§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Kennet.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [The Land Commission]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD SILKIN
I should like to say a few words on Clause 1 because, obviously, that is the first clause which refers to the first appointed day. There is nothing in the Bill which gives us any clue as to when the first appointed day will be, but rumour has it—and I am not sure that it has not been stated publicly in another place—that it may be on March 1 next. My noble friend Lord Shepherd made some forecast about this afternoon. I am not going to make any definite forecast about the future of this Bill, but it looks to me as though it is most unlikely that it will receive the Royal Assent before we rise for the Christmas Recess. There are a large number of Amendments, and I imagine that some will be carried or accepted.
At any rate, it seems almost certain, in view of the length of the Committee stage here, that this Bill will be modified to some extent before the Committee stage is ended. There will then have to be some time between the Committee stage and the Report stage, if only in order to give the Government an opportunity of considering the undertakings which they 479 will undoubtedly give, and which most Governments give in the course of a Committee stage; and after that, of course, we shall have the Third Reading when we in this House can also put down Amendments. The Bill will then have to go back to another place. I need not elaborate further, but it seems most unlikely that this Bill will receive the Royal Assent before a day towards the end of January.
I understand it has been stated that the first appointed day will be March 1. In other words, there will be not more than five weeks between the date when the Bill receives the Royal Assent and the first appointed day. In those five weeks the Land Commission will have to get settled, and to begin to understand the Bill, but they cannot understand it, or even study it seriously, until it is in its final form. I have occasionally been asked to advise on this Bill, but I have refused to give any definitive advice because undoubtedly it will be changed in the course of its passage. In the same way, the Land Commission cannot seriously begin to study this Bill until it has received the Royal Assent. The Government have to get an organisation going. I imagine that the Ministry have started along those lines and that they may well be getting ready to put the Bill into operation, but they will not have a great deal of time.
Then there are the practitioners, who also have to understand the Bill; and the general public. They are not given very much time to make themselves familiar with the contents of the Bill. Yet the date of the first appointed day is most important, because so many things happen on or after the first appointed day, as anyone who studies this Bill will see. First, that is the date from which the Land Commission are authorised to acquire land. On or after March 1, if that is the appointed day, they are authorised to acquire land; and that is the day from which the levy becomes payable. I submit that it is very hard on the general public and on practitioners that they should have so little time between the passage of the Bill and the first appointed day in order to familiarise themselves with what is in front of them.
Would any material damage be done by deferring the first appointed day? I would suggest not. Those people who fear 480 what may come after the first appointed day have already taken such steps as they think right, and those are not the people I am concerned about. I am not concerned about the big property companies, who have already taken the best advice they can and are ready even for March 1. I am thinking of all sorts of other people: small property owners, people who are going to build single houses, builders and people of that description not in a very big way of business. All these have to prepare themselves for the first appointed day. I submit once more that March 1 is too early a date for the first appointed day if the general public, the Land Commission and the practitioners—lawyers, surveyors, valuers and so on—are to be able to familiarise themselves with the contents of this Bill.
May I also say that it would be a great mistake to start this scheme off in a hurry? There will be delays, there will be mistakes and there will be misunderstandings; and a few extra months of preparation will be all for the better as regards the efficiency of the carrying out of this measure. I would suggest that January 1, 1968, would be a more appropriate date as the first appointed day; or, at any rate, October 1, 1967, if the Government think that January, 1968, is too long a deferment. I hope that my noble friend will not say that everything is set for March 1 and that it is too late to alter it now. This is a really serious submission on my part. I do not want to talk about my own experience—I do not think that is a good thing to do—but I have had a little experience of the implementation of a measure of this kind, and I would say that that measure would have been all the better in its operation if I had not been in too great a hurry to bring it into force. I hope that the Government will see their way clear to giving this suggestion serious consideration.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, though he was modest about himself, speaks with great experience of complicated legislation such as this, and I should like to reinforce his plea. I believe that the Land Commission are going to have an almost impossible task, and some of our Amendments are designed to make it manageable. We have put down no wrecking Amendments; 481 we have put down only Amendments designed Ito prevent the whole machine from seizing up.
