses were to operate as I suggest will be given some reassurance when my right hon. Friend or the Parliamentary Secretary comes to reply.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) appears to be rather frightened of Clause 11. Probably I, as a country Member, look at these matters from a 1018 country point of view, while the hon. Member looks at them from the town point of view. The Minister of Transport will know what is done in New York, where, in the case of these big buildings, they put cars on a lift and run them up perhaps 300 or 400 feet to the roof, and it might be worth while, in considering this question of parking, to bear in mind what is done in this direction in New York. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) ended his remarks with a nice little lecture to landowners, which I am sure the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), had they been present, would have been very glad to hear. I should like to say, with all deference, that agricultural landowners carry out their duties in that way to a very large extent at present. No doubt my hon. Friend himself has given away bits of his estate, as I have of mine, on various occasions. The difficulty that we feel, however, is that when the local authorities become landowners they will not be able to do that. It is public money that they will be spending, and they will have to try to get proper value for their money, and will not be able to be generous even if they wish to be. Our fear is that the powers given to local authorities by Clause 10 of the Bill to buy these frontages will put an end to this custom which landowners, in their own villages and among their own people, were always ready to follow.
§ Mr. ORR-EWING
Surely, my hon. and gallant Friend is not suggesting that the honest landowner would make evil use of any powers that might be given to any local authority?
I seem to have misunderstood my hon. Friend, but I rather felt that he was giving a lecture which was not so much called for in the case of agricultural landowners as it might possibly be in the case of local authorities. I agree very much with the view that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir. E. Ruggles-Brise) takes of this Bill. It is necessary, and we congratulate the Government on bringing it in, but we think that Clause 10 is not necessary, or that at any rate it should be amended. I am sure that the Minister will give consideration to the suggestion of my hon. Friend the 1019 Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers), that, when land is sold to a local authority, it should be sold with a proviso that it cannot be redeveloped, but can only be re-sold if it is kept in its natural state. I certainly think that Clause 10 should contain, as a safeguard, a proviso on the lines recommended by my hon. Friend. I hope that the Bill will be effective in restricting, as it is intended to restrict, the ribbon building along our roads, both just outside towns and in the countryside, which is such a terrible problem at the present moment. I have, however, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, some fear that the Bill rather mixes up the points of view of the Ministry of Transport and of the Ministry of Health, and I am also a little apprehensive that it may affect somewhat seriously those districts which have planning schemes.
A few months ago, some of us landowners in Sussex, where I live, got together and agreed on a planning scheme, and a standstill order has accordingly been made. We have naturally had to agree that no ribbon development shall take place along any of the roads in that beautiful forest area, but it has also been agreed that, where there are villages, we may extend the roads where necessary for the employment of agricultural labourers and so forth. Such extensions outside the villages will bring these roads within 200 yards of some of the main roads, and it may be that the highway authority and the town planning authority will find themselves at variance over this question of development round the villages. From the country planning point of view, we shall endeavour to do what the planning authorities always try to do, namely, to confine any enlargements to the area immediately around the village, rather than dumping down cottages here and there outside. Is it certain, however, that, if any such building development line runs alongside a main road, it will not start another line of ribbon building 200 yards behind the road? The only answer is that it would be very expensive, as new roads would have to be made, but at the same time the land would be cheaper, and I see nothing in the Bill to stop the development of a second ribbon line in that way. That is why I say that the highway authorities 1020 may come into conflict with the planning authorities, and I think it would be better for the planning of the countryside if all these matters were in the hands of the bigger authority. I have no doubt that in Committee Amendments can be made for the adjustment of these points.
I should like to ask a question about the advertisements which are such a horrible eyesore along so many of our roads, both in towns and in the country. I understand that such advertisements would be regarded as buildings, and the definition Clause says that:'Building' includes any structure or erection of whatsoever material and in whatsoever manner constructed, and any part of a building.These advertisement signs are ugly, but it will not be possible to take them down, because they will be structures, and, if the owner keeps on repairing them and putting up different advertisements on them, they will still remain up. I should like to see some more drastic provision for dealing with them, and also with some of the shacks that are put up alongside the roads where teas and so on are supplied. I understand that under the Bill there would be no power to remove these either, as long as they are repaired and the sanitary authorities are satisfied with their condition. They are, however, a danger to traffic on many country roads, as well as being an eyesore, and I hope it will be found possible to deal with them in some way.
There is another point about which I am in some doubt. According to the interpretation Clause, "road" means a highway repairable by the inhabitants at large. Would parish councils, which are the authorities over paths through woods and so on, become highway authorities under the Bill, and, if so, could they widen a path in order to make it into a road? I should like to know what powers they would have. I do not think a parish council ought to be a highway authority, or that a roadway like a path through a wood should be widened. While cordially supporting the Bill, I hope that Amendments will be made especially to Clause 10, because the Bill will make it possible to hand over to the local authorities or the Government 250 yards on either side of every road, or some 10 per cent. of the land of this country. That is a tremendous power to give, 1021 and in some cases such powers have been abused by local authorities, so that the Clause requires very careful consideration.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. BURNETT
The hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) spoke as if this were the first effort which had been made to deal with ribbon development, but I do not think that that quite represents the facts of the case. The Development and Roads Improvement Act, 1909, gave powers very similar to those which are to be conferred under Clause 10 of this Bill. It gave power to the Board to acquire land on either side of the proposed road 220 yards from the middle of the road. This it could do with the consent of the Minister, and it could acquire the land compulsorily. But the trouble with regard to ribbon development is not that the power is not there, but rather that the power which is there has not been exercised. The power in that, case only dealt with roads which were being constructed, whereas this Bill extends the power to include roads already in existence. The Road Board has not taken the trouble to exercise in the past the powers which it could have exercised, and as a result, on the new roads which have been created, we have ribbon development which could have been stopped by the local authorities. I think that that supports the plea put forward by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont), who said that road boards are not always the best authorities to deal with the roads. Both in regard to road construction and the development of roads and ribbon building, the road boards are not exactly best qualified to deal with such matters. The Minister of Transport ought to take unto himself more power of supervision in connection with the roads than he has at present, and he should see that the power which already exists in connection with the Road Improvement Act is properly put into force by the local authority.
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) mentioned that this was primarily an amenities Bill. It is an amenities Bill, and it is none the worse for that. We welcome it cordially as another recognition of the fact that local authorities and Ministers are responsible to the community generally for the protection of beautiful scenery and the preservation 1022 of the countryside. Whether it concerns both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Transport is of very little importance one way or the other. We want to see this Measure carried through as being something which will preserve the beauty of the countryside.
We in Scotland have perhaps not suffered quite as much from the evil of ribbon development as has been the case in England. I do not say that it is entirely because our local authorities behave better in the matter, but the development of industry in recent years has been greater in England than in Scotland. There has been more shifting of the population, and another very important reason for it is that the building societies have not functioned in the same way in Scotland as they have done in England, and the speculative builder has not gone forward with his works with the same rapidity as he has in. England. But even so, we in Scotland have suffered gravely from ribbon development. If I may instance a case, probably the approach to Edinburgh by the Queensferry Road was one of the noblest accesses which any great city or town could have, with its wide roadway and trees at the sides, such as it was 20 or 25 years ago. Anyone who now approaches Edinburgh from that side must realise that a very different sight is presented from that which was presented in the past. Many of the trees have been cut down, and there are houses which are not worthy of the site upon which they have been placed. A tribute should be paid to such societies as the Civic Society of Glasgow which endeavours to see that old trees which front upon these arterial roads and other roads in the country are not destroyed, and that wherever possible old trees which have taken so long to grow are preserved for the beauty of the countryside.
Many by-pass roads made purely for the convenience of fast moving traffic round our large cities are already being built up with bungalows and other buildings, and now there is little use for these roads. We have a by-pass road round Aberdeen. A large part of it has already been built upon, and consequently we have to consider whether it is a built-up area and whether the speed on that road is to be restricted to 30 miles an hour. That is one instance of what is happening all over England and Scotland. A 1023 Bill of this sort, if it is to be operative and work, should be of great use in that direction. It should be of use in connection with amenities, but in one sense it is much more important from the point of view of the Ministry of Transport. If it be the case that two persons out of every three who are killed on the roads are killed in built-up areas, and that eight out of every ten children who are injured on the roads are injured in built-up areas, surely that is a very strong case for making the Ministry of Transport responsible in order to reduce these enormous casualties which take place on the roads, and particularly the large arterial roads. We often see cars parked in front of houses where there is ribbon development. They take up both sides of the road, and cars have to pass each other in the centre of the road, and naturally accidents are bound to occur.
The hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) and another hon. Member mentioned the question of subsidiary roads. It is a very important question. It was said that those subsidiary roads should not be parallel, because it would mean further ribbon development, but, after all, if they were parallel it would mean taking a good many cars away from the fast moving traffic. Those cars could be parked on the side roads, children could go about in front of the houses, and if there were an occasional access to the main road, the fast moving traffic would have a great benefit and the object of arterial roads would be achieved. I hope that in this country more will be done, as the Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Janner) said, towards creating satellite towns and group settlements in connection with houses. I have visited some of them in Berlin where a settlement is put down and advertised as possessing a school, a bank, a post office, shops and other requirements. The settlement is put down a short distance from the main traffic roads with excellent results. The same sort of thing is done in Holland. On the outskirts of the towns there are many housing settlements, complete units off the main traffic lines.
