HL Deb 28 September 1944 vol 133 cc225-68

2.30 p.m.

Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion of Lord Balfour of Burleigh to resolve, That the decentralization, decongestion and redevelopment of our big towns do constitute a primary object of policy of His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, the problem of the decentralization, decongestion and redevelopment of towns depends almost entirely upon the proper control of land use, and that being so it seems to me that in discussing the White Paper on Land Use we are not so much out of order as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, seemed to suggest in his speech yesterday. It is well that we should bear in mind that the proposals in the White Paper deal with only one aspect of the problem of the control of the use of land and of planning. It is, if I may say so, the negative side. The Compensation and restriction provisions are intended and designed to control development and are regulatory and the betterment proposals are designed to collect some of the benefits which may flow from the granting of permission. But the positive side of development and of town planning is not dealt with in this Paper. That positive side is the fundamental problem of the acquisition of land.

The proposals in the White Paper appear to me to be a compromise upon a compromise. The Uthwatt Committee's main proposals were submitted as alternatives to the nationalization of land, for one reason inter alia that such a subject would arouse keen political controversy, and the proposals in the White Paper are a compromise upon Uthwatt. There was a time when it was almost like sinning against the light to appear to criticize the proposals of Uthwatt and it was not perhaps exceptional that the most fervent apostles of the Uthwatt proposals were often those who had not read the Report. The proposals for compensation in the White Paper in my view are an advance upon the Uthwatt proposals. They first of all avoid unnecessary expenditure of State money in respect of development rights of land where no development is ever likely to take place. Secondly, save and except green land—that is to say, rural land—compensation is not to be paid until permission to develop is refused and the owner shows that he is in a position to carry out such development. That wise and provident proposal ought to diminish the otherwise swollen sums which would have to be paid out of the Exchequer in respect of compensation. In those respects the White Paper is a notable advance in my submission upon the proposals of Uthwatt.

Lord Balfour of Burleigh, in his very admirable speech yesterday and in his notable endeavours to bring together as it were the advocates of nationalization and its opponents, suggested that a deal should be made on the basis of, say, 50 per cent. of the compensation for development values. My only difficulty in respect of that proposal is this—50 per cent. of what? Are we to assume as Uthwatt did that large areas of rural land possess development value? My own view is that development values will in practice be found to attach to not more than about 15 per cent. of the undeveloped land outside urban areas. Then there will remain the problem of establishing the sum upon which you would offer the landowners 5o per cent. Whilst I admit that uncertainty in planning is a serious handicap I think there is much to be said for the proposals in the White Paper that the level of compensation should not be settled and the payment for compensation should not be made for a period of five years. It is quite impossible for any valuers to say to-day what lines development in this country will follow. We do not know yet what the Government's policy is as regards the location of industry. These values will very largely depend on the directions in which development may go, the extent of it, the area of it and the form of it. Until it is possible to discern those elemental features it would be quite beyond the range of anyone to assess the development value which resided in any particular land at March 31. Therefore I think the proposal to defer both the assessment and the payment in the Government's proposal is a wise one.

Moreover, the White Paper proposals have a substantial advantage over the proposals of Uthwatt. Your Lordships will remember that Uthwatt proposed to impose a restriction upon development only upon undeveloped land in the rural areas. It left the developed land in the rural areas unaffected by restriction and it left all land in the urban areas unaffected by it, whereas the proposals in the White Paper do suggest a universal restriction upon the development of any land where-ever it may be situated. I think that is a substantial step forward and a substantial improvement upon the proposals of the Uthwatt Committee. It is to be borne in mind that the payment of compensation, except as to rural land, is based upon the owner not only showing that he is at a disadvantage in not being able to carry out development but that in fact he is able to carry out that development, and only when those conditions are satisfied will his claim to payment arise or be admitted.

I come now to the betterment charge. This differs from Uthwatt in two respects, one perhaps a nominal respect. The White Paper proposes 80 per cent. whereas Uthwatt proposes 75 per cent. The Uthwatt proposal was a continuous one on annual site values and was not limited to the specific development of the specific site, as the White Paper proposal is, and it was unencumbered by the difficult condition that it must be for a different use. But the Uthwatt levy applied only to land within urban areas whereas the proposal of the betterment charge applies to all land. I have one serious criticism to make of the proposal of a betterment charge limited to the development of particular sites. It will allow the escape of much increase in value which does not necessarily arise from redevelopment of the particular site but which flows from public expenditure and communal activities in surrounding areas, the increases of population, the movement of industry to a particular area, the projection of a road, the improvement in transport and railway facilities. These factors, which are communal activities, often operate to increase the value of land which may remain quite unchanged in its particular development. Under these proposals that increase in the value of land will escape. I would like the noble Lord, the Minister of Reconstruction, to tell us in his reply whether the proposed betterment charge is to be on capital site or annual site value and whether it is to be continuous—that is to say, whether it is to apply to successive redevelopment on a particular site area or whether its operation is to be limited to the first redevelopment? I cannot think any such limitation is in the minds of those who submit the proposal. Some clarification on that point would, however, be of assistance.

Then I come to the "different use" condition. Paragraph 17 of the White Paper says: The general intention, however, is to levy the charge wherever the owner is permitted substantially to change the nature or scale of his use, so that the value of his land is materially increased. What an intriguing collection of indeterminates. It will produce joy among the valuers and, if I may say so, among the lawyers, when the question has to be determined whether these conditions are satisfied. There are some very substantial social disadvantages in this condition of "different use." It will lead, in my view, to piecemeal adaptation and extension of buildings on land in order to avoid the redevelopment coming within the category of "substantial" and thus to escape the betterment charge. I think it is totally undesirable that anything in legislation should seek to put a premium necessarily on maintaining and crystallizing the present use of particular sites. It will, in my view, lead to the crystallization of the existing use of particular sites, because if the use is changed and there is increase in value the betterment charge will be attracted. To perpetuate in many cases, especially in the cities and towns of this country, the existing use of land is not only to perpetuate wasteful use of land but to perpetuate a use which may be socially undesirable. Nothing should encourage that; and the escape of that kind of development from the betterment charge will encourage it. I hope the Government will pay appropriate attention to these social factors.

I come next to the centralization of finance and I must say I view the proposals in the White Paper with serious misgivings. The White Paper says in paragraph 16 (i): This proposal has been framed on the assumption that the control of the use of land will he so managed that over a reasonable period of years, and over the country as a whole, receipts of betterment charge will broadly balance the payments of fair compensation. Those words are bad enough, but when we cone to paragraph 29 we get this—and I am sure the Minister of Reconstruction will appreciate that this is a very important point. The White Paper says in paragraph 29: The processes of planning and development in all their aspects will, therefore, be so managed as ultimately to secure such a balance. I want to ask the noble Lord, the Minister of Reconstruction, whether that means that planning is to be put on a receipts and payments basis. Is the basis to be not the merit of the particular plan but what it will coil in compensation? Inevitably the income which irises from betterment must lag behind, and in many cases must lag well behind, the compensation payment. At what point of time is the balance of these accounts to commence? Is it to be a regional account or a national account? Are there to be separate accounts for particular areas or not?

In the course of very well-balanced and informed articles, if I may say so, which appeared in The Times, setting out points of importance for clarification, the writer in the second article asked: Will the Commission, for equity's sake, have a private set of ledgers in which it will attempt a regional balance as well as a national one on the very probable assumption that the money will not go round? That question goes to the very root of the finance of compensation and betterment, and indeed to the very root of planning itself. For instance, is the planning authority to be told that, although its proposals to restrict development of a particular site are admirable, are desir- able, conform to the regional plan and are in accordance with the principles of the national plan, nevertheless the restrictions cannot be imposed because that would give rise to too much compensation? These are not theoretical questions I am asking. They are real questions which go to the root of successful planning. Is the planning authority to be told: "We are very sorry, but the fund is exhausted"? Some of us have recollections of the Road Fund in 1929–31 when many desirable projects were turned down because the Road Fund was exhausted and the money had gone to the first applicants. We want speedy planning but we do not want competition between planning authorities to see who can get to the Treasury first to get payment from the compensation fund.

There is an even more important consideration. If, in fact, this Land Commission is to control the use and development of land in all its aspects, it will become, in fact, the Ministry of Planning. Plans may be approved by the local authority, proposals may fit in with the regional plan, they may be approved by the Minister of Town and Country Planning; but so far as they involve payment of compensation they will have to get the consent and approval of the Land Commission which of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, said, would be in fact the voice of the Treasury. That is a very gloomy prospect and local authorities are very anxious to receive some assurance on that particular point. In the past much good planning has been frustrated because the local authority had not the money to pay for imposing restrictions, but at all events they had the right to decide whether they would pay the money or not. Under this proposal there will be a national Commission divorced from the influence of the local authority but not divorced from the influence of the Treasury. It is essential that if these proposals are to find legislative expression this point should be cleared up and that no such financial control of planning on a basis of income and expenditure should be imposed on the country.

