I must offer a very considerable apology to the Committe for what must, at first sight, seem a most unwarrantable intrusion in the active and lively course of these Debates. I have not been able to listen to any of them but, of course, behind the scenes, in the preparation of this Measure, I have had over the last year continuous opportunities to acquaint myself, as far as possible, with the general flow of opinion on the controversial questions involved. I hope my apology will be accepted, because I thought it right at this moment to suggest a somewhat unexpected course which I think will be found, when it is carefully considered, helpful to our affairs in general, and also to particular matters which we have in hand and to which the House has devoted so much attention and thought. Above all, we need to preserve our sense of proportion. There are all sorts of matters which are extremely important upon which we might expend a great deal of energy and pugnacity, but at present we must keep our pugnacity, as far as possible, for export purposes. It seems to me that the Government would be much to blame if they so handled their public business as to bring about unnecessary, or at any rate premature, schisms and disputes between those who have only one object, namely, our safe and victorious emergence from our horrible struggle with Germany.
We must not imagine that the situation is not grave because we feel the assurance of victory. A great deal of blood is going to be shed in the next few months. Liberal, Conservative and Labour blood is going to be shed. It is my duty, above all, as far as I can, while pushing forward the great social Measures which have occupied this House, to make sure that no needless cause of difference is raised to an undue height or proportion. It would be a great pity to lose this Bill, but that would be better than having a disagreeable party dispute about it at present. We must have the Bill because the local authorities have to be many months ahead in their planning. Our towns have been devastated—almost obliterated. There are great areas of devastation, and the hideous spectacle of ruined homes meets the eye on every side. There must be intense thought among all those concerned in the different localities directed upon the rebuilding of the houses which have been shattered and, of course, upon casting the new buildings into a form most likely to be attractive to future generations and respected by those who watch our work. We must have the Bill. I could not think it would be right to lose it. But I would rather lose the Bill than get into a somewhat premature squabble about particular points. We have to recognise the limitations within which we have to work under the immense outside pressure of this great war. The appointed day on which the Bill comes into operation must be a good many months hence. Whatever work is done, however energetic, it may be seven, eight or nine months hence before the appointed day can actually be decreed. So I am advised, and others are here to argue points of detail.
I do not want to hamper the rapid passage of this Bill, upon which broad agreement has been reached except in certain quarters, by delaying it until the controversial questions connected with compensation have been settled. That is the point I was going to submit respectfully to the Committee. These compensation issues affect matters far wider than the Bill itself. There is no reason why the Bill should be delayed and hampered, and still less lost, for their sake. We have, at least, several months in hand before the appointed day in which we can deal with the compensation question as a matter by itself in another Bill. I am quite prepared to go into details on the point that the local authorities will be hampered in making their plans by the fact that the actual basis of compensation has not yet been settled. There is a considerable argument upon that, which my right hon. Friend, or the Leader of the House, will be ready to deploy. I am satisfied that, once this Bill is through without the compensation Clauses, an immense field of forward progress will be open to the local authorities in every part of the country. But it is clear that persistence on Clause 45—to which, Major Milner, I have all the time been endeavouring to come, and which I have now reached, thanks to the forbearance and indulgence of the Committee—persistence on Clauses 45 and 46 would cause a lot of heat which might all be avoided if more time and reflection were given. The word "time" can be used in two senses. There are the hours of the Sittings of the House, about which there may be arguments. I do not put it in that sense, but we have to sit the hours necessary to do our job. I mean "time" in the sense of reflection.
Several attractive suggestions have been made—some I have heard only this morning—which might have a very good chance of uniting us all on a practical work-a-day scheme, but I, as a very old Parliamentary hand, am always shy of adopting last-minute suggestions. I have again and again seen a Government adopt some last-minute suggestion or accept some very specious or even ingenious Amendment, and then, a few minutes or an hour later, some awkward gentleman gets up on a back bench and points out something that has been overlooked which is vital to the whole proposal. This is very bad for a Government. It is always bad for a Government to change its mind, yet it ought to do so from time to time, out of respect to the House of Commons and out of the influence made upon its collective mind by the Debates in the House of Commons. But what is still worse is to have to change your mind and then have to change it again. That is a double disadvantage and we must certainly avoid that. Therefore, I will not attempt to offer any last-minute solution.
What I venture to propose to the Committee—and I beg at this moment that the Committee will be indulgent to me because I have not been sharing with them the burden and heat of the day— is that we should drop Part II of the Bill, set the local authorities free to get on with their planning of the devastated areas without a day's delay, and that we bring in, in the course of the next few months, a Bill dealing with the compensation question by itself. This would give much the best chance of reaching an agreement under our present conditions of Coalition Government. However, I must make it clear that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government that this Bill pass without Part 11, but that it shall, nevertheless, be inseparably linked with the compensation Measure which we will deal with as soon as our affairs render it convenient and possible. Words will be inserted in the place of Clauses 45 and 46 to make it clear that before the appointed day when this Bill can come into operation, other legislation must be passed—dealt with, of course, by the fullest process of Parliamentary examination and Debate—which deals with the question of compensation. I do not want this question of compensation fettered like a cannon-ball on to the legs of this Bill, which has to get on its path as soon as possible. We will come along behind and bring the other Bill along as fast as possible.