I would most strongly urge that March 1 is not a good day to start. I am quite certain, as the noble Lord has said, that the Government will add to their difficulties if they insist on making March 1 the first appointed day. There have already been complaints from professional organisations that the Government propose to start the levy on a date in the calendar different from that on which the new income tax year starts. There are provisions in the Bill which are designed to avoid the duplication of payment of capital gains tax, on the one hand, and the betterment levy, on the other. At least, that is what I think they are designed to do. If I were in charge of this measure, and if I wanted the Land Commission to work smoothly from the start, I should be inclined to name April 6, 1968, as the first appointed day. If any day before that is appointed, I do not believe very serious complications can be avoided.
Moreover, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is right in saying that if difficulties are created they will not be difficulties for the very big firms which know how to manage their affairs and have been able to look ahead a long way, but difficulties for small builders and other small people who have had considerable trouble in catching up with the Amendments that were made by the Government in Committee in another place at the beginning of August, and then, only a few weeks ago, on the Report stage in another place. As yet the provisions of this Bill are not fully understood, and that is partly due to the fact that the Government made a number of Amendments, to which I am not taking objection here, at a relatively late stage in another place. The Government may, perhaps out of a sense of pride, stick to March 1, 1967, the date they originally quoted, as the date for the first appointed day, and as it does not appear in the Bill we cannot put down an Amendment to it. But I would prophesy, without any fear of my prophecy being falsified by events, that if in fact the Land Commission have to start work and take over these powers on March 1, 1967, they will find their difficulties immeasurably increased, and will get off to a bad start which both they and the Government will always regret.
§ 2.57 p.m.
§ LORD KENNET
As the Committee knows, the choice of the date for the first appointed day has been announced by my right honourable friend as March 1, 1967. The day itself has to be designated by Order, and, of course, no such Order has yet been made because it has to be made under the Bill, and the Bill is not yet law. It is therefore legally open to my right honourable friend to choose a day other than March 1, and one can think of circumstances in which he would no doubt be led to do so. But let me say, on behalf of the Government, that I very much hope that those circumstances will not arise.
The arguments that have been put forward in favour of choosing a later day are, I think, three. First of all, there is the possible length of the Committee and the Report stages in this House, the length of time taken by the House of Commons in considering such Amendments as we may pass, and the obtaining of the Royal Assent. I am informed that we shall still be able to stick to March 1, even if the Royal Assent comes as late as January, but I very strongly hope that we shall get as far as the Royal Assent before Christmas. If we are reasonably expeditious in our Committee stage here—and I hope we shall he—I think we shall be able to adhere to this.
The second and third points which have been raised in favour of postponing the first appointed day are closely related. They are, first of all, that the Land Commission and their staff will not have time to study the Bill as amended and as passed before it goes into operation; secondly, that the landowners, especially the smaller ones who do not have access to big firms, will not have time to study it. I think that this point can be exaggerated. We should not exaggerate the extent to which Amendments made in the House of Lords commonly change the shape of measures which have come to us from the House of Commons. These measures do not commonly change very much and I should say that both the staff of the Land Commission, who are at present being gathered, and the landowners, whether large or small, would not be wasting their time if they began to study this Bill now. I understand that they are doing so, quite rightly, and have been doing so for some time. It is 483 a fact that the staff of the Land Commission are already being gathered; there are training schemes and familiarisation schemes for this staff. Everything is being prepared for an operational date of March 1, and I think it is clear that, whatever would be the advantages in other fields, there would be some administrative confusion and avoidable delay if we were to postpone the date from March 1.
However, having said all that, it is obvious to everybody that we may slip on the timetable however hard we try not to—and the Government at least are trying hard not to. I think it is also clear that views coming from such experienced sources as both noble Lords who have spoken—and especially, if I may say so, from my noble friend who gave an awful warning to the Committee about his own great legislation of many years ago—should be, and will be, taken into consideration by my right honourable friend in considering the timetable from here on. Of course, the Committee could not expect me to say anything about it at this stage or, probably, at the Report or Third Reading in this House, since there is no date in the Bill and the matter is to be done by Order.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
I wonder if Her Majesty's Government fully realise that there are not enough trained officials in the country for work in connection with land valuation at the present time. When the Land Commission get into operation that situation will become much worse. If the Government would accept the suggestions put forward to-day they would avoid the risk of the whole of this measure being bogged down from the commencement.