The powers given in Clause 10, the debatable Clause, are very drastic, although rather similar powers were given in connection with the Act of 1909. As long as they are used purely for the improvement 1024 of amenities or for making all the traffic on the roads safer, there will be no danger, but there is always the possibility that they may be used for other purposes. An enormous power is being placed in the hands of local authorities. We have many thousands of miles of classified roads, and the power to purchase land to the extent of a quarter-of-a-mile in width might be used for a different object altogether. It might happen that at some time a Minister of Transport might be in favour of the nationalisation of land, and also that local authorities in particular who were dealing with roads might have a majority of the same view. Something should be done to hold up this power so that compulsory purchase should not be exercised, at any rate, for three years, and in the meantime the land in question could be sterilised. I heartily support the Bill both from the traffic point of view and also from the point of view of amenities. It should do a great deal to help to solve the problem, and I hope that it will be quickly placed upon the Statute Book.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Sir MURDOCH MACDONALD
I like many other speakers wish to congratulate the Minister upon bringing in one of the most necessary Bills which I have seen the Department bring forward or consider for some time. I would draw the attention of the Minister and that of the House to what seems to me to be an encroachment upon the ordinary civil liberties in connection with this Bill. Clause 1, Sub-section (4) says:If, after holding a local inquiry the Ministry is satisfied,I have had experience of local inquiries held by various Government Departments, and I suggest to the Minister that he should consider not appointing members of his own Department or even of other Government Departments to hold these inquiries, but independent outside people, so that everybody would be satisfied as to the results. It is true that in an ordinary civil law case it may happen that one of the applicants is not satisfied with the verdict given, but, while that may happen, all the onlookers are able to read the judge's award and know exactly why he has come to a particular conclusion. To-day that is not possible in regard to many of these inquiries. The gentleman who is appointed 1025 to hold an inquiry comes down and conducts the proceedings and then says that he will write a report to the Minister, and nobody is able to know what the report actually contains until the Minister has given a simple finding one way or the other. It would be far better if the Minister could meet the point which I am making, and say that these local inquiries would be held by independent people. In the next Clause there is a matter of an almost identical nature. In Sub-section (3) of Clause 2 it says:No consent which a highway authority have power to give under this section shall be unreasonably withheld.If it is withheld an inquiry will be ordered by the Minister, and the matter will be determined by him. The provision concludes by saying that the decision of the Minister shall be final. While the decision of the Minister might well be final against his own Department or against a local authority it ought not to be final against any private citizen. The private citizen should still have the right to appeal to some court if he thinks it fit and proper to do so.
I notice that in the First Schedule the standard width of road begins at 60 feet. In the Clauses, however, power is taken by the Minister to make varying widths other than those beginning at 60 feet and going up to 160 feet. It might be imagined by many people that he should take power to make the width less than 60 feet in certain cases. There are many roads to which ribbon development might be applicable where the roads might be of less width than 60 feet. That might mean on a country road a 40 foot roadway and 10 foot on either side, which would be a very wide road and probably unnecessarily wide for a particular locality. The Minister might take power to keep the buildings equally far back from the narrower road, but it might be advisable to start in the Schedule with a smaller width than 60 feet.
Clause 10 seems to be and is likely to be the contentious part of the Bill, but I see no particular reason why objection should be taken to it. That Clause provides that the Lands Clauses Acts shall apply in regard to any acquisition of property if the seller or owner of the property wishes to dispute the amount which has been offered to him. In those circumstances an arbitration will ensue, and in the ordinary course, except for the 1026 modification of the Lands Clauses Acts, which are included in this Bill, and which seem not unreasonable in themselves, there seems to me no question that the person selling land to the local authority will get the ordinary full value for it. Therefore, I cannot see why there should be any objection to Clause 10. Again, I wish to congratulate the Minister on bringing in a Bill which is urgently necessary.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. TURTON
Many hon. Members have expressed surprise at the speech of the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), and I share their surprise. When I heard him, with his perfervid oratory, gibing at the Government for having delayed bringing in this Bill I called to mind his own record in the matter. When he was appointed Minister of Health he was pressed at Question Time by a Member of the Conservative party to introduce a Ribbon Development Bill, and he replied:I am aware of the disadvantages of ribbon development. They may be reduced, although by no means always prevented by town planning, especially by negotiations with the owners.A much different line from that which he took to-day:I hope to consider at the opportune time whether more can be done.For two years we pressed him to bring in a Ribbon Development Bill. He did nothing at all in that direction, and now because the National Government have delayed nine months from the time that they expressed their intention of bringing in this Bill he moves an Amendment objecting to the Bill altogether. I cannot understand that attitude.
I have been and am eager to see the control of ribbon development, but I must express my regret at the nature of this Bill. I believe it could have been done perfectly well by a short, simple, one Clause Measure. The House will recall how the control over buildings in this country started. In 1875 local authorities were empowered to issue bylaws as to how buildings should be erected, and under Section 157 of the Act of 1875 if they had made such bylaws they could approve or disapprove plans for any building in their area. I should have preferred this problem to be dealt with by an extension of those powers. The local authority would consider 1027 the safety and use of the roads and the amenities of their districts and if we had the extension which I suggest they could disapprove plans which contravened their by-laws. If we had done it by that means we should not require any compensation. There is no compensation for the owner who builds his house not in conformity with the bylaws of the local authority. Therefore, we should have needed no compensation and no compulsory purchase order. There is no need in the control of ribbon development to go into a system of purchasing land by local authorities.
These are my own views, but I realise that the House and the Minister take another view and have adopted another course. If we are to have compensation provisions, then I must admit that I think the compensation provision in this Bill, although it is a new and a novel system of compensating owners, is the right system. I do not share the doubts of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) in regard to Clause 8 (a, ii) as to whether or not there is a demand for such development. It is easy to prove whether or not there is a demand. I think that if my hon. Friend had been present now he would admit that if he had attended before a licensing committee to consider whether there was a demand for a licensed house he would have found thirsty gentlemen coming forward to say: "We all want a public house here." Therefore, it is easy to prove a demand. The only difficulty under Clause 8 is that of proving that the plans for the development of a piece of land would be practicable if this Bill had never been passed. That is a difficulty with which the legal profession will have to contend and I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of a court to determine that provision.
The one Clause to which I take great exception is Clause 10. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett) and the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) said that in Clause 10 there is no contravention of the existing law. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare reminded the House of the Act of 1801, and the hon. Member for North Aberdeen alluded to the Act of 1909. Those Acts only empowered the local authority to purchase land for a specific purpose. If land was bought, 1028 then under the Act of 1909 a road must be built upon a portion of the land. There are many Acts of Parliament which empower local authorities to buy land for the erection of asylums, hospitals and so on, but Clause 10, with one exception, is the first Clause that allows a local authority to purchase land and does not lay it down what is going to happen to the land that has been purchased. I am very glad that the Minister of Transport, who is the proud parent of the Bill, is ready to alter Clause 10 in order to make is more like the other children of former Governments. I hope that he will alter Clause 10.
The Clause appears to me to be a copy of the Surrey provision. The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Rhys) in an interjection, said that Surrey had no compulsory powers, but Surrey have compulsory powers to purchase, under Section 68 of the Surrey County Council Act, but they are different compulsory powers from those in Clause 10. Surrey, which is one of the suburban counties where there may be an argument for compulsory purchase, has taken powers far less stringent than those of Clause 10 of this Bill. Under the Surrey Act no land which is used for a park, garden or pleasure ground, or forms part of a home farm attached to a mansion house, or is otherwise required for the amenity or convenience of any dwellinghouse can be compulsorily purchased. One of the great objections to Clause 10 comes from people who have gardens and some form of amenity within 220 yards of a road. They feel that there is a danger under Clause 10 that they will be deprived of their present amenity of the garden or the pleasure ground and that a local authority may come along and build upon that pleasure ground. The Minister in his opening remarks, if I interpret him correctly, said that he was going to stop a local authority from building upon land which they had compulsorily purchased. But that is only one part of the question. He ought to consider whether he should not exclude from Clause 10 the land that is used for purely amenity purposes. That would mean embodying not only the Surrey provision but also it would mean allowing the owner who has covenanted to keep his land free from development, to be free from the provisions of Clause 10. As one who has been a lawyer, I know that there is a difficulty 1029 in the covenanting principle. If we are not careful such a covenant is illegal, but it is not beyond the wit of the Parliamentary draftsman to allow that owner protection so long as the covenant is in force.
There is one further Act under which this compulsory provision operates, and that is the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932. I foresee great difficulty as to bow Section 25 of the Town and Country Planning Act will operate with Clause 10 of this Bill, because if a local authority under the Town and Country Planning Act want to buy land under Section 25 they may find themselves in competition with the other authority, the highways authority, under this Bill. We must guard against that. I wish to draw attention to Clause 8 (1, b). As at present drafted that Sub-section means absolutely nothing because the words "a compulsory purchase order" have no special meaning. They cannot refer to the Clause 10 compulsory order because that is specially exempted by the wording of Clause 10. I understand from certain information that the Minister has given to me that he intends it to be a compulsory purchase order under Clause 10. If that be so, I think the House should be very careful before allowing this Subsection to go through. It might be used in a most noxious way in the form of blackmail. If an owner wanted to get compensation for access, the authority might say, "We do not want you to apply for this compensation, and, if you do apply, we shall compulsorily buy it under our powers under Clause 10." It is a far worse form of blackmail than people get seven years' penal servitude for at the Old Bailey.
I want to say a word in reply to the very vicious attack levelled by the hon. Member for Aylesbury upon rural district councils. Only two years have passed since the House made rural district councils town planning authorities under the Town and Country Planning Act and, as far as I am aware, they have not been very dilatory in carrying out their powers. There has been a certain amount of preliminary spadework to be done. Here we are within two years, not repealing that Act, but giving larger powers to another body which in my view has no right to be called a planning authority. Why should the 1030 highway authority be the authority to look after the amenities of the country? Highway authorities are chiefly anxious to have good service roads and facilities for speedy traffic upon them. They have little care for the amenities of the country. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) suggested that in order to carry out this Bill there should be appeals by local residents pressing the highway authority to invoke the provisions of the Act. The only reason why he need make that objection to the Bill is that the authority under it is not the rural district council, which is composed of local residents, but this highway authority, the county council, which cares very little for the amenities of the little local village. We are not dealing with the thickly populated suburban areas of Surrey, Middlesex and Hertfordshire, but with sparsely populated areas where the centre of local government, the county council, is far from these villages and where the amenities of the village are and have always been looked after by the rural district council. For that reason, this Government, and the Socialist Government that preceded it, gave planning powers to the rural district council, and now the Ministry of Transport seeks to take away those powers from the rural district council and hand them over to the highway authority. I hope the House will be very careful before falling in with the suggestion of the Minister of Transport.
The Bill, if passed in its present form, would be contradictory and cumbrous. There would be great difficulty in setting one against the other the different claims of the rural district council under the Town and Country Planning Act and of the county council under the present Bill, and a further difficulty would be that some of your provisions would have to get the approval of the Minister of Health and others of the Minister of Transport. I can understand the active and properly ambitious Minister of Transport wanting to have the control of this great social evil in his hands, but really here I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). The proper person to control ribbon development is the Minister of Health, and this Bill, I fear, will be a dead letter unless we can have the amenity provisions under the control of 1031 the Minister of Health while we have the safety provisions under the control of the Minister of Transport.
