I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I realise very well that the publication of this Bill has caused a certain amount of concern, and even disquiet, among my hon. Friends in this House. I think such an attitude is to a considerable extent based upon misunderstanding, which is very intelligible, I am bound to confess, having regard to the complicated nature of the Bill, to its very technical character, and to the fact, which I freely admit, that it would be very difficult for anyone on reading the Bill through to gain a clear picture of the manner in which it was going to be worked. But I am not here to apologise. I do not share the view that this is a bad Bill. On the contrary, I think, and I hope to be able to persuade the House, that it is a very good Bill. It is certainly the result of very prolonged consideration and consultation among all the Ministers—and they are many, many more even than those named on the back of the Bill—who are concerned. I think it is wisely conceived and skilfully drafted, and that it will be found that those responsible for framing the Bill have been remarkably successful in reconciling the public purposes which make the introduction of the Bill necessary with all those varied interests—interests of amenity, of agriculture, of planning, of private ownership—which we ought to be vigilant to protect.
I think it will best suit the occasion if I devote myself, in this introductory speech, mainly to the general structure and the broad purposes of the Bill, leaving to a later stage the many details that arc embodied in its numerous Clauses. I want first to try to convince the House, if indeed the House needs convincing on the point, that a Bill of this kind is really necessary. Then I want, and this may perhaps be more difficult, to persuade the House that the approach to the problem in this Bill is a reasonable one. Finally, I want to establish my contention 'that all the interests involved will have due consideration in the working of the Bill.
As to the background of the Bill, all hon. Members, 1 am sure, know that under the stress of war, and particularly in the early days of the war,, extensive works were carried out at the public expense on requisitioned land or on land which remained in the possession of its private owner. Those works included factories, airfields, camps, hostels, defence works of all kinds, and so forth. The expenditure involved in the works which are within the scope of this Bill amounts, although I cannot give a very precise estimate, to something probably of the order of £700,000,000, of which probably about £60,000,000 represents the cost of factories alone. Much of that heavy expenditure must, I fear, be- regarded as having served its purpose when the war comes to an end and will prove to be irrecoverable, Nevertheless, a not inconsiderable part of the expenditure is represented by valuable material assets, valuable either for use or for disposal.
I invite hon. Members to ask themselves what the position would Abe in regard to all those works if we had no Bill, if we left the existing law to take its course. The position can be very simply stated. It is this: The land, with the buildings and works on it, subject to such reinstatement or adjustments as might be practicable, would have to be handed back to the private owner with, so far as reinstatement had not been carried out, compensation for damage. In the case of requisitioned land the compensation for damage would be limited only by the value of the land at the time of requisition. In the case of works carried out on land not requisitioned, but which remained in private ownership under Defence Regulation 50, the statutory limit of compensation which may be paid is the amount by which the land has depreciated in value as the result of the work done on it. As I say, the land with the works on it would have to be handed back with compensation for damage, and there would be no assurance at all that the sums paid in compensation, which might be very large sums, would in fact be used to restore the land, to remove eye-sores or whatever it might be.
That is the position as the law stands. Moreover, the Government would have no right to keep, subject to an exception to which I will refer in a moment, any of the works which had been provided at the taxpayers' expense, nor would they be entitled to claim a single penny from the owner of the land, to whom the works would revert, in respect of their value. The one exception is the case of works required for defence where, under the existing Defence Acts, the Government would have the power, as the law stands, to acquire the land; but in that case, under the existing law, the Government would have to pay compensation to the owner of the land not merely for the land as it was when the Government entered upon it arid started erecting the works, but for the land with the works—the factory, the airfield, the hostels, the houses, whatever it might be—on the land. The Government would, as the law stands, have to pay the owner for the work that had been carried out on the land, so far as it had a value, at the public expense. In view of what I have said I do not think that any hon. Member in any quarter of the House will question the need for legislation of some kind.
That is the first point, and the easiest, that I have to make. As to the approach which the Bill makes to an admittedly difficult problem, let me say in the first place that I have no doubt whatever that in the case of the vast majority of the works that have been carried out on re- quisitioned land the land will, in fact, be returned to the owner, and it will be the policy of the Government to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, in one way or another—and I will deal with this point in detail later—that any works which are unsightly and a disfigurement are removed when the land reverts. I referred a moment ago to the case of works needed for defence. These defence works will not be acquired under this Bill. In so far as they have to be acquired on the land on which they have been constructed they will be acquired under the ordinary law—under the Defence Acts, going back to 1842 but kept up-to-date by a series of amendments the last of which passed in, I think, 1935. The only difference this Bill makes so far as defence works are concerned—and they are a very important category of works—is that the basis of compensation to which I have referred will be altered.
I wish I could explain exactly what is meant by "defence work." In the event of dispute that would be a matter for the courts, but I do not believe that, in practice, very much difficulty has arisen. Land has been acquired under the Defence Acts right back to the year 1842 and I do not think that there has been serious difficulty. The ordinary works that are acquired by the Defence Departments for the discharge of their responsibilities are, I am sure, defence works. On the other hand there may be some borderline cases, and there are other cases of works which may have been provided by the Defence Departments during the war which are not going to be required in the future for defence purposes but which may be needed for other purposes, and those, if they are to be acquired, will he acquired under this Bill.
As I was saying, the only material respect in which this Bill affects the position as regards defence works is in the matter of compensation; under the Bill compensation will be assessed by reference to the state of the land at the time when the Government entered upon it to carry out the work and will not include anything either by way of addition or by way of reduction in respect of the works carried out by the Government at the public expense.
As regards the works other than defence works, which are the main subject of this Bill, three categories are specified in Clause 5. There is the case in which the Government may wish to acquire the it lid in order that it may have for its own purposes the continued use of the works that have been carried out on the land. A clear example is the case of an airfield which is not required for a defence purpose, but may be required for the purpose of civil aviation. Another case is that of a hospital, which may be a well-equipped establishment which it will be desired to make available for the use of the civil authorities. Many other instances will occur to hon. Members, such as hostels, day nurseries, and so on. That is the first category. It actually appears third in the Clause. It is in Clause 5 (1 c).
The next category is that of works which the Government do not expect to require to use after the war for their own purposes, but the use of which they think it essential that they should be able to control. One simple illustration is the case of the deep shelters that have been provided in connection with the underground railway system, and the use of those, obviously, must be controlled. They have been constructed on land which is not the property of the Government. Another very good case is that of a factory not likely to be required after the war for Government purposes, but which has a definite war potential, the use of which the Government will wish to control. The third category, and perhaps the most important from the point of view of hon. Members, in the case where the ground for desiring to acquire the property is to turn to account, so far as is practicable, the expenditure, which has been incurred at the expense of the taxpayer, on the land. Those are the three separate cases which are recognised in the Bill. The Bill also provides, in Clause 6, for the acquisition of land which has depreciated in value as the result of the work carried out on the land. I mention this only in passing at the moment. I will refer to the point a little later.
This brings me to the important question of the powers and the constitution of the Commission, for which provision is made in Clause 1. The right of reference to the Commission in the cases where that is provided for, does, in the view of the Government, in fact represent a most important safeguard for the interests that may be affected by action taken under the Bill. The position as regards reference to the Commission can be stated quite briefly thus: works required for defence are outside the operation of the Bill; in the case of all other works, with one exception dealt with in Clause 8 (5), which is so important that I must deal with it separately, there has to be reference to the Commission if objection is made, after due notice, to what the Government propose to do. Where the purpose of acquiring the land is the third purpose to which I have referred, to save money, or where the land is being acquired under Clause 6 because it has depreciated in value, and in every case, irrespective of the purpose of the Government in acquiring the land, where the land in question comprises a dwelling-house, the finding of the Commission is to be final.
The cases where it is not to be final, are cases where the Government wish to acquire the land, not being land in which a dwelling house is concerned, either for their own use, or in order that they may control its use. In those cases, there is a right of reference to the Commission and to a proper hearing. But power is taken by express provision of the Bill, to the Government, to over-rule the findings of the Commission in those cases. That may seem to hon. Members, at first sight, to represent a very substantial weakening of the important safeguard which the existence of the Commission provides. Let us look at the question, and see how far the safeguards of the Bill are, in fact, weakened. The cases in which the decision of the Commission is not to be final, will all be cases in which Government policy is involved. They will all be cases in which the Government propose either to use the works for public purposes or to control the use of the works in the public interest.—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or to sell them?"] No. In those cases where the purpose is to recover the cost, the decision of the Commission is to be final.—Where public policy is involved, is it really desirable that final control should be handed over absolutely to an independent Commission? I put that question to the House. I venture, with very great respect, to think that it is not. I sincerely hope and indeed expect that the number of cases in which the Government will find it necessary to disagree with the Commission will be very few.
Let me illustrate the argument I am going to put to the House by a simple case. Suppose, and it is not an extravagant assumption, that the Government have a scheme for the development of civil aviation, involving aerodromes at suitable places up and down the country. Each of those cases—and every case has to be dealt with individually under the Bill on its merits—can be referred to the Commission, and objection can be taken on a variety of grounds. I will come to this point later. The Commission might be swayed by argument, and decide against the acquisition of a particular aerodrome. If their decision is final, the consequences may be very serious. From the point of view of any Commission dealing with a matter of this kind where Government policy is involved, I suggest that it is not quite fair to throw the final responsibility on the Commission. Let the Government take it, and let there be Parliamentary safeguards. Let Parliament have the last word. After all, the consideration, inquiry and investigation by the Commission will have taken place, and Parliament will have the advantage of having before it the report of the Commission as well as the Government's reasons for disagreeing with the report, since these have to be submitted to Parliament.
I would ask my hon. Friend to wait a moment. It may be said, "That is all very well, but what is the good of providing that the report of the Commission should be published and that the Government shall state their reasons for disagreeing, if the matter ends there?" If hon. Members take the view that some further safeguard is necessary, I am perfectly prepared—I speak on behalf of the Government—to say that we will agree to an amendment of the Bill to make it impossible for the Government to act in conflict with the view of the Commission if a Prayer is moved against such action. I think that would be a very valuable additional safeguard. I am not reluctant to provide safeguards. I am anxious to provide all reasonable safeguards in a matter of this kind.
Would my right hon. Friend explain to the House exactly how airfields come under the Bill, when they are already covered by the Air Navigation Acts and, I understood, were removed from the scope of the Bill?
They are not removed from the Bill. There are reasons why they should not be removed from the Bill. The powers of the Air Navigation Acts, as will be shown when we come to committee on the Bill, are not adequate for the acquisition of airfields in' the circumstances I have been describing.
May I call the attention of my right hon. Friend to a statement which he has just made in a form in which I do not think he wished to make it? He said that he would be ready to make it impossible for the Government to act in conflict with the view of the Commission if a Prayer had been moved. I imagine he meant to say "until the Prayer had been disposed of."
Of course, I did not mean it as my noble Friend puts it. What I meant was that when a Motion is put down, obviously until it has been disposed of—it is exempted Business, as my noble Friend knows—the Government are estopped from acting, and the House then has the last word. I am very much obliged to my noble Friend.
I have dealt with the powers of the Commission, and I have explained just how the Commission should operate to safeguard the interests that may be affected. May I now say a word about the standing of the Commission? It is contemplated in the Bill that the Commission should be appointed by the Treasury. I have seen suggestions rather reflecting upon the status of any body which has the misfortune to be appointed by the Treasury. I need hardly tell the House that I do not entirely agree with such views. I think that the Treasury, in the circumstances, is the appropriate body. What do we want? We want a body of people of high standing, not all lawyers, although I hope the legal element will be well represented—[An HON. MEM- BER: "Why?"]—because I think it necessary that the body should hear evidence, and should proceed at certain stages of its work in a strictly judicial manner. There would be great advantage in haying a carefully chosen lawyer in a prominent position on the Commission. We want a body of men who will command confidence, and whose experience and standing are such that the public are willing to believe that they will be competent to weigh all the considerations that ought to be taken into account before a decision is taken.
The fact that the Commission will be appointed by the Treasury, will not mean that it will be in any way subservient to the Treasury when it has been appointed. It will be an independent body having a statutory duty to discharge. I, personally, see no disadvantage, but a considerable advantage in having that body appointed by the Treasury. I should hope, if the Bill is read a second time, that before we come to Committee on the particular Clause affecting the Commission I might be able to indicate who is likely to be the first chairman of the Commission. I do not think it would be proper to say anything more specific at this stage.
Having dealt with the Commission from the point of view of the safeguards it provides and with the status of the Commission itself, I would like to pass to a closer consideration of the provision which the Bill makes for safeguarding the various interests that may be affected. I take first the question of protection for the original owner of the land. If hon. Members turn, either now or later, to Clause 10, they will see how it is proposed to deal with that. The original owner may object to what is proposed. The Commission have to hear the objection and they may then, if they think proper, make a conditional recommendation, a recommendation, that is to say, that the purpose of the Government in seeking to acquire the land should not be proceeded with if the owner is willing to pay such sums as may be considered reasonable in respect of the works upon the land. That seems to me to be a very important provision, which would provide a background for fruitful negotiation and discussion between the Government Department concerned and the owner of the land. [An HON. MEMBER: "It may be hard on the owner."] Let us discuss in detail and see whether it is likely to be hard. I want to confine myself to the more general aspects of the matter. But while I am on the point, there is another provision in the same Clause to which I should like to call attention, because I think it of very great importance. It is to the effect—it is Sub-section (3)—that where the Government propose to acquire land, for example, as under Clause 6, with a view to its rehabilitation, the Commission may, again, make a conditional recommendation, which would make it possible for the owner to recover the possession of his land on his giving an assurance that, on receiving the compensation, he would apply that compensation to the purpose of restoring the land, removing disfigurements and so on.
It is a little difficult to deal with all these points as they are raised but I can assure my hon. Friend that an appropriate provision exists. I cannot give the exact reference but it provides that if after a promise has been given it has not been carried out, the process can be reversed and the Government Department concerned can take steps to re-enter the land and proceed with the rehabilitation. The point has been thought of, as indeed most points have in this most complicated Bill.
May I pass to a very important matter, the protection which is given by the Bill in the case of dwelling-houses. I have always found, in dealing with matters of this kind, a very great sensitiveness—I think quite properly—in regard to any action affecting a person's dwelling-house or home, whether large or small. Dwelling-houses are the subject of a separate provision in Clause 11 (5). I have already explained that in every case of a dwelling-house, whatever the purpose for which the land is being acquired by the Government, the decision of the Commission is to be final in every case. Bat hon. Members will see that in Clause 11 (5) there is embodied a proposed direction to the Commission, It is to the effect that the Commission shall report that the carrying-out of the proposal ought not to be proceeded with, unless, in their opinion, one or other of three
conditions is satisfied. The first condition is that
the carrying out of the proposals is necessary in order to preserve something which is of substantial value to the community.
For example, a dwelling-house might have been involved in extensive works on an airfield, and it would be absurd not to give powers to acquire that dwelling-house permanently, in such circumstances. But in every case unless that condition—or one of the other two in the Clause—is satisfied, the Commission have to say "No." The next condition is that
the dwelling-house has been damaged to such an extent that the cost of restoring it to the state in which it was before the occurrence of the damage, would exceed its value when restored.
I ask the House to pay special attention to that condition. I know that some hon. Friends of nine are rather apprehensive lest that condition should import the implication that where the cost of restoring the dwellinghouse would exceed its value at the time of requisition, the Commission should always report in favour of the acquisition. That of course is not intended. It is the intention that the Commission should have an absolutely free hand, subject only to this, that they must report adversely to the Government's proposals unless the Commission is satisfied that one of these three conditions is present. I only want to say that if there is an objection to this condition being included because its does import an undesirable implication, the Government are perfectly prepared to consider dropping this second condition, and, in this case, the position would be that the Commission would have to report against the acquisition of the land unless, first, it was necessary in their opinion in order to safeguard something which is of substantial value to the community, or—coming to the third condition which I have not yet specified-unless they can report that the acquisition of the land
would not seriously affect the amenity or convenience of the dwellinghouse in question.
I should like to stress that there is no obligation on the Commission, in any circumstances, to report in favour of acquisition. The only obligation on tile Commission is to report against acquisition in certain circumstances. I am not aware that there is any question of value based on the Schedule A assessment. The value is in the value of the land in the condition in which it was at the time of requisition. As I have said, if on the Committee stage of the Bill it would appear better that the second of these conditions should be dropped the Government, as I have already said, are perfectly willing 'to consider it; but I thought it right to try to explain as clearly as I could why this provision had been put in.