Now I come to the other element of planning; that is, the finance of acquisition. As one who had the privilege of being the spokesman for the local authorities in the negotiations with the Minister of Town and Country Planning, I am not insensible of the defects of his Bill. It was, when introduced, quite incorrectly named. It was not a Town and Country Planning Bill at all; it was a Bill for the speedy reinstatement of damaged areas. Not the replanning of damaged areas, but the reinstatement of damaged areas. It has undergone some considerable criticism, and it is likely—and I hope such will be the case—to undergo considerable modification in another place when it is considered next week. But it will still remain deficient from the point of view of planning; deficient in many respects. The principle defect is the failure to provide adequate financial assistance for the planning authorities. There is no provision in the Bill, nor is it intended to include any provision in it, for the blighted areas and even the financial assistance for the "blitzed" and overspill areas is quite inadequate to secure any proper redevelopment of those areas by many local authorities. Moreover, there is no financial assistance proposed for the provision of open spaces.

Open spaces constitute the chief means of opening up present-day congested areas. They provide the main way in which we can let the air and sun into the dark and noisome parts of many of our big cities. Open spaces do not come within the category of grant-earning services. The local authority must not only buy the land but must maintain it for proper use as an open space. This inevitably involves a not inconsiderable maintenance charge from year to year. But there is no provision in the Bill for any grant in respect of acquisition of open spaces. The Minister, yesterday made a statement in another place that this matter was to be reconsidered. As I read his statement, the further consideration would appear to be limited to school playing fields. Desirable as is the provision of additional school playing fields that is not the only direction in which we want additional open spaces, nor is that the only purpose for which we want them. Moreover, playing fields in connexion with schools are already grant-earning. It is the other open spaces with which we are concerned. In the County of London plan, the authors put forward the proposal that London needs four acres of open space per thousand persons. We have been told by more than one Ministry that they think this proposed provision is hardly adequate, and that we should consider increasing it. To provide four acres of open space per thousand persons in London in the places where such spaces are most needed would cost upwards of £50,000,000 at present land values in London—upwards of £50,000,000 of money. Relatively, the same burden would be cast on many other cities and towns. If we are to provide adequate open spaces—which is the best means of opening up our towns and cities and decongesting them—we must have more adequate financial assistance.

I must say I entirely support the proposal of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh with regard to the State acquiring land needed for local authorities. I think, if I may say so, that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, did not appear completely to understand the proposal submitted by Lord Balfour. It was not that a Land-holding Commission should buy the land itself and say how it should be developed; it was that instead of local authorities buying particular parcels of land for housing spaces, or schools or other developments, including open spaces—buying it individually and holding it—the State through a Land-holding Commission should buy it and then lease it to the local authorities on appropriate terms, at a rental related to the use to which the land is to be put, and not at a rental at which it could commercially be let.


Which authority is to decide what land is to be bought?


The planning authority, or the local authority. I will if I may just amplify this. A local authority, in present conditions, decides that it must build a housing estate. It needs land for that purpose. It goes into the market to buy land, and I will, with your Lordships' permission, in a few moments, give you some details about the prices of land in London. In acquiring land in the past the local authority has frequently had to buy land for a housing estate in a place where the estate really ought not to be, because the price of land where the housing estate ought to be has been so high. On the other hand it has happened that if it has bought land at high prices, it has been induced, indeed, financially, has been almost compelled, to develop the estate at too high a density because of the cost of the land. The pro- posal of Lord Balfour of Burleigh, as I understand it, is this—and it is one that I have advocated in other places—that, instead of the local authority buying land, once the authority has determined that it wants it and has determined what kind of development it will be used for, the Land-holding Commission acting for the Treasury or the Government should buy it.


My Lords, if I may be permitted to interrupt for a moment, may I suggest that it is very important that this should be made clear so that we should understand the proposal correctly? Possibly I may have misunderstood is yesterday. I understand from what the noble Lord, Lord Latham, now says that it is proposed that the local authority shall, in any given case, declare what are the areas it wishes to acquire for purposes of development and so forth, and then thy Land-holding Commission must automatically accent the choice of the land and carry out the purchase.


I would not seek to put the limitation of acting automatically on any self-respecting Commission.


May I intervene and say that the acquisition of the land would of course be subject to the declared principles of national planning?


What does that mean? Does it mean that the Landholding Commission is to say: "No, we won't buy this" or "Yes, we will buy it"? If the former, then the matter is taken out of the hands of the local authorities and put into the hands of the Commission.


My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, overlooks the procedure which a local authority has now to follow before it can acquire land. A local authority does not say that it will acquire such-and-such a site, and instruct its agent to buy it; the location of a housing estate, as well is its development, must be approved by the Minister of Health. Presumably it will in future have to have the assent as well on planning grounds, of the Minister of Town and Country Planning. Once those two requirements are satisfied, there is no point in the Landholding Commission then inquiring into the propriety or otherwise of taking over that particular site.


There is no financial control.


Financial control is exercised by the Minister of Health in respect of any housing estate, because the Minister pays two-thirds of the deficiency, roughly speaking. Financial control is exercised by the Minster of Education in respect of the site for a school, because the Ministry of Education pays half the grant in respect of it. If I may say so with respect, this suggestion that local authorities are not subject to adequate control of their activities and of their spending of money or incurring of debt is entirely fallacious. They cannot do what they like. If they want to make a street improvement of any size, they must get the consent of the Minister of Transport.

These consents having been obtained, however, the issue becomes this: Is it better that the land should be acquired by individual local authorities for public purposes, or should it be acquired by the State? My view is that the State should acquire and let the land on an appropriate lease, at a rent appropriate to the use to which it is destined to be put. There is no commercial profitability in most of the land local authorities own. If an electricity undertaking is put on the site there is some commercial profitability. But there is no commercial profitability in housing; an enormous public subsidy is required from year to year in respect of housing. There is no commercial profitability in land which is held for educational purposes, or in land which is held or acquired for hospitals and so on. Therefore the rental would in most cases be nominal. Let us be perfectly frank about it.

That does not mean, however, that the Treasury would necessarily lose that money. What happens now? If a local authority buys land upon which commercial development would otherwise have taken place, that commercial development will go elsewhere and take place on another site, and 80 per cent. of the increase in value arising from that will be caught by the proposals of the White Paper and will inure to the benefit of the Treasury. There will be a considerable recoupment, therefore, in that way. But there is a more direct method of recoupment. At present, as I have said, the State subsidizes most of the social services of the local authorities—housing on the basis of a two-to-one grant, education roughly on the basis of 50 per cent., and so on. Hospitals, under the contemplated new health service, are going to receive a public grant, as part of the National Health Service. Every pound that a local authority saves in the cost of land acquired for these purposes goes to reduce the subsidy which the Government pay through the Ministry of Health for housing and in respect of hospitals, the National Health Service and the like, and through the Ministry of Education for education. The additional burden cast upon the State, therefore, would really not be very substantial over a long period of time.

I should like now to point out the very serious situation in which many local authorities find themselves in connexion with the acquisition of land. Speaking to your Lordships in March of this year, I said that in London the average price of land was about £12,000 an acre. Quite a number of your Lordships seemed to assume that that was an exceptional figure. It is not. It is by no means exceptional; it is an average figure. I have details before me of the price of land which has been acquired, and these figures have been certified by the Ministry of Health in respect of the subsidy which is granted. The figures are: in Bermondsey, £22,000 an acre; in Bethnal Green, £22,000 an acre; in Lambeth, £29,000 an acre; in Holborn, £30,000 an acre; in Finsbury, £37,000 an acre; in Stepney, £33,000 an acre; in St. Pancras, £32,000 an acre. Even in a place like Stoke Newington, which is on the boundary of the county and which is one of those areas where the planners suggest that development should be on the basis of 100 persons per acre, upwards of £12,000 has been paid per acre.