We do not meet here in the old forms of controversial struggle. The day may come when we shall, but we have to keep together in this crisis of the German war and we must not let the kind of matters which can ordinarily be fought out between parties get in our way. We must not let them impair the grandeur of our national unity, by which not only we, but countless people throughout the world, have been greatly benefited. In the preparation of this Bill and the preparatory work, very great concessions have been made by some of our Labour colleagues. There was the question of the standard, and the question of the ceiling, and so forth, in which the Minister of Labour himself took a very leading part for the sake of unity. A man is not to be ashamed who takes a part, for the sake of unity at this time, in favour of the standard, which, I am bound to say, was a very essential part of a square deal. There have been great concessions made by our Labour colleagues, but I feel sure that it is necessary now that more thought should be given and more perseverance should be forthcoming in trying to reach agreement on the matters which are in dispute and which have clearly been shown to be in dispute during the patient discussions which have taken place.
I say to the Committee frankly that, if I thought this was merely putting off an evil day or putting off a day of quarrel, I would rather drop the Bill, but I am sure that that would be detrimental to the needs which people have and which must be met. I do not think we should be justified in doing that. But if I saw no hope in reaching any solution in this Parliament I would rather drop the Bill. I do see a hope; I see more than a hope. I cannot believe that we have got over such enormous difficulties among ourselves and shown an iron front to the whole of the terrors of the world war, and that we are now going to be baffled by the different points of view which necessarily present themselves, when questions of compensation arise, and when the representatives of three parties have to try to agree upon them. I therefore ask the Committee to consent to the—
The importance of the Business of this Committee is not affected by my presence. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]Really, I am not going to have flattery from this quarter. I am trying to talk this matter over in a very friendly manner.
I am finishing now. In an inconceivably short space of time, I shall be seated and the hon. Gen- tleman, if he should catch the Chairman's eye, will then be able to fall upon me with all his pent-up ferocity. For the moment, I just wish to say that I should like the Committee to consent to the omission of these two Clauses, to let the local authorities get on with the work of planning and let us see whether we can, by taking further thought, produce, with good will and perseverance, an overtaking, or at the very worst an intercepting, solution, in the shape of a separate Bill which will be satisfactory to the House.
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, might I ask him whether any intimation was conveyed to the Cabinet that he was going to make this statement to-day, because until the last moment there was no Labour Party Minister on that Front Bench? Now the Home Secretary has arrived. The right hon. Gentleman made certain references to the Minister of Labour.
I did no such thing. I did not say "On a point of Order." I said that I wanted to ask the right hon. Gentleman, before he sat down, whether any intimation was conveyed to the Cabinet that he was going to make this statement and secondly, whether he had received the permission of the Cabinet to single out the Minister of Labour in a special reference to differences within the Cabinet.
I came—after an interval, I must frankly confess, for physical refreshment—straight from the Cabinet to the Committee to make this statement, and to express their wishes and their views. I am convinced that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour and I look at this matter at the present moment, and this solution—reserving all the natural differences which exist between us on so many matters but proclaiming at the same time all the associations that we have in common—in entire agreement.
On a point of Order. I am put in rather a difficulty because I am not certain in my own mind whether we are discussing the question that Clause 45 shall stand part of the Bill, or whether there is a Motion to re- port Progress or whether, alternatively, we are having a free Debate without any Motion before the Committee.
On that point of Order. When the Prime Minister comes in, whether in peace or in war, we always show him a great deal of toleration. On this occasion, we have not confined ourselves to discussing the issue whether the Clause should stand part of the Bill but have discussed the whole Bill in its linking up with the ramifications of finance, as well as Cabinet decisions. Really, that is not in Order on this Motion. We have discussed other Clauses as well as Clause 45. Would it not be better to put the discussion in proper form by some other Motion? Now that we have heard the Prime Minister, hon. Members must be allowed to make their speeches and I suggest that a better Motion be put before the Committee.
I have considered the matter, and I cannot accept the Motion. The Question before the Committee is, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." Hon. Members have to be given the greatest possible opportunity of saying what they want to say on the Clause, but they would be limited if they had to speak on a Motion to report Progress. The Prime Minister, as I understood him, urged reasons why the Government did not wish Clause 45, and it may be Clauses 46 and 17, to stand part of the Bill. I assume that the Government will vote against Clause 45 standing part of the Bill.
In reply to an interruption of mine, the Prime Minister said that it ought not to be regarded as out of Order for the Prime Minister to intervene in Debate. My submission is that because he is Prime Minister he has been permitted to raise a number of matters in Committee which are entirely irelevant to Clause 45. May I respectfully suggest, Major Milner, that in your own statement, when you referred to subsequent Clauses, you showed the irrelevance of the speech made by the Prime Minister on Clause 45, and that therefore the Prime Minister, if he wished to put a new position before the Committee, should have moved to report Progress? The embarrassment to which he has called attention is quite obviously not in the Committee at all, but is embarrassment within the Government itself. We ought to move to report Progress in order to consider the situation which he has laid before the Committee. I have certain observations to make on what he has said.
I do not wish in any way to intervene in the struggle between the Prime Minister and his more enthusiastic followers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who are they?"]One is the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). I am not concerned with that quarrel. May I put a point to you, Major Milner? You said that the Prime Minister had dealt with Clause 45, on the Question which you had put from the Chair without calling any of the Amendments. Subsequently, you referred to the fact that the Prime Minister had made reference to Clauses 46 and 47. My question is whether we are to depart from the usual procedure in a way which I have never yet seen in Committee and, on the proposal that Clause 45 stand part of the Bill, be allowed to discuss Clauses 46 and 47? That is what you have said.
We can remember what happened on the Education Bill. Is it not possible for us to jump to Clause 48, and carry on as we were carrying on, and for those concerned to have a discussion with the Prime Minister in one of the rooms outside about an arrangement in connection with this difficulty which has arisen? There is no reason why the matter should be dealt with in the way suggested.