I would pass now to another question altogether, the question of the preservation of amenities. I have seen letter after letter in the newspapers and I have listened to hon. Friends of mine who have talked as if this Bill had been framed with the most reckless disregard of amenities, of orderly planning, and all that sort of thing. I am going to try to persuade the House that the exact opposite is the case. First let us look at Clause 11, which defines what the Commission has to consider. Clause 11 says that the Commission shall have regard to "all relevant considerations." That was intended to include the question of amenities, planning, agriculture and all the rest as well as the primary purpose. [An HON. MEMBER: "Defence works."] Defence works are outside the Bill, but the interest of the country is important. The Clause was drafted, with the deliberate intention that the Commission should have regard to all those considerations which I have specified, and I have not the slightest objection, if hon. Members think that there would be advantage in being more specific, to improve the references to amenities, agriculture, planning, etc., during the Committee stage. In that connection let me say—and here I have to confess for the first time what I think is a blemish in the Bill—that the Bill provides specifically for the class of persons who should be entitled to raise objections to anything proposed under the Bill, but it refers to those persons in a way which I think would practically limit it to persons having an interest in the land in the ordinary sense. I think the Bill ought to be improved here. I think we ought to put in references to the recognised societies who are concerned, for example, the Commons Preservation Society. I think we ought to put in specific references to local autho-
rities, and to local planning authorities. and I think when we have done that, the Bill, really, would be very nearly perfect. Anyway, I think it would be, from every point of view, an improvement to make that change. Still in connection with the question of amenity, let me refer to Clause 6, which is concerned with the cost of depreciated land. There are two provisions. In the first the Government may enter upon land where:
the cost of restoring the land to the condition in which it was before the work was done or the damage caused is likely to exceed the amount by which the value of the land, together with any adjoining or neighbouring land held therewith by any person interested in the land, has been diminished.
I think hon. Members have felt a little anxious lest that provision might be used to acquire open spaces or commons. That was not the intention at all. The intention of that particular provision can best be illustrated by reference to a case that I have in mind, where a substantial building was taken over by the Government, converted by the use of prodigious quantities of steel and concrete into something resembling a fortress, and then taken in occupation by certain people, in whom the Government were interested. If that building had to be handed over to the owner, under the ordinary provisions in regard to compensation, he would be entitled to the cost of removing the works that had been carried out on the land, subject only to the limit of the original value of the building, which happened to be a pretty expensive building. That is the sort of case that this particular provision had in contemplation, but the number of cases to which the provision would be applicable, in the form in which the Government intended to apply it, is I believe strictly limited, and I think there are other ways of dealing with the particular problem that I have described. If there is any apprehension, I am going to say, here and now, that that particular part of Clause 6 may go if that is desired. The other part of Clause 6 deals with the case where:
it if desirable in the public interest that the land should be dealt with in a particular manner with a view to the total or partial rehabilitation thereof and the land is only likely to be dealt with in that manner if it is acquired by virtue of this Part of this Act.
Who will object to that? That is a provision put in for one purpose only, the
preservation of amenity, and that we intend to retain. Let me, while still on the same point, refer to the provisions of Clause 47. I doubt whether there is any precedent for the provisions of that Clause. What it says is that if the amount payable in compensation under the law, as I have described it, on the return of land to the owner, would not be sufficient to restore it to its previous condition, the Government may pay still more money to the owner to provide for such restoration.
I am glad to have an opportunity to refer to that matter. Greatly to my surprise, I have been told by several Members that there is an impression that this Bill is to be used when it is in operation to enable the Government to abstain from restoring the surface of land from which open-cast coal has been acquired. I wish to -say, in the most categorical terms, that I know of absolutely no foundation for that suggestion. There are two departments concerned in this matter, the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the Ministry of Works. I have inquired of them both, and I am assured that there is no intention whatever of departing in any way from the very high standard, which I can say from personal experience has so far been followed, in regard to the restoration of land from which open-cast coal has been recovered.
I think the apprehension, or the feeling, in the minds of hon. Members is this: Why should this arrangement, which has been carried out so well, not be applied equally to the restoration of sites, of commons, or whatever it may be, in which there is a public interest? Why not do in those cases, what is done in the case of open-cast coal?
I am sorry, but my hon. Friend could not have been listening to what I have said. I have explained that the purpose of Clause 6 is to enable the Government to take possession of land for the purpose of restoring it. The case of open-cast coal is rather a special case, because the appliances are all there, ready to hand, and the restoration of the surface can be carried out as the work proceeds. I mentioned it only because I know that that particular case has troubled hon. Members. I have been at great pains to get to the bottom of what I know is a complete misapprehension, and I think the action that has been taken in regard to open-cast coal is a good indication of the general attitude of the Government towards this question of amenity.
Before I pass from amenity, there is one other thing I want to say. It has been suggested that the Bill is lacking in that it does not provide, specifically, for consultation between the Ministers directly concerned in the land which is to be acquired—for example the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister of Town and Country Planning. That omission does not in the least mean that there will not be the fullest consultation. There will be the fullest consultation, but there are objections, which I believe have great force, to attempting in any Bill, whether of this kind or any other, to regulate the relations between various responsible. Ministers in the same Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "It has been clone many times."] It has not been done very often, and the best precedents are against it. I have taken some trouble to look up the facts. There are some cases where it has been done, but it tends to lead to confusion, because some Ministers who might be interested are inevitably left out, and they are apparently in a position of disadvantage; and it is inconsistent with the general doctrine of the collective responsibility of Ministers. But there will be the fullest consultation. In the case of commons, for example, or cases in which agricultural land is concerned, the -Minister of Agriculture will be kept informed and consulted, and in general, the Minister of Town and Country Planning, who was consulted at every stage in the drafting of this Bill, will be taken into consultation when planning considerations arise.
I really cannot give any such assurance. In different localities the position differs widely in regard to the state of planning schemes. I will repeat what I have already said, that in every case the local planning authority will be included among the authorities entitled to make representations. They can take their representations to the Commission, or to the Minister of Town and Country Planning, and so, I think, the interests of orderly planning will be adequately safeguarded.
I referred to commons in connection with Clause 6. I would like to refer, in passing, to Clause 26, which deals with lands that are being acquired for use by local authorities—it may be the health authority, or the education authority. I would point out that Clause 26 contains a provision attracting the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1933, and that has the effect of preserving the position under which, without the express confirmation of Parliament, common land cannot be diverted for the use of a local authority unless equivalent land is provided elsewhere. I mention that only to show how very solicitous the Government have been in the interests of common land, of amenity, and of planning.
I now come to what I believe is the most difficult part of this Bill, Clause 8 (5). It provides that where a certificate in a specified form is issued by the President of the Board of Trade, the land may be acquired without reference to the Commission. That is the exception, to which I referred at the beginning, to the general provision that all acquisitions under this Bill have to go to the Commission. The provision is, in a sense, inconsistent with the general structure of the Bill, and I must explain to the House quite frankly how it comes to be in the Bill. When the Government were considering, some little time ago, the arrangements which could best be made for the disposal of the considerable number of factories that will become available after the war for the ordinary purposes of industry—and in that connection they attached, I am sure the House will think rightly, very great importance to the systematic and orderly disposal of these factories—they came up against this very serious practical question.
In a high proportion of the cases the factories which will become available are on land which the Government do not own, on requisitioned land in most cases. or it may be in a few cases on land upon which the Government have merely entered. How is a clear title to be given in those circumstances to anyone who might wish to acquire a factory? If every case is allowed to go to the Commission, and be dealt with on its merits, after adequate notice, due consideration, the hearing of all the interests concerned, possibly a public inquiry, surely that must be wholly inconsistent with dealing 'with this particular problem in speedy and orderly fashion. The Government saw no way out of the difficulty, other than to take this particular limited class of works out of the purview of the Commission.
The provision is hedged round. The Board of Trade must certify that the land which is to be acquired is, or is part of, industrial premises. That is the first condition. The second condition is the premises must in substance owe their existing character, so far as the buildings and structures on them are concerned, to Government war work. The third is the one I have already indicated,
that in the interests of an orderly transition from war conditions to peace conditions it is expedient that the ability of the Crown to dispose of the premises …should be established forthwith.
The only advice I can give the House is to let the Bill go forward with this Clause in it, and let us see, when we get to the Committee stage, whether there is any way, other than by reference to the Commission—which I think is impossible —in which the matters about which so many hon. Members are concerned can be safeguarded. I give that advice. I think it is essential in the national interest that these factories should be released and made available for our ordinary industry speedily, and in an orderly manner, as they become available, and I do not think that many hon. Members will disagree with me in that.
One can imagine a case in which some of these requisitioned factories are producing large sums in the shape of educational trusts, or Chancery trusts, running into thousands of pounds per year. Will there be a right of public inquiry and adequate compensation before they can be acquired?
I have just said most frankly to the House that this provision is an exception to the provisions in the Bill, which otherwise provide the fullest possible safeguards, with the right of hearing and so on. I wish to ask the House, when the Bill reaches the Committee stage, to look at the matter with the Government, and see if we can strengthen the position in any reasonable way. I want the help of hon. Members in this matter.
I desire to say this: It has been suggested that the Bill might be used to override existing binding agreements entered into with the owners of land at the time of requisitioning, to the effect that the land would be restored, or would be dealt with in a particular manner. There is no intention, I need hardly say, of using any powers in a Bill of this kind to override an agreement which is binding on the Government. I am perfectly ready, if that point is a matter of concern, to agree to a redrafting of the Clause which will make perfectly clear that it is not the intention of the Government to do anything of that kind.
I said at the outset, greatly daring, that I hoped I would be able to persuade the House that the Bill is not such a bad Bill, and that, so far from disregarding questions of amenity, agriculture, common rights, arid so on, care has been taken at various points to introduce safeguards for these matters. If I have suceeded I hope the House will be content to let the Bill go forward to the Committee stage. I have given a quite clear indication that the Government are perfectly ready to consider, in Committee, amendments which would not in any way hamper them in the action which they, in fact, contemplate taking under the Bill, but which will make it quite clear, for the benefit of this Government and any succeeding Government, that action of the kind they have never contemplated will not be possible. The Ministers will be very ready to co-operate with hon. Members in that task in Committee. That is all that I have to submit to the House at this stage, but I confidently ask hon. Members to agree to the Second Reading of the Bill.
With the main purpose of this Bill we here are in complete accord, but I have to admit that with some of the methods that are pro- posed, and with some of the machinery suggested, we are not satisfied. While we shall willingly give the Bill a Second Reading, we shall reserve freedom of action on Third Reading, and determine our attitude by what changes are made on the Committee stage. For a Bill which has been claimed to be almost perfect, it seems that the Committee is to be kept pretty busy in making alterations.
It is all to the good that we should devise machinery and provide powers for preserving for the community what can be preserved of the value of buildings and works which have been carried out on requisitioned land during the war, but it would be wrong to maintain such as were brought into existence in the stress of the war, because of the dire necessity of national safety, at the sacrifice of public rights, social amenities, cultural wellbeing, or the beauty of the countryside, merely because restoration would involve considerable expenditure of money, time, and labour. I still think that what is wrong with the Bill is not that it aims at the preservation of works and buildings, but that it seems to make money the only measure of merit, and to sacrifice public rights of way, the beauty of our commons and open spaces, the proper planning of our countryside, and the beneficial use of our land, to a mere cash calculation of the cost of restoration. We have spent freely, and rightly so, to preserve our powers of democratic development and freedom of speech and movement, and it would be a tragedy if one outcome of the money so spent were the robbery from the common people of their rights of access to common lands and footpaths, which they have struggled through the centuries to secure.
If ever there was a problem in which one would have thought that the Minister of Town and Country Planning would be called upon to play a predominant part, this is such a problem. We have recently set up that Ministry. Alas, so far it does not seem to have done very much. But not only is the Minister's name, very significantly, omitted from the imposing list of backers of this Measure, but, so far as I can remember, he is not once mentioned in the Bill. A Commission is to be appointed, to inquire into the proposals for the exercise of the powers which the Bill will give; but the Commission is to owe no allegiance whatever to the Minister of Town and Country Planning. Its attention will not even be called to the fact that such a Ministry exists. The Commission is to be appointed by the Treasury. I feel that, being appointed by such an organisation, this body will consider that its main purpose is the protection of the public purse, even at the sacrifice of public welfare.
That seems to me to be no exaggeration. As I read Clause II, the people who are to make this inquiry are to have their particular attention drawn to certain aspects, to which they must give the greatest attention. For instance, in the acquisition of land on the ground that the value of the work on it should be preserved, they are definitely charged to go into the question of the cost of the works, the financial advantage to the objector or the degree of loss that the objector would sustain, but nothing is said in the Bill about whether or not the situation of the works violates a local planning scheme, or whether it fits in with a scheme, provided that one is being worked out, for the wiser location of industry. It is gratifying that we have been told this morning that Amendments will be accepted by the Government, on the Committee stage, to make it necessary that attention should be given to that matter. But I still feel that since the Commission is being called upon to operate on these principles, it is very' likely that the wellbeing of the local community and the wise planning of our countryside may be sacrificed.
What disturbs me more than anything else in this connection is that the Minister is not only in a position to ignore any decisions which the Commission may make, but the Commission may be precluded from giving any consideration to the proposals at all. Unless I misread the Bill entirely, the Commission is to have no power to initiate policy, but is merely to consider objections. The things that are to be done are those which in the opinion of the Minister ought to be done, and the Commission has no power to restrain him. The Commission comes into operation only when persons having an interest in the land raise objections. We have been assured this morning that the possibilities of amendment have been considered in order that local authorities, local planning committees, and organisations of citizens may be among those whose objections can be taken into account. But at present, unless my reading of the Bill is all wrong, they have no standing in the matter. The Minister of Town and Country Planning has no status, and even the Minister of Agriculture, the person who has the statutory duty of protecting commons, is brushed on one side. If the Minister concerned comes to terms with those who have got an interest in the land, no Commission, no other living soul at all, has anything to say with regard to the proposals.
Another objection regarding the operations of the Commission is that they can be carried out in conditions of complete secrecy. By Clause 8 (3) any inquiry which the Commissioners shall make may, at their discretion, be held in private. The position regarding the Board of Trade has already been mentioned. I sincerely hope that in Committee some means will be found of securing that questions of town and country planning, the preservation of amenities, the proper ordered location of industry, and the wiser distribution of our population, will have to be taken into account before the President of the Board of Trade can operate independently in this matter.
There are two subjects upon which I wish to say a few more words. The first is with regard to the great apprehension which is being felt as to the possible dangers to the commons and open spaces of our countryside. Not unnaturally, in the urgency of war, camps and training grounds, aerodromes and hutments, even factories and hospitals, were widely constructed on our commons and open spaces. Being unenclosed and uncultivated, these spaces offered natural attractions for such development. While it may have been regretted at the time, surely, in the circumstances, no objection could have been taken. There has always been a feeling in the minds of those of us on local authorities who are interested in commons and open spaces that restoration would follow at the end of the war. But by this Bill those hopes have been largely diminished. Not only what is commonly regarded as common land, but also land which has been acquired by trusts and such bodies for playing fields and recreation grounds, may be acquired by one of the Ministers concerned, and afterwards sold by him for purposes far different from those for which they were first designed.
We have in the last 3o or 40 years done a great deal to preserve the public open spaces, and we have made it a condition of the use of any part of them for other purposes that compensation shall be made by the provision of equivalent areas of common land elsewhere in the locality. In this Bill, there is no such provision. Common rights may be swept away. Even the Minister of Agriculture may not sanction the enclosure of common land, unless he is satisfied that it will be for the benefit of the inhabitants at large, but in this Bill neither he nor anyone else is empowered to prevent such a thing being done. If one of these eight Ministers makes up his mind to acquire. common lands, he can do it without further provision of any equivalent open space elsewhere. There will be a great temptation to do so, for land of this kind can be acquired, naturally, at a cheap rate, and then, by the very 'act of abolishing commoners' rights and closing up footpaths, it can be re-sold at a greatly enhanced price—a financial gain to the Treasury, it is true, but irreparable loss to the common people in the areas concerned.
With regard to the point of cross-country footpaths, I feel that there is a great danger. Large numbers of these footpaths have been closed during the war years, and this Bill, in Clause 20, continues the closing of these paths for another two years after the lapse of the powers given under the Defence Acts. This, it would appear, may be done even though there is no reason why, for war purposes, the footpaths should be closed, and even, indeed, after the land has actually reverted to civil ownership and control. Worse still, in my opinion, is the power that is to be given to the Minister of War Transport to close a footpath permanently, if he thinks fit. The object is, presumably, to increase the saleable value of the land so that the Treasury can get a greater profit out of it in the end. It is gratifying that the possibilities of objection in this part of the Bill are wider than in the other parts. But there is still a power of the Minister to ignore the Commission's recommendations if he so desires.
We have been given the assurance that the Government will be willing to deal with, and remedy in Committee, a goodly number of these difficulties, and, on that assurance, we are prepared to give this Bill its Second Reading. But we urge that questions of the preservation of amenities, and of the proper development and lay-out of our countryside, shall have precedence over the mere money value of any proposals which may be put forward.
I beg to move, to leave out "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add "upon this day six months."