I should like to reinforce one suggestion that has been made to the Minister. This is a good Bill except for Clause 10. It is, I believe, a weak Bill in its earlier Clauses. Will the Minister reconsider that quid pro quo and cut out Clause 10 and extend Clause 2 to any road? I cannot see why the House, eager to control ribbon development, should stop at controlling it upon the classified roads. The evil of ribbon development as I see it in the more rural parts of England is spreading rapidly to the unclassified roads. If you leave Clause 2 as it is now, the spread of ribbon development to the unclassified roads will proceed more rapidly, and it is not enough to say: "We have provided against that, because, if the highway authority wishes it, it can include any unclassified road in their list of classified roads," because there is necessarily delay in these matters. While the local authority is considering whether to include a certain unclassified road among its classified roads the evils is already done. Ribbon development has occurred. I hope the Minister will delete this noxious Clause 10, which really has no effect in controlling ribbon development, or would have no effect if you had those extra powers under Clause 2. We have no greater safeguard in the ownership of land by a local authority than we have in the ownership of land by a private individual. The same base motives of easy gain in speculative building occur to both parties, and for that reason, while I shall certainly vote for the Bill, I hope that it will be amended in Committee.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. CONANT
I should like to associate myself with those who have offered congratulations to the Minister upon his effort to deal with a very great evil, and I believe, in so far as the Bill seeks to prevent ribbon development, its provisions will prove effective. But Clause 10, which appears to me to deal with entirely different matters, seems to be unnecessary for the general purpose of the Bill. I was very astonished to hear that hon. Members opposite had decided to oppose the Bill, because it imposes such tremendous restrictions upon the rights of individuals that I 1032 should have thought it would be most dear to the heart of any Socialist, and hon. Members opposite would, no doubt, have been justified in complaining that the National Government had stolen their thunder.
The hon. Member who has just spoken suggested that the restrictions on ribbon development imposed by Clause 2 on classified roads may have the effect of extending ribbon development on unclassified roads. I do not share that fear, because I think in those districts where such an eventuality might occur it can easily be foreseen and the provisions of Clause 2 (2) will be adequate to meet it, but to impose an automatic restriction on buildings on all the country lanes throughout the land—I suppose that the bulk of the unclassified roads are country lanes—would be an altogether unjustifiable interference with the rights of individuals. It seems to me that as long as we call ourselves a free country we have to be careful not to impose restrictions upon individuals unless the necessity for those restrictions has been proved. I think most enlightened owners of property recognise that in connection with ribbon development there is a need for further restraint of their rights and their freedom of action, and they accept it, but I do not think it can be proved that it would be necessary to extend these restrictions to unclassified roads and country lanes, on many of which no doubt building is quite impossible, at the same time.
The main purpose of my intervention is to refer to the position of agriculture, because, quite rightly, under Clauses 2 (4) and 3 (1) the erection of agricultural buildings and the obtaining of access to agricultural land is exempted from the restrictions imposed. It is right and proper that our agricultural industry should receive that exemption. I should imagine that the principle involved is not that agricultural buildings are any more beautiful to behold or more conducive to the amenities of the district than other buildings, but that an industry which is concerned with developing the natural resources of our country and tilling the soil should receive some special treatment, and it occurs to me that, if that be the principle involved—and I could imagine it must be—the mining and quarrying industry should come in for 1033 exactly the same exemption. Mining, particularly iron stone working, is obviously not an industry which improves the amenities of a locality, but it is one directly concerned with the development of the natural resources of the land. It is an industry which would be most seriously affected by the restrictions imposed, and, since it provides employment for such a large number of people, I suggest to the Minister that he might perhaps extend these exemptions to cover mining and quarrying as well as agriculture.
With regard to Clause 10, we all agree with its object—the preservation of the beauty of the countryside—but the giving of these extensive powers to local authorities without any guarantee that they will be used in the way they are intended to be used is a step which would not be justified in the circumstances. It has been suggested that it might be possible to amend the Clause so that the land could be sold conditionally upon its being used for the purpose of amenities, and another valuable suggestion has been made by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Mahon (Mr. Turton) that land already used as amenity for a house should be exempted. With the second suggestion I entirely agree, and, with regard to the first, I think it would be an improvement if the land after purchase were handed over in trust to some other body. In that way it would be more definitely preserved. As it stands the Clause is distinctly dangerous and would not carry out the purposes for which it is intended. On the whole, I approve the principles upon which the Bill is based, so far as it attempts to restrict ribbon development, and I hope it may have a speedy passage to the Statute Book.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Conant) has suggested that we on these benches should welcome the Bill with open arms because, as he said, it interferes to the maximum degree with private interests. We believe that when private interests stand in the way of the public well being they should be subordinate to the public interest, and if the Bill were likely to be implemented in the way its sponsors suggest there would not be a great deal of hostility to it on our part. But hon. Members opposite must know that the Government live from hand to mouth. 1034 They have no considered policy, no longtime views on anything, and I have no difficulty in understanding why that is so after having listened to a number of speeches this afternoon. I could not accuse the Minister of Transport of any lack of imagination or initiative, but wherever in any Bill brought before the House there appears to be any long-time views on any specific problem the diehards on the back benches who support the Government are at once up against the proposal.
Every one has stumbled when he has got to Clause 10 of the Bill. The first part of the Bill is all right, but on Clause 10, which shows some imagination and foresight, and some intention of dealing with the problem, we get a volume of protest from the benches opposite. From the way in which the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) began his speech, I thought he was going to make an unqualified eulogy of the Bill, but I had not to wait long before I found that he was in exactly the same position as other hon. Members. When he came to Clause 10 he boggled. It was going too far. Therefore, I have not much difficulty in understanding why in many of the proposals brought before this House by the Government there is a strange lack of imagination and a failure to take a long-time view of the problems which face us.
The Minister of Transport told us something of what was in his mind in regard to the roads of the future, and no one will quarrel with the description he gave as to what the great roads of the future must be like. He talked about making adequate provision for motor transport, for cycle tracks, for pedestrians, and for everybody who has the right to use the roads. Clearly, if you are going to have such roads fresh land must be acquired. No one will dispute that proposition, and everyone will also agree that compensation must be paid for the land that is acquired. Public opinion, I am certain, will insist that compensation, and adequate compensation, shall be paid for the land which will be needed to make these roads. Such compensation will in the long run amount to a large sum of money.
In discussing a Bill of this nature, we naturally consider what are likely to be its effects in an area with which we are familiar, and how the money which will 1035 be required for these new roads will be found in any particular locality. I represent a Nottinghamshire division. Through the county runs a long stretch of the Great North Road, Newark to Bawtrey, about 30 miles. That is the road on which the Minister of Transport chose to make some of the first experiments in traffic lanes. We happen to have in Nottinghamshire a particularly energetic and capable surveyor, and no doubt immediately this Bill becomes law he will come before the highways committee of the county council, of which I happen to be a, member, tell us all about the provisions of the Bill, and outline what it is necessary to do in the county of Nottinghamshire. I am certain that he will have something to say about the Great North Road, one of our great national roads. If we are going to have roads which the Minister of Transport visualised this afternoon, we shall have to acquire considerable land along that stretch of road, and, naturally, we shall begin to ask what it is going to cost, what it will mean to the county rate.
Those who come from industrial Nottinghamshire will be particularly insistent on this point. Industrial Nottinghamshire is largely a coalmining area, and, as every one knows, the coal industry has suffered considerably from the invention of the internal combustion engine. It has already considerably reduced employment in the coal industry, and may reduce employment still further. Therefore, I am certain that industrial Nottinghamshire will want to know what the land will cost, and when it is found that it will probably mean a heavier rate burden industrial Nottinghamshire will not be too enthusiastic about it. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, will be able to ease our minds on that point, because the cost will undoubtedly be considerable. The road runs through the rural parts of the county, and it carries, largely a through traffic, which has nothing to do particularly with the county. This is a point which must be emphasised. Roads like that should be entirely a national charge, and in no way a charge on local rates. You cannot make out a case for asking members of an industry like the coal industry, which is already hard-pressed by many and varied problems, to contribute towards the cost of these great national 1036 motor roads. If we on these benches felt that this matter had been adequately dealt with in the Bill, there would be no complaints. It is because we feel it is not being dealt with, because we honestly believe that the burden on local authorities will be very much greater than it is, if these projects are carried out, that our reasoned Amendment is moved.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. D. G. SOMERVILLE
I am equally glad with other hon. Members that the Government have brought forward a Bill to deal with the menace of ribbon development. It certainly is a menace to many beautiful parts of England. But at the same time I do not think that the Government should be carried too far by those people who think that amenities are everything, for very often they are rather visionary and rather inclined to sacrifice more practical things to their ideas. For the life of me I cannot understand why the Socialist party should in any way object to the Bill. To my mind it is a very long step towards the nationalisation of land. There are approximately 42,000 to 43,000 miles of classified roads in the country, and if the local authorities purchase in one form or another 220 yards from the centre of each road they are going a long way towards collecting a very large acreage of country throughout Great Britain. As to the suggestion that the scheme should be applied to secondary roads and built-up areas, I do not think the Government realise what they are taking on. I can only imagine that the Socialist party object to the Bill because the Government have decided to pay compensation. The Socialist party generally lays it down that it should be entitled to grab anything without any compensation.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The Socialist party specifically lays down that it will pay, and desires to pay, fair compensation for the property acquired.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
With regard to the Bill generally, I think it is too wide in many cases and too narrow in others, and that many of the Clauses should be amended. Take as a start Clause 6. Apparently access is only to be given, with the exception of the existing accesses, to farm buildings, unless otherwise agreed with the local council. Is 1037 not that going to be a considerable handicap to quarries which may be opened and are available on the edge of the 220 yards; and to gravel pits and sand pits which are utilised for the purpose of making roads, and which, if it is necessary to make a long circle to gain access to the road, will have to increase the cost of the material excavated? That would also apply to quarries of every description, to china clay deposits and even to mining properties. I ask the Government to consider carefully whether they cannot include with the permission for agricultural properties, permission to cover subsidiary or ancillary projects such as quarries and similar undertakings.