I have no desire to enter into the discussion as to the merits of the particular form of Debate we should have. I prefer to deal with the position put by the Prime Minister. I have, of course, listened with very great attention, and if I may say so, with sympathetic attention, to what he has put before us. I appreciate the large background on which he sees the Debate on this Clause, and I appreciate the difficulties of the Government in proceeding with the matter today. I hope that the Prime Minister will equally appreciate the difficulty in which he is putting the Committee. It would have been much more fortunate if it had been possible for the Government to have foreseen this position a little earlier. This Bill has been before the House for some time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up."]If hon. Members would not talk they would not have the least difficulty in hearing what I am saying. I was observing that it would have been more fortunate if the Government could have foreseen this position a little earlier, when I think the Committee could have resolved it without some of the heat which has been engendered to-day. I am not making a complaint. I know perfectly well that storms sometimes blow up in our Chamber rather rapidly, and the Prime Minister, as a good mariner, has scented the storm and has been, rather late in the day, trying to meet it. I appreciate what the Prime Minister said, that it is desirable before we enter upon a severe conflict, that a little time should be given for reflection, and that there is some ground for suggesting we should not discuss this Clause at this moment, but if the Committee are being asked to postpone this Clause and others—
I think the proposal of the Prime Minister is more indefinite than it ought to be. The only promise I heard the Prime Minister give was that these Clauses would be introduced in another Bill before the appointed day. That sounds like a fairly definite promise, but inasmuch as the appointed day is not as yet appointed, and it is for the Government to say when they will appoint it, it is trying to fix something in terms of another thing which is equally unfixed.
I made another statement which is very important, and which I gathered hon. Members on both sides would be likely to attach importance to, namely, that we shall insert words now, in this Bill, words which will make it clear that the appointed day cannot be reached until the overtaking Bill dealing with compensation has been passed.
I am afraid the Prime Minister has missed my point. I regard the promise of the Prime Minister as a very binding thing, and I should not have questioned it. If he likes to put it more strongly and to say that he will put it in the Statute and that makes it stronger, it is for him to say that and not for me. Even so the appointed day is still in the future and unfixed. If this further Bill is to be in terms of a date still undecided it really does not amount to very much, because this new Bill can be postponed, and those who want town and country planning to proceed want the Bill not in the indefinite future but at the very earliest possible moment.
What the Prime Minister is asking us to do is to carry this Bill into law with one of its essential Clauses eviscerated. It is rather as if, when a dramatic society decided to read the play "Hamlet," they were to suggest that the part of Hamlet would be temporarily left out and could be introduced later on. The Prime Minister himself used, at the beginning of his discourse, the phrase that his intervention would seem perhaps to be an act of unwarrantable intrusion. But it seems to me that what he is proposing is an act of unwarrantable extrusion, because really the Town and Country Planning Bill without these compensation Clauses has no real content, and cannot be operated. Therefore I suggest to the Committee and to the Prime Minister that if he wants us to agree to putting off these Clauses he should not put them off into a subsequent Bill that will not be enacted this Session, but should put them off to a later stage of this Session while we have this Biil still before us. I can quite understand what the Prime Minister says about the undesirability of a hasty introduction of some particular proposal that the Government have vamped up at the last moment which they hope will satisfy and which they find, when they come to look at it a little more closely, will not work and cannot meet the convenience of the House. I have fallen into that trap myself as a Member of the Government, and I know quite well how very unpleasant it may subsequently prove. But this House is accustomed to act fairly promptly.
This is not a new matter: all our minds have been upon this question of compensation for a considerable time. We are going to have the Report stage of this Bill next Thursday, which is six days ahead. Although I am aware that a suitable Clause could not be introduced on the Report stage, it is not an unheard-of procedure to recommit a Bill. We could then have suitable Clauses introduced, in five or six days, which might meet the wishes of the Committee and find a passage into law. I quite realise that if the Clauses had to be carefully thought out by the Cabinet and put down on the Order Paper, that might not give adequate time for Members to study them and come to a decision. But the Prime Minister knows that there are various means by which Members of this House can be invited to consider matters which have not been put on the Order Paper. He will not have forgotten that a very distinguished colleague of his, Sir Kingsley Wood, achieved some of his greatest Parliamentary successes by inviting Members to meet him, to hear what he had to say, and then getting a consensus of opinion. In consequence of that he carried much legislation through this House. A Measure very closely allied to this, the War Damage Act, was carried through in that way. It was done, one might almost say, off the record, but it was all brought to this House, and everything was perfectly in order. I would suggest to the Prime Minister that something of that sort might be done on this occasion. I see no difficulty in the Government formulating a scheme in the next two or three days. I am not suggesting that they should be unduly hurried. They could put it to both sides of the House, who could consult with the Minister.
Greatly daring, I am going to make a suggestion on those lines: it may not accord with the views of all Members behind me. We want this Bill carried. We do not want to be unreasonable; at the same time, we want certain main principles preserved; and so long as the main principle, of the 1939 ceiling for the price of the land, is preserved, we are prepared to have an open mind on a higher ceiling of a definite kind for the buildings. I think that that is a very fair suggestion to make. I make it with some trepidation, because it may not commend itself to all my hon. Friends; but I know how the minds of my hon. Friends are working, and I think that if there is quite clearly a definite limit to the price, even so far as the buildings are concerned, some compromise acceptable to the Committee might be reached along those lines. I hope that the olive branch which I throw out, representing some of those who have taken an active part on this Bill, will meet with some gesture from the other side which will enable us to come to some form of agreement.