I want to be perfectly candid with the House and say that I am in a great quandary. When my right hon. Friend the Chancellor began the first half of his speech to-day, I was reminded of a proud and effusive mother describing her firstborn child to a visitor. It was a very good child, a sweet-tempered child, which had nothing wrong with it, except for one or two little blemishes that would come off with hot water and soap. In the second portion of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman took off his coat, put on an apron and began to take some of these blemishes off, until, at the end, I was not quite certain that I could recognise the child. It was a very good speech and a great Parliamentary performance by the Chancellor, but it places those who come after the right hon. Gentleman in this Debate in a very difficult position.
This Bill has been in the possession of hon. Members and of the Chancellor for something like two months. Now, a great many of its provisions are scrubbed away because it is agreed that they are not what this country desires. I say that this Second Reading stage should be delayed until we have an opportunity of seeing exactly what changes the Chancellor desires to make in his Bill. It is, I would submit, an abuse of the Parliamentary system, especially in war-time, when we are allowed to put down Amendments prior to Second Reading, if no alterations can be put down to the Bill until the Second Reading Debate, when it is known that some hon. Members take violent exception to certain provisions of the Bill. We are hampered by that difficulty. While it was a great Parliamentary performance on the part of the Chancellor to-day, I remember that, in the early days of the war, I learnt that it was the right thing, if the enemy was going to attack, to withdraw your forward defence line, so that the preliminary barrage would fall on empty trenches, and you could prepare for a counter-attack to drive the enemy back. I think we are hampered to-day by the skilful Parliamentary tactics of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
We are all agreed that a Bill is necessary for this purpose, but I cannot tell what is left of the scrubbed child at this moment. Let me put forward what I believe to be the view of the country on what kind of Bill required. First, for defence purposes, we require to secure a speedy method of obtaining the land which the country requires for defence purposes. Secondly, for factories, we require a method by which requisitioned land can air used for factories without delay, where this is in conformity with the plan for full employment. Thirdly, we require a Bill, as the Chancellor has made quite clear, to restore the land of Britain, where it has been ravaged or damaged by war.
Listening to part of the Chancellor's speech, I could not see that there was very much division between my view of what the Bill should be, and his view of how this Bill which he has introduced should be altered to gain these three objects But let me say this. First, on the question of land required for defence purposes, I think that some hon. Members, and perhaps some right hon. Gentlemen, still do not appreciate that only 8 Clauses of this Bill—Clauses 31 to 38—deal with this problem of land required for defence purposes. What I should like to see inserted in that part of the Bill, is a recognition that food production is an essential part of the defence of this country. That point has, I think, been made on public platforms and at farmers' gatherings up and down the country, and it has a real relevance to this matter. This country is confined to a limited acreage. To-day, I think it is a fact that some 600,000 acres or more of agricultural land has been taken for defence purposes. The problems of the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food in feeding this nation have been made more difficult by that large acreage which has been taken out of potential food production, and I wish to make the point that, before land is taken for defence purposes, it is essential that the Minister of Agriculture should always be consulted. I know of cases in this war where land has been taken and where consultation has not taken place, and where, as a result, less food has been produced than would have been done if other land had been taken. But I will say no more on that point about land for defence purposes, which this Bill hardly touches, and on which the whole House, I think, is in pretty fair agreement.
Let me now turn to the question of land for factories. It is quite true that we require that factories built on requisitioned land shall remain, in certain cases, as factories. We do not want to see a waste of opportunity for employment on demobilisation, but we do require to see that these factories are located in accordance with good planning, and that they will be sited where the local authorities want them to be sited. What happens under this Bill? Clause 8 (5), I gather from the Chancellor's speech, is still in suspense, and the decision whether a temporary factory shall be continued in the post-war era is to depend upon the planning, not of the local authority, not of the Minister of Town and Country Planning, not of the War Works Commission, but of the President of the Board of Trade. I have a very great respect for the right hon. Gentleman who adorns the Board of Trade, but I can think of no right hon. Gentleman on that Government Front Bench to whom I would less like to entrust the planning of England, than my right hon. Friend. He is the wrong Minister to plan Britain. He has got his job. which, no doubt, he does very adequately, concerning clothing coupons and all the rest of it, but the planning of the factories of Britain is a job that I want to be done by the Minister of Town and Country Planning, or any other high Cabinet Minister, like the Minister for Reconstruction, who has no Departmental cares.
This is an important matter. I would like hon. Members for North-East coast constituencies to consider what will be the effect if Clause 8 (5) is kept in the Bill. The North-East coast has, in this war, been regarded as a vulnerable area, and no factories have been placed there. Rural England, away from the North-East coast, has been used for temporary factories. If this Bill becomes law, and the President of the Board of Trade can give a certificate by which he can condemn rural England to be the permanent rival of the North-East coast, then I think a great disservice will be done to that part of the country. I beg the Government, and the Attorney-General, who is in charge at the present time, to reconsider very carefully this Clause 8 (5). It has been said that the reason why we leave this solely to the President of the Board of Trade is that there must be no delay, but you can plan too quickly. A lot of the unemployment that was caused after the war was, I believe, due to hasty decisions. I ask that in this case the authority in Clause 8 (5) should be changed from the President of the Board of Trade to the Minister of Town and Country Planning. If that point were granted it would make a great difference to this Bill.
My third point was that we all wish to seen the land of England restored where it has been damaged or ravaged by the war, and that is my chief objection to this Bill as printed. Goodness knows, seeing how it has been scrubbed about now, what is the effect of it, but the Bill, as printed, put, as my hon. Friend who preceded me said, the financial aspect in front of the aspect of the restoration of the land of England. This country will never stand for that. The Chancellor, in describing Clause 5, seemed to me to be making out that where the Crown has placed on the land extensive works which should be preserved, it was meant to deal with works that were in some way connected with war needs, and not under the Defence Acts. That has not hitherto been my understanding of the Bill, but if that is the type of land which is to be acquired—land which is on the margin for defence purposes—I would have no objection to that part of Clause 5 at all.
I will give the House the type of picture I have contemplated under Clause 5 where the Crown is trying to preserve the value of its works upon land. I know of a house in my own constituency, an old-fashioned 17th century house, where the annual value was under £l00. An armoured division came along and wanted to have headquarters made of it. They put hutments all round, put in tank standings and made a now drive, and, as they were not very good at working the electric light engines that we have in the country, they smashed up five electric light engines. The cost of that house at the time when the armour moved out and they had to use it for other military purposes connected with prisoners of war, came to £25,000—and that was the house with an annual value of less than £100.
Is it the intention of the Government to try and acquire that land because it has been so expensive to them? It certainly, in my view, could be so construed under Clause 5, but as we are to have a legal explanation, the position can be made clear. I am sure that this country does not want the Government to have power to acquire that land and also to have power to sell it, and that also is not clear from the Chancellor's speech. When the Government acquire this land under Clause 5, will they have power to sell it to other people? I believe that what hon. Members in all parts of the House are most fearful about is lest the Government, in order to save money, shall trade this victim of war with land speculators, holiday camp makers and all that black market that always exists in damaged goods. That is the great danger that we see and, as I read the Bill, I cannot see that any word that the Chancellor of the Exchequer uttered this morning has removed that danger from the land of England.
I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and this is where I must now revise my approach under Clause 6—whether the position is clear under Clause 6 where the Government through the Service Departments have in the course of their training destroyed the countryside. I will give an example so that the House will understand the case of which I am thinking. In the whole of the North of England, the moors—it is no secret now—were used for training the armour which was so successful in the gallop from Falaise to Ghent. In the course of that training the moors have suffered considerable damage. The walls and the fences are down and the roads which provided access to the small farms have been badly damaged—one I know, has dropped four feet—and the House will appreciate the result. Sheep farming, which before the war was the life of that rural community, has disappeared as a result of this damage to the moorlands. The cost of restoration is far in excess of the value of the land whether you use the phrase "the 1939 value" or "the 1945 value."
Do we understand from the concession that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced, that the Government will see that that land is restored? It must be remembered that when we talk about the value of land, it is not Schedule A value, 1930 value or 1945 value. The value I attach to this land is the cost of the improvements that our ancestors put into the land. If you go back over the last 300 years, and on any acre of Britain, you will find that nine times the annual value has been spent in improvements on such land. This land is a permanent asset to the people of England and England will never tolerate that asset being left derelict as a result of the war. I would ask the learned Attorney-General when he comes to reply to make it clear that, in respect of these moors and similar cases, the land will be restored.
I, perhaps, feel personally about this matter because early in 1940 my battalion, in which I was then serving more actively, was stationed South-West of Amiens, and we found ourselves in a curious country quite unlike the battlefields of France after the last war. The country was deserted and derelict. It had not been restored after the last war. When you went to Lens or La Bassee you saw great new buildings, but that little rural area South-West of Amiens had been left because it was not of such economic advantage to the French nation to restore the countryside as it was to restore the more industrial areas. That area was without soul and without spirit and I vowed that after this war, if I could help it, we would never let the same thing happen to rural England. I believed that this Bill, certainly before the Chancellor of the Exchequer began to scrub it in a washing process, was going to do the same to rural England as was done round that area near Amiens.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer talked a great deal about airfields. Nobody is better qualified than the learned Attorney-General to satisfy us about this point. I understand that defence works are excluded from this Bill except for Part VII. I ask the learned Attorney-General, as I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Are not airfields also excluded by the operation of the Air Navigation Acts of 1920 and 1926? I am going to weary the House by actually referring to these Acts. Section 15 of the Air Navigation Act, 1920, lays down that:
the power of the Secretary of State to acquire land under the Military Land Act shall include power to acquire land for the purposes of this Act and generally for the purposes of civil aviation.
Section 25 of the Act of 1936 lays down that:
The Secretary of State"—
the Secretary of State for Air—
shall have power to manage, sell, let or exchange any land vested in him for purposes of civil aviation whether acquired under the Military Lands Act or under any other Act.
Under my construction—and I hope I am wrong—the Secretary of State for Air can, for war or for peace, buy any land whether it is requisitioned or not, and having bought such land, if he bought it for purposes of civil aviation, he can sell it for war, for peace, for pleasure, or for profit. I do not think that that is right. If I am correct—and nobody will be more glad than I if I am wrong—it is for Parliament to amend that decision. Aerodromes are very important matters to all. I do not deny their importance in peace but we must not let these great vistas of cement mar our rural industries and our local planning, or run counter to the convenience of the local authority. If I am right, the Secretary of State for Air—and I am glad to see that the Under-Secretary has just come into the Chamber—can bypass this Bill. Is that the position? Does he intend to? Can I get an undertaking from the Under-Secretary, who has now approached that Box, that the Secretary of State for Air will refer these matters in all cases to the War Works Commission? If we can get that undertaking, I can assure the House that neither I nor my hon. Friends would want to divide the House on the issue of this Bill. If we cannot get that answer, and if the Secretary of State for Air has powers which will mean that all this great acreage of agricultural land at present under cement will not be even referred to the Wax Works Commission, then I feel that I must prosecute my hostility to this Bill.
Service Departments have not a good reputation in this matter. There is one other Clause in this Bill which concerns the powers of the Secretary of State for Air but it is not a good Clause and it is one of the few which was not washed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That is Clause 7 which gives the Minister, when he has power to acquire land, a right that he may
discharge wholly or partly or modify any restriction as to the user of that land.…
Again, I merely try to construe this simply, but so far as I can see this would
allow the Admiralty to carry on with their plans in the Lleyn peninsula. May I remind the House of the story of the Lleyn peninsula? There, the Admiralty have a project on the most beautiful part of the coast in Wales, and it is their intention, having got their war works there, to sell that land to Mr. Butlin for a holiday camp. They are one of the Service Departments to which Clause 7 gives this provision. The local authorities have protested, the planning committees have protested, yet the Admiralty have kept on insisting that they shall have the power to sell that beauty spot for a holiday camp.
That is what we fear will happen, if this Bill becomes law, all over rural England and I am not satisfied that my right hon. Friend really appreciates the danger of some of the provisions of this Bill. Quite clearly it would be wrong for me to raise points of detail on Second Reading. If I did so, I would beat the record of Mr. Joe Biggar, who talked for 6¼ hours. I hope I have sketched out what I believe to be the objects we should have for a Bill of this kind, and the dangers that still lie, even after we have lost the noxious Clause 6 (a), even after we have what we have fought for and asked for—the right for Parliament to determine those cases where the Minister overrules the War Works Commission; even then, so long as the Crown has power to sell land or to modify a restriction, and has power not to insist that land is restored, I see a very grave danger through this Bill.
I am not asking to-day, and I have never asked under this Bill, for more compensation. What I do ask for, as a principle that Parliament should lay down, is that where the war has damaged land or buildings, either the Crown will restore that damage at their own expense, or they will allow the owner, if he has restored it, to be recouped the cost of restoration. The Chancellor said, where a promise had been given, that the land would be restored. That concession does not go far enough. I know certain Government Departments which can always take refuge under Defence Regulations 50 and 52. When land was requisitioned there was an implied promise by the State that after the land or the buildings had been used for war purposes, they would be handed back restored to their pre-war condition.That was an implied promise. I was very glad to notice that a leading Sunday paper had a leader on that point. Unless they give that pledge, this Government is making a breach of that implied promise.
This is no party issue. Actually in my own constituency, constituents of all three parties have asked me to vote against this Bill. Whether I do so or not, now depends on the reply I get from the learned Attorney-General. May I say this, however, that this Bill means a great deal not merely to the lawyers, not merely to the citizens of this country, but principally, I find, to those who are serving overseas. When I was serving overseas I often thought why I was fighting. I did not think just of vague ideals, or even merely of hatred of the enemy, but principally of my vision. Of England—the commons, the cornfields, the moors and woodlands, old houses. Having talked to people, I think that is a very common attitude of the man abroad. He wants to get back to those things to that England he knows, not to a great army of hutments, not to long vistas of cement and cold, scarred billets that once were houses. That is the message, I think, that the men fighting will give to Parliament to-day—Restore England, whatever the cost, whatever the Treasury says.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I must confess, that like my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) I was very much impressed with the conciliatory tone of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who certainly made what appear to be very considerable concessions and those, presumably, will be put into the Bill at a later stage. The Chancellor referred to the complications of the Bill and the difficulty of understanding it. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in introducing a Bill, makes such a reference, I think we may take it that there is some excuse for the feeling, which I believe is in the mind of almost every private Member, and certainly throughout the country, that the Bill is incredibly difficult to understand and is appallingly complicated. That is a real fault in the Bill. We all agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that a Bill is necessary, but, to ordinary mortals, it would appear that that Bill should be much simpler, much clearer, and more comprehensible than the one which is now before the House. Is it really necessary for the long ago Defence Acts of 1842 and 1854 to be referred to? And also later Defence, and other Acts, and the Compensation (Defence) Act of 1939? What is not referred to is the Air Navigation Act, which is in the thoughts of a great many of us and which, so far as we can make out, does and will affect the agricultural and common land of this country taken over for aerodromes and for other air purposes.
One can understand hasty, untidy legislation being passed in a period of emergency when the country was in imminent danger. But that is not the case now. The emergency is over, and the object of this Bill is to effect a resettlement of the land and property of this country which have been so grievously disturbed by Government action, even though it be agreed that in many cases it was necessary Government action. What is required now is a settlement which is fair to all, which can be easily comprehended by ordinary people, and which will fully implement the obligations of the Government. Could not a Bill have been framed—cannot a Bill now be framed—which would repeal these old and obsolete Defence Acts, and lay down a new procedure comprehensible not only to trained lawyers, but also, and without undue study, to laymen, particularly those affected by the Bill? I still hope that the Government may see fit to act on these lines, rather than further to complicate and further to patch up this Bill by haphazard alterations to it. In a Bill of this kind, I suggest that two things are necessary; first, simplicity of its framework and expression; secondly, justice and fairness to all the interests concerned, whether of individuals or of the public, or of commoners in the case of common land. Judged by those two tests, I suggest that even with the amendments to which the Chancellor expressed himself as being not opposed, this Bill is very unsatisfactory.
My remarks, like those of my hon. Friend the mover of the Amendment, will be concerned principally with agricultural land, and dwelling-houses in the country, and with common land and land over which the public have rights. I would say that at this stage the main object—I know of my hon. Friend and myself, and I believe of many who think like us—is to get land and dwelling-houses rehabilitated by the Government and then restored to their original owners. The Chancellor said that in the vast majority of cases—he used that expression —land would be restored, would be given up by the Government. I fully realise, and I am sure we all do, that some land will have to be retained which is still required for national purposes—for air purposes or otherwise—but it is with the land which is to be given up and which is not absolutely required, that we are principally concerned and as to the fate of which we are certainly apprehensive. We are apprehensive that land will be acquired where it is thought that by acquiring it, the Government can to some extent cut its losses. That is what we are afraid of, and that is what my hon. Friend was referring to when he spoke of areas of concrete being left about the country and put up for sale to anybody who would buy them after the Government had acquired them. That is what I really think—if it is in the mind of any Government Department, and I have some reason to believe that it has been in the mind of the Air Ministry, at any rate—would be a most immoral proceeding which could not be justified.