Then I think it is a very dangerous thing to say that no new construction can be undertaken and that existing construction and buildings will be left. Take the case of someone who has a large estate or some institution which purchases a large estate for housing invalids or forming a, home or a place of residence. Are they not to be allowed to put up any kind of structure? I can Imagine a man who wants to develop an estate for his own residence. Under the Bill he cannot even put up a lodge and get access to the road without first obtaining permission. If that permission is not granted, what is his position? He cannot have any access to his property except at the back.
I think Clause 10 is an extremely dangerous Clause. I fail to see that it has very much to do with ribbon development. Apparently a local council can exercise their power and acquire land for 220 yards from the centre of a road. I would like to know from the Minister what control he or any authority has over a council who develop this land. The Minister said a council could not speculate in land because it could not sell it. But what is to stop a council granting building leases and permitting anq kind of building atrocity on the land? I suggest that the development of such land, when purchased by a local council, should be subject to the approval of some authority, in order to make sure that the amenities are not really spoilt. Instead of preserving the amenities the local council, anxious to get the benefit for the ratepayers of cheap land—this would be cheap land because of the compulsory 1038 acquisition—might allow the land to be developed and get a profit for the ratepayers by permitting what would be a blot on the landscape. The point wants careful consideration. I realise that the Government are up against difficulties with the town-planning and country-planning authorities. I would like to see the Bill based more on those principles. I know that town-planning authorities claim that they have controlled or town-planned a very large area of this country. If the Government could improve the procedure of the town-planning authority they could do a great deal more in preserving amenities, in stopping ribbon building, than by permitting control of land which may or may not be developed.
One provision to which I take the strongest possible objection is the method by which the land can be acquired. As I understand the proposal a council can pass a resolution stating that they have decided to acquire certain land. This resolution is sent to the Minister, and he can approve or disapprove of it. There should be, outside the Minister, some arbitrator or authority who has a last word in the matter. The resolution might be passed by a council for some personal reason. I am not in any way reflecting on the judgment or the decision of councils, but they are all human. They acquire the land. The resolution is sent to the Minister, who may, or may not have been able to study the proposal properly, and he gives a decision which is final. I do not think that that is in accordance with our institutions. The owner of the land should have an opportunity of referring to some other court, to a court of summary jurisdiction or a court of arbitration, and have a decision on the matter. That applies in practically every other civil case in this country. Under this Bill there is no court of appeal. Under the legislation of to-day too much is left in the hands of individual Ministers or to Orders in Council.
With regard to the cost, the Minister said that under his novel way of dealing with the cost of this acquisition and the compensation to be paid, the cost would be deferred for two or three or several months, and then the owner of the land would have to prove damage. He would have to prove that he was damaged, that he intended to develop the land for building or otherwise. It is very difficult, if 1039 you own land, to say when it will become valuable. A railway company may decide to build a railway station and to develop the district around. The mere building of that station immediately improves the value of the land. The landowner wants to develop the land. The council say to him, "You have no idea of the value of the land. Why this sudden suggestion? Is it to obtain compensation?" Think of the trouble and the difficulty to which that man will be put in endeavouring to prove the value of the land, if developed on his own lines. He may have his own ideas of development. They may be the right ideas which would, in time, produce a considerable profit. Is he not to have the benefit of his ideas, of his enterprise and of his vision?
As to the cost involved in acquiring this land, I think the hon. Member who suggested that it would represent a tremendous burden was correct and like him we may ask from where is the money to come. We all want wide roads and facilities for foot-passengers and cyclists, but we ought to realise that we are going to sink an enormous sum in the development proposed under this Bill. This money, we are told, is to be raised by the rates and a grant from the Road Fund. I do not know what future Chancellors of the Exchequer are going to do with this Road Fund, but it has always been looked upon as a sort of lifebuoy when the Budget gets into trouble. If we are going to spend money on widening roads, whether the widening is necessary or not, because some people say the amenities demand it, we shall be taking a dangerous step. I suggest that it would be advisable to have a survey made of the main roads on which ribbon development is taking place or is likely to take place to see what developments are possible and what acquisition of land is actually required to deal with them. In that way it would be possible to have a general lay-out of the situation which might be considered by the Ministers of Health and Transport jointly with the large councils, through whose areas these roads pass. We would then have in front of us some definite plan and we could legislate for and budget for, say, a five-years programme Otherwise it seems to me we are going to involve the country in a very large expenditure.
1040 There is another danger. A number of builders who carry out large developments have interviewed me on the matter and their difficulty is to know whether the land adjoining these roads is not going to be "frozen," if these proposals are carried out. They say they want to develop land but not necessarily in the form of ribbon development. They do not go in for ribbon development. It does not pay them to build an odd house here and there along a road. They want to lay out complete estates and when they have prepared their plans for that purpose they will find themselves faced with the great difficulty raised in the Bill which is the difficulty of access roads. If a builder plans to erect 1,000 houses on an estate, he has to arrange for roads and drains, supplies of gas, water and electricity. If he has to go about 400 yards in order to connect up with existing mains it is going to add considerably to the cost of development. If he has to stick to the existing access roads it will put a huge premium on those roads, because everybody will want to make use of them. If a survey were made, as I suggest, showing how roads could be developed as has been done lately in the case of the North Circular Road, it would make it possible to proceed without obstructing any large building development. Housing development is going on; it is a good thing for the country and it ought not to be discouraged. We ought not to do anything which will "freeze up" these areas, hinder development, and discourage that building which is essential in the interests of the housing of the people.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Sir FRANCIS FREMANTLE
The hon. Member for East Willesden (Mr. D. G. Somerville) speaks with great experience of actual development, and I think it a pity that we have not had more speeches from those with such experience. But I would endeavour to comfort him and other hon. Members as regards the nightmare or bogy of vast sums being spent by some future nationalising Socialistic Government if there ever is such a Government in buying up land right, left and centre all over the country. Honestly, I do not see how that could possibly be the case under this Bill and that for the very reason for which it has been criticised by other speakers. The finance 1041 will be in the hands of the highway authorities and they will not be anxious to spend money on a large scale. Clause 10 would be the really expensive part of the Bill if it were carried to extremes but it will only be used occasionally and to a small extent. I do not know whether opponents of the Bill appreciate the fact that Clause 10 is necessary in certain cases and especially in the cases of beauty spots and that all who are keen on the preservation of rural England are in favour of it. There has been criticism as to its effect if it were carried to extremes but let us examine how it is going to work out.
There are certain spots close to roads which are essential to the preservation of the landscape. It has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) that there is no need for Clause 10 and that it would be better to rely on Clauses 1 and 2, which would cover the power of sterilising those beauty spots and maintaining them in private hands, but the private owner would not be thankful, if he and his executors after him were condemned, merely for the sake of a beauty spot, to have land on their hands, sterilised, without the local authority being compelled to purchase it. The willingness of the local authority to buy out the land is the acid test of their desire to keep it as a beauty spot and it is in cases of that sort that, for the sake of the amenities, Clause 10 will be required. I hope that the Minister's statement this afternoon will reassure hon. Members who are anxious about that Clause. The right hon. Gentleman said he was prepared, later on, to accept Amendments which would confine Clause 10 to the purposes for which it is obviously required in this connection.
There has been, it seems to me, a fallacy running through many of the speeches in this discussion. It has been suggested that ribbon building is unpopular. I submit that that is not the case. I do not believe that among the masses of the people there is, as a rule, any objection to ribbon development. In Hertfordshire I and my friends are much opposed to ribbon building because we see the whole countryside being eaten up by it but the mass of the people in the villages do not seem to object to it a bit. On the contrary I believe a great 1042 number of people like the idea of living by the roadside. In previous years before the motor car era houses which backed on to railways were actually popular with many people and I myself know many people who enjoy looking out of their houses on passing trains. There are others who enjoy looking out on the traffic of the road—and that feeling is not confined to the working-classes either. I recently heard a conversation in which a man said he had just got a new house in the country with which he was much pleased and when asked where it was he said it was on the Great North Road, adding, "It is so jolly to be able to see all the traffic passing by on the road, while you can also look out over the country from the back of the house." The fact is that those who are keen against ribbon development are the minority who are able to appreciate the aesthetics of life and the possibilities of the future.
That does not mean that I am against the Bill. We must look to the future, but those who do not object to living on the side of the road, or to ribbon development springing up in their midst, are not looking to the future. It is by ribbon development that the country gradually grows into suburbs and suburbs into towns, and we want to prevent that sort of eating up of the countryside. Therefore, I think the Bill is justified. We have called for this Bill, but we must recognise the results of it. Not enough attention is paid by those who are against ribbon development to the reasons for houses being built upon the road side. They are, first, that people like to be dumped into little bungalows straight on the roads; secondly, because of the service of the road itself; and, thirdly, because of the services that come along the road. Therefore, if you do away with the basis of ribbon development, you must provide for development in other directions. Obviously, as has already been said, you are not making any advance if you are simply putting ribbon development on to another parallel road at the back.
This Bill is a purely symptomatic treatment of an ill. I believe it is necessary in a hurry, simply because successive Governments and public opinion have not paid attention to the root of the matter, because they have been busy with other things. The root of the matter is the 1043 whole question of the distribution of population and its movement out. As I said last Friday in connection with the electrification of railways, we are allowing this gradual spreading out and suburbanisation of the countryside to go on at the rate of 100,000 persons per annum from London, gradually eating up the countryside, without really working out a system for the expansion of London or its distribution over the countryside. The present Government and their predecessors have done splendid work by extensions like the grid system of electricity, but the main point is with regard to the distribution of industry with the people.
I wonder whether the Government or the Ministry of Transport have ever really looked at and considered the report of the Departmental Committee on Garden Cities and Satellite Towns. I will simply quote two of their conclusions. The first is:That the dangers and evils, economic and social, which follow from haphazard, scattered and ribbon development can hardly be exaggerated.That is what this Bill aims at. Secondly, they say:That in place of the casual distribution of industry and population, there should be definite guidance and their distribution and location should be planned and co-ordinated in the public interest.I think it is asking too much to suggest that for a year or two any such thing as that should be possible. A great deal has been said to-day about the necessity of linking this Measure on to the Town and Country Planning Act. I hope that will be done, and I think more can be done in that way. It has been suggested that there is a hiatus between the highway authority of this Bill and the rural district council of the Town and Country Planning Act. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton did not seem to remember that one of the important points put into that Act was the joint committee, the possibility of a joint committee between the county authority and the district authorities, which would cover a larger area than that of the district council. There is the possibility of a, connecting link between the Town and Country Planning Act machinery and the machinery of this Bill, which is mainly the county council. I wish that 1044 more of these powers could be given to that joint committee.