In my final words, I would again put over the main point. I quite appreciate the need for some postponement. I am quite prepared to agree that we should not deal with these Clauses to-day: so far as the Committee stage is concerned, we should let them go. But I do not want the Bill to go on the Statute Book with these Clauses left out. That is an unheard of proposal. It would be disastrous. It would throw into an unknown future, to an unknown date, an essential part of the Bill. I hope the Prime Minister will not lightly turn down a suggestion that I have made in the spirit of good will, a suggestion that should commend itself to a Coalition Government. I think it would be quite possible, within a period of six days, to decide upon a form for these Clauses which would be acceptable in principle to most Members of this Committee, which the Government could get through and could incorporate in the main body of the Bill and which would enable this Bill to become an Act of Parliament, with full power, before this Session comes to an end.
When the Prime Minister, with the tremendous responsibilities that he has on his shoulders, comes down, at a time like this, and makes an appeal to the Committee, it is the general feeling that we should try to meet that appeal. I have not consulted him on the matter, but I would like to support the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Petrick-Lawrence). My right hon. Friend has talked about the play of "Hamlet" being produced without the gloomy Dane. If we pass this Bill without the financial Clauses, I would suggest that all that is left will be the ghost, because the Bill cannot operate without the necessary financial provisions. The suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman means not only that these Clauses should be postponed, but that the operation of this Bill should be postponed for some months. Many of us do not like this particular Clause. When I spoke on the Second Reading I concentrated my criticism on the financial provisions. Therefore, I am naturally enamoured of any proposal, to reconsider them. But this is really an urgent matter; the local authorities all over the country are insisting that they should get to work, and have these powers; and the Government should not postpone this particular Clause, this key of the Bill, for some months, but should accept what I consider to be the very reasonable proposition of my right hon. Friend. We should not let this Bill become an Act of Parliament with, if I may use the expression, "the guts taken out of it" because the financial provisions are not contained in it.
I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) about the benefit of co-operating, as far as possible, to get the Bill through soon. It seems to me that that is not dependent upon one particular form of procedure or another. If, as the Prime Minister indicates, a Bill is to be brought in shortly, that meets every difficulty. We do not want undue delay with this Bill, and it seems clear to me, from what the Prime Minister said, that that was the view of the Government as well.
Surely the suggestion made by the Prime Minister, and endorsed by the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill), makes nonsense of the procedure of the House of Commons. These Clauses are an essential part of the Bill. They are not incidental to other Clauses; they are Clauses in their own right. They are the vehicles of definite principles, and they were the terms upon which the House remitted the Bill to the Committee and it is not possible to eradicate these Clauses without facing the necessity of another Second Reading.
If the Prime Minister will permit me, I am saying that this is a serious question of procedure. It is not unknown—as a matter of fact, my right hon. Friend has already said that it happens, not frequently, but it does sometimes happen—that a Bill is so substantially amended in Committee that a re-committal of the Bill is necessary when it reaches Report stage. What we cannot do, it seems to me, is to agree at this juncture that parts of the Bill which are substantial parts of its structure should be cast out without realising that the whole Bill must then be re-committed. Why re-commit in these circumstances? Why not agree to my right hon. Friend's suggestion that the Government should postpone the consideration of these Clauses, that they should introduce new Clauses, or amend these Clauses on a later stage, in the terms of the structure of the Bill itself, and then, if the advice of the Chair will permit it—because we are in the hands of the Chair entirely—the whole matter could then be re-committed to the House without the Committee stage having to be gone through. It is possible for a Bill to be re-committed without a Committee stage. Then it will bring the whole thing within the purview of the Committee, but what purpose is there in postponing these Clauses for a new Bill?
In any case, as we understand it, the new Bill is not going to become operative before the appointed day, so there is nothing in the offer. The Prime Minister has said: "Let us make an Appointed Day for the portion of the first Bill," that is, this Bill without these Clauses. In the meantime, the new Bill is to be introduced. Is that Bill to be passed through all its stages before the appointed day for this Bill? In that case, why have the new Bill? [Interruption.] It does not give more time at all. With all respect, there is still plenty of time in which the Government can recast these Clauses, but there is no point at all in asking us to pass this Bill, on the ground that we are to have a new Bill, if the two Bills are to come into operation before the appointed day.
I think the Government have seized upon a cumbersome device—and I am not quarrelling with the Prime Minister. Everybody wants the first part of this Bill enacted as soon as possible, to enable the local authorities to get on with the job, and it would be a great reflection on Parliament if any difficulties between the parties interfered with that job. All I see is a Parliamentary device for amending the Bill. I suggest that is no reason why consideration of these Clauses should not be postponed and new Clauses produced within the ambit of this Bill, but do not ask us to pass this Bill and have a second Bill, because all the controversies which arise over these Clauses are going to arise over the new Bill, without the urgency carried into them by the necessity for the first part of the Bill.
That is the main point we have to consider. That side of the Committee, and this side, ought to be driven into compromising over Clauses 45, 46 and 47 in order to get the first part of the Bill adopted. If we truncate the Bill and have the first Part passed into law, and then consider the second Part of the Bill in isolation, we shall have separated the engine from the petrol tank and the urgency from the controversy. That is why we suggest that it is far better, in the interests of the Government and the nation, and certainly for the, rapid building of houses, to consider the second part of the Bill and carry the Bill into law.