Owners have put up with much during the national emergency. They have been turned out of their houses at short notice; they have had great difficulty in storing their goods and chattels. They have been put to financial loss and inconvenience, but they put up with everything because it was a time of national emergency, and their land or houses were required for national purposes. But they cannot be expected to put up with injustice, injury and even undue inconvenience when the emergency is over, and it is a case of making some sort of reparation for the losses they have suffered and the inconveniences to which they have been subjected. They are definitely not seeking to make great sums of money out of the Government. All they are seeking is to get their property restored to them, and the damage done to it by the Government made good by the Government.
Even if the full cost of rehabilitation were paid by the Government—and nothing less could possibly be justified— private individuals would seldom be able to obtain the labour and machinery, or facilities, to carry out restoration on a big scale, for instance, when dealing with miles of concrete on aerodromes and so forth. But the Government can command the labour and the machinery and, what is very important these days, the priorities to carry out the work of restoration and replacement, and I hope very much that the Government will shoulder their responsibility in that way and not try to fob off owners with a cash payment, even if that payment is on a liberal scale. Camps and aerodromes have been constructed over a great area of land, some of it common land which ought to be restored to the public. Most of the constructions, I do not hesitate to say, have been on agricultural land, the estimated area being not less than 600,000 acres. I feel certain that the Minister of Agriculture would wish to see these acres restored to agriculture, and I hope that in all such cases he will be consulted. I do not know to what extent he is being consulted, but I am quite certain that he ought to be. I believe that the area involved is possibly greater than the 600,000 acres, which is a conservative estimate. Rehabilitation will be expensive, no doubt, but the Government Departments, which laid the land waste, should themselves restore all of it that is vacated.
Another criticism which was made of the Bill, and which was discounted by the Chancellor, was that it appears completely to ignore considerations of planning, and does not appear in any way to fit in with the Town and Country Planning Act of last year. The Chancellor gave a definite assurance, which we should be very glad to see in the Bill, that the Minister of Town and Country Planning would be consulted in all appropriate cases, and' that local planning committees would also be consulted when cases come before the Commission. That goes a considerable way towards disposing of the objection that planning considerations had been left out of account.
May I now turn to one or two of the Clauses? Part I of the Bill deals with the setting up of the Commission, and I am sure we were all very glad to hear to-day from the Chancellor that that Commission must be independent and impartial. But I do think that a Commission, appointed by the Treasury, has consider- able defects, because that Commission will be thought of as one which would give undue weight to financial considerations. It has been suggested that the chairman should be an eminent lawyer, appointed by the Lord Chancellor, and that the members should be representative of agriculture, trade, planning and amenities. But whatever the composition of the Commission, so long as Clause 9, Sub-sections (1), (2) and (3), stand—and on this I do not think the Chancellor has convinced us—the Commission must have a great deal of its value discounted. Clause 9 gives power to Ministers to override the findings of the Commission. That is wholly unacceptable, and it is difficult to see the object of appointing a Commission at all if Ministers are to be free to discard its recommendations and override them. The decisions of that Commission, I suggest, should be final, with one exception which I, personally, should like to see, namely, that there should be the right of appeal to the High Court. The Chancellor referred to Clause 8 (5) as being the most difficult in the Bill, and an exception to the rule as regards safeguards. This Clause deals with the disposal of factories. I think that we have, to some extent, been reassured by the Chancellor in this case, in that this particular class of work might be taken out of the purview of the Commission. My right hon. Friend said he would consider possible alterations in Committee. I hope he will go further than "possible," and make definite alterations, and will take away the power, particularly, of the Board of Trade in this case. Why should the Board of Trade be the Department selected to certify that particular properties should not be dealt with?
As regards Clause 5 (2) and Clause 6 (2), they give power to the Minister to acquire adjoining and neighbouring land. This is far too wide a power. I suggest that if the Commission consider that works cannot properly be used or maintained only then is it necessary to consider that adjoining land may be acquired. It should be very exceptional at this time of the war for adjoining or neighbouring land to be acquired. If it is necessary why was not this adjoining land taken originally? Now that it is more a question of closing down works, rather than building or increasing them, it seems to me that it is unnecessary to give this power to acquire adjoining or neighbouring land. If it is to be given it ought to be entirely on the recommendation of the Commission, and not at the will of the Minister.
Clause 9 (5) is the one bright spot in the otherwise murky prospect of this Bill. This Clause deals with dwelling houses, gardens, parks, etc., which, if the Commission find that they ought not to be acquired, seem to be protected. But they are qualified by Clause II (5) which almost nullifies Clause 9 (5), particularly Clause II (5, b) to which the Chancellor referred, which deals with dwelling-houses damaged to such an extent that the cost of restoring them to the state in which they were before the occurrence of the damage would exceed the value when restored. In other words, the Government, as the Bill stands, can take a man's home, do wanton damage to it, build excrescences or additions which may make it useless as a private residence, and, when the emergency is over, instead of rehabilitating it, can acquire it at the 1939 price—
Yes, he said that, but I wish to emphasise that until it is definitely omitted this is a very bad Clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton quoted the case of a house 'within his knowledge. I would like to quote one within my knowledge. It is a country house, which was taken over as a Civil Defence training establishment. An immense amount of money was spent upon it. Shortly after the Civil Defence had taken it over, it was found that the water supply, which was perfectly adequate for a private house with a limited number of inhabitants, was quite inadequate when there were 200 people in the house. Huts were built near the house, and semipermanent additions were built on to the house for extra kitchens, canteens and so forth. The garage was turned into a cinema, at great expense. A great deal of money was spent on the water supply which might be considered to be an improvement, but for this sort of private house is no improvement. There was an adequate water supply before, and to put a water supply for 200 people into a house which, in normal times, is not meant to accommodate more than about one-tenth of that number, is, to my mind, entirely unnecessary. For the purpose of training Civil Defence rescue parties it was thought right to create a model ruined village and, by contract, lorries from Southampton—which was a considerable distance away—brought large quantities of broken bricks, stone and rubble, and within 100 yards of the house there was created a series of ruined houses in which cellars were dug. No doubt that was useful for training the rescue parties, but it will cost a great deal of money to take those ruins away, and if a Clause such as this is to be taken advantage of by the Government, who could say that the cost of restoring the house and garden to the condition in which it was before it was taken over would be more than it is worth, then it will be a very serious state of affairs.
A common in my part of the world has been taken over for an aerodrome. To restore it to a state in which it would be of any use to the public, involving the removal of acres of concrete, would be a very expensive procedure. I hope it will be undertaken but it should, be clearly stated in the Bill that in such cases the land will be restored, that no lump sum will be given to the local authority or anyone else, but that the Government will do it with their own labour, their own machinery and their own priorities. There is another common on which armoured forces were trained. The constant pressure of tracked vehicles consolidated the soil and formed a hard pan some inches below the surface, with the result that the natural vegetation, such as it was, was very greatly interfered with and was dying away and, worst of all, the porousness of the soil was completely upset and adjacent buildings have been flooded by the rain, which was unable to get away, rushing over the land. I quote that as another case in which there would be a very considerable bill for restoring the drainage, which will be a difficult thing. The land at present is not only not much use to the public but is positively a menace to a considerable number of people who live at the bottom of the hill close to it.
Clause 47 is another bright spot in the Bill, but even that ought to be to some extent amended. It lays down that "if in the opinion of a Minister, it is expedient in the public interest that the land should be dealt with in a particular manner. the Minister may undertake," and so forth. I submit that "the Commission" should be substituted for "the Minister" and the word "shall" should be substituted by the word "may." In spite of the concessions, which we all welcome, and my right hon. Friend's conciliatory tone, which we immensely appreciate, the Bill is still so complicated and difficult of comprehension that it is really incapable of satisfactory Amendment. It would be better to withdraw it and completely recast it, embodying the improvements to which the Chancellor adverted.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken said, in a speech which everyone who heard it will agree was able, exceedingly able, made what seemed a somewhat ambitious claim. He said that he hoped to express the opinion of the people with regard to the Bill and those parts of it which seemed designed to perpetuate desecration of the countryside, brought about under duress of war, when he spoke of the desire to save the country from this situation and of the sentiment of the people towards the growing desire of those not familiar with the countryside to preserve what I think Robert Lynd described in very touching language as the common heritage of the beauty of the countryside, saying "the land belongs to someone but the landscape is everybody's." When the hon. and gallant Member spoke in those terms he was speaking the voice of the country, and it is for that reason that his speech met with so much agreement. Here we have a Bill presented to the House for financial reasons, for the purpose of preserving our finance, for compensation and for purposes connected therewith. It is a Bill one would hesitate to criticise, which it is no pleasing task to criticise. When we have a Bill like that presented to Parliament it is a strange thing that no single voice has been raised in its favour, nor has any pen been put to paper in support of it.
I have been at some pains to have the Bill examined and to find out the state of opinion with regard to it. The people of this country have stood in war whatever they were asked to do. They have seen without murmur or complaint places in which they have passed their existence, the background of their existence, built over and disturbed, believing that these places would be restored. It may be that those who work in the Treasury and in Government Departments may have been misled by the acquiescence of the people in this matter in war time; because, as they proceeded to their work in the morning and returned home at night, they have seen on one of the most historic sites in this country, one of the most beautiful pieces of parkland, a tawny monster of immense size and strength, a building described as a temporary structure but made of such material that no known human agency can possibly destroy it. It may well be that those who have been engaged on the Bill, seeing this monstrosity put on that great historic site in a beautiful position, may have said, "The people will stand anything, we can do what we like." Again, it is no bad thing that there should be some memorials of this war, but we do not want to spread them regardless all over the country. It is no bad thing, and indeed this generation of English men and women who have been scarred and seared physically and spiritually are not likely to forget war and its consequences, but with regard to that building I have just mentioned I should hope that it will remain. I think it will always he a suitable momento of a horrible period in our history, and if that were embellished with suitable statues of Hitler, Mussolini, Pierre Laval, "Lord Haw-Haw" and others whose names will readily occur to hon. Members, it might well serve as a permanent monument and a warning for all time against the horrors of war.
The financial object of the Bill has the purpose of saving the State money and securing something like orderly procedure with regard to the immense works which have been constructed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said £700,000,000 in all had been expended, and of this sum about £6o,000,000 or £70,0oo,000 on actual factories. He did not tell us what was the actual amount of land included. I understand that the Treasury have no information on that point. They do not know what the extent of the national asset is, but, in order that there may be some orderly development in these things, we recognise that there should be a Bill. It may well be that these things, the objects of the Bill, can be done without injustice, and without doing permanent injury to the long-term interest of the British people. All I can say is that the terms on which this can be done are not in this Bill. I came here to say that it was a disorderly Bill, retrogressive in character, and should be condemned. I find myself at the moment in the same state as the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite. We do not quite know where we stand. I was going to suggest that it might be a good thing if the discussion of the Bill were regarded not so much as a discussion on a Bill as a discussion on a White Paper, and that the Government should adopt the procedure followed in other respects with great success—take it away again in the light of the opinions that have been expressed and bring back a Bill which would be simpler to understand and, at least, let us know what the actual purposes of the Government were. I am inclined, on the whole, still to think that that might be the best procedure. I do not think any Parliamentary time would be lost by it. Indeed, it might facilitate the business of the House. I make the suggestion for what it may be worth.
Hon. Members who have preceded me have spoken in some detail about various aspects of the Bill and of some of its provisions, about the special position of the Board of Trade and of the Minister of Town and Country Planning, who is not able to be in his place during the discussion of a Bill which vitally affects all his plans and responsibilities in very great detail. My own feeling as an orderly Member of the House of Commons is that it is definitely contrary to the trend of legislation which the people of the country and the House of Commons have been setting their minds on since the early days of the war, namely, a determination to take thought for tomorrow and to secure the orderly development of our affairs. It has taken us ten years in Parliament to decide to get rid of that chaotic process by which a whole series of Ministers acting in compartments concentrated their attention on the subject of social insurance in such a way as to develop a system in which it was possible to have five or six means tests operating in one household for very much the same purpose. That we have got rid of. We have been giving our minds to town and country planning. We have appointed a Commission to consider the utilisation of rural land and the loca- tion of industry. They have done all these things hoping to plan our future in co-ordination and good order.
But to-day we come to this disorderly incursion into the trend of thought and legislative purpose. On no ground except the general ground of its purpose has anyone been able to find any reason for the Bill at all. It is for that reason that it seems to me the Bill is a mistake. I do not think the word "disorderly" is at all too strong. It is contrary to our national sentiment and the current trend of thought. There has been a great feeling aroused with regard to the rights of commoners, the closing of rights of way, the despoiling of natural parks, in the minds of all lovers of countryside, by the display of advertising. An important discussion took place within the last fortnight, and the Minister of Reconstruction, speaking in another place, said he welcomed the Motion on that subject but that it did not go far enough, or words to that effect.
What will be the effect of this Bill on public opinion? The Bill is misplaced. I will not detain the House by dealing with any special aspect of the Bill. The Chancellor has made some important concessions or suggestions and has given certain undertakings. We would like to consider them. Some of them seem to go a very long way. We would like to consider the absence from the Bill of any right of entry for the Minister of Town and Country Planning, who is only indirectly referred to, and also the position of the Minister of Agriculture. There is also no right of representation of interested parties who are concerned with the preservation of commons and the countryside, such as ramblers' associations, who have been so active in this matter because they are deeply moved. I freely recognise the ability with which my right hon. Friend has dealt with these far-reaching proposals and met the views which have been expressed, but I still think that it would save Parliamentary time if the Bill were treated as a White Paper and were re-introduced with the proposals of the Chancellor embodied in it.
I agree very much with my hon. Friends who moved and seconded the Amendment. I think that this Bill has been introduced in the. wrong way. Everyone admits the necessity of liquidating some of the commitments which the Government have necessarily had to make during the war, but I am sure the Chancellor will agree that the people who have been hurt perhaps more than anyone else are those who are contented in country life, such as landowners and farmers, and local authorities who own common land and have spent money and time in developing it. They are the people who will in so many cases suffer very seriously through this Bill. It is very difficult to argue about this Bill because the Chancellor has given us. different variations of what his intentions are, and they seem to me to be quite different from what is in the Bill. I am reminded of the old saying about good intentions leading us to a place where we do not want to go. We have to argue our points on the Bill as it is written. As it is written, there are a great many injustices in it which affect many classes, especially in the country.
I suppose that Berkshire is one of the most beautiful counties in England. [Interruption.] At all events, the commons in Berkshire are more numerous and beautiful than in most counties, and the people of the county are very interested in keeping them as beauty spots. The Berkshire County Council have three criticisms to make of this Bill. They consider, first, that insufficient regard has been paid to any public interest other than that of finance. That is a very common criticism and the Chancellor should particularly look into it. When we come to a question of altering the whole outlook in the English countryside, there are a great many other points of view besides that of finance from which it should be regarded. The Chancellor said at the beginning of his speech that the Bill fulfilled all three points, but the Attorney-General will agree that when we come to deal with land and land legislation, there are not three points, but more like thirty-three which have to be considered. This Bill will interfere with various Acts dealing with land which have not been thought of, and in many of the cases that have been and will be brought forward the Bill will do nothing except to make things worse.
I agree with the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), that a White
Paper should first have been brought in, and other Ministries should have been consulted beside the Treasury and the three Service Ministries. As an old soldier, I know what it means for the Army to be dumped down on a place. They have not much idea of production, but only of destruction. They dig trenches and knock down walls in trying out their new mechanical contrivances. It is always destruction, as is shown in dozens of places in the countryside. There is no one on the proposed Commission who will represent the town and country planning interests or agriculture or any of the different aspects of the countryside. I should like to read a little letter from the Mayor of Newbury, which appeared in "The Times," about one of the most beautiful commons in Berkshire, comprising 88o acres just outside the town, in which he said:
During the war the whole of the land (together with a large area adjoining) has been requisitioned and an aerodrome, with numerous buildings and runways, constructed thereon. Unless the land is returned to the council, the public—and particularly the inhabitants of Newbury and district—will loose a common which for countless years has been one of the beauty spots of this part of the country. Some drastic amendment of the Bill is needed to ensure that this kind of thing shall not happen.
I do not see why the people of Newbury should not be as much entitled to a park and a beauty spot as the people of London with their Hyde Park. Under this Bill, whether it is the intention of the Commission or not, many of the buildings that have been erected at Newbury may be left, and all the time, trouble and money that have been spent to help the workers in the factories at Newbury will have been wasted.