I can give some even more startling figures for land acquired by the borough councils. I do not suggest that borough councils are any more wasteful than the London County Council, because these valuations have to be approved by the Chief Valuer of the Treasury. There was a scheme in Holborn where the land was purchased at the rate of £45,000 an acre, and in St. Marylebone the figure was £27,000. It will be seen, therefore, that £12,000 an acre in London is not an exceptional figure, and is not the price of land opposite the Bank of England either. We have had experience in connexion with the improvement of the Strand where the price of land asked was at the rate of £1,000,000 an acre. When people are inclined to think of the London County Council and the Metropolitan boroughs as large and wealthy corporations, I would beg them to bear in mind the liabilities which they carry because of the excessive cost of land in London. I hope, therefore, that the Government will consider the proposal for the acquisition of land needed for public purposes through a central organization such as the Landholding Commission.

In October, 1943, the Minister of Town and Country Planning said quite properly that the Government took the view that the solution of the compensation and betterment problem is a necessary precedent to successful planning. That is the case, but it is equally true that we must solve this problem of the acquisition of land by the positive planners and developers—namely, the local authorities. The two things go together; the proposals for dealing with compensation and betterment are incomplete if they are not accompanied by proposals by which the planning authority can get the land necessary for positive development on reasonable terms and without an excessive financial burden.

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, there are only a few things with which I need trouble the House, because I realize that a great deal of ground has already been covered. I think everybody is agreed that the Motion of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh has been amply justified and has led to an excellent debate. It is plain, I think, that it was very desirable that it should be clearly shown as the result of this debate that the vast aggregations which the noble Lord called "million-mark aggregations" should be checked in future. I was very glad to hear that the Minister, my noble friend Lord Woolton, accepted the Motion. There is an advantage about debates in this House, where so much knowledge is to be found, that a general proposition may require and receive some qualification, and that came from my noble friend Lord Astor, who pointed out in a most clear and able speech something which received support in a letter from the mayors of seven great cities which appeared in The Times this morning—namely, that you must not stretch your principle so far as to prevent cities such as Plymouth from acquiring some additional land for the purpose of reinstating people who have been bombed out. I think the remarks of my noble friend were exceedingly cogent, and I have no doubt that the Government will pay great attention to them. In particular, cities such as Plymouth and the others mentioned are cases which require the most careful attention.

So much for the actual terms of the Motion except as regards its first line, which proposes to call attention to the White Paper, and we have all been invited to express our opinions upon it. I have this qualification for expressing an opinion, that for something over fifty years I have been engaged, either as a counsel or a Judge or a Lord Justice or a Lord Appeal, in dealing with matters closely analogous to the sort of matters we are discussing here. I really do understand, if I may say so, the general principles of the purchase and sale of land and the way in which people look at that matter, and I have also particular knowledge with regard to leases. I have considered with very great care the Reports of Mr. Justice Uthwatt, as he now is, and Lord Justice Scott. Both these gentlemen are intimate friends of mine, with whom I have been in association practically all my working life. I have the very greatest regard for their opinions, and I am the last person in the country who would scout anything they said. But the problems with which they were confronted were problems of the utmost difficulty and complexity, and I am quite sure that both those gentlemen would agree that it would be quite wrong not to submit what they have said in their respective Reports to the closest scrutiny.

I want to say—and I do not believe they will hold it against me personally—that beyond all question the White Paper is to my mind a great advance on the Uthwatt Report, and substantially and, subject to one or two qualifications, I think it embodies a scheme which may well be adopted by the Legislature and which, subject to certain qualifications, will represent a very great advance in the management of the land of this country. Therefore what I have just said is not intended in the least to depreciate the value of the labours of those who have been concerned with these two Reports, and of their careful analysis of the difficulties arising from the existing law. That has already been said in paragraph 7 of the White Paper, and I need not enlarge upon it.

There is only one other general thing I want to say on that point. I believe, and I think most members of this House believe, that owners of land should be fairly treated, like owners of other forms of property. We are not here discussing a wide measure of expropriation without compensation. In this House we want all classes as far as possible to join, after the war, in an honest endeavour to reconstruct a system of civilization which will substantially benefit the position, the happiness and the comfort of all classes in the country. We have a most complex system now, and it is very difficult to improve it, but it can be done, and I have no doubt that in great measure this White Paper will help to do it. But nothing could be worse than to start these great measures of improvement of the position of the people by an attack on owners of land, singling them out for an attack and without attacking other owners of property. That would be unwise, and would lead to a very great feeling of hostility on the part of the owners of land.

And I do think this should be pointed out. It has been to a great extent pointed out already in the very clear speech of the noble Lord, Lord Latham. The immediate vesting of all development rights in undeveloped land in local authorities would, in my opinion, have been a most unwise measure and it would, inter alia, have this disastrous effect that it would practically stop any private enterprise in the building of houses for the working classes. The idea that freeholders of land all over the cotta try should become lessees under this scheme would have been most unpopular in the whole of the country. I accept paragraph 13 of the White Paper as a fair statement of the difficulties inherent in the Uthwatt Report, and for my part I entirely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Latham, said in all the opening part of his speech—a very cogent and clear statement of the difficulties that would arise in carrying out the Uthwatt Report, and of the advantages that will be obtained, so far as regards the matters he mentioned, in accepting the White Paper.

In the old days it used to be said that an Englishman's home is his castle, but if the Report were adopted in all its particulars think it would be said in the future that the Englishman's home is the property of the local authority, subject to constant supervision on almost every conceivable point by paid officials of the particular body within whose area he was living. I think that would be a very unsatisfactory thing, and it would lead to a great increase in the number of paid officials. Like my noble friends Lord Balfour of Burleigh and Lord Addison, and I am glad to add Lord Latham, I would personally prefer "blitzed" areas to be acquired and held by a Land-holding Commission rather than by the local authorities. I accept, and I rather hope Lord Balfour of Burleigh accepts, the explanation of his proposal which has been given by Lord Latham. I think Lord Samuel to some extent misunderstood the proposal that the noble Lord put before us with regard to that. Planning, as I understood the proposal, will continue to be the duty of the local authorities or aggregations of local authorities in certain cases, but subject of course to the approval of the Minister. What Lord Latham said as to the real truth being that ultimately the Minister is the person to determine whether particular areas of land shall be purchased or not, must continue. We cannot have a new system under which local authorities or any other body can buy land and have the purchase money provided by the Exchequer without any qualification at all. That would be indeed an amusing but impossible proposal. Accordingly, in my opinion, Lord Balfour's proposal is a good one and should be most carefully considered by the Government.

The next thing I want to say is a word on the subject of the suggested relation between compensation for refusal of permission to develop land and the betterment charge where permission is granted. I am unable to understand, and several of the speakers have also been unable to understand, what logical connexion there is between the two. They are completely different proposals. It would of course be very nice if you could find that any sums which had to be paid out by local authorities for compensation for refusing permission to develop were balanced by the betterment charges coming in in cases where permission was granted; but supposing there would naturally be much greater sums payable for compensation for refusal than for betterment charges over a series of years, which might easily happen, why should then the whole system of planning come to an end or be hampered? I am glad to agree with the noble Lords I have named on that point, and I hope very much that that also will be considered.

I shall say nothing as to the 80 per cent. Anything I might say has already been said by Lord Chesham, but what I greatly fear is that if the present scheme in the White Paper is adopted without any modification it will tend to prevent the building of houses by existing owners or by speculative builders. In saying that I wish to point out that we are not without some evidence as to what may happen in that direction. The provisions of the Finance Act of 1910 regarding land value taxation to a great extent stopped the building of houses for the working classes by private enterprise. There have been two Reports which ought to be considered in this relation. The first was the Report of the Departmental Committee on the cost of building working-class dwellings published in 1931 (Cmd. Paper 1447), and the second was the Report of the Committee presided over by Sir John Tudor Walters in 1918 (Cmd. Paper 9191). This matter seems to me so important that I commend to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, what was said in the latter of these two Reports. Sir John Tudor Walters' Committee said that there was a consensus of opinion among the builders and land developers that the Act of 1910 which I have mentioned had seriously retarded the carrying on of their business. The evidence given was that these Duties had arrested the development of building estates, led to the elimination or withdrawal of financial facilities, and retarded investment in house property. It is not my proposition that the people were right in the course they took, and it is not my proposition that here the provisions contained in the scheme would necessarily interfere if people had a proper foresight of the probabilities of the betterment proposals. It is this, that uncertainty as to what charges may fall upon land which they are thinking of buying prevents people coming forward and buying. They are afraid of what may happen. Omne ignotum pro magnifico est. If you frighten them away you will not get the builders, many of whom are respectable and able men, to come forward and build houses for the working classes. I have taken some pins to ascertain the feelings of builders. I have read half a dozen accounts from the large builders of England, and my belief is that they one and all are of opinion—and certainly scum of them have definitely expressed it— that the Uthwatt Report, fully carried out, would have prevented any of them coming in and building houses. They would have been afraid of it. I am just a little bit afraid myself that if the scheme in the White Paper is adopted there sill be the same reluctance to come in. It is for that reason, and for no other, that I am so much in favour of the view that in order that these houses may be built the land must be purchased and the land must be planned land purchased in the right positions.