§ LORD KENNET
We had some exchanges about this on the Committee stage of the Local Government Bill, when my noble friend Lord Sorensen was able to give assurances, which appeared to give satisfaction to noble Lords, about the programme for increasing the number of valuers in the country.
You cannot increase the number of valuers just like that. It is a very highly trained profession. You can get plenty of people who can pass the first professional examination and who can value a building site anywhere and value building land 484 anywhere by simply referring to books of tables; but that is not valuation. I speak with some experience; I have been through the mill myself. It is a very experienced job and you cannot give experience by just turning a handle.
§ LORD ST. HELENS
Surely we went all through this when we were discussing the Rent Act about six to nine months ago and the Government agreed that it was impossible to find an adequate number of valuation officers. That was for a completely different Bill. How they are going to cope with this Bill when they cannot cope with the Rent Act, goodness knows!
§ LORD KENNET
I think that the numbers in any profession can be increased by increasing the number of young persons under training for that profession. I know of no other way of increasing the numbers in any profession. I repeatedly see the numbers in a profession increased and decreased by deliberate acts of Government policy. This has been so for many decades. This is what I meant when I said the Government were making provision for an increase in the number of valuers. I should more correctly have said "an increase in the output of young valuers". Naturally, valuation is a profession in which experience counts more than perhaps in others; but the way to get experience is to get a number of young people available to have the experience. It is a slow business, but it is being done.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
Does the noble Lord not realise that it is not possible to make a skilled valuer simply by making a young man pass his valuation examinations. No such man is competent to do valuations on his own unless he has studied for a period of not less than five years under a competent senior official.
And to that must be added the time it takes to get a valuer's degree from the Surveyors' Institution over the way. That is a considerable time.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.
§ Clause 4 [General financial provisions]:
§ On Question, whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?485
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
Clause 4(2) says:Subject to the next following subsection, all sums received by the Commission by virtue of this Act, except such sums as are specified in section 2(1) of this Act, shall be paid into the Exchequer.In this House I do not think we were told at all what the estimate was of the annual amount of the betterment levy; but the OFFICIAL REPORT of another place states:Mr. Boyd-Carpenter asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources what is his estimate of the annual yield of the levy of certain dealings in land foreshadowed in Command Paper 2771.Mr. Willey replied:I estimate that when the scheme is fully operating, the gross yield will be about £80 million per year, on the basis of a 40 per cent. levy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 718, col. 591; 1/11/65.]We are told in this Bill that the Treasury will advance to the Land Commission in the first instance £45 million for their business of acquiring crown land. That sum can be extended to £75 million by an Affirmative Resolution of the House of Commons. But this large sum, estimated at £80 million, is, so far as I can see, going straight into the coffers of the Exchequer. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on November 14, 1966, during the Second Reading debate in this House said:I will not indulge in criticism of the Bill or comment on any particular clauses of it. I am sorry that the noble Lord who is to reply is not here, but there is one matter I should have liked to mention and to have a reply to. Why are not the whole of the proceeds of the levy going to be entrusted to the Land Commission? I see that they are going to be able to deduct the levy in cases where they acquire land and in certain other cases, and they will be able to retain that money, but as regards the general levy, when development is about to take place, they are required to pay the proceeds into the funds of the Exchequer and there is no obligation on the Exchequer to treat that as being different from any other monies they acquire."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 277 (No. 67), col. 1113: 14/11/66.]The noble Lord was given no answer at all by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. He was congratulated on his speech by the noble Lord (col. 1165), but he did not get a reply as to why this money was going into the coffers of the Treasury.