It is not only the common lands that are affected. I want to consider some of the difficulties of farmers and landowners of neighbouring lands. Clause 5 (2) talks about giving power to the Government to take neighbouring lands. Whatever the Chancellor says his intentions are, I would like to get this clear. There are many farmers, both little and big, occupying land outside commons and aerodromes, who are threatened by this Measure. They want to make their plans now, and, as soon as they are allowed to get the material, to carry out work on water and electricity supplies in order to bring their farms up-to-date. I have a pathetic letter from an owner near one aerodrome who is in this position. The position under this Bill of land outside aerodromes will make it impossible for the farmers and owners to produce for the next two or three years. How long are Government officials going to be in making up their minds whether they want to take neighbouring land? In the meantime, all such land will go derelict after four years of hard work on the part of farmers and owners in trying to keep it up. This Bill will hinder production just at a time when the whole of Europe wants more food grown here.
The second point of objection which the Berkshire Council Council put forward is that the proposal to constitute the Commission in the manner proposed by the Bill is not calculated to command confidence in its complete impartiality and independence. I have already referred to this point, but I think it is a matter of vital importance that we should have a Commission on which are represented agricultural as well as town and country planning interests. Otherwise, it will do more harm than good. We have also to remember such industries as forestry. There are quite a number of places where the Government have camps in forests, and if they are not removed it will very much hinder forestry, which we want to encourage, because it will give employment to many men who come back from the war and because the industry is of vital importance to the future of the country. The third objection of the Berkshire County Council is that there should be more secure Parliamentary control over the powers to acquire land, especially land which is subject to agreements or restrictive covenants entered into or imposed in the public interests, and that any proposal to acquire such land or to release it from such agreements or covenants should, if objected to, proceed only if approved by Parliament. When public authorities, such as local authorities and Electricity Commissioners, want to do certain things which affect public rights, there has to be a public inquiry and the matter may go upstairs through the Private Bill procedure. Any person who objects has a right of stating his objection and having it properly heard and considered. The matter then comes down to the House and can be discussed. I know that it is a lengthy procedure, but when binding legal covenants, such as settlements and trusts, are to be interfered with, the best way to deal with them is by some such procedure as that of our Private Bill legislation.
In war-time such legislation as this might very likely be necessary, but this is a peace-time Measure, and it is wholly unfair and unjust in peace-time to impose war-time restrictions and commitments on those who have already suffered a great deal to help the country through, and who have done so without any grumbling and have been only too glad to do it. If the Government want to build in peacetime a happier and more contented England, they would do better to encourage landowners and farmers to produce, and not to hinder them by destroying their freedom of action as this Bill will do. If the Government want to keep the character of the people in the countryside and keep faith with the local authorities who are owners of common rights, if they want to enable workers in the factories to have beautiful places to go to near their homes, they must do more to preserve amenities than this Bill does and have on the Commission representation of the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I look upon the Bill as a Fascist Measure, and I would ask the Chancellor to withdraw it and replace it with one which gives more freedom to the individual.
The Bill has met with a good deal of criticism from more quarters than one. The only criticism with which I am not in agreement, is the demand that the Bill should be made simpler and more intelligible to the ordinary man because I think it is asking for more than can reasonably be required. It is impossible to legislate about land in such a way as not to arouse passionate feeling and to avoid complication. Land affects the activities of the country at every stage, and the complication of the subject is due to the fact that the human society upon the land is immensely complicated in structure. Apart from this the criticisms which have been put forward are largely well-founded. I could have regretted that it was not possible at an earlier stage to withdraw the Bill for recasting, as the Committee stage might then have been considerably shorter, and a great deal of the feeling which has been engendered by the way in which the Measure has been presented to the House might have been avoided.
Nevertheless, I could not help feeling, as the Chancellor spoke this morning and as we heard the various learned and eloquent speeches that were made after him, that the gulf separating him from his critics had grown smaller as a result of what was said. I think he convinced us of one thing; he showed that his heart is in the right place. It is true that that is not quite enough. He persuaded us that his conception of public policy is the right conception, but very difficult questions of application and of drafting must arise in regard to the Bill. We must not, every time we pass a Bill, erect two systems of law, one which has to he applied by the courts and is contained in the Measure as printed, and the other contained in a jungle of assurances, concessions, interpretations and Ministerial directions which give a totally different complexion to the legal instrument. It is not that we doubt that the Chancellor will keep his word or fear that a Chancellor of another party complexion will greatly misuse his powers but that it is a fundamental principle of good legislation that it should say what it means, and mean what it says. Nothing short of drastic amendment in Committee stage will be required if we are to put into the Bill words embodying the assurances which we have received.
The Bill is rather like a bad novel. Having got to the point on the last page of the book where the hero is united with a totally unsuitable partner for life, most of us then want to know what he is going to do when he leaves the church. This is a Bill for the public acquisition of land and rights in land. One thing that the Bill does not say is what is going to be clone with the land when it is acquired. Some of it, we learned from the Chancellor, is to be disposed of, some of it to be used and some kept. I cannot help agreeing whole-heartedly with the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) that a White Paper ought to have accompanied the introduction of the Bill telling us the policy which was to be pursued after the Bill had been agreed to by Parliament. Otherwise we are being asked to agree to something very much in the nature of a blank cheque.
In the Committee stage we shall insist on the insertion of words to give greater precision to the circumstances which ought to weigh with the Government in the exercise of their powers, and which must affect the Commission in the control they will exercise over the proceedings of the Government. It was not altogether reasonable for the Chancellor to complain of the very wide feeling of dissatisfaction at the weight which appears to have been given in the Bill to the purely financial aspect of the matter. The complaint has arisen spontaneously in many different quarters, and drastic amendment will be required if the complaint is to be wholly removed. Take, for instance, only the complaint of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. Their general comment is that the Bill, coming from the Treasury, is designed to make as much money and, to save as much money as possible in respect of lands requisitioned for purposes arising out of the prosecution of the war. It seems to find its reflection in the language of the Bill. It is not only that the Commission is to be appointed by the Treasury on such terms as the Treasury may think fit and without further definition, but that when one looks at the circumstances in which land may be acquired and at the principles on which the Commission may act, one finds a totally disproportionate weight attached in the language of the Bill to purely financial considerations.
Clause II appears to be the governing Clause. It says:
The Commission, in considering any proposals referred to them, shall have regard to all relevant considerations and, subject to the provisions of this Section, shall recommend what in their opinion is in all the circumstances reasonable.
The provisions of "this Section" thereupon set out the various considerations to which particular regard shall be had in any particular case. In the first of these we find the cost of the works coming first, the financial advantage which would accrue coming second, aril the degree of loss or hardship coming third. I cannot but believe that, properly construed, the effect of that provision would be to subordinate the general phrase "all relevant considerations" to the particular phrases which the relevant Sub-sections introduce. Whether or not that be so, and whether that was what the Government intended or not, I believe the House will demand a much more precise and clear statement from the Government in regard to the language which is ultimately to appear in the Measure.
What should our dominant consideration be? It is true that the financial aspect is legitimate and important, but it must be subordinate to the public interest in the broadest possible sense. It must take into account the location of industry and the preservation of amenities, as well as the need for the restoration of agricultural land to its pre-war state of productivity. It must also remember the rights of the public in the enjoyment of open spaces and commons, and of features of national beauty. I believe that this House will demand that Clause II should be drastically amended so as to include language of that kind. I believe it will also demand that, where commons are acquired, a totally new procedure will be necessary before the House will give the Bill its Third Reading.
I turn to one or two considerations about the composition and powers of the Commission. I thought that the Chancellor did not wholly understand the criticisms when he suggested that the complaint against the Commission was simply that all commissions appointed by the Treasury were subordinate to Government control. Of course, that is not so. The Treasury appoints Commissions for various legitimate purposes. The broad point is that this is not a Commission of the kind which is used by the Government to inquire into questions of fact which might legitimately be considered an instrument of the Executive. It is to be a quasijudicial body, and, therefore, in our opinion, it should be under the patronage of the Lord Chancellor. According to our Constitution, the Lord Chancellor is the proper vehicle of judicial patronage, because he is the bridge between the Executive and the judiciary.
We go further. We do not believe it is sufficient to ask Parliament to state, in broad terms, that the Commission should consist of a chairman, and such other members as the Treasury may think expedient and for such a term as the Treasury may determine, without further definition. Words should be added to the Bill which indicate broadly the kind of experience which shall be demanded, and will be represented on the Commission when set up. As regards their authority, I must confess I was much attracted originally by the proposal put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) that the decision of the Commission should be in all circumstances final, but on consideration I cannot go as far as that. Questions of town planning and location of industry, which will undoubtedly come within the purview of the Commission, must affect national policy, and therefore must ultimately be within the control of this House. We shall insist that the Minister shall not be free to override the Commission and simply report to this House without a provision in the Bill whereby some Resolution of this House will ultimately be the determining factor.
Finally, there was a great deal of force in the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). The powers of the Secretary of State for Air, and it may be other Defence Ministers, are too wide, independently of the Bill, to escape further definition within the scope of the Bill. If we are going to set up this elaborate machinery with the kind of safeguard which is either in the Bill or which we shall put in before the Third Reading, we must demand, when a suitable case arises, that that machinery shall be used. My hon. Friend said that the Secretary of State for Air would be under no obligation to use it at all, his powers going well outside the ambit of defence and covering airfields required for civil aviation. We should get some assurance that where an airfield has been requisitioned by the Secretary of State for Air it will not first be brought under Section 26 of the Air Navigation Act, and then disposed of to some speculative aerodrome proprietor, without regard to the provisions of this Bill.
These criticisms appear to me to present a formidable indictment of this Bill. I am not myself without hope that, on the Committee stage, these criticisms can be removed by drastic Amendments. I do not want it to be thought that we are seeking to refuse the Government power for the speedy restoration of this country to a decent and orderly aspect after the war. I certainly shall not oppose the Second Reading, but equally I hope that the Government will show themselves as conciliatory on the Committee stage, when we come to alter the phraseology of the Bill, as they have shown themselves generous in assurances when they were asking for a Second Reading.
I am one of those who do not believe that this Bill requires any very drastic amendment at all, after the Chancellor's explanation. This Bill is founded on a principle, in which I and my colleagues wholeheartedly believe, the principle that when public money has been expended upon the improvement of property, as far as possible, the benefit of that improvement should inure to the public who provided the funds.
The major aspect is in relation to improvements. As the Chancellor said this morning, we are not concerned with defence works, and it is in the sphere of defence works that most of the deterioration is found. Where the community has acquired, under acquisition, a piece of land worth £20,000, and has erected upon it a factory at a cost of £500,000, without a Bill of this kind, when the powers of requisitioning cease, arid the land must be returned, the fortunate owner of the land will be presented with a factory worth £500,000. Surely there is no one on either side of this Chamber who will differ from the view that some legislation is necessary to deal with a situation of that kind. With that as its basis, I wholeheartedly support the Bill. But I also have some suggestions to offer for its improvement, not in the direction which has been indicated from the other side, but in the direction of making more land acquirable for public use than will be acquirable under the terms of the Bill as they now are, and within the limitations laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The procedure under the Bill is that acquisition is imposed upon requisition by the requisitioning Minister. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) has referred to the needs of agriculture. We have in this country literally hundreds of aerodromes, most of them built by using good agricultural land. When this Bill comes into operation, the question will arise of restoring these aerodromes for agricultural purposes. Who is the Minister charged with the duty—I beg the pardon of the House—not charged with any duty, but given the power, if he thinks fit, to acquire the land on which the aerodrome is built? Is it the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries? He knows what could be done with the land if it were restored; he knows the best use to which it could be put, he knows the form in which it should be restored to agriculture. But he does not appear in the Bill at all. He is not mentioned in the Clauses; his name does not appear on the back of the Bill. And yet, in the course of this war, under the powers of requisitioning and otherwise, we have taken something like 800,000 acres of agricultural land out of use.
The authority which is to decide about this matter is the Secretary of State for Air. With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I would ask, What does he know about agriculture, except that possibly between the huts upon his aerodromes there are a few rows of potatoes and cabbages, and that under his aegis various other forms of agricultural activity are carried on? I suggest to the House that he is not the right authority to decide whether and how the land of these aerodromes should be restored to agriculture. And we shall need these acres after the war. In the century which, in this country, saw the biggest advance that agriculture has ever seen, in the 18th century, all the enormous advances made under the guidance of "Turnip" Townsend and Coke of Norfolk, when agriculture was going up by leaps and bounds, it took a whole century to add 2,000,000 acres to the agricultural land of this country, and in five years the amount of agricultural land that has been taken out of use—
A figure has been mentioned both by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) and my hon. and learned Friend who is now speaking, with regard to the land under aerodromes. Those figures are very much in excess of reality. The figure is more in the neighbourhood of 300,000 acres. I thought my hon, and learned Friend would like to know.
I certainly accept the figures given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but the figure of 800,000 acres which I gave earlier was not limited to aerodromes. It was the total amount of agricultural land which has been taken for war purposes. I propose to deal with some of the other types of land later, but 300,000 acres for aerodromes is a very serious figure in itself.
Just look at the possibilities. Nobody in his senses would imagine that the right thing to do with an aerodrome, when its use has ceased, is to hand it back, marked out in white lines, with fields, paddocks, coppices and lanes as they were before it was requisitioned. Here is a large area of land which has been cleared and drained. It requires, in the first place, restoration to its condition of agricultural land, and we have the assurance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer this morning that it is the intention of the Government to use their powers to restore such land, and that indeed is the only possible solution. It is no use handing it back as it is. It will require the same vast machinery of bull-dozers and other equipment to tear up these concrete runways, as it took to build them. The land must be restored, and I accept the Government's assurance that when the aerodromes are not needed any more the land will, in fact, be duly restored. Having restored it, here we have a large area of drained and excellent land. We are giving power to the Minister—why should it not be, I suggest to the House, a duty upon the Minister—to acquire such a magnificent piece of, land. What an opportunity to experiment in large scale farming, an experiment which this House has once approved, and which would have been in operation to-day had not another place taken a different view from this House upon the matter. Here are great opportunities, and the possibility of using them is not sufficiently emphasised in the Bill we are considering.
Let us turn to other possibilities. Take the case of other land. The Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned this morning with pride the protection that was given to dwelling houses. We on this side of the House will join with him wholeheartedly in seeking to protect the interests of those who dwell in the houses. As the Bill now stands, the protection for dwelling houses extends for the benefit not only of those who dwell in them, but those who own them as well. For my part, I am not prepared to see the special position afforded to the dwelling house extended to those who do not dwell in them. Let me take two types. Take the houses that were requisitioned for A.R.P. and other purposes in London in the early days of the war. A great many of them were, in fact, large dwelling houses, but nobody was living in them. They were too big for the tastes at that time. They were waiting for a favourable opportunity to be turned into flats, or for restrictive covenants to be lifted to enable businesses to go there, and the A.R.P. service took them over for offices. Under the Bill as it now is, the owner can go along and say, "This was a dwelling house, and I want the special position given under the Bill to dwelling houses." There ought to be protection against that kind of imposition.
Take the other type. The Bill refers to dwelling houses and the lands round them, and to parks. Why should parks be specifically mentioned—not the kind of parks to which the public go; it is the parks from which the public are excluded which are mentioned in this Bill? A great many of the large houses of the countryside have, in the course of the war, been requisitioned in order to provide camps. The old houses themselves are ideal places for the regimental headquarters and the officers' mess, and the adjacent parkland provides useful ground for the hutments. Why is it that large houses of this kind, that were scarcely lived in at all, that were falling to pieces, should secure special protection under this Bill?
I know that the Minister of Education would be only too glad to have many of them as summer camps and summer schools. There are already two difficulties: the protection of the alleged dwelling house, and the fact that the authority to acquire requisitioned property is the Secretary of State for War, and not the Minister of Education. There is nothing in the Bill to enable the Minister of Education to set the machinery in motion. I suggest that another way in which this Bill can be improved for the acquisition of requisitioned land for public purposes is to qualify the definition of a dwelling house.
There has been considerable comment upon the composition of the Commission which is to adjudicate upon the claims of the various Ministers who acquire land. I agree with the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) that their terms of reference are not specific enough. We on this side believe also that their composition is not suitable to ensure that other considerations than financial ones are sufficiently borne in mind. But their composition is clear. I am glad to see that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson) is in his place, because I
should like to take tins opportunity to cure some of the misapprehensions that he must have unwittingly created in the public mind in a contribution of his to the columns of the national newspaper "The Times." He went out of his way to point out to his colleagues on that side that they had better not be too critical of this Bill, because they would find in it a Commission which had been given more powers, by implication, to prevent the public acquisition of land than has been given to inquiring bodies under other similar forms of legislation. But he quite misled the readers of "The Times" in discussing what their function was. He compared their function with that of an inquiry held—as they used to be held before the war—by the Minister of Health, into town and country planning provisions. He said:
Parliament would do well to insist in every case on the right of an owner of property sought to be compulsorily acquired, whether large or small, to a proper judicial determination of his case, such as that which this Bill seems to contemplate.