I believe that most or a great number of the local authorities would be in great difficulty if asked to purchase these lands even at the reasonable price suggested in the White Paper. If I could properly shake a finger at the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, I would say to him, "Be very careful that it what you do when you frame your Bill you do not terrify the private builder.; who, as we know, were responsible for between two-thirds and three-fourths of the houses built during the period between the two wars." That is all I can usefully say to-day which has not already been and I therefore repeat my view in conclusion that the present measure is an extremely useful one and we ought to be very grateful to those who have brought it forward.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not keep you more than a quarter of an hour. If I understand the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, aright, the Government have deliberately decided not to lay down a policy on the Barlow Committee's Report until they have had the opinion of Parliament. As Lord Balfollr of Burleigh said in his ex- cellent speech, uncertainty is bad for everyone, and especially bad for the local authorities. I do not know that he used the word "especially" in this connexion, but I am sure he meant it. We have heard from my noble friend who introduced the Motion and from Lord Astor and others about the problems of decongestion and the spillover from the cities. Your Lordships listened to a very interesting speech from the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, on the problems of Plymouth. He rightly demanded that the Government should give some financial help. The problem of Plymouth is the same as the problem of Portsmouth and many other places. But I want to approach this matter from the point of view of county councils. Not very much has been said, at any rate in my hearing—it may have been said when I was out of the House—upon the point of view of county councils who throughout the country are responsible for the allocation of sites for housing schemes in their areas. They will naturally be affected by any policy of decentralization for the cities.

But before going into that I want to say a word about compensation and betterment. In my opinion, and my opinion has been considerably fortified this afternoon, the whole idea of equating compensation and betterment over any period as short as five years is moonshine. If that were done it would stultify, or at any rate very much hamper, all planning. It is essential that the Government should even be prepared to advance a very substantial sum to the compensation fund or be prepared to say that the balance must be struck over a long period, perhaps over a period of fifty years. But I do not want to deal further with that and will leave that rather thorny subject.

Now I will return to the difficult position in which county councils are placed by reason of the want of decision on the part of the Government. Local authorities are handicapped because they do not know whether the Government propose to encourage the decongestion of overcrowded areas. They have been asked to do the impossible. They have been asked to prepare sites for housing. They can get on with the routine business of overtaking the arrears of the housing of the population, but they cannot make a completed job because the location of many housing schemes is dependent on the location of new industries. They must also know to what places the Government propose to direct the overspill from the cities, providing of course that decongestion is the Government's policy. The great city of Glasgow, the second city of the Empire, is only twenty miles from the northern part of the county in which I have the honour to live, and naturally we are very interested in this question of spillover. There is no indication whether a policy of decentralizing industry is to be undertaken, so that all that county councils are doing at the present time is to consult the principal industrialists in the areas concerned with a view to ascertaining what chances there may be after the war for the expansion of local industry. I am informed that the Scottish Development Committee have found it very difficult to make any headway owing to the lack of Government policy on industrial development, and this also applies to the Clyde Valley Regional Planning Committee.

It appears to be Government policy that there should be some control of the location of industry after the war; but it looks as if this may take the form of what is called "negative control." That is to say, industry would not be directed to certain places but rather that any industrialists proposing to develop in certain areas might be refused the assent of the authorities if in their opinion it would not be proper for developments to take place in those particular areas. I should like to ask whether or not it is true that a scheme may be adopted whereby the Government might offer to industrialists certain tangible advantages in certain areas known as development areas, in which they consider it in the public interest that industrial development should take place in view of the unemployment which might arise unless such development occurs. These ideas are all vague and nebulous. We know nothing for certain. What local authorities want is a well-planned scheme for them to work on for the siting of housing schemes and for putting aside areas for future industrial development.

I sympathize with the Government in their difficulty in coming to a decision on these points. Over and above the reason which the noble Lord has given it may be that the Government have decided not to commit themselves to the Barlow Report as far as practical suggestions are concerned because of the expense involved. Perhaps they want first to see what the country's financial position will be after the war. In that I am sure they will have the sympathy of a great many people. But the point I want to make is that if each county has to depend entirely on its own initiative without any indication of planned policy by the Government, that should be known. Speaking for my own area, although we may not be quite satisfied, at any rate we shall know where we are.

Finally I would like to tell your Lordships something. It is a small thing. In the area of Scotland where I live we want new industries, like everyone else, and we were sorry to hear that a new industry had been allocated to some other place in the North-West. I do not know whether it is the North-West of England, but it was allocated to somewhere in the North-West and not to the County of Ayr. This industry is to be set up for the manufacture of penicillin. It is rather interesting to the town planning committee in my county and also the county council members that the inventor of penicillin, Sir Alexander Fleming, is an Ayrshire man as is also the Minister of Supply, Sir Andrew Duncan. No one therefore can accuse these gentlemen of the misdemeanour of favouritism.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, we seem to suffer from a minor confusion this afternoon. I understood that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, was proposing this Motion in order to give a blessing to the White Paper plus a few major suggestions which he himself had to make. We do seem rather as if we had reached the Committee stage of a Bill because we have been going into so much detail in the discussion to-day. Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I speak very shortly and very generally in support of the noble Lord. I think we may all avoid details till a later stage.

We all should be very grateful to the noble Lord because he seems to have done something which I must frankly say I thought would take a very long time to do, which is to get everybody together. My noble friends on the other side of the House have brought this matter of plan- ning up very often and I, and I am sure a lot of others who are called Tories I suppose, do not always see eye to eye with them. But Lord Balfour of Burleigh has succeeded in performing a miracle in that I think we are all agreed on the broad principle that the White Paper is an advance, and not only an advance but a very good advance. He has also shown us what I think are the only two remaining stumbling unlocks. One of them is the question of the actual authority in whom the ownership of land shall be vested. That I think was most profitably cleared up not only in his own speech but in the exposition of the noble Lord, Lord Latham. I fed that the recommendation of a Land-holding Commission is a very good plan.

I will put the matter in this way. Our debate has been on a fairly high level. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, has spoken of Plymouth and the noble Lord, Lord Latham, of London. There we have great civic bodies, with an enormous sense of civic responsibility, composed of very intelligent and capable people. But that is not the case by and large all over the country when you get to small towns and rural areas. I am afraid it has been said in more than one case of a man, "He did not get on very well until his brother got on the council." Only a little while ago a right reverend Prelate came to a town to which I live fairly near and he was very upset, and quite rightly, about some appalling slum property. When we inquired into the matter we found it belonged to four members of the town council and that one lot of terrible condemned houses, which had recently been put up for sale as derelict, had been bought by another member of the council as a pure speculation. Such a thing, I am sure, could not happen in London or a great city like Plymouth, but I think it will make us all happier if this Land-holding Commission is created so that we can feel, in dealing with the buying and selling of land, that there is a party which is a stranger to the locality.

The other thing in which I thought the noble Lord did particularly well, was in getting over the question of compensation. That is a very difficult problem. I doubt whether we ever can be right to discard a financial obligation or to try and avoid paying in full. This country has always had the most remarkable reputa- tion for financial integrity and before we do anything that is too arbitrary, I think we should remember that countries all over the world watch what goes on in the money market of London. However desirable it might be for some authority to secure a piece of ground worth £30,000 for much less money, the use of arbitrary power by Parliament or by a local authority to prevent a private individual or corporation from getting proper and full compensation might create an unpleasant feeling abroad when we have hitherto had so very high a standard. However, there it is. It would not be possible to finance—or to finance quickly anyway—the plans which all our towns have in store. If there must be some sort of compensation fixed at a rate that is not the rate of a free market, then I think the noble Lord's suggestions and the proposals in the White Paper, with the extension of the time limit, are as fair and equitable as they can possibly be.

The time factor is surely the most important of them all. When the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, said, "Settle, and settle now," he said something with which large numbers of people all over the country will agree. The position may be very difficult. If your Lordships will forgive me relating something with which I was personally concerned, I think it would provide a good illustration. In 1934 it was proposed to make a new bypass road which would run through the middle of my kitchen garden. It was a very sensible thing to do and I was delighted that the garden should be used in that way. The project was not put through because of delays caused by the war. But what I want your Lordships to think of is the position that would arise if that kitchen garden had been carried on as a business. If the owner had been running it well and had spent money on it, he would be in a difficult position if, for years, he had hanging over his head the knowledge that it might be wanted for road purposes, because he would be left in uncertainty as to whether he would have to start afresh somewhere else.