I must say that am very agreeably impressed with the resolve to face practical difficulties and realities in this matter which has shown itself in the Committee at the present time, but I want to get this Bill. We cannot afford to lose this Bill. I think we are all agreed about that, and, therefore, I think we are all agreed that, as far as to-day goes, we can postpone these Clauses, because to plunge in upon them will frustrate the desire to get the Bill and cause trouble. I am quite ready to say that the Government would rather have the Bill, with the Clauses, in a broadly agreed form, than have the Bill go forward and another Bill come along to overtake it. If we have to choose between that and losing the Bill, we would rather have this cumbersome method of the tank being separated from the engine, and the engine having to go back and catch it. We are all agreed what to do this afternoon. So far as I can make out, it is pretty nearly universal. There are the week-end and Monday, and I certainly think that discussions should proceed, through the usual channels and also in the Cabinet, to see whether we can save this Bill and have an agreed compensation Clause.
It would only be by supposing that everything else fails that we would go forward on the plan which I have announced. It may be that, after the interchanges have taken place, and with the desire to do our work in order to get results which matter to the people—definite results of our labours—some kind of arrangement can be arrived at, and I certainly was attracted by the indication which fell from my right hon. Friend who spoke from the Front Bench opposite upon this issue. By all means, let us, if we can, in the limited time available, make a satisfactory job of work and do a good job all in one piece.
That is what we would like to do, but, if it comes to a question of the Bill being, perhaps, flung over, and we have to delay it to a new Session, I think we shall have to fall back on the much cruder and more cumbrous method which I have felt myself obliged to propose. Therefore, I suggest that we leave out these Clauses now and see in what way we can realise the hope expressed by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and also by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence)—if these proposals could be considered carefully and coolly. After all, we have got to do the job and get the best we can. We must not lose the Bill, and I think the Committee is pretty well agreed about it, and that is the way in which the Government will submit it.
The right hon. Gentleman, if I may say so, has once again shown himself to be a great House of Commons man, in addition to all his other qualities and I am convinced that he has, if I may say so with the deepest respect, expressed what is, I am sure, the feeling of this Committee. I only rise for the purpose of making one point clear which perhaps may not be clear to my right hon. Friend who, naturally, cannot follow the whole course of the Debate. The difference of opinion on Clause 45 is not only a party division. I am a strong supporter of Clause 45 as it stands, as are many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, and that in itself should make it easier to come to a decision. I say to my right hon. Friend, and also to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), who has contributed to the Debate in such a statesmanlike manner, that, if the worst comes to the worst, I hope the Government will not hesitate to have a Division, because they will find plenty of supporters for a nonparty decision.
I have sat through the whole of the Debate and practised the virtue, if it may be so called, of silence. I have not intervened once. I saw the thing going on. Knowing the old days and the old fights on this vital issue I wondered what would happen when we came to the compensation Clauses. The Prime Minister said, quite rightly, that unless he had a united House behind him the position would be misinterpreted outside. I remember on one occasion, when discussing the nationalisation of mines, the Prime Minister told the House that he could not bring into the House in its present composition a major issue like the nationalisation of mines. In regard to this Bill many of us are in this difficulty. It is essential that post-war reconstruction should be carried out in one way or another before Parliament dissolves. It is in the nature of the case that some principle which might be hotly contested must be brought into the Bill, and here we have it in this particular Bill now. The Prime Minister has not said—and I do not wish him to say—what were the intimidating factors which compelled him to come to the House to-day with this novel suggestion. I do not know from whence came the threats if we proceeded with Clauses 45 and 46. The Prime Minister does not need to tell us now what were the forces at work which so impressed him that he had to come in just now and make a speech as we are about to enter upon this contentious Clause.
May I be forgiven for saying this? I knew all along that the moment we attempted to do anything in the nature of planning the old historic interests would rally their forces. I knew that, and here we have it now. I hope that the Prime Minister will believe me when I say that I would be the last in this House, fully appreciating the circumstances under which we live and the enormous responsibilities the right hon. Gentleman has to undertake, and with my deep convictions on certain principles, to throw a bone of contention across the Floor of this House at the moment. I would rather go down on this than that we should be defeated in this war, but I beg of the Prime Minister to give the assurance that, if there is a re-casting of Clauses 45 and 46, this House shall not be tied to greater compensations than those embodied in the Bill already. This raises the whole issue. Here I sympathise with the Prime Minister, because he is between two winds. He is between the forces who are demanding greater compensation and those who wish to have compensation checked. We must have something done immediately for the housing conditions of the people of the country. We cannot carry out that side of the problem unless there is something done to placate the vested interests, in order to get them out of the way so that the job can be done.
I ask the Prime Minister in all seriousness—and I go further and say to the House of Commons—not to forget that there are men coming back who will hope to see a freer England than the England they left in order to fight in this war. Do not forget it. Do not be too particular about sitting here in this House continuously defending historic interests, when the time is coming when the common people will want the common interests of this country. I hope that the Prime Minister will face this matter. These people are coming back, and may it not be said that the Prime Minister, with all the courage he has, was compelled to come here and ask us to suspend these Clauses so as to protect powerful interests who have compelled him to come here. With all respect, I hope that that is not true.
I accept that, but it is strange that we should be called upon to create a hiatus at this juncture. I resume my seat saluting, as we all do, the Prime Minister in his position at the moment as Leader of this country in this bitter conflict, but I do ask him to have regard to some of us in this House who hold dear certain fundamental principles, so that if we give way on this occasion it will not be to find we are to be bound to greater obligations than those to which we are willing to assent in this Bill.