I certainly do; and so, I think, will other Members when I have explained to them what exactly is the function of a tribunal of inquiry in relation to such matters as town and country planning. This House saw fit to pass, more than once, Acts to secure that the towns of this country should be properly planned. It authorised local planning bodies, popularly elected, responsible to their electorates, to look into all the circumstances, and to prepare proper plans for the development of their areas. That having been done, Parliament said, "These plans shall become law if they are approved by the Minister, and if there are objections the Minister shall have regard to those objections."
What does the Minister do? He has the plan brought before him by the local authority. There are objections. He goes down himself—that is what it amounts to, although in fact he sends an inspector on his behaIf—and, with the plan in front of him and the objectors before him, he sees whether the plan is one that he can approve. The Minister is not on his trial: the planning authority is not in the dock. The Minister is carrying out the functions enjoined upon him by Parliament. To suggest—and this is what would happen if the principle set out by the hon. and learned Member were followed—Ahat every planning scheme, or scheme for the acquisition of a site for a school, is to be subject to some form of judicial inquiry, would, I have no doubt, please the hon. and learned Member, and would, I have no doubt, please most Members on the other side of the House, because it would mean the hamstringing of the whole plan. It would hang it up indefinitely. That is precisely what is being sought in this Debate by hon. Members on the other side. The protests about commons and footpaths, and all the complications that are raised, are, in essence, I am sure, nothing but seizing a grand opportunity to try to prevent the passage of a Bill which achieves the magnificent objective of bringing more of the land of this country under the control of the people of this country.
I suppose it is a long time since a Bill was presented to this House which aroused so much criticism, anxiety, and apprehension, not only inside the House, but in wide circles outside. In the very b ingratiating speech of the Chancellor so much was admitted, because he made in prospect so many concessions to those criticisms, to those anxieties, and to those apprehensions. Many of my fellow-Members have come down to-day prepared to debate what is in this Bill, and, having listened to the Chancellor, with his indications of how much shall be modified or taken out of the Bill, they find it difficult to deliver the speeches over which they have spent so much time and care. It has been suggested by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) that it might have been desirable either to regard this Bill as a White Paper or to follow the White Paper technique, so often adopted by the Government recently, and get the general feeling of the House before the Government were committed to the introduction of a Bill for Second Reading. I believe that this Bill was not by any means the first draft presented to the Government for consideration, and that this Bill has met with their final approval. Therefore, it would probably be useless to add to those appeals which have already been made, that the Government should withdraw this Bill, and think again, in the light of the criticisms made in the Debate, and particularly in the light of the concessions adumbrated by the Chancellor.
There is no doubt, even with those proposals which he says may be made in Committee, that this Bill, if it is to receive the general approbation of this House, will have to be very drastically amended. The ordinary Amendments of a Bill on the Committee stage are generally matters of detail, of greater or lesser importance, but here it seems to me—and I am reinforced by some of the indications given by the Chancellor—there will have to be major surgical operations. That seems to reinforce the plea for a reconsideration and the incorporation of those Amendments which the Government propose to make, so that we may have a coherent Measure, embodying their second thoughts. That is, however, probably too much to expect; so we are faced with the Second Reading today. It would be ungracious not to admit that the Chancellor has made many concessions, Therefore, I have no doubt that the Bill will have, if not an unopposed, at least a nearly unopposed, Second Reading. For myself, I do not propose to go into tie Lobby against it. But just hearing what the Chancellor has had to say to us is not quite the same thing as studying those proposals in black and white. It is difficult to imagine exactly what those proposed changes mean. But I should not like the Chancellor to imagine that, because he may get an unopposed, or practically unopposed, Second Reading, that means that those criticisms, anxieties, and apprehensions of which I have spoken have been altogether relieved, and that he is going to have an easy passage for this Bill through the Committee stage. That is another argument in favour of reconsideration, and of not pressing this Measure in its present form.
I was saying that a good many of the criticisms and speeches which have been prepared for the Debate have been rather interfered with by the speech of the Chancellor. I would like to concentrate on three considerations, with regard to the future amendment of this Bill or of those features of it which, even if amended along the lines which the Chancellor indicated, do not, to me at any rate, give complete satisfaction. First, I will speak of the composition, the powers, and the terms of reference of the proposed Commission. The Chancellor has argued why it is desirable that this should be a Treasury-appointed Commission. I find his arguments unconvincing. It may be quite true that there is no intention that the Treasury should override anything, but I want to emphasise, in one or two minutes, that the provision for the Treasury to appoint this Commission is symptomatic of the atmosphere which runs through the whole of this Bill—that is, that the economic considerations are more important than those of justice and fair play.
It has been suggested, with good argument, by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) that the Lord Chancellor is the proper person to appoint anyhow the chairman of this Commission. I would like to endorse that suggestion, because I believe that that is the very thing which is not going to cause a great deal of difficulty, but which will allay a very great deal of this apprehension which is so widespread. The Chancellor himself has indicated that he was prepared to widen very much the personnel of the Commission. A great deal of the criticism was concentrated on the complete omission of the Ministers of Town and Country Planning and Agriculture, and, though the Chancellor has indicated that it was an omission, I would ask why it needed a Second Reading speech by a Minister of the Crown to find out that it was an omission. Surely it should have been known before this Measure was presented to us? It is only reasonable that those who are concerned with these important considerations of the user of land should be disturbed at the provisions which they find actually in the Bill.
With regard to powers, no doubt, in the majority of cases, the decisions of this Commission will be final. I myself believe that the decisions of the Commission should be such as will arouse a complete sense of trust and confidence in the country and a feeling that the personnel of the Commission can be relied upon to give a correct and final decision. I think it would be most objectionable if the decisions of the Commission could be overridden, as it were, by the Minister of any one, Department. If the findings of the Commission are considered by the Government, or by any Department of it, to be inconsistent with the interests of the nation as a whole, particularly from the point of view of defence, then, surely, in some form—and I do not think the form of a Prayer, which really looks all right on paper but very seldom works out, is suitable—the Government should bring the matter to this House of Commons, which, as the Chancellor himself has said, is the final court of appeal. They could put their case to us, on any occasion when they thought the Commission had erred, and ask the House of Commons to give them authority to override that decision. This procedure would get rid of a large amount of the anxiety now felt. In regard to the terms of reference, the Chancellor has already indicated that they could be widened, and they surely should be, to include all these particular matters to which I have alluded and which have caused so much distress to people who think that so many interests which should be vital have been overlooked.
That is my first objection to the Bill. The second, which I have touched upon, is the provision that there can be an overriding decision by Government Departments. I do not press that matter now, because it is covered in what I have already said, but it is necessary that something should be put into the Bill to allay these fears. My third and final point is that this Bill smacks of a cheeseparing economy. Although the Government assure us that that is not the case, it looks as if the main consideration had been how to save the State money in various directions in compensation which it would normally be incumbent upon the State to find. It is true that we here in this House of Commons are the guardians of the national purse, but we are also guardians of something which, I think, is of infinitely greater importance. This old country of ours is carrying the scars of years of war, many inflicted by the enemy and many inflicted by ourselves owing to the exigent demands of war time. It is up to us, as trustees of that heritage, to do all that we can to eliminate those scars and replace the conditions that existed before; to do what is right and proper, even if it costs money; to reinstate those rights and privileges which our people have uncomplainingly given up, because they felt that every effort should be made to bring the war to a successful conclusion. That principle, I maintain, and not the economic one, should be the thread upon which this Bill hangs; otherwise, we shall find ourselves selling our heritage for a mess of pottage.
I will not detain the House for long, for I appreciate that a large number of Members wish to speak on this highly controversial but very important Measure. Many hon. Members who have already spoken have criticised this Bill from the point of view of agriculture, and, though I endorse nine-tenths of what they said from the point of view of the countrymen and the countryside, I would like to say a few words from the equally important point of view of the townspeople. With due respect to the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes), who spoke as if this Measure was. opposed because it was getting in the way of private interest, I would like to point out that the great populations in the towns are rightly concerned about what is going to happen in future to the countryside, which is daily, from their point of view, getting smaller and smaller. They feel very strongly that rights of way, access to mountains and other remaining rights in the countryside will be very severely curtailed if this Bill goes through in its present state.
I have a letter here from a ramblers' association representing the whole of the West of England, most of whose members are congregated in the towns and who are very seriously perturbed. They have written me a long and carefully considered argument complaining that
agriculture and general amenities, public recreation and access have been almost completely omitted from the scope of the Bill. In their narrow terms of reference, we feel that the Commissioners will be at the whim of Service Departments and unable to give, consideration to broad national interests.
That is what the townspeople fear—that the Commission suggested under the Bill will not give proper consideration to broad national interests, and we have an example, which no one so far has mentioned, practically under our noses in the Slough trading estate. To establish vital war industry, some of the best wheat-growing country in South Bucks was taken arbitrarily during the last war, and, instead of it being given back to agriculture, it was instead included for distribution in a sort of national jumble sale to private enterprise. I believe two or three people went bankrupt because
the final effect—that some light industries were arbitrarily brought to the South of England which would have been very much better placed in the Northern part of England where unemployment had became rife. I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House do not want that sort of thing to happen again after this war.
Next, I would like to refer to the serious perturbation on the part of townspeople in regard to land belonging to or under the control of local authorities. For the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken for the Labour Party does not appear to appreciate that this Bill refers equally to land requisitioned from public ownership as from private individuals, and of which nothing has been seen in the Press. I refer to the large amount of land requisitioned in the early days of the war and belonging to the city councils, such as is the case in my own constituency, where, being a very up-to-date and modern-minded local authority, they built a large and expensive airport, which was requisitioned at the outbreak of war and on which the Government have erected various buildings. What is going to happen to those buildings at the end of the war? Will the local authority in my constituency have to pay a very high price for them, or will they be put in the market and sold to private enterprise over the head of the local authority? There are other such sites which have been taken over, and we, in my constituency, are greatly concerned about as to what will happen to the Government buildings which have been erected in, for instance, dock areas. The city of Bristol owns its own docks, but Government buildings have been put up during the last four years, and we are much concerned about the cost of betting them back as well as requisitioned buildings and sites.
In conclusion, on behalf of the people who live in blitzed and blighted cities, I would like to say that we are gravely concerned about what will be the effect of this Measure, which I suggest with respect is a glorified "white elephant sale" and at least may be said to be very arbitrary in the way in which it concerns individuals and the people as a whole. Therefore, I want to associate myself with those hon. Members who are pressing that this Measure should be taken back for further and more detailed consideration.
I think some Measure of this kind is necessary to deal with the existing situation. The question, however, is whether this Bill is able to meet the position. I take the view that the Bill, when certain changes are made, can meet it. I think, however, that it will have to have certain quite important alterations in it in order to meet what is necessary. In general, I think it will be agreed by everyone that the State has the right to dispose of its war-time assets in the best ways possible in the interests of national finance, but that, of course, is not the whole consideration, and my fear is that the Bill does not appear to take any other considerations into account at all. It seems to show a complete lack of imagination. It proceeds as if the Scott and Barlow Reports had never existed at all; as if there was no such thing as a public interest in planning and development of sites. It is pure financial interests and the disposing of property of the State in the best possible way. It savours of utilitarianism and Victorian laissez-faire on almost every page, and the outcry which has been caused in the country by the production of this Bill would not have taken place if these considerations had been thought of and had appeared in the text of the Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has to come to the House and try to explain away certain passages and assure public opinion that it is not as bad as all that.
The public interest is not solely concerned with war-time assets but is very much concerned with the development and the planning of our cities in future, with industrial zoning, housing and all that. It is possible to consider that all these might be left out of consideration if we take solely as the criterion the disposal of war-time assets in the best possible way. The Noble Lady the Member for Central Bristol (Lady Apsley) has given a very good example from Slough. There are others up and down the country of a similar kind which are a terrible reflection on our lack of understanding of how to preserve the beauties of this country and its amenities. It would have made our far-off ancestors in the 18th century turn in their graves, and it is a terrible reflection on what has happened as a result of 150 years of industrial revolution that we have completely killed all sense of artistic values and amenities. This generation, I hope, is going to do something to try and acquire again the spirit of the 18th Century which made England beautiful and prevented it from becoming ugly, while at the same time allowing a certain degree of economic and industrial development. All these things must be considered.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that in Clause 11 the words "all relevant considerations" will deal with this and make it possible for amenities, town planning and common rights to be considered. I have read through that Clause carefully since he said that; I may not have a sufficiently legal brain to understand it thoroughly, but I am not satisfied. It does not seem to be enough. We must have in that Clause something much more specific that what is there now. The kind of alteration I wish to see would enable local authorities to continue with their planning without having specific war-time sites or aerodromes disposed of which would cut across their plans. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it will not be so, but I wish to see it made quite watertight. I agree with the general point of view held by my hon. Friends on these benches and particularly referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. M. Hughes) that the State should have the right to acquire land as and where necessary for public developments. I am not concerned with private interests. A great deal of criticism is directed from the benches opposite in the direction of private interests. I think that they will be well looked after in this Bill—perhaps too much looked after—but I am very much concerned with the public interest. There seems to be provision in the Bill to prevent anything in the nature of profiteering in site values. I take it that compensation will be paid to private owners of these sites on the basis of the 1939 value; somewhere along the lines of the Town and Country Planning Act of last Session which provides that kind of compensation. That Act is not mentioned in this Bill, but I would like whoever replies for the Government to give an assurance that that is going to be the general basis of compensation, so that there will be nothing in the nature of profiteering by private interests out of the war-time activities of the State.
Again, I agree with the principle of the setting up of the War Works Commission, with power to adjudicate and recommend on the disposal of properties. This Commission is to be a kind of special tribunal with, at least in part, judicial powers. I am also in agreement with the Chancellor's argument that where high policy is involved the last word should not rest with the Commission but with the responsible Government executive. But where there is a purely financial question and no other consideration comes in the Commission might well be allowed to decide and its decision be final. I would not agree to the tribunal deciding on matters of high policy, which it seems some hon. Members opposite wish. That is quite wrong. This House has the right to have the last word, which is again contained in the Bill, either in the form of a Prayer or Resolution. This House can say "Yea" or "Nay." We should strike a reasonable balance between the public interest on the one hand, the rights of the Executive and the rights of this House as the supreme legislature on the other.
On the whole, the Government seem to have struck the right balance in this, but my criticism is rather over the composition of this Commission. It should not consist only of nominees of the Treasury. The fact that that is in the Bill has been responsible for much of the outcry in the country because it creates an impression that no interests other than financial will be considered, but will be pushed on one side. We want Treasury nominees, most certainly, but others as well, those who will understand not only the interests of the national finances but also consider the preservation of amenities, town and country planning, common rights, and so on. All these should in some way or other be represented upon this Commission. I hope that in Committee the Government will consider this matter.
Then there comes finally the question of commoners' rights. This is a very serious matter. I know something about this, because my constituency has probably the oldest common rights in England. In the Forest of Dean and the New Forest a large number of people have common grazing rights which extend back to the time of the Norman Kings, and are protected by our Common Law and by various judicial procedures. They cannot be interfered with except under due processes of law. We have a Verderers' Court which hears the claims and rights of the commoners. It all goes back to the time when the Norman Kings used the Dean Forest as a hunting preserve and the commoners were given these rights in order to compensate them for damage done by the King's deer. Those ancient rights are protected. Right through this Bill one would seem to see a complete lack of understanding that these rights exist. Quite likely a site might be sold which had originally a commoners' right on it, and no adequate compensation given. I am not satisfied even now that that will not be the case.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to Clause 26 and said that that would cover common rights. I have read through Clause 26, and I cannot see anything in that except very complicated wording and a good deal of reference to previous Acts, or, in other words, legislation by reference. That, again, is the cause of so much of the outcry in the country. Anyone reading this would not understand it. Common rights are not mentioned. I want to see that very definitely altered and an Amendment along those lines. I hope that it will at least be laid down that where common rights must be extinguished in the public interest, there will be adequate compensation either in cash or in the provision of other grazing rights. That is the law as it stands now. All those who have to deal with the acquisition of land for public purposes know about that, and we of the Forestry Commission know all about it too. If we want to acquire land on which there are common rights, there has to be a full inquiry and if one person objects to the acquisition of the land, the whole thing is held up. I do not want to see these old rights done away with but, at the same time, we must have means by which developments can take place in keeping with modem times. I wish to see this Clause amended in this way.
Therefore, if the Government will do it—and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has indicated a reasonableness on the part of the Government to meet these criticisms—the Bill should certainly be given a Second Reading. Its general principle is sound and is one which the House must accept, provided always that it avoids any conflict with the needs of to-day, namely, the systematic planning and development of our national heritage.