The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, has pointed out how worried the building industry has been because of uncertainty. This readjustment period after the war is not going to be easy. It is not going to be an easy matter to get people back to business and to get busi- ness back on a peace-time footing. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, will realize that if we can make business people confident that the Government are their friends and not their enemies it will help in getting jobs done. I will not detain your Lordships longer, but I would like, because I think it will carry a little weight, to say this. By nature I am an anti-planner. I do not like planning very much; I am rather frightened of it. I believe very much more in private enterprise than in the capacity of the local council. But I think that the majority of our fellow countrymen want planning and it would be to adopt a dog-in-the-manger attitude if any of us, once that has been proved, did not do our best to help. The suggestions in the White Paper, I feel, provide a good honest solution to a pretty thorny problem and I should like to give them my fullest help and support.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I think that in discussing planning we must discuss details, and therefore I shall make no apology for discussing some details today. Before I go further, however, I should like to express gratitude to my noble friend who brought forward this Motion for his extremely fine speech and for giving opportunity for the expressions of opinion which we have heard from all quarters in your Lordships' House. I would like particularly to refer to the speech of the most reverend Prelate which we heard yesterday. I think most of your Lordships will thoroughly agree with him, and I should like myself to endorse what he said, with the exception of one small point. I do not entirely agree with him in his wholesale condemnation of the tenement house. I quite agree that for family life an independent house is superior, but I am a member of the Trades House of Glasgow, which very rightly insists on its members carrying out visitation of the houses. There are cases where tenement houses for old people or for young married couples are superior to individual houses, and I think that is a matter which will have to be considered in future.

I can speak with some inherited experience of planning because next year will complete four hundred years since a predecessor of mine obtained a charter to erect a burgh of which my family has been the planning authority up to very recently. I do not want to come before your Lordships as laudator temporis acti. I recognize that my day is over and I would like to draw a line and let future generations judge of our work. I think, however, that His Majesty's Government do not really realize the variety and complications of the problems which are going to present themselves when they undertake the planning of the whole country. I have referred to the experience of four hundred years, and I could talk to your Lordships for half an hour on the variety of these problems. I do not want to discourage His Majesty's Government. They are the young heirs succeeding to a new estate with a very low estate duty to pay, so far as I can make out. I wish them well, and I shall be very glad to help them in any way which lies in my power. But I do not think—and I am going to support the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham in this—that they have been exactly helped by the Uthwatt Report.

In the first place, any drastic report on any subject, which the Government call for, is always bound to introduce a tremendous element of uncertainty into the business of the country, and they have suffered from that. I thought, also, that the Uthwatt Report took too superficial and cursory a view of the problems before them. They did not have enough information. I cite one case to show what I mean. In certain parts of the country, the system of development is for the proprietor to build streets fully equipped with sewers and everything else, and then to sell or feu the land alongside the streets. He receives from the houseowner the feu duty for the land or .the purchase price of the land, and, in addition, as the streets come to be occupied he receives back compensation for the cost of the street. That obtains over a very large part of the country. But you will see that in reckoning their compensation while the Uthwatt Committee were quite prepared to pay for ripe development land they said nothing about things like streets. That is only a detail, but these things require to be considered if you wish to have justice done.

My noble friend Lord Addison made a point by saying that the situation to-day is due to the system of land ownership. I wish to challenge that, and I may say that I think it has been very effectively challenged already by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham. The housing shortage was caused by the Budget of 1909, and the taxation of land values. I car illustrate that by giving you my own experience. At that time I was Dogsbody to a firm of surveyors who dealt very largely with land in London, and I was sent to examine the first £99 house that was ever built for sale in North London. I had to see if it came up to the requirements of the proprietors of the land for houses. I had to make a very careful survey of that house, and I recall that it corresponded as nearly as possible—it had a bathroom and fittings—with the kind of house that is to be put up by London Boroughs to-day at a cost of £850. Looking back now I think that it had ratter a better roof than the modern house. After a time, those houses ceased to be built, and the whole system under which those he uses were built has come to an end since then. It is safe to say that there has been no speculation in land in that way, aid to the great loss of the country. There has been a lot of money made out of land, but there has been no building of houses to take a chance. At about the same time as that of which I am speaking we in the north of Scotland built four houses at a cost of each. We have never been able to do that again.


Did those houses have bathrooms?


Not our four houses, but the £99 houses did. I am not desirous of entering into controversy with the noble Lord. I feel rather like Principal Pirie in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland when, after a very eloquent address by Principal Storey, he said: "You have listened to a very eloquent oration—now I will give you the facts." We have had some very eloquent speeches, and the speakers have, in a number of instances, sought to say that the trouble has always been due to the fault of somebody else. But surely all sides here want to get to a solution of these problems. If we can clear away the fog of debating oratory and get together I am sure that we shall be all very much happier. I am certain that other noble Lords here who have expressed other views have no wish at all to do anything that is wrong or unfair or unjust.

A very strong point was made by the most reverend Prelate. He asked how you are going to get a corporate spirit into your new boroughs, and he said that to do so would be a matter of great difficulty. I think that it is not going to be so difficult providing you do not accept the Uthwatt idea of putting everything on to leasehold. Not very long ago I was present at a meeting of the feuars at home—that is the houseowners—and one man said to me: "I have worked all my life to raise myself in the world, and one of the principal objects I had in doing so was to have a house of my own." That is one man's expression of view, and it is a view that is shared by many in quite humble positions in life. I venture to suggest that it is a view that should be noted by your Lordships because those are just the kind of people you ought principally to represent. To get a corporate spirit is in itself a tremendous thing, and I believe that house ownership would be a most important factor.

Another point which came up in another place is of very great importance when we are discussing planning. I read that the Minister of Production stated in another place that the Portal house could be satisfactorily developed at a density of thirteen to the acre as against twelve to the acre for permanent houses. Such a suggestion from anybody who has anything to do with planning terrifies me. The Portal houses require drainage connexions, water connexions, electricity connexions. They require gardens—in fact I may say that probably the great solace of living in a Portal house will be your garden. And we are told that these houses are going to be developed at thirteen to the acre, but when they are replaced by permanent houses these are going to be distributed at the rate of twelve to the acre. I suggest that that is entirely impossible, and I sincerely hope that that is not the view of the planning authority. You must develop the Portal houses at a rate which is commensurate with that which you wish to maintain for permanent development.

While on the subject of rates of development may I recall that you did me the honour to send me to sit on the Glasgow Housing Commission? The city wished to extend its boundaries and the various counties surrounding it were opposing that extension. We had before us experts appearing on behalf of both sides, and I remember that the principal bone of contention was the proper rate of development for a big city. After about two days of it I began to see how one could get at the real bones of the matter. I said to leading counsel: "Will you please ask your witnesses this—'Supposing money to be no object, what do you say is the optimum rate of development for a great city?'" It must be remembered that with a development rate of one house to the acre the thirteenth man will have half a mile to go for his tram, and will have a worse tramway service. He brought his witnesses back the next day, and they said that the rate was about eight to the acre. I think that the representatives of the City of Glasgow, who were not asked that question, would have said about six to the acre. I hope that when the Government come to plan urban development they will take a very much lower rate than twelve to the acre; I think that eight is the highest average which should be used in the development of this country.

On the question of compensation, I am very glad to see that the Government have dropped the proposal to have an assessment of betterment on developed land. Any such tax is bound to be a very severe tax on inflation, and all compensation, if based on supposed values at a date in 1939, is going to be a tax on inflation. If money becomes cheaper the values will rise, and we shall have a very heavy tax to pay to the Government not on the increased utility and the actual value of the property but on the rate at which it is assessed in a depreciated currency. That is a very serious matter, and it applies to any datum line for fixing compensation. It means either that the Government may be forced into a course which is essentially dishonest or that, in order to keep their honour, they may be forced to adopt financial measures which on other grounds they would not undertake. I entirely agree with what was said by my noble friend Lord Glasgow and others, that it is ridiculous to suggest that five years is the proper time to take when dealing with this question of compensation. In planning regard must be had to the future. I think that fifty years is the shortest possible time to take, and even fifty years would be low in a matter spch as this.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to say only a few words about this very important and very interesting subject. The Motion refers to decentralization and decongestion, and therefore I hope that I shall be in order if I confine myself strictly to those words. I should like to draw attention to the remarkable growth of population and consequent congestion in the southern and south-eastern parts of England. Between 1801 and 1937 the population of London and the six Home Counties increased by 526 per cent. to 11,843,000. During that same period the population of the rest of Great Britain increased by 274 per cent. to 32,165,000. Let us consider for a moment what those figures mean. In 1937, the population of London and the six Home Counties was equivalent to the population of the whole of Canada, and was one-and-a-half times as great as the population of Australia. To take a more recent and narrower period of time, between 1931 and 1939 England and Wales increased in population by 3.77 per cent. to 41,460,000, and the fourteen counties in South-East England increased by 8.34 per cent. to 14,602,900. In 1939, therefore, the population of the fourteen counties in South-East England was one-and-a-quarter times the population of the whole of Canada, and twice the population of Australia.