I would like to say how delighted I am, as a town-planner, a Tory reformer, with Die-hards on one side and over-Reds on the left, that the Prime Minister has come down to the Committee and taken an interest in this Bill. I hope that he will continue to take an interest in it because there is a new Clause coming on, and unless we get—
Well, then, I will leave that out. I do not go so far as to back up everything that the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) said, but I say that nobody is blind enough to think that the people who are coming back will not want a new kind of country, new facilities. We have found vested interest is blind. I think sometimes that Members of this House are slightly out of touch with what is going on in the country.
Major Milner, I am going to ask you to protect us in this matter. If certain Members of this Committee are to be allowed to make contentious speeches concerning the general principles of this Bill while most of us have been addressing ourselves to the technical difficulties facing the Committee, and if we are to have general political speeches about it, there are things that we want to say.
I think that what we are doing to-day is not strictly good politics or strictly honest between ourselves. Here is the Prime Minister engaged in perhaps the greatest conflict which this country has ever known, with all his responsibilities, coming down here in the middle of our work, when every minute of his time must be precious in respect of other work, and intervening on this Bill.
He has not done that because of the compensation Clauses alone. If that were the case, the Leader of the House would have handled them. The Prime Minister has intervened because the situation is much more serious than that. Why has he intervened? Because he does not want the Government to be driven into the position that this Bill will be dropped. Who is responsible for that situation? It would be as well if, instead of running away from it, we should face it. We have not asked that the Clauses should be dropped; no one here has asked that. The only controversy comes from some interests who see that the compensation Clauses as they stand cannot go through with the Bill. That is what it is. What is the Prime Minister proposing? We believe that it is to make the compensation Clauses better for certain interests than they were before. I would plead with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) not to kid himself about what is happening to-day. What is happening, and he had better face it, is that we are agreeing to the Prime Minister's original Motion that the present Clauses be dropped.
Let me be quite clear about this. I understood the Prime Minister to accept the suggestion that over the week-end there would be reconsideration of the Clauses about which there is contention. We are not agreeing to the dropping of these Clauses. Let us be quite clear about that. I hope the Prime Minister will reassure us.
Nothing would hurt me more than to lure the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) into the Lobby under a misunderstanding for which he might well conceive me blamable. I thought he clearly understood that we are moving that these Clauses be dropped now, and that thereafter we shall make a further endeavour to see if agreement can be reached. We must know where we are. It is no good getting vexed about it. I think what we might get vexed about would be if things were not clear. I always try to make things clear so that every hon. Gentleman knows what course to take. I am very sorry—
It was one of the hon. Gentleman's supporters in this matter who interrupted, and I was giving him this assurance, namely, that what we are suggesting is to drop these Clauses now, and then to see whether any arrangement can be made in the intervening life of the Session by which these Clauses can be restored in a form agreeable to the Committee—
In this Bill. The procedure of the House is quite capable of handling a situation like this. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, we can recommit the Bill, introduce Clauses on Report and so forth. If all else fails, then what I first suggested will have to come into operation, namely, we shall have to have an overtaking Bill, otherwise we lose the Bill.
With all respect to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), who is perfectly sound in this matter, in the event of these Clauses being dropped, will the right hon. Gentleman regard it as part of his obligation to report to Mr. Speaker that the Bill has been so drafted and amended in Committee as to require re-committal?
With very great respect, I would submit that it is rather unusual to put to the Chair, Major Milner, a question affecting the whole character and composition of the Bill on one single point, and it would be more respectful to the Chair, I submit with great temerity, that the matter should be given some consideration.
May I respectfully submit, Major Milner, that though the question I have put to you is a very unusual one it is one which I know to be strictly within the procedure of the House, if the Prime Minister will allow me. In view of those circumstances, would it not be much more honourable to the Government to move to report Progress, and to leave the situation strictly where it is, so that the Chair may have an opportunity of considering the situation over the week-end? If the Prime Minister insists upon the motion to drop the Clauses we shall be faced with two situations: first, we shall have to vote against it and argue against it on the ground that now the Prime Minister is yielding to vested interests, as my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) suggested; secondly, we shall have to insist that the Chair shall re-commit the Bill and have it again on Second Reading, Would it not be very much better for the Government to report Progress?
I am just wondering if I have permission to speak; I am all for tolerance these days. With the permission of everybody concerned, I would like to ask, What are we doing? We are moving to drop the Clauses. In spite of all the camouflage, we are dropping the Clauses, and the Prime Minister—
We are dropping the Clauses out of the Bill. That is the Motion and that it what we are doing. The Prime Minister is clever, but in this matter he is not so good as he used to be. He is out of practice, and the sooner he gets his hand in again the better. He has now become a great military man and lost a little bit of his Parliamentary skill. I move to postpone discussion of these two Clauses now, and to continue with the rest of the Bill, and then return to them. The Prime Minister is putting us into this position. He has asked us to drop the Clauses, but if we do that we, on this side, are at a considerable disadvantage because, if agreement cannot be reached, then his way must become the way, because that is the way the House has agreed. I know we could have a Vote of Censure—
They have as much right to live as anybody else; everybody in a free country has a right to live; and if he is given constitutional powers, he has the right to use them. As I said, the Bill has to go to another place and that may take some time. I am afraid that if it runs to the end of the Session we shall lose the Bill, and I do not want to lose it. What we have said is that we should move to drop the Clauses now. We have control of the Bill for perhaps eight or nine days before it must go upstairs, if it is to go any further. In this period it is my hope that we may reach some agreement which will easily enable these Clauses to be reinstated. If that fails, then the suggestion I made earlier will come into operation.