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, drew an analogy between this and the Road Fund 486 which was first set up as a tax on motorists and was supposed to go—and did go for some time—towards improving roads; but unfortunately Winston Churchill, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, did not set a very good example, because he could not balance his Budget. At that time I was only a young man, but I remember that he raided the Road Fund and balanced his Budget that way. Subsequent Chancellors of the Exchequer thought it a good idea, until the Road Fund was nearly exhausted, and the House of Commons decided that the Ministry of Transport should have an Annual Vote. I think it extraordinary that this Bill should appear before us providing that the whole of the £80 million a year is to go to the Exchequer.
No doubt the Treasury will be delighted with that, but we were told that this Bill would help people to buy land more cheaply and help the redevelopment of central areas where land is very expensive; local authorities would be helped to develop that land. My experience, gained during the nine years I was a member of a county council, is that many schemes to redevelop central areas are prepared. My noble friend Lord Gage said on Second Reading that, in his county, of sixteen schemes which were prepared only two were carried out, at a cost of £3 million. Many of the schemes would not be viable without help from the central fund. Local authorities are not keen to go on with these schemes because they entail an increase in the rates. So many such schemes are just blueprints and are not carried forward even if the building resources are available. But just to take the whole of the £80 million and put it into the Exchequer, and to allow the Land Commission to deduct only the levy from the land which they buy, does not seem to me to be in accordance with the object of this Bill. I should like an answer from the Minister if he is able to provide one.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
I am grateful to the noble Lord. Lord Wolverton, for taking up the cudgels on my behalf. It is true that I made this point on Second Reading. It is equally true that I did not receive any kind of acknowledgment or 487 reply. But that is common fate for many of us on these occasions. We spend hours preparing speeches, and make our points, and if they are awkward points for the Government in question, whichever Government it may be, they are just ignored. I was not going to return to the attack and I am grateful to the noble Lord—I might call him my "noble friend"—for returning to it.
Surely some explanation is called for as to why one portion of this levy is to go into the funds of the Land Commission and the remainder into the Exchequer. It is clear which part goes to one and which to the other, but the logic of it is difficult to understand. If this is a levy on increases in the value of land due to the activities of the community, surely the character of the levy is the same whether it is deducted from the purchase price of land or whether it is a direct levy. The ground for the imposition of the levy is the same, and it would seem that the right thing is for this levy imposed by the Land Commission to be under the control of the Commission and dealt with by them, under the directions, of course, from the Government; and possibly in due course for them to hand over to the Exchequer, as the Bill provides, the excess funds. At any rate, is not the right course to ensure that the proceeds of the levy, however derived, should go in the first instance to the Land Commission, to be dealt with by them? I should be grateful if in due course the noble Lord could give some explanation why there is this differentiation.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
I agree tremendously with what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said in his earlier speeches, and I regret to have to differ from him profoundly in this matter as a matter of principle, and to differ indeed both from him and from his "noble friend". It reminded me of an occasion at the League of Nations when I remember Monsieur Barthou referring to Sir John Simon as "Mon cher collégue et presqu'ami."
Surely it is a fundamental principle of taxation, good or bad, that it ought to be paid into the central Exchequer? I think that the brothers Geddes attempted to say that the motor taxation, or petrol tax, was to be revenue committed to the Road Fund. That attempt 488 failed completely. It is fundamentally wrong, and surely the real principle of all taxation is that it ought to be paid into a central Exchequer, and then the people in the Cabinet can quarrel about what share they get and what they do with it. In the day of another Labour Government Mr. Snowden, as he was then, sometimes found, as he said, that discussions were considerably shortened when he was able to say, "It may interest my colleagues to know that there is no money for this. "It did, I am told, shorten the discussions greatly in the Labour Cabinet. I think that that was before my noble friend's time. As a matter of principle surely it would be utterly wrong to do anything of this sort.
§ LORD SILKIN
I do not know whether the noble Earl appreciated that the proceeds of this fund are to be divided into two parts: one part is to go to the Land Commission, and the other part to the Exchequer.
§ LORD SILKIN
My question was as much directed to why there should be this distinction as to why the whole of it should not go to the Land Commission.