It appears to me, therefore, that the problem of decentralization and decongestion has very special reference to the situation which exists in the south and south-east of England. Whatever may be the attractions of being near to London, it is in my view essential that the drift of population to the south and south-east of England should be checked. One way to achieve this object is to prevent further industrial development in those areas. If I may make a suggestion to the Board of Trade, it would be that when they come to issue licences for factories after the war they should issue those licences for sites as far away from London as possible. I appreciate the fact that transport facilities are essential to the siting of factories, but it appears to me that the problem of transport is not likely to be made any easier by siting factories in parts of England which are already seriously overcrowded.

In conclusion, I should like to say that I can never understand why the east coast of Scotland is not made more available for industrial development. As your Lordships know, the climate there is very salubrious—for people who know no other. There is plenty of space, and the transport facilities are capable of considerable expansion. The point which I desire to make is that you will never obtain any real measure of decentralization and decongestion by the construction of sell-contained satellite towns and garden cities in the Home Counties. In my view, the only way to obtain any substantial measure of decentralization and decongestion is by inducing individuals and their families and their interests to go away from the congested areas of southern and south-eastern England to parts of the country which are at present under-populated. I hope that when the Government come to consider this question they will bear in mind the amenities and potentialities of the east coast of Scotland, and that they will do everything that they can to further industry there and to draw it away from the areas where it is already too heavily situated.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, when I first read this Motion I did not think much of it, and I do not think much of it now. It seemed to me just such a Motion as must automatically be accepted by the Government or automatically withdrawn—another pleasant afternoon, and a good time to be had by all. "That the decentralization, decongestion and redevelopment of our big towns do constitute a primary object" of Government policy—imagine the impression such a Motion would make on the citizen of any country where planning has been taken seriously for years. A pathetic declaration of the most banal and elementary obvious which might have been appropriate in 1894 but not in 1944. But the Motion was sponsored by Lord Balfour of Burleigh. There must be more in it than meets the eye, and from his speech yesterday—both from what he said and equally from what he did not say—there is much more in it than meets the eye. His asking the Government to accept the Motion is neither here nor there—the Government were bound to do so—but he said a great deal more which he hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, anyhow might accept, and for which Lord Woolton might set himself to secure Government acceptance. I suspect that Lord Balfour of Burleigh has done a good deal of the Government's work for them in producing suggestions which he hopes, and perhaps has reason to believe, the members of all Parties might in fact accept faute de mieux.

I cannot myself follow the obstetric metaphor employed by the noble Lords, Lord Balfour of Burleigh and Lord Woolton, yesterday, about this White Paper, without indelicacy. Let us, get another from Bluebeard. "Sister Anne, Sister Anne" we have called for years with increasing indignation and increasing despair. For "Sister Anne" read Brother Wyndham, Brother Shakes, and Brother Fred in turn. And Sister Anne has told us of clouds of dust on the horizon. We hazarded conjectures at the cause of the dust. But dust is excellent if from it emerges some figure of deliverance and salvation. Who arrives? Who is this whom Lord Woolton would have us welcome? Who is the figure of salvation and deliverance depicted there? He is certainly covered with the dust of travel and of conflict, but he seems to have visited places of refreshment and to have become involved in many a local brawl on his route. We feel that he is a sorry spectacle.

After all these years, after all the travail of the mountains, what have we here? This is not a settlement, it is a pious aspiration to a settlement, and it is another deferment, another tribute to the irreconcilabilities of the political system. Five years—is that the clue? In five years a Conservative Government may be in power, which might compensate landlords 100 per cent.; or a Labour Government will be in power, which might give no compensation at all. So Lord Balfour of Burleigh comes along and, adopting the expedient so common in life, adds up and divides by two. Very well, let us have that. I come to support Lord Balfour of Burleigh. I support his fifty-fifty suggestion, but I am afraid I would support almost anything to have a settlement now.

More than three years ago, as the noble Lords, Lord Latham, Lord Astor and others will remember, local authorities were told to plan boldly and comprehensively and, in doing so, not to be deterred by considera- tions of finance or of local boundaries. It is a melancholy thought, but perhaps those local authorities who did not do so were wiser and more prescient than those who did. Anyhow, I submit that to-day we are apparently—perhaps two minutes from now when the noble Lord speaks one may change one's mind; I hope so—no nearer a settlement of these two fundamental problems of finance (particularly compensation and betterment) and boundaries. Vested interests —and in vested interests I include local authorities and Party politics—are apparently too strong even for the noble Lord, Lord Woolton. Are they? I have come here to-day to tell him that no vested interest of any sort need be too strong for him because he has the urgent good will of the country behind him in this matter. I hope he will not disappoint us by another deferment. We appeal to him to settle the boundaries issue and to settle the issue of compensation and betterment, either along the lines of Lord Balfour of Burleigh's suggestion or on some better scheme of his own devising. And we appeal to him to settle now.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I must once again thank the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, for having brought up this peculiarly worded Resolution. I am bound to admit to your Lordships that I never read a word beginning with "de" or hear a word like "decongestion" spoken without a sense of guilt because I had something to do with the origin of the horrible word "dehydration" and I would, if I had more ability and time, have liked to find a word which would not have started this dreadful practice. I accepted the Resolution yesterday because I did not want there to be any doubt about where the Government—as I interpret my colleagues' views—have stood on this general question of planning.

The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said that he was not quite sure that my intervention in the debate had been of any particular value—he said it eloquently and courteously, of course—because I had not expounded the White Paper. Well, I did not want to expound the White Paper. I realized that your Lordships had all read it, and that it was fresh in your minds. It had been prepared with meti- culous care, so I thought it was unnecessary for me to burden your Lordships with any observations on it, except very general ones. But I repeat again what I said yesterday—and the noble Lord who has just spoken, and who always speaks of me much more kindly than I deserve, knows it from his past experience—that it is not any use trying to pretend that political divergencies do not exist. It is not any use condemning them. Of course, men will hold their opinions with great conviction and sincerity, and we have had divergence of view, as you are bound to have in a Coalition Government. I imagine that on this issue perhaps you might have had divergence of view even in a Government that was not a Coalition Government. I think we have made remarkable advance when we have got so far towards a basis of agreement. And, whilst I said when I first come into office that I would try to get that agreement, I am bound to say that half-way through that period of seven months I almost despaired of our being able to find this common plan. I submitted it to your Lordships, not asking you to agree to it, but asking you to criticize it so that we might, as a Government, try to benefit by the debate.

I think this has been a very remarkable debate. The speeches that have been made have been of very great value. I am going, quite quickly if I may, to try to deal with as many of the points that have been raised as I can, and if I do not reply to some of your Lordships then I hope you will acquit me of discourtesy. The first complaint that was made yesterday, I think both by the most reverend Prelate and by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, was that the White Paper did not lay down any principles on which the Government think that planning should be conducted. What the White Paper and the Bill in another place seek between them to do is to sketch the legislative framework within which national planning can be worked in principle and in practice. Neither the White Paper nor the Bill attempts to paint the picture for which the framework is designed, but the Government have already announced, as I said yesterday, that one of the principles on which they propose to work is that of the balanced distribution of industry. They mean this principle to apply not only to so-called development areas but to all parts of the country to which the principle may prove to be applicable. Further, certain general principles of town and country planning have already been announced by the Government. Let me give some examples. The recent Report of the Central Advisory Committee on the Design of Dwellings contains an appendix on lay-out which has been prepared by the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. The Housing Manual issued last Monday week covers questions of site planning and lay-out. It is intended to issue other manuals from time to time as general principles begin to emerge and—may I make this point?—as they begin to emerge from the local plans that are being sent in for consideration. A mass of opinion is being accumulated in this central Ministry—opinion which has its source, in part, in local opinion all over the country.