I know. I have given way like a jumping jack. I do not mind giving way providing the same courtesy is shown to some of us who are on the back benches. It seems that some of the great men on our Front Benches have us by the nose.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for kindly giving way, but I think the Committee wants to have the matter clarified. I want to be quite clear that we mean the same thing. There are two courses the Government could adopt and yet bring about an agreed solution within the ambit of the Bill before it goes to another place. They could either postpone the Clauses now, which is what my hon. Friend behind me wants, and which, in some respects, would be the best way. In that case we should take it on the Committee stage, and I think that would give the House the greatest control over the Bill. But I do not want to be particular about the precise method. There is another method, the method which I understand the Prime Minister has accepted, that so far as the Committee stage at this moment is concerned these Clauses should be omitted from the Bill, leaving the Government—and this is the essential point—to make a definite and earnest endeavour to get, between now and the Report stage, agreed Clauses which will be introduced on the Report stage. The Bill would then have to be re-committed in order that they could be discussed.
All this proves my case even more strongly. What is the position? We are dropping the Clauses from the Bill. The Government have given an assurance that they will start negotiations. If their negotiations fail the Clauses are dropped, whereas if they are postponed, and negotiations fail, the House can review the whole position. If they are dropped the House cannot again discuss the matter.
I do not want to make a fuss, but if I can do nothing else but get agreement between the Prime Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) then I shall have done something. I say that if we drop the Clauses—and nobody knows this better than the Chairman—if agreement is not reached, we cannot again discuss the compensation Clauses of this Bill. That is clear and nobody can refute it. If they are postponed and no agreement is come to, either this side of the House or the other can raise the whole question anew. It is a tragedy that in the midst of a war, with his terrible responsibility, the Prime Minister has to come here and intervene. Talk about coalition. It is a farce if we cannot work to weather the storm which has struck the districts which have been bombed. It is not coalition, it is make-believe; it is a contemptible business. It is a shocking thing that the Prime Minister should have been asked, even if he had the time to spare, to come here to-day. He has been hauled into this because of the reactionaries who prefer to put their own interests before the interests of the country. [HON MEMBERS: "No."]Yes, the vested interests in this country prefer it and I trust that others outside will take note of it for the future.
I rise as one who accepts the position as put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence). I would like to draw attention to Clause 45, which establishes a maximum price. The Prime Minister has come here to ask the Committee not to accept the Clause, either for the reason that the maximum is too high or that it is not high enough. It is obvious to everybody who has paid attention to the proceedings in Committee on this Bill that the only matter which can cause any trouble in its passage is the objection of certain interests that the maximum laid down in the Clause we are asked to reject is not high enough.
We are considering the rejection of Clause 45, because the maximum which is laid down there for the price to be paid by the public for the acquisition of land is not high enough. That is the sole ground upon which we can be asked to reject the Clause. I would like Members on the other side of the Committee and people in the country to appreciate that this is the real gravamen of the question we are discussing to-day, that it is the real crux of the matter which has brought the Prime Minister here from his great responsibilities to take part in the Committee stage of a Bill of this character. I would like to add, on behalf of myself and my hon. Friends on these Benches, that we regard the passage of this Bill, the provision of powers to local authorities to plan and to build for those who have been bombed out, as far more important than any question of the price that may have to be paid for land. It is just for that reason that I rise to assure not only the Committee but those in the country that we on these Benches are prepared to pay a higher price to owners of land, to those who possess interests in land, than Clause 45 now lays down in order that we may get on with the work of planning our cities and producing houses for our people.
It is evident that the argument which has just been addressed to the Committee is going to be the argument addressed to the country, namely, that the Prime Minister in the midst of his great responsibilities, has been forced by vested interests to come here and withdraw the compensation Clauses. It is as well that the country should understand the real position. My constituency happens to be one as much damaged by bombing as any other in the country. It has to be entirely reconstructed under the Bill. I should
like the Committee and the country to understand who are the vested interests likely to benefit by the compensation Clauses. I have in my pocket a letter from a War Damage officer which represents accurately the position of the victims of bombing. Five or six hundred of them happened to have a meeting a fortnight ago. This is the case of a woman sixty-three years of age who lost her husband in a raid which damaged her house. She applied for permission to have the house restored or repaired. She was refused that permission upon the ground that the area in which she lived was badly devastated and one to be acquired. The Admiralty within the ambit of the Plymouth plan was to buy the area in which she lived and therefore her house could not be reconstructed. She was a freeholder. She then applied for a valuation payment and was told she would get it at a later stage but not under the War Damage Act. She would get it under the Plymouth Plan when the Admiralty purchased the site. She wrote to me:
I have saved money all my life, my husband was earning a good livelihood, I owned my house and I am now becoming destitute.
I wrote to the War Damage Commission. The District Officer replied that perhaps she could be granted assistance by the public assistance committee.