§ LORD SILKIN
The Bill provides that a substantial part—that part which is deducted from the purchase price of land by way of levy—should remain with the Land Commission. That is what I fail to understand. If the noble Earl's principle is right, the Government are not acting on it.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
I accept that, and I hope the noble Lord will move an Amendment to say that it ought all to go to the central Exchequer. The fact that the Government are not, for once, being wholly vicious, but only partly vicious, is no reason why they should be made wholly vicious.
I, too, hope that the Government will stick to their guns, but for reasons with which they may not 489 be entirely in sympathy. It all depends on one's view of this Commission. if one is apprehensive about it, as I am, I think that the less money the Commission are allowed to have, the better. I think that in this case our protection will be the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ LORD MITCHISON
If I may take up the tone of the last speech, I hope that noble Lords opposite will go on discussing taxation and considering money matters to the full, because they will then encourage my Party to carry out their Election pledge to review your Lordships' powers. It shocks me to hear a non-elected Chamber discussing what is purely a taxation question. I want to say no more about the merits of it than that, substantially, I agree with the noble Earl Lord Swinton, and I do not share the view of my noble friend Lord Silkin, that there is a division of the levy.
The amount of the refunds under Part III of the Bill, which is all the Commission are entitled to hold back, is money which seems to be in a different category from the quasi-commercial (and the term "commercial" was used in another place) receipts and payments out from the fund, that is to say, from the Commission. The reason given in another place—and it seems to me the right one—is that if the general account is treated in this way, it presents a better view of what. the Commission are doing.
As for the Road Fund and similar devices, I do not believe that they have ever worked. Your Lordships will perhaps remember that at one period there was a Land Fund. I can afford to be a little critical about it, because it was initiated by a noble Lord whom I supported, but I think it was a mistake all the same. It died finally only because Mr. Enoch Powell used it to pay for a matter which would otherwise have required a Money Resolution. He said that the expenditure ought to be met out of the Land Fund. We were a very good Opposition. We at once put down ten things which ought to be done and paid for out of the Land Fund. I remember only one of them. It was to introduce more planetaria in London. I think that there is only one.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I am a little astonished by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, who referred to 490 this levy as taxation. I think there is a great deal to be said for that view, but the exact opposite was said by Ministers in another place. What they urged was that the Inland Revenue should have nothing whatever to do with this matter because it was not taxation. While I am delighted that the noble Lord has read sonic of the statements of Ministers in another place, I am surprised at his heresy in refusing to follow them in the view that they levy has nothing to do with taxation.
§ LORD MITCHISON
This, as usual, is hair-splitting. It is perfectly clear what is meant and intended. These are money matters. If the levy had been in a separate Bill, it would not have been subject to detailed review in your Lordships' House. We can deal with that when we come to it, but at the moment I am perfectly clear about this. Something for the relief of a liability may or may not be called taxation, but we are speaking of a levy which does just that. It is clear what is intended. This is money, this is supply, this is finance, this is taxation, this is whatever word the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, who indeed is a master at distinctions between words, would prefer to choose for himself. He knows perfectly well what I mean and I know perfectly well what he means.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD CHAMPION)
If we are going into a discussion about the powers of this House I feel that we shall never get this Bill, and certainly not in time for March 1 if I participate in the exchanges that have taken place between my noble friend Lord Mitchison and the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. I must say that I never thought it would be likely that I should call in aid the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, against my noble friend Lord Silkin, but I have to do so to-day, because I think the noble Earl is absolutely right on this point and my noble friend Lord Silkin is wrong. My noble friend Lord Kennet apologises to my noble friend for the fact that he did not reply to him in his winding-up speech but, as my noble friend knows, we are occasionally charged with speaking much too long on Second Reading, and what is left out is a matter of judgment. Occasionally our judgment is wrong, as clearly 491 it was in the case of my noble friend Lord Silkin.