We want to go further afield, and I maintain that we shall never have treated the root of this problem until we tackle some scheme for deciding what the future of industry is going to be in its location. If it is going to be decided on sound lines that industry must congregate in the towns, as is happening at present in London more and more, well and good; make provision for it accordingly. But if, on the other hand, it is possible and right that certain sections of industry should more and more migrate to the country, as also is happening, then let us conceive of proper schemes in which we shall, not only in theory and diagram, move population and industry together, with the amenities of living—theatres, shopping, schools, and so on—as in the garden city schemes, but that we shall recognise that the Government should have the power to support and finance the movement of industry as it has to finance the movement of housing. In theory, it is essential that you should bring these things together, and just as there is very great financial risk and loss in industries migrating out into the country, you will never get the thing properly settled unless you apply to industries as you apply to the people a general power of helping them to move out on a proper scale together. Then we shall no longer consider merely this symptomatic, quack treatment of ribbon development, a surface expression of the disease, much as I believe this Bill is the only way of introducing this quack medicine at the present time.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Sir JOSEPH LAMB
I wish to express my appreciation of the fact that the Government have brought forward this Bill, which I should like to support in principle to the best of my ability, although there are details in it which I think could better be discussed and settled in Committee. I should like to thank the Government for the fact that, although they are giving what I believe is a great improvement to the countryside, these facilities are not being given at the expense of the industry of agriculture, and full provision is made in the Bill to prevent any adverse effect upon agriculture. It has been asked that access should be given from the roads to mines 1045 and quarries as is done in the case of farms. I do not want to accept rights or privileges for one particular industry and object to them being given to other industries, but I hope the Government will have very great care—and I am now speaking as a member of a county council—before they extend privileges to either mining or quarrying, when you consider the limited area of land at the side of the road on which this will have effect, and that both mining and quarrying stand in a different category from agriculture pure and simple.
The evils of ribbon development are obvious to most people, and the number of casualties on the roads is justification for anything that can be done to minimise them. One of the strong features of this Bill has not been stressed as it should have been. I refer to the facilities which will be given for the amenities of the residents who will be able in future to live in more rural areas in group settlements of houses. Such group settlements will have greater facilities for electricity, gas, and water supplies and all the amenities that go to make up social life, whereas, if houses are placed in a long string along a road, the provision of these amenities is greater and more costly, and social intercourse is made more difficult. Although I think there may be certain Amendments which will have to be proposed in Committee, I should like to see the Bill get a Second Reading, and I wish it every success.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. RHYS
In common with other Members, I welcome a measure to deal with ribbon development, but I feel more strongly than the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) that certain considerable Amendments will have to be made in order to make the Measure workable. In the first place, I think that the title "Ribbon Development" Bill is a misnomer, because I do not think the width of road has anything to do with the development nor with the provision of parking places in squares. In the London Squares Bill this power was refused, and I should like to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary the reason for trying to slip in this provision under the title of "Ribbon Development," when it was refused in that Bill. In the second place, I think the immense depth on either side of the road for which there are compulsory 1046 powers will probably be ineffective as well as a little unjust.
With the exception of Clause 8, I have little fault to find with the Bill. The principle of control by public highway authorities up to 220 feet has already been embodied in various county council Acts, and I think the way was led by Surrey County Council. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, rightly made great play with the admirable provisions made for safeguarding the amenities of the Guildford by-pass, and went so far as to assert that for all time the views and amenities of that road were safeguarded. If that be true, as I have no doubt it is, under the comparatively limited powers of the Surrey County Council, I am a little in doubt as to the need for the extensive powers granted in Clause 10. It is important that we should clearly distinguish between the 220 feet in the first part of the Bill and the 220 yards in Clause 10.
With regard to the principle of compensation in Clause 8, I would only say at this stage that it rather seems to me that the Bill has been drawn as if the only purposes for which land is used are house building and agriculture. It does not take sufficient account of the special needs of industry, and particularly of the mining industry, either surface or underground. I would reinforce what my noble Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) said earlier in the Debate as to the necessity for a clear definition to show whether the term "excavation" does in fact apply to underground workings or not. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone seems to think it is almost immaterial that the concessions made for agriculture should have been extended to the mining industry. Unless great care is taken, highway authorities may find themselves in a position of having to pay heavy compensation for preventing the working of valuable deposits of which they may have had no knowledge. I seriously urge, therefore, that mining interests particularly should be allowed to make their objections before any final decision is taken. I say that just as much in the interests of the ratepayer and the highway authority as in the interests of the mining industry. It is of first-class importance to them, for in mining districts roads are very frequent, and power to acquire compulsorily 220 yards on either 1047 side of each road means that where roads are not more than a quarter of a mile apart the whole of the land may be subject to the provisions of this Bill, with difficult consequences to industry.
In regard to Clause 10, I cannot altogether accept the argument that because there are already compulsory powers of acquisition for special purposes, the House ought to pass these very sweeping powers in a measure of what I may call localisation, which might easily turn into nationalisation. I doubt very much whether for the present much will happen, because no local authority will face the obligations, but the day will and must come when a national system will have to be instituted so far as the big roads are concerned so that they may be nationally controlled, and any expenditure, whether for compensation or for other matters, will have to be paid by the central authority. That is an easy step to nationalisation. I would like the House to imagine the position supposing the Government of the day decided to help highway authorities in acquiring this land. It would be easy to say that if they contributed they must control the result. It is a short step from that to the nationalisation of a large part of the country, not only in rural, but in urban areas, for this Bill applies to both. It must be remembered that any road whatever in the country comes under the provisions of this clause. If an ordinary map is taken and measurements are calculated, it will be found, particularly in comparatively populous parts, that not more than a quarter of a mile separates the roads, and it will be possible in an extreme case to acquire under this measure several miles of land at a stretch. All access is avowedly stopped to existing roads and that, I think, is probably necessary, but, worse still, and I regard this as very pernicious, highway authorities have complete power to resell at an enhanced price after acquisition, subject only to the consent of the Minister of Health. In practice, I do not believe that in many cases he could withhold his consent.
Another strong point is this. I do not know whether it is entirely germane to the Bill, but perhaps my hon. Friend will convey it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not know where, in future, the unfortunate agriculturist is to 1048 find the money to pay his death duties, when the State is taking away his one source of supply. The fact of the matter is that the people are now paying in loss of amenities for the penal taxation on land in the last two decades. The most interesting example of that may be found in the county of Sussex. In West Sussex the country has remained comparatively unspoiled and is a joy to all beholders. East Sussex is very much built up and has become suburbanised. The reason for that is that in West Sussex there are still two or three big landlords who control their estates and the amenities are preserved. I am not saying whether or not they hold up land for building. The point is that if we want amenities we must have somebody who can control the countryside. The break-up of the estates in other parts of the county led to development. People have to live somewhere, and we cannot stop development, but if we break down the one authority that did control the countryside some effort ought to be made, if we are not to see the whole of England within a radius of 100 miles of London completely spoiled, to control development. I do not in the least propose to oppose the Second Reading of this Measure, but I do take some exception to the very sweeping powers included in Clause 10, and perhaps further opportunities will arise to discuss it on the Committee stage.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Dr. ADDISON
A few minutes ago I had the intention of making some observations on the speech delivered by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle), but I see that he has rapidly sought a more crowded quarter, perhaps. The speech which he made, as the one made by the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb), about the need for developing, planning, and the settlement of communities in a rational way in country districts or in places suitable for the grouping together of industry and of housing accommodation under pleasant and sensible conditions is one with which every section of the House will be in cordial agreement; but it had nothing whatever to do with the Bill. If the Bill promoted those desirable ends this Amendment would not have been on the Order Paper. I do not know how many people fall into that strange class of 1049 human beings of whom the hon. Member for St. Albans spoke who love to have their houses where they can look on to railway embankments and sleep to the thunder of railway trains. Who and what manner of people they are I do not know, but he seemed to think there are a considerable number of such people, and that we ought to bear them in mind. I should think there was every reason to deliver them from the railway trains at night if we could manage to do so.
The fact is that the whole of this Debate has justified the contention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) that the Bill ought to have been introduced by the Minister of Health. Perhaps the Prime Minister had the intention of promoting him to a higher region, and therefore thought it appropriate that his other colleague should receive some compensation for the raid on the Road Fund, or something of that kind. At all events the Debate has shown as, indeed, do the contents of the Bill itself, that what this Bill really ought to be concerned with is planned development and the building of houses under more rational and sensible conditions, all of which matters pertain to the duties of the Minister of Health. We shall have another opportunity of saluting the new Minister of Health who, I am sure, is a great strength to the Government in that Department. I have no doubt the hon. Member who will reply to this Debate will make as good a case as he can for the Bill, but, for all that, it is a Ministry of Health Bill and not a Transport Bill. It is, in fact, as my right hon. Friend said, a great parade of doing something, or pretending to do something, at somebody else's expense, and the expense, so far as anything material is done under this Bill, will be so considerable that we may be perfectly sure it will not be incurred.
I invite the House to consider the justification which the Bill provides for our Amendment. Clause 1 provides that a certain width may be prescribed for roads. The highway authority may be the county council or a, smaller rural authority, but they are called upon to prescribe a width. Then, if any person comes along and wants to build on what would be up to the very edge of the road so prescribed, or to make a gateway, he will require the sanction of the authorities. 1050 It is not very likely that a very large number of people will want to do so absurd a thing. I can understand that if a man has a house a little further back he may want to have a gate or some method of access to the house, but I do not think anybody would pretend that the provision of access to a garden path to a house which would be behind the building line prescribed would do anybody any harm. There would be no great claim for compensation arising in that class of case.