I was a little afraid yesterday, in talking of a master plan, of appearing to be sarcastic, because sarcasm is terribly cheap, and it does not do any good to deride other people's opinions; but I am rather afraid of this idea of Whitehall creating a master plan for this country. There are many people who say—I have read it in the Press time and again "Where is the master plan?" It is a good phrase with which to attack the Government, but I do not believe it would be good Government policy to have such a master plan. Nevertheless there are principles which can be applied all over the country which are constituent parts of a master plan. The avoidance of overcrowding is one of these principles. In every plan for the "blitzed" cities so far examined—and my right honourable friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning has examined many—substantial decongestion has already been provided for. I agree entirely with the most reverend Prelate (the Archbishop of York) that it would be wholly wrong for us to attempt to build on congested areas which have been "blitzed." The most reverend Prelate feared that future housing would continue the pre-war tendency to destroy community life. I hope it will not. The necessity for preserving the sense of community, the desirability of planning in neighbourhood units, has been emphasized in every relevant manual and in every relevant circular which has been issued either by the Minister of Town and Country Planning or by the Minister of Health.

I gather from subsequent conversation with the noble Lord. Lord Balfour of Burleigh, that he was disappointed that I did not come out with greater emphasis on the subject of the size of towns. Let me see if this will satisfy him. I should like to express my cordial sympathy with the view put forward by the noble Lord that the tendency of big towns to become indefinitely bigger must be corrected, and that it would be a sound principle gradually to substitute balanced redevelopment with proper regard not only for the economic wisdom of broad-based industrial and commercial life, but also for the importance of people living in units of a size which makes a proper civic life possible. That is a cautious statement, but I hope it will leave the noble Lord in no doubt as to where I stand.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addison, for his speech and his concurrence. It is an important thing that the Leader of the Opposition should have spoken so favourably as he did with regard to this White Paper. He condemned it for some of the things which are not in it. He thought it was the duty of the Government to deal with agricultural methods, but that was not the business of the White Paper. The Paper never set out to deal with agricultural methods. But the White Paper would give complete power to local and central planning authorities to ensure that all land that ought to be reserved for agriculture should be so reserved in future. I hope that statement would satisfy the noble Lord if he were here that we do, at any rate, preserve agricultural land.

The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, made a speech late last night, and I personally regret that so few noble Lords were here to listen to it. I found it a most valuable speech. I found it valuable on its own account, and valuable also because it came from the noble Lord. He gave support to this White Paper in principle, although I am bound to say that he showed a reasonable reticence when it came to the question of pounds, shillings and pence and how much the compensation should be. I make no complaint of that reticence. Many of your Lordships have commented on the fact that perhaps there would be a five years' delay in settling the measure of compensation. I am afraid nobody has given any support to that particular clause in the White Paper and I think it is just as well that His Majesty's Government should recognize that there has not been any support for it, however much that may be regretted. I hope, however, that your Lordships will not exaggerate the position. One of your Lordships this afternoon, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, said it would be ridiculous that planning should be confined to a period of five years. That is no part of the suggestion.


May I interpose? That is not what the noble Lord meant. He was referring to the suggestion that the equation of betterment and compensation should be made during a period of five years.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. That of course is not the suggestion. The truth is that we have spent a very large amount of time with the Treasury and we should be a very bad Government if we did not keep an eye on the Treasury.


Hear, Hear. Both ways.


We are asking for vast sums, millions of pounds day after day. First one Minister and then another goes to the Treasury with some proposal that is going to incur large expenditure. I have great sympathy with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in saying "No" very frequently. These schemes mount up the expenditure, and when anyone looks at the national bill that we are piling up as a result of the war and at all the things we are going to do to make a better world one sees that it is a very considerable bill indeed. We should be very unwise if we allowed our enthusiasm for any particular project to get out of balance with sound national finance. It was because of that feeling that the Government decided it would be a good thing if they could get a period during which they could estimate what the costs were likely to be and so they put in a period of five years. I rather gather that if a Bill comes before your Lordships with a clause to that effect in it, it will not meet with such a good reception as many other clauses in such a Bill seem to have in prospect. Do not let us think that this uncertainty is going to apply to the whole of the land of England. Some 85 per cent. of the area of England and Wales is at present open country, and this 85 per cent. (or probably 90 per cent.) does not now, and did not in 1939, possess any development value at all. The whole of this large proportion of the area of land of the country will be totally unaffected by the proposal to postpone the assessment of payment of compensation. I think I realize that your Lordships wish the Government to give further consideration to that matter before they bring in a Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, made, I thought, a most powerful speech yesterday. He based that speech on the immediate practical considerations of a man who has done noble work for the conception of using "blitzed" areas to make grander towns. As a result of his speech yesterday I have had further conversations with him this morning, to see if we cannot do something to meet some of the points that he raised. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, asked how far the policy of federating local planning authorities had been carried out. Let me give him the information that has been sent to me by the Ministry since then. This policy has already been to a large extent accomplished under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932. The total number of local authorities in England and Wales who can make plans is 1,441. Of this total no fewer than 1,021 have by now become members of joint planning committees which to-day number 179. Many more of these joint committees are in process of formation. I hope your Lordships will realize that these joint committees are not advisory but are executive bodies.

I come now to to-day's most excellent debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Latham, for the very constructive speech that he made. He was good enough to place before us in a most reasoned way that vast experience that he has obtained from his association with local government in London. I will endeavour to answer almost categorically the questions he asked me. He asked whether compensation and betterment is to be run on a receipts and payments basis. The answer is "No." He also asked whether separate accounts were to be kept for the regional areas. I think he was making fun there. The answer is "No." Then he asked, in what point of time will this balance occur? The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, raised this question yesterday. I have been rather surprised as the debate has gone on, that this point has been raised. It shows how even the meticulous language in which White Papers are printed sometimes fails to convey the meaning intended. The point arises on paragraph 29 of the White Paper: The processes of planning and development in all their aspects will, therefore, be so managed as ultimately to secure such a balance. That, I think the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, interpreted as meaning that compensation and betterment would be weighed in order that we might see when the balance was going to happen. The operative word is "ultimately."

In fact what we had in mind is this. Here was a certainty of very heavy compensation being paid. Here was a prospect, a very hopeful prospect—I think I would buy it as an option in the commercial world—of betterment coming in. So, quite properly, the financial pundits said: "Yes, that is all right, we see we are going to pay out. When do we balance?" The reply is "Ultimately." I believe they would balance ultimately, that over a long period of time the amount of betterment will more than equal the amount of compensation. But our language has been at fault because so many of your Lordships have thought that the two things were going to be mutually dependent upon one another. In any legislation that will be—


There is another passage in the White Paper to which the noble Lord has not referred. It is at the bottom of page 8, where it is said: The payment of compensation and the collection of betterment charge will cease to be the responsibility of local authorities and will be centralized in a Land Commission. This proposal has been framed on the assumption that the control of the use of land will be so managed that over a reasonable period of years, and over the country as a whole, receipts of betterment charge will broadly balance the payments of fair compensation. Planning has got to be managed so that the amount to he paid out in compensation shall not exceed the amount expected to be recouped in betterment over a reasonable period of years. That is the particular provision to which we have taken exception.


I think the language justifies it, but I do not think the facts will. I think it was a proper precaution. I stand by that without any hesitation at all. I have seen plans produced in this country that were so excessive in their expenditure that I was perfectly clear that it would be unwise to expend so much money. Somewhere we must see that the amount of compensation must have some reasonable chance of balancing the amount we can get in betterment. I agree that the language may not be as explicit as it ought to have been, but I make this statement quite definitely that it is not our intention to allow planning to be determined by some outside financial body. That was the specific question that was asked. I make this statement also, that it will have to be conducted in a sensible manner and with proper regard to the economic factors that are involved. I knew I would have your Lordships' agreement on that. Let me point out another thing. This betterment charge is going to be accumulating indefinitely in point of time and because it is going to be accumulating the country can afford to take a long-dated view on the subject. That I am sure is what you would desire. I was asked whether betterment charge is to be continuous. The answer is "Yes."

I do not know whether I am entering into a digression or not, but the noble Lord, Lord Latham, pointed out that we were not going to collect all the betterment by this means and that there was a great deal that arose from social activities that would not be collected at all. That is quite true, but the contrary also happens. Sometimes as a result of the movement of industry, sometimes as a result of the introduction of improved social services, the value of land goes down. There would be no compensation for that reason under this scheme. I think there we have done something towards rough justice.