The levy, as my noble friend Lord Silkin said, falls into two parts. One part will be raised by the Commission on private transactions on land. That will be the betterment levy, which will be collected by the Commission and paid to the Exchequer for the use of the Exchequer for its own purposes. But I hasten to add that the Exchequer has taken into consideration the expected yield of £80 million in deciding on the additional grants to be paid under the Local Government Bill, so that already to a large extent the amount of money that will be collected by this process of levy on private transactions will be going to the very things to which my noble friend has suggested it ought to be going. If it is found that the yield is greater than we estimate at this time, the Government, as my right honourable friend said in another place, will bear in mind the receipts from the levy when considering the general financial relationship between central and local government. In any case, it is bad financial management to earmark sums in special funds. This is very much the case here.
As for the amount of betterment that the Commission will gain as a result of its trading in land, it will be able to use some of this for the purpose of assisting local authorities and private house building by means of a cheaper rate of land sale. I think that has already been made clear. We shall then see that the Commission, having, as we hope and expect, a considerable profit on these transactions, largely as a result of its share of the levy, will be able to use it for this purpose. But I must add that if anything is left over and the Ministers feel that a portion of this money should go to the Exchequer, they have power to direct the Commission to pay it to the Exchequer. I notice the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, smiling, but of course it would be possible for this House to watch what the Ministers do and criticise them. I think that the Government are right here, and I hope that we can now get the clause without further ado.
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5 agreed to.492
§ Clause 6:
§ General powers of acquisition
§ 6.—(l) Subject to the following provisions of this Part of this Act, on and after the first appointed day the Commission shall have power to acquire by agreement, or, on being authorised to do so in accordance with the following provisions of this Part of this Act, shall have power to acquire compulsorily, any land which in their opinion is land suitable for material development.
(3) The Commission shall not have power by virtue of subsection (1) of this section to acquire any land compulsorily unless, on the date on which the compulsory purchase order authorising the acquisition is made, one or more of the following conditions is fulfilled in relation to that land, that is to say—
(e) the land is, or forms part of, an area which has been declared to be a clearance area by a resolution under section 42 of the Housing Act 1957, or under section 25 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1950, which is for the time being in force.
(4) Without prejudice to the last preceding subsection, the Commission shall not have power by virtue of subsection (1) of this section. in pursuance of a compulsory purchase order made before such day as the Ministers may by order appoint for the purposes of this subsection (in this Act referred to as "the second appointed day"), to acquire any land compulsorily except for one of the following purposes, that is to say—
(a) securing the carrying out at an early date of material development which, in the opinion of the Commission, ought to be so carried out;
§ (5) Where the last preceding subsection applies to a compulsory acquisition, and the purpose of the acquisition is that which is specified in paragraph (c) of that subsection, the power of the Commission mentioned in that subsection shall not be exercisable except—
- (a) with the approval of the Minister concerned, if the purpose is to make the land available for development or use by, or for the purposes of, a Minister, or
- (b) in any other case, with the approval of the person or body of persons who could be authorised to acquire the land compulsorily as mentioned in that paragraph, or, in default of such approval, with the approval of the Minister who could authorise that person or body so to acquire the land.
§ (6) No order shall be made appointing a day for the purposes of subsection (4) of this section unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ LORD BROOKE or CUMNOR moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "first". The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 1. This is 493 clearly a paving Amendment. It paves the way for Amendments No. 4, 7, 9 and 24. I think it will be for the convenience of your Lordships if we discuss these together. We have come to the clauses of the Bill which deal with the powers of the Land Commission to acquire land, and to acquire it compulsorily. The conception in the Bill is that there are two appointed days. After the first appointed day, the Land Commission may acquire land compulsorily for any of the purposes set out in Clause 6 (4), but after the second appointed day the Land Commission are unlimited in the purposes for which they may acquire land. Clause 6(3) lists the kind of land which it may acquire compulsorily, whether before or after the second appointed day.
§ But the sinister provisions are in Clause 7(4)—they are dealt with in Amendment No. 9—which enable the Land Commission to acquire compulsorily any land specified in Clause 6(3) without having to indicate at any stage or to anybody the purpose for which they wish to acquire the land. This must be wrong. Compulsory purchase is a procedure which must be properly safeguarded by Parliament. One of the general safeguards hitherto has been that an acquiring authority must state publicly the purposes for which it desires to take somebody's land away and use it for another purpose. If these provisions in the Land Commission Bill go through now, it will not be necessary for the Land Commission to give any indication at all of the purposes for which they want somebody's land.