There is much in this Bill in respect of which my right hon. Friend in his speech to-day relieved my mind a great deal, but there is one very important question that I want to put to him or to whoever is replying for the Government. It troubles constituents in the New Forest a great deal, and I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) in his speech. The New Forest is Crown property, subject always to the commoners' rights over it. It is also a great national park. Will it be possible under this Bill to purchase compulsorily those commoners' rights, and for the Crown thereafter to sell, or otherwise deal with this land as if it were freehold? It is a big question, because some 7,500 acres at least of the New Forest are affected, and if their alienation from commoners and the public is possible I should be compelled to vote against the Bill unless I could get adequate assurances that this would be put right on the Committee stage. Can the Government answer that question?
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) and the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) called attention to the complexity of this Measure. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Yeovil (Sir G. Davies) said that he thought the speeches to-day had been greatly interfered with by the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement. Those two matters are very closely connected. If, in the last three or four weeks, the Press and the public had been made aware of what was in the mind of the Chancellor in regard to this Bill, I think the country might have been saved a great deal of confusion of thought and uncertainty. It is quite true that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman today has gone a long way to allay our fears, but I would like to make a suggestion to the House. It is not an original contribution. I have already heard it canvassed in various quarters. It seems to me that there is a growing case, When we are confronted with these numerous and complex Measures, for the Government's introductory statement on Second Reading—which cannot be seriously and intelligently debated by a workaday House of Commons immediately after it is delivered—to be printed and circulated as an annexe to the Bill when it is presented for a First Reading. That practice has been adopted recently with great success by the chairmen of important public companies before the annual meeting. The shareholders come to the meeting knowing what it is about, and I see no reason why we should not imitate the practice. The real Debate would then begin when the Orders of the Day are called.
The Minister concerned would wind up the discussion, and a great deal of time would be saved. I agree with those hon. Members who have said that a Bill of this kind is necessary. I listened with a great deal of attention to what my hon. Friend the Member of Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said, and I particularly noted and welcomed his simple and effective description of the war aims of the fighting soldier. I think, however, that those who are opposing this Bill wholesale are in danger of falling into a trap, and the trap is this: It seems to be their fundamental conception that the State can do no right and the individual can do no wrong. They think that the individual is the personification of culture and enlightenment, and that the State is the embodiment of decay and dissolution. They think that factories and their surrounding fields in the hands of the entrepreneur will flourish upon high standards of amenity; and they think that what might be an industrial garden city would, under State acquisition, inevitably be transformed into a wilderness. But that is not so, and the Bill itself—much fault as I shall presently have to find with it—disproves that contention. As the Chancellor pointed out to-day, it is sprinkled with references to the public interest and to considerations of amenity, though I consider those references should be amplified. The Ministers and the Commission are expressly required to observe certain values. The rights of commoners are meant to be safeguarded, though I think the assurances should be made doubly sure, and it is clear from more than one reference in the Bill—notably in Clause 8 (5) and in Clause 10—that acquisition is for the very purpose of facilitating a subsequent sale. Surely the general charge that the land once acquired by the State will be allowed to lie derelict is groundless and, if it is not groundless, then the same charge lies very well against private landlordism.
Having said that much, I would like to proceed with my criticisms of the Bill, and I will deal first with what might be called the Treasury aspect. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton said that our country would never stand finance as a governing consideration in its affairs, and I entirely agree with him. It is not only the tribulations of taxation which have imbued people in this country with a hearty and healthy dislike of the Treasury and all its ways, and I say that in spite of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer's kindly and progressive administration at the Treasury. The three public relations officers whom he has appointed might take note of this. The long-standing failure of the Treasury to get its story, if it has a story, across to the public is most marked. In the years before the war, when the Service Departments were sorely in need of a friend at court, the whole weight of Treasury influence was piled into the scales against them. The Treasury was pruning and cutting down long after this House had expressed itself overwhelmingly in favour of a large measure of rearmament, and now in this Bill, at the end of the war—
Yes, I am. In this Bill, at the end of the war, when the entire country wants war works areas to be converted to peace-time use, houses to be restored to their owners, agricultural land to revert to the farming community, and common lands to be reinstated for public enjoyment, the Treasury appears again as a mysterious influence, ranging itself this time with the Fighting Services against the citizen, dominating what ought to be an independent Commission, and infusing this whole Measure with narrow, catch-penny ideas of financial advantage. I think there is an excellent opportunity for the House to teach the Treasury a lesson in public psychology, and I hope that in the course of the passage of this Bill through the Committee stage we shall succeed in relegating the Treasury to its proper place among the more important Government Departments concerned. I would add this, that if the Treasury is to be the main co-ordinator of other Government Departments and the chief economic planning entity in the State, it is fully time that it applied itself more to matters affecting human rights and values, and less to the technique of banking and accountancy.
Hon. Members must really forgive me for entertaining strong feelings on this subject. A very large part of my constituency has been requisitioned for war purposes. Many hundreds of people have been uprooted. Farmers have been dispossessed and have been unable to till their fields. A whole village, complete with church and houses dating back to Tudor times, has been engulfed. Billeted troops have liberally discharged their firearms through windows and into old panelling. Tanks have torn up roads and crashed through fences and gateposts and into the walls of buildings. Hutments and establishments of every sort and kind have sprung up like mushrooms, pock-marking the downs and valleys. The fever of military destruction and improvisation has settled upon a tranquil corner of England famous to lovers of Thomas Hardy and beloved by holiday makers for the view of sea and coast.
What is to be the future of this kind of area under this Bill? Let me recall to the House the smooth words in Clause 5 (1):
Where there are Government war works on the land, the power of acquisition shall be exercisable if those works were constructed wholly or partly at the expense of the Crown … and, in the opinion of the Minister, either—
(a) the value of any of the works ought, by the acquisition of the land to be preserved … for the Crown ….
The fatal phraseology continues in Clause 9 (1):
Subject to the provisions of Sub-sections (5) and (6)"—
provisions which are insufficient for the purpose—
… where proposals involving the acquisition of land are referred to the Commission and the Commission report that the land or any part of it ought not to be acquired, the Minister may, if the ground, or one of the grounds, of the proposed acquisition was that the right to use or determine the use of works ought to be preserved or secured by the acquisition of the land, nevertheless proceed with the acquisition on that ground if he thinks fit to do so.…
It is quite clear that there is no appeal from a War Office decision that these areas must be retained for military purposes. Clause 11 as drafted, gives no powers to the Commission to hear evidence other than on the extent of pecuniary hardship of the owner where the ground for acquisition is that the value of the works ought to be preserved, and that is the ground in this case. The interest of the individual owner in reclaiming his land would be as nought compared with the interest of the War Office in retaining what amounts to scores of square miles of good tank country. Even this House has no redress. We are merely to be informed. In that connection I would like to welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said today, and I hope that we shall get an affirmative Resolution of this House as a necessary safeguard against a Government decision. However, as things stand, no representations can be made to any independent authority to move the mind of the Director of Military Training away from the idea that it would be a good thing for him to hang on to this land. He is judge in his own cause; there is no one to say to him, "Think again. The Dorset farmers want their land back. The coastal fishermen want their fishing rights restored. Exhausted factory workers want to hike again through villages and over the downs. Take your training establishments to the wilds of Scotland, to the North German plains, to France, to the Colonies, to India." There is no independent authority, under this Bill, which has the power, or is charged with the duty, to take evidence, even in secret, as to whether such propositions are or are not feasible.
We ought to amend this Bill to ensure that there is some appeal from the whims of the military mind. We all recognise the need for powerful armed forces in this country for many years to come; if that were not so this Bill would be rejected out of hand. But the civilian has his claims, too, and the Ministers for the great Civil Departments must be imported right into the body of this Measure to give due weight to the hopes and plans of the ordinary man, who is, after all, entitled to reinstatement in his home and occupation if only as a reward for the willingness and nobility of his sacrifices. I think this is a necessary Bill, and that it can be made a good Bill. There have been suggestions, notably that from the hon. Member for East Birkenhead, that it should be withdrawn. Having regard to the fact that there are at least 100 Amendments on the Order Paper, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made large concessions to-day, it might be convenient, on the whole, to consider such a course, but if the Chancellor thinks otherwise, and explains his reasons to the House, I, for one, shall not vote against the Second Reading.
My name is among those on the Order Paper in support of the Amendment by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) for the rejection of this Bill. I believe that the reasons why I put my name to that Amendment were sound when I did so, and that they are sound now, but before giving them I would like to make one or two general comments about the Bill. I think everybody will admit that this is a necessary Measure. A great deal of valuable work has been done all over the country, some on private land and some on common land, which should not be lost to the country, and it is out of the question that a private owner should be allowed to make any profit out of that work or from the war generally. But this Bill is not one which really deals with the winning of the war. It is not a vital Bill in that way. It is not a Bill like the Town and Country Planning Bill, which we discussed here before Christmas, and on which much of the comfort and welfare of our people depended, because until it was passed we could not begin our housing planning. In fact, the only side of this Bill which appears to me to be of immediate and vital urgency to our reconstruction is that part which deals with the transition from war to peace, of our factories. To some extent the Chancellor modified the fears we had about that matter, and has promised to keep the door open for further discussions.
As regards the question of the transition of factories, I think we should bear in mind that although it may profit our industries generally it represents, nevertheless, a very great threat to one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of our industries, namely, agriculture, which will be prejudiced at the expense of the others. Further this Bill shows a complete disregard for the modern doctrines of the location of industry, and jettisons the Barlow Report on that subject entirely. There are other Reports which bear on this subject, and which have been asked for by the Government—the Scott and Uthwatt Reports—and we have only to read the letters in the Press and our postbags to know what the country thinks of them and the way this Bill cuts across their recommendations.
This Bill seems to be mainly concerned with the transition from war to peace. There seems no reason why there should be haste or friction and why every consideration should not be given to the various interests concerned. On the other hand, there appears to be only one really fundamental basis that lies behind the provisions of this Bill, and that is economy. Coming from the Treasury I do not know whether we should criticise that, because for the Treasury economy is perhaps the first virtue. But that being so, were the Treasury really the party to undertake the framing of this Bill? I have at home a Bill which deals with rural water supplies, by means of which the Minister of Health wishes to construct certain things which will very much affect the Minister of Agriculture. I see on the back of that Bill the names of both those Ministers, and if, to the names of the Service Ministers backing the Measure we are discussing to-day, there could have been added the names of the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Town and Country Planning, who would thereby have had a hand in framing it, a great deal of criticism would have been avoided.
This Bill cuts across all modern ideas of town planning. The 80 years of work put into preserving open spaces in this crowded island seems to have been disregarded altogether. It proposes to use Acts nearly a century old, dating back to the time when we had no idea of the preservation of commons and open spaces and things of that sort. I would like to give one or two examples from my own county. The first is an area known as Ashdown Forest. This is a large common in the centre of Sussex, which has been zoned as a private open space. During the war it has been a training area, and is now scarred with trenches and other things. Two areas of between 70 and 80 acres have been taken over for camps and other necessary operational structures. Before we came back from the Christmas Recess the Conservators of which I am one had a meeting to consider how we could get it back as soon as possible to its former condition for the use of the commoners and the enjoyment of the public, and we all agreed that, if possible, we should try to get the Army themselves to restore it to its former state, because they have the bulldozers and other necessary equipment and, not least, the finance.
Now we have this bombshell, which looks as if the very existence of common rights will be threatened. Whereas a few years ago a small area was taken in order to widen roads and an equivalent area was bought by the County Council and added to the forest to make up for it, at the present time a large area of something like 150 acres might be taken, together with other forest land around that area, and there appears to be no intention, or power, in the Bill as it stands at present for it to be replaced with an equal amount of equally useful land for the public. Again, in another part of Sussex, on the South Downs, between Brighton and Eastbourne, we have 28,000 acres of land which has been sterilised by the County Council against building. Over £70, 000 has had to be paid in compensation for parts of that land, mainly near the towns, while other large areas have been sterilised free of charge by the generosity of landowners. During the war that land has been a training area, and is now covered with ranges and the like. There are ruined farm houses and things of that sort, all of which will be extremely expensive to repair.
It is possible under this Bill—I am not saying that it will be done—that that land might be sold and the restrictions removed, that it might be bought by a speculative land-butcher and divided, and that we may see fresh Peacehavens arising in those open spaces. Anybody who knows the Sussex coast, or Peacehaven, will know what that threat is. I do not say that it will be done—I am sure the intention is that it shall not be done—but those powers are in writing in the Bill, and until we see written in the text of the Bill something effective to deal with that position we shall not be very happy about it. One does think sometimes that this requisitioning might have been an opportunitiy for increasing amenities in- stead of threatening them. Again, a great area of agricultural land, some 300,000 acres, which is part of a very limited and irreplaceable quantity of our total land is threatened. That land will be dealt with from a purely financial point of view, and not from a food production or amenity point of view. The value of agricultural land is to-day being realised, as is seen in the Scott Report, and, in fact, before houses are built the Minister of Health has to consult with the Minister of Agriculture. All that doctrine is totally disregarded in the Bill. Further, adjacent land is also included. Farms which are at present divided by the formation of airfields are threatened with more division. Farm roads are blocked, and the economic structure of the country, which has suffered during the war by being arbitrarily divided, will remain impaired. That is a most serious thing.
Again, surely it would have been better if, instead of the Bill being presented, as it has been, complete, we had had something in the form of a Debate on a White Paper, when the Treasury could have found the reactions of people to the Bill and to the questions in it. I should like to see the Bill withdrawn and recast. I believe that is the solution, and I 'believe that before the pages of Amendments on the Paper are dealt with, a good many other people will agree with me. It will take a very long time.
I feel that the power to override the decision of the Commission is a mistake. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has qualified that, and I hope it will be still further qualified. I think it is essential that proper notification of proposals should be given. I see no reason why there should be the hurry over this Bill that there has been over some recent Bills. I think that public bodies like the National Trust and others interested in the preservation of open spaces should have power to object. The threat to footpaths and other communications should be gone into and, if possible, minimised. The power to acquire adjoining land is an exceedingly dangerous one and opens a wide vista of highly contentious cases. I agree, however, with the provision that, if cash is given, it should be seen that it is spent on putting the land in order. All the same, I believe it would be much better for the Government to do the work themselves.
There are three main things that we want—the return of open spaces, not only commons, but National Trust properties and land zoned as public or private open spaces by local authorities. As soon as possible and, where it is possible, they should be restored to the condition they were in when taken. Secondly, where they cannot be restored—no one expects highly expensive camps to be pulled down and the land turned back to common—an equivalent area should be given as under the Local Government Act, 1933. Lastly, I hope that much of the agricultural land involved which I believe was largely taken over for more airfields which are redundant either to the Services or to civilian aviation will be cleaned up and handed back as soon as possible for its original use, the production of food. In Sussex we regard it as bad enough to take a goose from a common but to take the common from the goose is a great deal worse. I feel that the Bill is threatening a good many of our open spaces.
This is for me as much as for anyone else a constituency matter and there is very much that I could say, both as the representative of what I suppose is if not the largest at any rate corporately the most widely extended of all land owners and there is also much that I could say from the point of view of a town and university hemmed in by industrial or suburban buildings on three sides, where private individuals and corporations have made great sacrifices to protect the fourth side, but where under war, time necessities, or what were considered as such, factory buildings have been put up, and the Bill seems not to give the safeguards that we might reasonably expect. But I think that most questions of the function and procedure of the Bill which might be discussed under the two heads that I have mentioned have been already indicated, and especially I would express agreement with my hon. and gallant Friend who immediately preceded me. I should like, not any longer to insist, as almost all who have spoken have insisted, upon the over-riding desire that when the fighting is over open spaces should be as great as they were before the fighting began, and that the proportion of cultivable land shall have been permanently reduced as little as possible —those I think are the two practical objects which we have all agreed upon—but I should like to turn from that practical aspect to some constitutional considerations about the nature of the Bill and the way in which it has been introduced. I am inclined to agree with the last speaker that it would have been wiser that the Bill should be withdrawn and recast and brought in a new form before us for Second Reading. It seems to me that the House is placed in a very unfair position when it is treated as it has been to-day, no doubt with the best intentions in the world. When a Bill is put before us and the Minister says, This is very nearly a perfect Bill; of course I am going to alter Clauses 5 a lot and 7 a good deal and 9 a great deal, and so on, it really makes a Second Reading Debate very difficult indeed for those who necessarily are not so familiar with the Bill as the Minister in charge, not having lived with it from its gestation as Ministers have.