I think I am perfectly right. I will explain it again. Here is a woman whose house is damaged by a bomb. Normally she would have it repaired. It is not a ruined, but a damaged house. She is told "We cannot repair your house because it is in an area that is to be acquired." Therefore she will be compensated under this Bill. She will receive not the cost of reconstructing her house on the site, for she is not allowed to reconstruct it on the site, but a valuation based on the price at which the house could have been purchased in 1939. She says to me "I cannot build a house with that money." I have not spoken in these Debates. I have listened. I have been stirred by the vision held out of a new Britain, but this is not merely a question of spires and turrets and highways which lead to the future. It is a question of John Doe or Richard Roe. It is on the property that they occupy that Britain has to be rebuilt. Why should they in addition to the taxes and rates they pay have a discriminatory tax levied upon them? The Germans have done this damage. Do we, in the House of Commons, want to do them further damage? When they ask for a fair rate of compensation are we to call them "vested interests"? They have a vested interest and it is in Britain. They are freeholders. Every single shopkeeper in the shopping area in my constituency together with 20,000 people have to go holus bolus out of the sites on which they and perhaps their fathers lived and on which they have constructed their interests. This Clause which the right hon. Gentleman is proposing to withdraw says that these people will be compensated at the 1939 price. There are certain exceptions in which some addition will be made which is not defined. I prefer to believe that these Clauses are being withdrawn in order that juster Clauses should be introduced, and I think the course pursued is a vindication of democracy. There is nothing wrong, if it should become apparent that injustice is being done, in the chief Minister of State saying "We recognise that"—
I am really amazed. I thought this was a Planning Bill—not an expropriation of property Bill. If the hon. Member wants to deal with that kind of question it is easily dealt with. You can fix a date. This lady happens not to have sold her property, and unfortunately she is in a position in which no one will buy it except the Admiralty at some future date. I am dealing with actualities. I beg the hon. Member who is a humanitarian and who speaks on behalf of this kind of person to believe that I am putting forward cases that I know.
I have day after day received letters from perfectly respectable citizens and shopkeepers who have not been speculating and want to know how they can reconstitute themselves. They want to know how they can build a house on the basis of the price of 1939. They will be delighted if the truth is told them that the Government see the justice of the case and are going to look at the matter again. They are not asking for the moon. It has always been a legitimate aim for a man to own his house. There is nothing wrong about it. If that is a vested interest, then a vested interest is something highly desirable.
Will my right hon. Friend not dodge, but answer my question? He has put a very good case, but would his Amendment to the Clause be restricted to the property of persons who have suffered damage and who have not sold their property in the meantime, and who merely want to receive compensation to restore to them the same kind of property they have been deprived of?
I shall be very glad to have the kind of Clause which my hon. Friend suggests. Personally, my view is that the historic practice of this country should be continued. The proposition I make is that, if you compulsorily take a man's property, you should reconstitute him in the position in which he was, if it is a Planning Bill. If it is an Expropriation of Property Bill, let us have it in the Title and say what we propose to do. There is a clear issue. I say that if, under a Planning Bill, you are to take people's houses and shops as the sites on which the new Britain is to be built, you must give them the means to reconstitute themselves. The same principle applies to the bigger man. How often have we heard that there should not be one law for the rich and another for the poor! Now the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), if he wishes to draw a distinction on that basis, would be proposing to dole out justice on a means test, so that whether you get justice or not depends on your income. I have not, I am glad to see, been controversial, for I have carried my hon. Friend with me, and I hope I have convinced him of the justice of my case. The only reason why I have intervened is because it has been represented to the Committee, as it will be represented to the country, that this Clause has been withdrawn under improper pressure. I think that the course which the Government have taken does them infinite credit and will come as a great relief to the real vested interests of the country, that is to say the people who have bought their homes or who are running shops.
I do not want to detain the Committee for more than a few minutes, but really, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) makes me raise the issue, not as to whether this is pressure in favour of expropriation, but rather whether it is not pressure from the other side for increased compensation. The practical question I should like to ask the Prime Minister is, Who forced him down here this afternoon? It was not this side of the House. It is very indicative of what the influence was behind him that practically nobody on the other side of the House has spoken, and everybody who has spoken on this side has been critical of the action of the Government.
No, I will not. We are faced with this predicament. If we accede to the proposal which the Prime Minister makes we are acceding to a process of blackmail. If the Bill goes on without the Clauses, then, because we want the Bill, we shall be forced to give way more than we shall be otherwise prepared to do, or the whole thing will be dropped. I remember how the Prime Minister years ago used to declare that land monopoly was the mother of all monopolies and how he was opposed to them all. I am surprised that he has the face to come down to-day and make this proposal. What a terrible change round! I submit that we should not accede to the Prime Minister's request as it stands. I accept the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) made, that the Government should come forward with other Clauses. What we are asked to do is to accede to what we all know—and the country had better know it—is pressure that the Government are having exerted on them from behind. The Chairman of the Property Owners' Association told me himself, "We have worked very hard." There has been pressure on the Government to ensure that they shall get more compensation, and this is the result. We have been asked to give way on it in order that Clauses which we do not like should be withdrawn. They are nothing like good enough for us, and I would resist Clauses 45, 46 and 47 because they are not bad enough from the property owners' point of view. What the Prime Minister proposes to do is to introduce a new Bill to give greater compensation which satisfies all the people on the other side of the Committee. That is why they are silent about it, and they are betray-the cause for which all the people have been fighting.
I wanted to ask a question of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), but you deliberately excluded me, Major Milner, and I consider it was unfair. I want to suggest that this matter was badly handled. If the Government had jumped the Clauses and got on to Clause 48, as they did in the Education Bill, the Prime Minister could have got the parties to come to some form of agreement. Now we are in this fix, and the proposition made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) would get us out of it. Even if the Clauses were not dropped and agreement was not reached, it would not interfere with what the Prime Minister intends to do. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport assiduously working his passage home. He was following a good precedent in the Prime Minister, who showed how the job can be done. The right hon. Gentleman put up a terrific argument about the small man and the small woman with a little bit of property. Was he trying to tell the Committee or the country that the Cabinet sent the Prime Minister here with this proposal because of the pressure of these poor people? No. I suggest to the Prime Minister that the proposition made by the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh should be accepted in which case we shall be able to get in the first stage of the business a nicer agreement, which will be a good augury for getting agreement in the second stage.
Yes, and I have put the Question, and the Question has been carried. [HON. MEMBERS: "What Question?"]I put the Question, "That the Question be now put," and I collected the voices.