Then the noble Lord asked me whether the Land Commission would be the determining factor in planning. I wonder if your Lordships would allow me to refer to a statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning yesterday. The noble Lord, Lord Latham, I think raised the question. I have a note here on the subject of open spaces. What it says is this: Provision will be made in subsequent legislation that some form of financial assistance will be-made available for the acquisition by local authorities of approved open spaces in places where the provision of such open spaces would otherwise impose an undue financial burden upon the authority. It was suggested to me that it might help to clarify matters if I made that statement.


It certainly does.


Another thing which many of your Lordships discussed was something that we have not proposed in this Paper; that is, that there should be a Land-buying Commission. I am most grateful for the debate on that. The fact is that we considered it at great length and we finally came to the conclusion that such a Commission would perhaps not be acceptable to local authorities. It is very interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Latham, much to my surprise if he will forgive my saying so, said to-day that local authorities would welcome it.


May I be allowed to interrupt? It really must not go out from here that I had expressed the views of other local authorities. I said I would welcome it. I was not speaking for other local authorities.


I am very much obliged for the correction. But we pay great regard to the experience of the noble Lord in these matters. There has been great support throughout the debate for the appointment of such a Commission. I make no other statement about it than to say that so much support is something which His Majesty's Government must recognize. May I now turn to the speech which the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, made this afternoon? I thought he was a little less than just to His Majesty's Government and to me when he said we would not give any opinion on the Barlow Report. Do not let us get these Reports bound too closely in their bindings. What matters is the principles that come out of these Reports. When I said it would be the policy of His Majesty's Government to apply the principle of getting a balance of industry all over the country and not to confine it directly to the Special Areas, that was a statement which I think the authors of that Report would welcome and it is a statement that I make without any hesitation as expressing the views of His Majesty's Government. The noble Earl said that there was a feeling of uncertainty among industrialists.


Not a feeling of uncertainty among industrialists; a feeling of uncertainty among local authorities with regard to the siting of housing schemes.


Of uncertainty with regard to their housing schemes. I can assure your Lordships that we would be very glad to do anything we could to relieve their uncertainty. We have asked them to send in their plans, and to let us know what they want to do. They are the people who prepare the plans for housing, and we are most anxious to do everything that can be done to hasten the development of housing. As regards the location of industry our position is quite clear. We propose to say to industrialists who desire to carry out developments in towns in a manner which would he prejudicial to the interests of those places: "We do not want you to come here. Will you please find another and more suitable place for your purpose elsewhere?" That kind of negative control I think is going to be of great value.

I was very grateful to the Earl of Warwick for again giving us substantial support for these proposals. Lord Meston made what I thought was an eloquent appeal, a sort of advertising appeal, on behalf of the East of Scotland. (How much some of us would like to go there now!) Lord Saltoun gave me a word of warning. He said that he had had four hundred years of experience in planning, and he asked dad not the Government realize the complications into which they were going? Believe me, we do not need anyone to tell us about the complications of the problems that are in front of us.

I wish to finish—I have kept your Lordships for an unduly long time, but I had to reply to specific points which have been made—by expressing my great gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh. As Lord Reith has said, he has very often given me a great deal of personal help from his great knowledge of housing and of planning. I am grateful to him for having brought this Motion forward in spite of the particular language that he used in the process. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity which the debate has given us at this comparatively early date of expressing an opinion upon this White Paper. The conclusion I draw from the debate is that the White Paper has met with a very good reception, that the principles of compromise have been recognized as being wise, and that it has provided us with a basis on which we might reasonably bring forward legislation expecting that it would meet with the support of your Lordships, always provided that we dealt in certain ways with one or two points in the Paper. I think that the outstanding feature of the debate has been that you have said: "Well here's a subject of very great difficulty, we doubt whether any amount of consideration will enable you to arrive at a perfect financial solution, and so, being good business men, let us settle now and settle quickly, and let us be prepared to accept whatever compromise is involved in that." I hope that I have interpreted your Lordships' expressions of views correctly and I again apologize for having detained you for rather a lengthy period.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I shall keep your Lordships for only a few minutes, but there are one or two points which I think must have a little more attention. My noble friend Lord Woolton has been very kind in many things, and I now desire to say one word on the question of the period over which compensation and betterment is to be equated. Attention has been called to two passages from the White Paper which gave rise to apprehensions—happily now declared by my noble friend to be unfounded—that the period of equation was going to be a short one. One further passage I think was bound to give rise to that impression. Will my noble friend kindly look at paragraph 32? This states: An Expert Committee will be appointed before the end of the five year period, and will be asked to assemble and review the material on which to base recommendations to the Government for determining the right compensation to be paid, and to make recommendations. In the main, two sets of consideration will come before the Committee. On the one hand, they will need to make an estimate of the development likely to take place within a foreseeable future and of the annual income in Betterment Charge that might be expected to accrue from it. In this task they will receive guidance from the actual development then occurring, and from the information that will be put at their disposal as to the future programme of public and private development and as to economic prospects in general. On the other hand, the Committee will receive all the valuations prepared by the Government valuers in accordance with the preceding paragraph. They will he asked to examine the possibility of classifying the individual valuations under appropriate categories in the light of the information regarding likelihood of development recorded by the valuers; and of graduating the formula for compensation accordingly … That does tend to lead to the conclusion that, over the period of five years they are going to look at what betterment is coming in and settle compensation in relation to it. I am delighted to hear that that is a total misapprehension. The noble Lord has reassured me very much by the extremely favourable things he said about the need for a long view, and I am quite certain now that apprehensions to which I alluded can be very largely dissipated if the noble Lord can get his way. He said that we were not going to be influenced in our planning by any outside financial body. It was not the influence of any outside financial body that I feared—it was the dead hand of the Treasury. That is the financial body of which I am afraid, and that is the one which the noble Lord has got to persuade.


It is very much an inside body.


There are just two other points which have been raised in the course of this debate to which I wish to allude. With regard to proposals which I made, I do not in the least object to being told that they were not included in my Motion. It would have been a very long Motion indeed had all the proposals which I outlined been included. There has, I think, been only one discordant note in the debate and that was struck by the noble Viscount opposite who I am very sorry to see has left the House before I have had the opportunity to say what I feel bound to say about his speech. His attitude is perfectly logical. He does not believe in national planning. He said that big cities were perfectly all right, and that after London has been reformed by the noble Lord sitting opposite, and after Birmingham has been reformed they are going to be perfect. I do not agree holding the view that he does hold the noble Viscount is not interested in national planning, and his idea of planning is planning done by local authorities io preserve a bit of coastline or rural area. He is not interested in the principles of national planning which I am so much concerned to support. I can only say that his attitude is out of date.

There is one other very small point to which I would like to refer. Lord Latham intimated that he does not approve of my suggestion of 5o per cent. because he said: "5o per cent. of what?" The answer is 5o per cent. of the estimated development value at March 31, 1939. He went on to say that a great deal of information will shortly become available as to the future trend of development. That is surely irrelevant. The noble Lord is deserting the principle of the basis of March, 1939.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to say that the development value which any piece of land possessed at March, 1939, depends upon what were the estimates of its development, and the estimates of its development will be determined by such planning and reallocation of industry as may follow.


That is not my understanding of development value at March, 1939. I thought that the merit of the March, 1939, value was that it disregarded profit and loss due to the war, and I think that that is fair. It is not possible to get absolute justice in this world, but I do not think that people should suffer by the war or profit by the war to a greater extent than can be helped. However, I do not want to quarrel with the noble Lord; he was extremely kind, and I am most grateful to him for the admirable way in which he dealt with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. He did so much better than I could have done, and I propose on that point to let the debate speak for itself. I should like to thank all those of your Lordships who have supported what I said, as almost all of you have, and in particular to express my most grateful thanks to my noble friend who replied. Nobody could be kinder and more sympathetic. We know that his heart is in the right place, and we know that if it can be done he will produce a Bill which will give us what we want.

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, I should not like it to be thought that those of us in this part of the House fail to realize the immense advance which the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has made in securing agreement on at least three vitally important principles on which we have never had agreement before. All of us on these Benches realize how important that is, and appreciate that after the miracle of getting agreement on religious education in the Education Bill we have here the even more remarkable miracle of getting agreement on the questions with regard to land in which the Liberal Party has been interested for so long. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has had to go to a meeting of scientists, but had he been here I am sure he would have agreed with me that we yield to none in our admiration for the work which the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has done in securing agreement. The only thing we ask for now is what he promised us in his last words—action now. That is what we want.


I am very grateful to the noble Lord.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at two minutes past five o'clock.