I want the House to realise that this is the only class of case in which the Government is to give any assistance. If we refer to Clause 14 (1) we shall find that the power of the Minister of Transport to make advances to the expenses of local authorities is carefully confined to this one Clause, and it is the Clause where the liability to pay compensation will be the least. Therefore, I do not wonder that in the Financial Memorandum nothing is said as to what the Bill will cost. The Ministry has carefully picked out the one provision in the Bill where the cost will not be high. Suppose this Clause were operated in its fullness, and that the local authorities did all that the Minister of Transport wants them to do. What would be the result? It would still be ribbon development. You would have rows of houses running along the roads; otherwise the Clause does not apply. It does not profess to restrain ribbon development, except in the very narrow sense.
The Clauses that matter are others, and particularly Clause 2, which has been described as the amenity Clause. It provides that, in respect of classified roads, and it may be others, the county authorities may prescribe a road, and that anybody who wants to build within 220 feet of the middle of that road must obtain the sanction of the local authority and the highway authority. That sounds all right, but let us see what comes next. Suppose anybody says, "I want to build a row of bungalows along here. I want to continue ribbon development." What happens then? No consent which a highway authority has power to give under the Clause shall be unreasonably withheld. If the local authority be so venturesome as to refuse its consent it renders itself liable to the subsequent provisions of the Bill. Persons affected may go to the 1051 right hon. Gentleman, who will decide what is reasonable, and his decision is final. You may be sure that any local authority who are apprehensive that any restrictions they may place upon the 220 feet will be appealed against, on the grounds that they were not reasonable in, for instance, not allowing the man to build the bungalows, will be a little careful as to the extent to which they exercise their powers.
But I invite the House to consider what will happen if they exercise their powers. The owner of the land or the person affected will be entitled to compensation under the provisions of Clause 8. I gather that the Minister unintentionally made a little slip when he said something in respect of Clause 8 and applied it to Clause 10. He was comforting his own friends by assuring them that the local authority would not have to pay now, but at some distant time, when the compensation would fall to be paid. That is true, but that is not in the case where land is compulsorily acquired, but it is in connection with this 220 feet. What may happen? The local authority may prescribe this 220 feet and the present owner may see no particular chance of the land being developed, and he presents no claim, therefore, for compensation. After a time—we do not know how long—a claimant may come forward and say that proposals have been made for the development of the piece of land and that there is a demand for such development. A local authority may schedule several miles of road but it does not know what it is laying up for itself in, it may be five years, or five months, or 15 years, or 50 years, for anything that this Bill says.
Somebody may, in due course, come along and say, "You must pay me. If this bit of land had been developed in response to the demand which has now arisen, it would be worth ever so much more than it was when the law was brought into operation, and I want to be paid for it." In other words, you will saddle the local authorities and highway authorities with an undefined liability, which may arise years hence in the shape of claims for compensation. The Minister described this as a "catastrophic liability to compensation," and that was entirely accurate. Do hon. Members expect, and is anybody likely to expect, that with that catastrophic liability to compensation 1052 concealed behind Clause 2, many local authorities will be anxious to operate the Clause? Not likely, especially when they are told by the Minister that the Clause involves an unknown but catastrophic liability to compensation. In that connection I have here a very valuable paper which throws an exceedingly interesting light upon the likelihood or the unlikelihood of local authorities or highway authorities operating the Clause. It is the presidential address given to the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants. I am proud to say that it was given by the Borough Treasurer of the division which I have the honour to represent. It is the most competent analysis of our methods of local finance that I have ever read, and I would like the House to look at the matter for a moment.
A rural authority in charge of the leafy lanes referred to by the noble Lord who was so anxious to protect them and the charming landscapes—and we all agree that they ought to be protected—is not in a built-up area but in a country district. In that district, owing to the operation of the Local Government Act, 1929, of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, an extraordinary position has arisen in regard to highway rates. The areas in which are the leafy lanes are those which have been most de-rated. They have lost their agricultural rates, so that in spending money on the upkeep of the roads they have to levy a higher rate. Therefore, we find that while the highway rating for 1934–35 in the county of Middlesex was 9½d., in Berkshire it was 3s. 8½d., and in the lovely county of Hereford, where there are ever so many glorious leafy lanes that we wish to preserve, it was 6s. 4d. The reason this rate was 6s. 4d. is that this authority has a long mileage of road. To examine this position a little closer, in order to find out whether the authorities who are in charge of those amenities are likely to incur the catastrophic risks, we have to consider the yield of a penny rate per mile of road, which is the unit that is taken. The yield of a penny rate per mile of road in Middlesex is £128 15s. The yield in Berkshire is only £3 odd. In Hereford it is about £1.
The very authorities that have to pay the piper under Clause 2—under that 1053 Clause which carries no contribution from the Road Fund—is where the catastrophic risks are. The very areas where this is needed are those where there is a heavy burden from highway rates, and where the yield of the rate is very small. The Borough Treasurer, for the guidance of those who read the statement, has translated this into a sum of money. I find that if you have a highways scheme which involves a local authority in an expenditure of £100,000, it would be financed in Middlesex by a rate of 1½d. in the £. In Hereford it would cost a rate of 3s. 11d.—or 30 times as much. I think that anybody who has a close acquaintance with the incidence of rating that has followed from the 1929 Act will agree with us that these liabilities will not be incurred. It means that the highway authorities concerned will not operate the Bill. They will not dare to operate the Bill. It will be a dead letter. Even where it is operated, so far as the 220 feet provision is concerned, you will not get good planning. You will still get ribbons though perhaps more artistic ribbons. The roads are likely to have a cycle track or something of that sort between the road and the ribbon, but it would still be a ribbon.
The only part of the Bill which would effectively prevent ribbon development is the part which the right hon. Gentleman's friends do not like. I can understand that, for I should not have expected the party which is represented here by great landowners to fall on his neck and say nice things to him because of Clause 10. But this is the only part of the Bill to prevent ribbon development. This is the Clause which gives the local authority power to acquire land 220 yards from the middle of the road. Here we come to a dilemma with which the right hon. Gentleman will have to attempt to deal with his usual skill and aplomb. It is this: Clause 10 gives to local authorities power to acquire landfor the purposes of the construction or improvement of the road or of preserving the amenities of the locality.But in every speech except one in which the right hon. Gentleman's friends have dealt with this Clause they have said that you must estop the local authority from developing this land. They have argued that you can let the local authority acquire the land under protest, 1054 but that when they have acquired it they must not be allowed to use it. Several Members have described the dangers which will arise when this land is acquired by local authorities, if it is so acquired. From their speeches it would appear that it is very risky to allow public authorities to hold land and that the risk is greater with them. The ribbon development evil, against which we are now trying to legislate, has arisen out of the sale and development of whose land The land of the local authorities? No, the land which has been selected for ribbon development, which the Minister is now trying to control, is land which has been in private possession. Landowners are only human, and they make the best of their opportunities when they arise. Our experience shows that this danger does not attach to the public ownership of land, but that it is rather the consequence of private ownership. With this experience before us some Members have the hardihood to suggest that local authorities might cover such land with squalid slums, and allow factories to grow up in some reckless fashion, and make the landscape hideous. For that reason, it is suggested, local authorities must be restrained and must not be allowed to make use of the land. The right hon. Gentleman knows better. He knows perfectly well that the local authorities, taking them generally, do not do these things. The mere fact that they acquire land for this purpose shows that they have a disposition to preserve its beauties and see that it is sensibly used.
These are only three operative Clauses of the Bill. There is Clause 1, which will still leave ribbon development. There is Clause 2, which may involve undefined catastrophic liability—to use the Minister's term—at some time in the unknown future. This liability, when it does develop, will fall upon the unfortunate local ratepayers. With that nightmare before them we can be perfectly certain that no small authority—and certainly no authority where the leafy lanes are—will incur the risk of operating this provision. The only part of the Bill that will lead to planning is the part which we may expect to be hemmed in with a good many qualifications before we have finished with the Bill. In these circumstances, I think there can be no doubt that this Bill will not prevent ribbon development. Its profession 1055 that it will do so is—to use another term employed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield—largely an imposture. We want to see ribbon development checked, and that can only be done by the operation of Clause 10 on sensible and practical lines under national control and supervision and, in our view, under national ownership. It will not be prevented by these means, and I am afraid that the opinion of every local authority that has considered this Bill in a responsible way is in agreement with the view expressed in our Amendment.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of TRANSPORT (Captain Austin Hudson)
I do not think that any Minister who had to reply to a debate could be anything but satisfied with a reception such as we have had for this Bill to-day. We have had practically no opposition, because I have quite failed to see, from any of the speeches from hon. Members opposite, what they are complaining about, and it may make the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) a little more cheerful to know that both the County Councils Association and the municipal authorities are in favour of the Bill. Therefore, to say that they do not wish for a Bill of this kind is not quite accurate. I say that because, while everyone else seemed to be fairly cheerful in talking about the Bill, I thought at one moment that the right hon. Gentleman was going to break into tears.
I will deal first with two small points of procedure, because I think that that will be to the advantage of the House. Hon. Members will have observed, from the note at the top of page 1 of the Bill, that the words enclosed in brackets and underlined are deemed to have been left out in another place, in order to avoid questions of privilege. In accordance with the ordinary practice, these Clauses will appear on the Order Paper as Amendments in the Minister's name, in order to give hon. Members an opportunity at once of putting down Amendments in connection with them. I should at once make it clear that my right hon. Friend may himself have to propose certain Amendments to these underlined Clauses, of which he will give the earliest possible notice. The Clauses are being put down on the Paper in their present form merely 1056 in order to comply with the technical requirements. I hope it is quite clear to the House that we are putting them down in that form, even although there have been undertakings from my right hon. Friend drastically to alter one Clause in particular, in order that hon. Members may have every opportunity of putting down their Amendments in due form, even if later on we ourselves have to move Amendments to these Clauses. Therefore, it is suggested that hon. Members who are interested in the Bill should watch the Order Paper during the next few days. With regard to another question of procedure, I understand from my right hon. and gallant Friend the Patronage Secretary that, in view of the undertakings given that the discussions will not be unduly prolonged should the Bill be taken upstairs, he is prepared to agree to that course being taken.