§ This is but the first of several Amendments we have put down which are designed to safeguard the liberty of the subject. Both Houses of Parliament have been over hundreds of years intent to do this, and it is only now, when we have a Bill of this kind, that one sees how far a Socialist Government are prepared to go to deprive an individual of his rights.
§ Under this Bill the owner of undeveloped land, whoever he may be—he may have a lot of land, or he may have only a little land—is in a cleft stick. If he wishes to develop it. he will seek and obtain planning permission, and then the Commission will immediately be authorised by subsection (3) of Clause 6 to make a compulsory purchase order, not waiting for him to do the development, but 494 insisting on grabbing it. If, on the other hand, he decides to play for safety and does not apply for planning permission, then, as I read the Bill, the Land Commission themselves will be able to apply for planning permission if they consider that the land is suitable for material development. And the same thing may happen; the Land Commission can acquire the land compulsorily.
§ The Commission cannot, of course, do so up to the second appointed day unless they wish to acquire it for any of the purposes set out in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) of subsection (4) of Clause 6; and with the exception of paragraph (c), which is sheer duplication of compulsory purchase powers already possessed by other authorities, the rest seem to me to be reasonable. I have no complaint as to the compulsory acquisition powers before the second appointed day. But it must be wrong that after the second appointed day the Land Commission shall, as indicated in subsection (4) of Clause 7, be free from any obligation to specify the purpose for which the land is to be compulsorily purchased.
§ I would ask your Lordships to put yourselves in the position of a man who owns a piece of land and suddenly hears that the Land Commission are proposing to acquire it compulsorily. Naturally, he wishes to object; it is his land. He may or may not wish to do something with the land; but it is the land of a British subject. At that point the Land Commission come along and clap a compulsory purchase order on the land. As I say, quite naturally the owner wishes to object, and if he is lucky, and the Land Commission do not invoke the special procedure of Clause 8, he will have the right of a public inquiry or private hearing.
§ When I was Minister of Housing and Local Government I frequently had to give decisions on appeals that had been heard at a public hearing—and not only on appeals, but on compulsory purchase orders—and I am well aware that one of the safeguards against wrongful compulsory acquisition is that the body which is seeking to acquire the land have under our present law to state, and state specifically, the purposes for which it is required; and the objector, who is normally the owner of the land, whose rights we should defend, is then in a 495 position to argue that the land is not suitable for that purpose, or that some other land is more suitable for the purpose, or that he himself is going to develop the land for a better purpose. Any of those arguments may be a valid reason why a responsible Minister will not confirm a compulsory purchase order made by the local authority. But on what grounds is an owner to object if it is not incumbent on the Land Commission to state their reasons for the purchase?
§ I do not want to be intransigent about this. If the Government are prepared to amend the Bill so as to deprive the Land Commission of this power to acquire land compulsorily without giving any reason whatever, then my purpose in moving these Amendments will be secured. It seems to me that we need to know from the Government what are the additional purposes over and above those set out in subsection (4) of Clause 6 for which the Land Commission may wish to acquire land compulsorily after the second appointed day. If we can get a list of those additional purposes, I would submit to your Lordships that they could be incorporated in Clause 7 so that they are clearly defined.
§ Subsection (4) of Clause 6 enables the Land Commission, whether before or after the second appointed day, to acquire land for the purpose of,
- "(a) securing the carrying out at an early date of material development which. in the opinion of the Commission, ought to be so carried out;
- "(b) securing that the land is developed as a whole, or as part of an area which, in the opinion of the Commission, ought to be developed as a whole;
- " (c) making the land available for development or use by, or for the purposes of, a person or body of persons who could be authorised to acquire it compulsorily for that development or use;
- "(d) disposing of the land in accordance with the provisions of section 18 of this Act."
Page 5, line 5, leave out ("first").—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)
§ Moved, That the House do now resume.—(Lord Champion.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and House resumed accordingly.