I want the House to note that this Bill is produced at the definite request of the House. Hon. Members, early in this Session, asked that a Bill dealing with ribbon development should be produced, and, what is more, they again and again pressed my right hon. Friend who was then Prime Minister to pledge himself to give time for the Bill during this Session. The reason for that was that the present powers which we have do not work. It is no use our blinking our eyes to that fact. The reason why we want this Bill is not that we have not planning schemes of different kinds which have been passed by the House; but that, although they have been in operation for some years, there is not a single Member who has got up in this House who has not agreed that they do not work. Therefore, something else is required if we are to deal with this evil with which the House itself is asking us to deal.
The next point is that the Bill is called the Restriction of Ribbon Development Bill, and I ask the House to notice the word "Restriction." It is completely impossible to restrict the rights of an owner, which is what the Title of this Bill means, without interfering with the freedom of the individual to do what he likes with his own property. If any hon. Members of this House believe that you should have no interference with private rights and with private property, I say here and now that it would be quite impossible to deal at all with this evil under those conditions. I particularly 1057 noticed during the last week-end how vital it is that we should get a Bill of this kind working at the earliest possible moment. I had to be out on the road which runs between Dunstable and Luton, dealing with certain restrictions and de-restrictions in connection with another part of our activities. The whole of that 4½ miles of road between Dunstable and Luton is bordered on each side with a single line of what I am certain the House, if they saw them, would agree are Most ghastly little houses. Behind these houses there is no development whatsoever, but beautiful downland which is quite invisible from the road. I say that it is up to us to make every endeavour that we possibly can to deal with an evil of this kind.
I am surprised at the attitude, to which my right hon. Friend himself has called attention, of the party opposite. When the Bill was first introduced, they welcomed it, and, if my reading of certain statements that I have seen was correct, they took the line that they should expedite the Bill in every way possible. None of the speeches which we have heard this afternoon and evening have shown any reason why they should have changed their point of view. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said that the Bill was a hoax. It is rather extraordinary for one of their own leaders to say that you should expedite a Bill which is a hoax. I cannot for the life of me see why they should have taken the line that they are taking tonight. If one reads the reasoned Amendment which they have put down, one finds that they have put down two reasons. One is that the Bill, they say, does not deal with planning, and the other is that it will put an intolerable burden upon the local rates, and that excessive compensation will be paid to private landlords.
As regards the first point, that the Bill is not a planning Bill, we have had planning Bills already. We had the last one not so very long ago—the Town and Country Planning Bill. This Bill is what may be called an ad hoc Bill to deal definitely with an evil. It prevents; it does not plan. What it does is to arrange for co-operation, under Clause 6, with those planning authorities which at different times have been given statutory authority to act under the 1058 previous legislation. We do not pretend under this Bill to make people build houses in certain places, but what we do try to do is to prevent them from building in other unsuitable places; that is to say, we do not pretend that the Bill should be a planning Bill. The Amendment speaks of excessive compensation. What we have endeavoured to do under the Bill is to avoid what I might call confiscation without compensation, and at the same time to avoid an equally undesirable thing, which would be to make a Bill of this kind into a kind of property owners' endowment Bill. The Bill has been attacked on two grounds—in the first place, by hon. Members opposite, on the ground of excessive compensation, and, on the other hand, by certain hon. Members who are supporters of the Government, on the ground that the compensation under Clause 8 of the Bill is inadequate. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers), who spoke earlier, I cannot help thinking that, as we have managed to steer between these two courses, we are probably right in the attitude which we are taking.
While I cannot deal with all the individual points that have been made by hon. Members in the Debate, I will endeavour to deal with the different questions which they have asked. First of all, I would like to say that the first speaker for the Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, had no constructive suggestions at all to make except two. The first was that it was quite wrong of us to introduce the Bill in another place, and the second was that the Bill should have been taken by the Ministry of Health, and not by the Ministry of Transport. As regards the first point of taking it to another place, that was done in order to avoid delay. Every hon. Member knows that the House has been worked right up to the hilt considering important legislation during the last few months, and the only prospect of getting the Bill through during this Session was to introduce it in another place. I would ask the House to remember, as regards the point that the Bill should have been taken by the Ministry of Health, that this is a Government Bill. It is a Bill brought forward by the Government and not by any particular Department of the Government, 1059 and they happen to have given it to the Ministry of Transport to take charge of because it deals largely with matters of the highway and highway development, which are, in the course of ordinary business, dealt with by the Ministry of Transport.
My right hone Friend also raised the point—and it was also taken up by other hon. Members, notably the hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Janner), speaking for the Liberal party below the Gangway—of delay, and whether it would not have been possible to put into the Bill what the right hon. Gentleman called a standstill order, that is to say, some provision to the effect that the Clauses of the Bill should come into operation before the Bill actually reached the Statute Book. That in itself would have been a very dangerous thing to do, but, quite apart from that, it was considered very carefully, and it was decided that it would be utterly impossible to arrange, for certain local authorities to have the power of giving or withholding consents, without knowing whether, at the end of that period, the power would actually have been entrusted to them. A Bill of this kind is bound to have Amendments made to it, and it would be utterly impossible to let them immediately start exercising certain functions which at the time the Bill reached the Statute Book they might find they had no right to exercise at all. What it would have done would probably have been to hold up building to a great extent.
The right hon. Gentleman, and also the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon, dealt with the suggestion that money from the Road Fund should be used for Clause 2 which is what we call the amenity Clause, for paying compensation to people to whom consent was withheld under that Clause. I would only say that being an amenity Clause it was felt that the Road Fund money should not be used for that purpose, and that it would be undesirable so to do. I would put this argument to him. He said that the result would be that the very poor areas would have to pay very large compensation, and, in fact, would not be able to operate the Bill. If an area is a very poor area and has very little rateable value, the money they will have to spend in compensation will be very much less than that to be paid by 1060 a rich area with a large rateable value. Therefore it will not be found, if you work out exactly what will happen under Clause 2, that an undue proportion of expense will fall upon the poorer areas as against the richer areas. The hon. Member for Whitechapel made a speech blessing the Bill and giving it his support, and it was followed by an interesting and extremely good maiden speech by the hon. and gallant Member for Monmouth (Major Herbert). I am sure that all who were privileged to hear it will hope to hear a contribution from him again in the very near future. I am not at this period going to deal at any length with Clause 10. A little later in my remarks I shall have something to say about it.
The hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) asked a very pertinent question as to what is meant in the Bill by a permanent excavation. I think that a permanent excavation upon land as it is so phrased in Clause 1 is intended to apply only to works involving breaking through the surface of the soil within the standard width. We are advised that the Bill as drawn carries out that intention, and I do not think that I can say more about it at the present moment. The hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin) made a suggestion which was also made by several other hon. Members. They wanted the provisions of Clause 2, which deals with classified roads, automatically to deal with all roads throughout the country. I want the House to realise two figures. The classified roads throughout the country are 43,000 miles in all, but, if we include the unclassified roads, we have to add to that figure no fewer than 135,000 miles. The course suggested was considered at the time that the Bill was being drafted, but it was felt that it would be absurd to expect every highway authority to exercise its power of granting or withholding consent within 220 feet of each side of every single highway in the country, be it a lane or be it the biggest form of arterial road. The fact that to put up some edifice in some remote place would require consent each time would make an absurdity of including all roads. We felt that by allowing the highway authority by resolution to include any road which it wished in addition to the classified roads we were going as far as can be expected.
1061 The hon. and gallant Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) made a very helpful speech and dealt to a great degree with planning in which he has always taken such a very great interest. He asked about demands for development under the Bill. Of course, we shall deal with these points in Committee, but he asked how you can ever show that the demand existed. One way would be if someone offered to buy the land in order to develop it; that would obviously show a demand, and, of course, there are many other cases which come to mind. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) asked the specific question in the course of his interesting speech whether in Clause 11, which is the power to make underground parking places and use places for parking places, there was any power to carry on the business of a garage. There is no such power under the Bill. The hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) made a speech in which he was particularly critical of Clause 10 of the Bill, but otherwise seemed to think that it was a good Bill. He asked two specific questions. He asked why there was no appeal under Clause 1. I can tell him that the question of appeal whether a right of access has been unfairly withheld or not is being considered by the Minister at the present moment. As regards the right of appeal to the Minister or anyone else on the question whether a structure should be erected or not, it is clearly not a proper thing to allow.
The object of Clause 1 is to lay down certain standard widths to which the road is going to be widened. Clearly if you tell someone that he must not build on that part of the road because in a year or two a road is to run there, he could not have any argument that he still wanted to put his garage in that place, because the road would cut through the garage and the whole thing would be impossible. Clauses 1 and 2 are entirely different in that respect. Where the ground is used definitely for making a road, the powers of appeal should not and cannot be quite simliar to those where the ground is used for amenity purposes. As I have said, the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Maldon was very critical of Clause 10, but he gave, in my opinion, a very exaggerated view of what might happen even if 1062 Clause 10 were left in its present state. The hon. Member for Cambridge University, I am very glad to say, gave us his blessing for the compensation Clause. It was a great satisfaction to us that someone carrying on his great profession as a solicitor should think that this Clause was right and just. On Clause 10 he dealt with the point of somebody whose land was compulsorily acquired entering into a covenant in order not to build. I can assure the House that that particular subject is at the present time being examined by us to see whether some suitable amendment may be framed. The hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) asked whether advertisements would come under the title of structures. We are advised that would be so, and that you cannot put up large hoardings within the specified areas without the consent of the highway authorities. That will be a satisfaction to the House.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane)—I was not present during his speech—dealt with Clauses 11 and 12, which were left severely alone by most of the other hon. Members. He asked why these Clauses were put in. They were put in the Bill because it was felt that we were dealing with one of the evils of the traffic situation, and these other two evils might very easily, and rightly, be dealt with. Other hon. Members, the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Conant), the hon. Member for East Willesden (Mr. D. G. Somerville), and the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Rhys) all raised the point whether an Amendment could not be inserted in the Bill to allow mines and quarries to have exactly the same exemption as agriculture. In my opinion they are not at all on the same basis. The reason for the agricultural exemption is because agriculture, carried on as it is does not cause ribbon development, and to make farmers liable to be refused consent under this Bill would cast an undue burden on that industry. No one can say that in regard to a mine or quarry it may not happen that the owner of the mine or quarry wants to put up a structure which is definitely ugly and for which in that form the highway authority might consider that consent should not be given. If the highway authority acted in the way that some hon. Members seem to 1063 think and unreasonably withheld their consent there would be, in the first place, an appeal, and in the second place they would let themselves in for such an enormous compensation that it would be impossible for them to carry out their duties. We feel therefore that, apart from existing quarries and mines, which are dealt with by a certain Clause in the Bill, if any structure is to be put up it is not unreasonable that those who desire to erect it should ask for the consent of the highway authority in the ordinary way, and, in the words of the Bill, consent will not be unreasonably withheld.
The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) dealt at some length with national roads. I am afraid that the question of nationalising trunk roads or any other roads is not one which could be dealt with in this Bill. It would be a most interesting subject of Debate and there is much to be said in favour of it and also against it. The hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) spoke of planning and the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) gave us his support. The hon. Member for Guildford, and he is the last private Member with whom I will deal, asked me a question about London squares. I can assure him that the assurance which was given in the other place that the provisions of the London Squares Preservation Act will not be overridden by this Bill, still holds good. There are many uses for Clause 11 of the Bill, but it is not the intention under this Bill to override the London Squares Preservation Act to scrap our few remaining London squares.
I think I have dealt with nearly all the points raised in the Debate, and I should like to spend a few minutes in trying to paint with a broad brush exactly what is in our minds in asking the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill. First of all, in Clause 1 in setting up the standard width of any road which the highway authority desire we have two objects in view, and two alone. The first is to plan now the future widening and development of the highways. It is vital under Clause 1 that we should plan now what the widening of these future arteries is to be. Another object is to prevent what has happened in the past, namely, the erection of edifices on land which soon was wanted for a road, with 1064 the result that those edifices have had to be pulled down at enormous trouble and expense a few years afterwards. I think that is a very wise provision and a very sensible one, and one to which I am certain the House will give its assent.
Clause 2 is what I may call the real restriction of ribbon development Clause. It is to give the highway authority if it so desires the control over development and building within 220 feet on each side of a classified road, This is an automatic Clause. When the Bill reaches the Statute Book, automatically every classified road in the country will have this restriction put upon it, and anybody who wants to build within 220 feet of a classified road will have to get permission and—I make no excuse for labouring the point—that permission must not be unreasonably withheld. The Clause also enables the local authority, the highway authority, which wishes to do so to extend this power to any road in the county. That is different from the present powers which are held under the Town and Country Planning Act in that if a structure is to be put up they must definitely give or withhold their assent. They cannot just go to sleep and do nothing. They must decide whether they will or will not give their assent. That we believe will call their attention to the important power which they possess under this Clause. That is what the House asked for in asking for a Ribbon Development Bill.
A few words as to the provision of access. In our opinion the withholding or granting of access is the most vital thing of all in this Clause. Certain hon. Members have said that the only effect of this Clause will be to drive ribbon development to 220 feet further on each side of the road. What would happen in those circumstances? Let us say that houses are built in a line 220 feet on each side of the road. The builders then want to run a footpath down to the road, and they find that they have no access to the road. There is only one thing for the builders of the houses to do, and that is to make a service road parallel to the road. What would happen would be this, that having been refused access they would say: "Rather than build our service road parallel to the trunk road we had better be closer to the present group development and build it at right angles to the 1065 main road." In other words, it will have prevented ribbon development, which is exactly what we are trying to do in this Bill.
Let me deal with compensation under Clause 8, which is given first when the hurt is felt. There seemed to be some misunderstanding with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon about that. All the Clause says is that a man cannot claim his compensation until he can prove the hurt. When he can prove the hurt, he makes his claim and gets his compensation. It is perfectly fair to everybody, and it also has the additional advantage, as my right hon. Friend said, that instead of a vast number of claims all coming in at once for a number of compensations, which would probably be very expensive, for some hurt which might never take place, only when the hurt does take place can the compensation be claimed and paid.
Clause 10 is wanted by my right hon. Friend to allow the development of park ways and things of that kind. He has given a definite undertaking to the House that if it is found that it is too loosely drawn, he will himself propose Amendments and consider Amendments proposed by the House. We feel, and I think other Members of the House must feel, that we do not seem somehow in this country to have the same powers as they have abroad of making our great roads into great park ways really worthy of the country. We believe that under this Clause it may be possible so to do. I believe the Clause can be amended to do away with abuses, and I firmly agree with the large number of hon. Members who have spoken on this point that we must see that this Clause must be incapable of being abused in the way some hon. Members at the present moment suggest.
Clause 11 gives us power, which we do not now possess, to erect underground parking places, and also to use buildings for parking places. I know from personal experience that there is an extraordinary good example at Hastings of what can be done. They have erected there underground an enormous parking place, which shows what we could do if these powers were given us. Clause 12 is to ensure that in future when a great building is erected which attracts traffic to itself, it shall make arrangements to 1066 deal with such traffic off the public highway. I do not think I need give examples of that, but if any one wants to see what can happen when a big building is erected to attract traffic, let him go to Marble Arch and look at the Cumberland Hotel and places of that kind. If these buildings are now built to attract traffic, they must make arrangements to deal with that traffic.
These are, very broadly, the provisions of the Bill. They are designed to deal with certain existing evils and also to try to look ahead and forestall some of the mistakes which might be made in the future. I believe that the country wants this House to deal with the evil of ribbon development. In my opinion it will be a terrible confession of weakness if this House, by throwing this Bill out, says in effect the subject is too big for it to cope with. Details can be argued fully in Committee and I ask the House, in view of the urgency of the problems involved, to give the Bill a Second Reading without any further delay.
§ 10.9 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS
In the ordinary course of my everyday life I happen to see rather more of this question of amenities than certain other hon. Members. I certainly would not detain the House after the very excellent speech we have had from the Parliamentary Secretary but for the fact that I have one suggestion which I think might be made workable. From the Debate it is obvious that the one real difficulty in this matter of ribbon development is to compensate the owners of the land on both sides of the road. It is said that not to-day but at some time the local authorities will have to do this. The local authorities are pretty heavily burdened at the present time, and I very much doubt whether either the big or the small local authorities will be in a position for a very long while to find much compensation for amenities anywhere in this country. If I might make the suggestion—and I hope I shall not offend some of my friends in the Conservative party opposite—instead of putting the payment of compensation on local authorities, and instead of having to do it by means of fresh taxation, the land should be sterilised, and that land become permanently exempt from death duties. I believe the suggestion is practicable 1067 and will cost the Exchequer very little. It does not mean the handing out of money; it means rather less money will be collected, and I believe if we did that as an example in this Bill, and carried it out over a much wider field, we should be in a position in this country to preserve our amenities in a way which we cannot to-day. I do not expect to obtain any answer to-night, but the Minis-
§ ter has been at the Exchequer, and he might do worse than consider whether he could not at some period insert in the Bill something on the lines of the suggestion I have made.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 182; Noes, 35.1069
|Division No. 246.]||AYES.||[10.13 p.m.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||O'Donovan, Dr. William James|
|Assheton, Ralph||Guy, J. C. Morrison||Orr Ewing, I. L.|
|Balley, Eric Alfred George||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Owen, Major Goronwy|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Hales, Harold K.||Pearson, William G.|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Hamilton, Sir R. W. (Orkney & Ztl'nd)||Perkins, Walter R. D.|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Harvey, Major Sir Samuel (Totnes)||Peters, Dr. Sidney John|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.|
|Beit, Sir Alfred L.||Heneage, Lieut-Colonel Arthur P.||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Bird, Sir Robert B. (Wolverh'pton W.)||Hepworth, Joseph||Radford, E. A.|
|Blaker, Sir Reginald||Holdsworth, Herbert||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Ramsbotham, Herwald|
|Boulton, W. W.||Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. Leslie||Ramsden, Sir Eugene|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Horobin, Ian M.||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Horsbrugh, Florence||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Remer, John R.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Burghley, Lord||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Rickards, George William|
|Burnett, John George||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)|
|Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Iveagh, Countess of||Rosbotham, Sir Thomas|
|Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Jamleson, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Janner, Barnett||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Carver, Major William H.||Jesson, Major Thomas E.||Salmon, Sir Isidore|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Salt, Edward W.|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Samuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney)|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)||Sandys, Duncan|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Selley, Harry R.|
|Copeland, Ida||Latham, Sir Herbert Paul||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Law Sir Alfred||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Leckie, J. A.||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.|
|Cross, R. H.||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Crossley, A. C.||Lees-Jones, John||Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dine, C.)|
|Culverwell, Cyril Tom||Lewis, Oswald||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||Llewellin, Major John J.||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Davison, Sir William Henry||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Lockwood, Capt. J. H. (Shipley)||Stones, James|
|Dickie, John P.||Loftus, Pierce C.||Storey, Samuel|
|Dixon, Captain Rt. Hon. Herbert||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Bassetlaw)||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|Drewe, Cedric||McEwen, Captain J. H. F.||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Duckworth, George A. V.||McKie, John Hamilton||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Eastwood, John Francis||McLean, Major Sir Alan||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Elliston, Captain George Sampson||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Elmley, Viscount||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Emrys-Evant, P. V.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Martin, Thomas B.||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)||Tree, Ronald|
|Fermoy, Lord||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Fleming, Edward Lascelles||Meller, Sir Richard James (Mitcham)||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P.||Wallace, Sir John (Dunfermline)|
|Fraser, Captain Sir Ian||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Fremantle, Sir Francis||Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tl'd & Chisw'k)||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Glossop, C. W. H.||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale||White, Henry Graham|
|Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Goff, Sir Park||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Unlver'tles)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Munro, Patrick|
|Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd. N.)||Nall, Sir Joseph||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Greene, William P. C.||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Sir Walter Womersley and Dr.|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Nunn, William||Morris-Jones.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Gardner, Benjamin Walter||Mainwaring, William Henry|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Maxton, James|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. Clement R.||Griffiths, George A. (Yorks, W. Riding)||Milner, Major James|
|Banfield, John William||Groves, Thomas E.||Nathan, Major H. L.|
|Batey, Joseph||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Kirkwood, David||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Buchanan, George||Lawson, John James||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Cleary, J. J.||Leonard, William||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Cove, William G.||Logan, David Gilbert|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Luan, William||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Daggar, George||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Mr. John and Mr. Paling.|
|Edwards, Sir Charles||McEntee, Valentine L.|
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.