I should like especially to give a word of warning about ministerial "assurances," without the least reflection on my right hon. Friend or any other right hon. Gentleman; but we have had experiences of these assurances. We had the experience of the Town and Country Planning Bill, where an assurance was given and, no doubt through some sort of muddle and not with any dishonest intention, it was found necessary in another place to nullify that assurance. The House must not allow itself to proceed. upon the basis that assurances to amend are effective. There is another kind of assurance, a still more deceptive kind, that you may let the Bill go through as it stands and you may be sure that the Minister will work it this way or that, and will not use it for a purpose for which it is not designed. We had an illustration of that to-day. Some considerable time ago, we passed a Bill and there was not the least doubt in anyone's mind that its purpose was to prevent trading with the enemy, and that any confidential information obtained by the Minister was to be used for that purpose only. Now that information is to be used for quite other purposes. It does not matter to my argument whether the new use is wholly right or wholly wrong; but when I asked my right hon. Friend, "Did you make sure that no assurances were given at the time that the information should be used only for the purposes specified in the Bill?" he could not answer. He had not made sure, he does not know whether there were assurances or not; and when the House refuses too easily to accept assurances as likely to be remembered, it is not a reflection on the good intentions of these transitory phantoms on the Front Bench, because in the light of the history of the House and the country transitory phantoms is what they are—it is not critical of them but of the way in which practical business is done.
It is not possible that such assurances should be always recalled and checked in time. Therefore I have all the more regrets that it has not so far been indicated to us that the Bill is to be withdrawn and reintroduced. For this reason also: the Chancellor told us that he hoped that after these assurances the gulf would be smaller. I hope it will be smaller—unless his assurances are meaningless it must be—but it is also more difficult to measure. The only question for us to decide on any Second Reading, for there are only two lobbies, is whether the gulf between us and the Government is just wide enough or not wide enough to make us go into the "No" lobby. I feel certain that in normal times it would be right to divide against the Bill. I do not yet feel quite certain about it to-day. Let me explain why. There was a time when we were told that there was to be no controversial legislation. That time has long gone past. I do not know who issued a dispensation to right hon. Gentlemen to break those bonds of honour, but they have long been burst asunder. So long as the Government were believing, or even only pretending, that they were introducing no controversial legislation, it was the business of Private Members to facilitate Government business. But now, I think it has been publicly stated by a Minister that we had done more by way of social changes in five months than in normal times would have been done in five years. Anyway, something of the sort is often said and is not denied. When that sort of thing is said, and when this kind of Bill is brought before us, the Front Bench must get it in its head that thereby the House is legibus solutus, that we are freed from the war-time laws of Parliamentary football and that we must again be allowed to play the game according to peace-time rules. It may for this one last time be right to exercise our war-time tolerance on the Second Reading of the Bill but at the time when we come to look at it in Committee it will be really quite different.
I noticed especially this time the right hon. Gentleman's insistence upon the sacredness of house property which is lived in. I feel that this is a very dangerous argument. Of course, in a sense the home is peculiarly sacred, just as the right to personal safety of a little girl of six is a peculiarly sacred right. We should all think it peculiarly wicked to beat up little girls of six, but when the argument is used apparently, in such a way as to subsume that it is quite right to beat up big girls of 16, then this argument of the peculiar sacredness of dwelling houses does seem to become very dangerous. I now see that I have before me no less than six Members of the Socialist Party displaying some interest in a Bill which goes deep to the roots of property. I would beg them to consider that they might be right or wrong in supposing that property must be destroyed, and that only by that destruction can you get political freedom or social security, but there are some people who take the opposite view that, if you destroy property, there will be no security and no liberty. The Chancellor argued to-day about the peculiar sacredness of dwelling-house property, as though, somehow or other, that dispensed him from treating all other property as sacred, but, as I say, I think that is an extremely dangerous argument.
The main point is that there is appearing a rapidly hardening doctrine, which Ministers have picked up—I do not quite know where, but I could make a very good guess—about the wickedness and unconstitutionality of instructing by Bill one Department to consult another Department. If I might, in this respect, quote the words of Mr. Henry Ford, who used them about something quite different, "This really is bunk." And what is more it is new bunk. There was once a tendency to base it on some mystical nonsense about the oneness of the Crown but lately the theory was tied to a ludicrously excessive assumption of the solidarity of the Cabinet. I would undertake to cross-examine any one of the Members of the present Cabinet on how many knew which of the others was in the Cabinet or not. When the Chancellor told me that he had looked into all the precedents—I am not at all sure, but I hope he meant that he had looked into them per alios and not per se—I do not know quite what he means because there are so many of them, they are scattered all over the Statute Book. I would undertake if it were in Order to do it to bet that it is only within the last 10 years or so that this doctrine has come into existence, and yet even since this doctrine came into existence it has been broken by more than one Bill on the Statute Book. They are trying very hard to harden into one of the conventions of the Constitution what, when you get down to it, merely means an increasing of the power of the Executive over this House.
The kind promise of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor that all these things should come before us for a negative Resolution means what? What does it really mean in the circumstances? It will be ex hypothesi a matter of policy. It merely means that if we vote against any one of these things it would involve turning out the Government. We are continually getting the Government pretending to decide, as a matter of policy, things which are really matters of rights and wrongs, matters of justice between individuals and corporations. To get more and more of such things under exclusive Governmental decision as matters of policy is dangerous, and any regime that goes far in that direction, I will undertake to prophesy, will "bust."
My name is one of those to the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill, moved by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). I have listened to most of the Debate, and I have been unable to find anyone who is really happy about this Bill except the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. M. Hughes). I was surprised at the hon. Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) thinking that public apprehension about this Bill would have been allayed if the Chancellor, in presenting it for the First Reading, had issued with it a statement. That would have been on 20th December, and if the Chancellor had issued a statement then it would have been very different from what he would have said to-day. He has changed his heart and he is much more conciliatory to-day than he would have been then. What amazed me is the mentality of the Government in introducing a Bill like this and expecting to get it through this House of Commons. Everyone is amazed that there is no mention in the Bill of the Minister of Town and Country Planning, and that when the Government has been urging local authorities to get on with their planning and to prepare for the post-war period local planners have had no opportunity of putting their case. In the same way, local authorities have been unable to raise any objections unless they have a legal interest in the land. I notice the Minister of Agriculture is completely out of the picture, although some 600,000 acres of agricultural land are involved.
The whole basis of the Bill is finance. There is no question of fair play or of giving a fair deal to the people who have been affected by the various requisitioning notices. In my Division there are a number of large houses which were requisitioned at the beginning of the war. In many cases they were offered to the Government as hospitals. Since then large hutment camps have been built round them, chiefly by the Americans. Many thousands of pounds have been spent on these camps. The houses are very valuable and the families lived in them in peace time. As I understand the Bill there is nothing to stop the Government turning the people out of their homes and taking over the whole place to run it as a holiday camp. The hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen, who is the only supporter of this Bill, seemed to take a great delight in this. The fact remains that whether people have got small homes or large homes, those are their homes and where their affection is. I do ask for fair play for these people who, in many cases, were the first to offer their homes for hospitals and have afterwards, owing to the exigencies of the war, found that there have been great extensions.
Another problem which is seriously alarming my constituents is that of commons. On two of these commons, large hospital hutment camps have been built, costing something in the neighbourhood of £200,000. We demand that these camps should be removed and the commons returned to the people. They destroy the whole amenity of the district. In one district large sewage works have been erected in the middle of good residential property. It is only right that these Commons should be restored. I hope that the Government, even at this late stage, will consider withdrawing this Bill and recasting it. I am certain it will save the Government, and Ministers, a very great deal of Parliamentary time, for there is no question that in the Committee stage the Government will have a rough road. What we have heard from the Chancellor to-day has made the Bill entirely different. None of us knows exactly the full implications of it, and I am sure it would be very much wiser if the Government listened to the Members of this House who have urged withdrawing the Bill and starting afresh, when they would be able to pass it through all its stages very much more quickly and much more easily. We all recognise that some legislation is necessary, but let us have a Bill which is going to be fair to all.
After the outstanding performance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer today, after the House has witnessed the pride with which he introduced this child of his, and after listening to the many assurances he gave as to its good conduct, it seems to me to be almost unseemly to criticise the Bill at all. Yet criticisms have been forthcoming and I intend to continue them, even if only in a mild way, because I believe it is all to the good that we who sit on the back benches should say exactly what we think of this Bill, and perhaps remove some of that rosy light which the Chancellor shed upon the picture to-day. Of course, it is universally recognised in this House that legislation of some kind is essential to regularise the position which has arisen as a result of Government works having been set up on requisitioned land during the war. But whether that legislation should take the form of this Bill is another matter altogether, and one on which, I am sure, the Government now know there is a great diversity of opinion in this House. No Member of the House desires that anyone should make a profit out of Government war works, but many of us consider that some of the powers given in this Bill may operate against the public interest and be not only unfair, but unjust to private individuals. The Bill is purely a financial Measure. It is designed to enable the Treasury to recoup itself to the largest possible extent, which, in the interests of the taxpayer, is a very proper consideration, but, as other Members have said, it should not be the overriding consideration.
In this matter is seems to me that three different and perhaps conflicting interests are involved. There is the national interest, there are local interests, and there are the interests of the individual citizen. In those circumstances it is most desirable that the tribunal which is to be set up to decide as between these different interests should be absolutely impartial, not only in fact but in the opinion of the country. Therefore, my first objection to the Bill, as it has been that of many other Members, is that the Commission is to be appointed by the Treasury. The Chancellor of the Exchequer thought that that was a most appropriate body to appoint the Commission, but I cannot agree with him, because the Treasury is one of the most interested parties. The Chancellor said in that connection that, although the Commission was appointed by the Treasury, it might nevertheless be, and would be, both independent and impartial. I do not believe that that will be the view of the country as a whole or of those individuals whose objections are overruled by the Commission. These latter might well consider that the scales of justice had been unfairly weighted against them, and it will create in their minds feelings of injustice and a sense of grievance. If these feelings are to be avoided—and it is important that they should be avoided as far as possible—it is essential that the Commission should be set up by some completely impartial authority and not by any interested Department.
I presume that the real object of setting up a Commission is to protect the interests of all concerned, and, perhaps more than others, those interests which are other than Government interests. If it is really to perform that function adequately it appears to me that its findings should be, in practically every case, final and binding upon the Government. The Chancellor said that if such powers were given to the Commission it might well be deciding matters of policy which was the province of the Government. Against that I would say that if the Government find it necessary to acquire property or land in order to carry their policy into effect, they should surely come to the House, state what their policy is, and ask for powers to carry it out instead of obtaining these powers more or less surreptitiously under this Bill. I do not consider that the Commission provides adequate protection.
I should like to refer to the case, which the Chancellor quoted, of the dwelling house. In Clause 9 (5) it appears that the dwelling house is completely protected, but when you come to Clause 11 (5) you find that there are considerable doubts. You discover there that, in considering proposals which involve the acquisition of a house, the Commission has to make up its mind on three different points. One is whether the acquisition is necessary in order to preserve something which is of substantial value to the community. I contend that that instruction very much modifies the safeguard contained in Clause 9. Many houses have been requisitioned during the war and put to a use which is undoubtedly of value to the community, and many Ministers might well wish to continue that use; but surely the fact that a house has been requisitioned and used during the emergency for a purpose of value to the community is no reason in justice why it should be appropriated by the Government. The house may well be the owner's home. Have we really reached a stage in this country when the home of any man can be taken to suit the Government's convenience? If so, I suggest that at least a measure of our vaunted freedom no longer exists, and that we are beginning to approach that system of dictatorship on which for nearly six years we have been expending our utmost efforts both to defeat and to abolish.
I was rather interested to discover that my right hon. Friend considered that Clause 10 was one which gave great protection. To my mind it has many objectionable sides to it. The Clause deals with land which it is proposed to acquire because, in the Minister's opinion, the value of the works on it ought to be preserved; and it empowers the Commission to report that the land ought not to be acquired if some person who is interested in the land is prepared to make a payment in respect of that value. I suggest that that Clause is capable of being used most unfairly. Take the example of the military authorities or some other Department who have made alterations to requisitioned property to suit their own convenience, alterations which are of no benefit to the owner and which, indeed, may be a bugbear to him. I heard the other day of a good example of this. I do not vouch for the facts, but I give them as the House may be interested. The War Office caused a certain large house with stables attached to be requisitioned. For their own purpose the War Office gutted the stables and erected a cinema instead. Now they no longer have use of the building and have asked the owner how much he is willing to pay for the improvements they have made to his property. Under this Clause there is no doubt that the owner can be called upon to pay for something which is of no value to him whatever. As for many years after the war buildings of all kinds will be in short supply, I feel that this Clause may also be used as a species of blackmail, because the owner in these circumstances will be willing to pay almost any price to get his building back, knowing that it is impossible to get alternative accommodation.
I was going to say a word or two as to the narrow area from which objections can be made, but the Chancellor dealt with that matter this morning. I understood from him that he is prepared so to amend the Bill as to widen the area from which objections can be lodged. Therefore, I do not propose to say anything more about that point. I feel that the matters to which I have alluded point increasingly to the need of the Commission being entirely impartial and being given wider powers than those proposed.
May I turn to the powers which are conferred on the Board of Trade under Clause 8 (5)? The Chancellor stated that they were probably the most difficult problems in the Bill. That Clause and Subsection remove from the review of the Commission land where the Board of Trade is prepared to certify that the land is part of industrial premises which owe their existing character to Government war work and that it is expedient in the interests of an orderly transition from war to peace conditions that the right of the Crown to dispose of the premises should be established forthwith. These are very wide powers. Depending on the legal interpretation that may be placed on the words "in substance owe their existing character to Government war work," they might enable the Government to acquire industrial premises where some slight alterations had been made at Government expense and enable the Board of Trade to take from their present owners similar premises and to place them to such use as they thought fit. That might apply to almost any factory which had been requisitioned during the war.
The extraordinary thing is that there is no right of appeal for the owners. That is a most extraordinary omission. It denies one of the fundamental rights of the individual, rights which have been possessed by the people of this country for centuries. I very much doubt the wisdom of giving powers to the Board of Trade to decide what use is to be made of requisitioned factories without any check whatever. Surely this House has not reached the stage when it is prepared to empower the Board of Trade to seize any factory it sees fit to seize and to put it to any purpose it sees fit, without any control or machinery through which the owners can be assured that reasonable consideration will be given to their rights and objections. Unless some machinery of that nature is set up, the Board of Trade will become the dictator of British industry, and that is a position which I am certain it will be unable to occupy either to the satisfaction or to the benefit of the people of this country.
There are many other points which arise from this Bill. There is the extent to which land can be acquired, to which there appears to be no limit under the Bill. We want some clearer definition on that point. There are the interests of agriculture and other amenities, which receive scant consideration, unless they are covered under Clause 11 (1), where the Commission is instructed to pay regard to all relevant considerations. That general instruction is not adequate, particularly as it is followed in the succeeding Sub-sections by detailed instructions on matters to which the Commission has to pay special regard. It would be interesting if the Attorney-General informed us from the legal point of view what weight will be given to the general as against the particular instructions by a body such as this Commission. There is, too, the matter of compensation, which I understand is to be on the 1939 values. That is quite inadequate in many cases. Where buildings have been taken over or destroyed in the interests of the war effort there is only one adequate measure of compensation, and that is replacement value. Where is the justice in offering a man compensation on 1939 values when he has to replace it at 1945 values? I cannot see any logic or justice in such a proposition.
One other point to which I would like to refer arises on Clause 6, about which the Chancellor spoke. In the terms of that Clause, it is provided that where the value of the land has been diminished to such an extent that the cost of restoration is likely to exceed the amount by which the value has been diminished, the Government may acquire. There will be many cases, and the Chancellor gave us examples, where the cost of restoration will be so considerable as to be quite impracticable, but there will also be many borderline cases. Is the Commission to have no discretion in this connection other than that laid down in the Bill? It seems to me to be somewhat unmoral that the Government, having requisitioned property and having allowed it to be damaged during their occupation—and where troops have been billeted there has in many cases been much needless damage—should turn to the owner and say: "Because we have succeeded in damaging your property to such an extent we propose to take it from you or to ask you to surrender your claims for compensation." It is an extraordinary proposition and I suggest that the Commission should have a very wide discretion in cases of that nature.
The Bill will require drastic, important and far-reaching amendment. My attitude towards the Bill will depend on the willingness of the Government to take into favourable consideration the many important points which have been raised in the Debate, and in particular on its willingness to amend the Bill so that the Commission will actually be impartial and independent, that the powers of Ministers to overrule the findings of the Commission are very materially reduced and a reasonable limit placed on the certifying powers given to the Board of Trade.
My name is attached to the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. I speak for the County Councils' Association, who take a great deal of interest in these proposals. Anyway, after listening to the Chancellor, I feel there is a necessity for a Bill, but that is not saying that this is the right Bill. I have never in my long experience heard a Minister make such a conciliatory speech as did the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I appreciated that. Consequently, I think we should do better to allow the Bill to have its Second Reading and to rely upon the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made that he will give full consideration to the various points which we shall make on the Committee stage.
I have, however, one question to put to him. Can he give the House an assurance that when he has given full consideration to the Bill we shall have full power to accept or reject the Amendments when they come forward? I have the unfortunate experience of knowing that when we take Bills in Committee on the Floor of the House and not in Committee upstairs there is very little power to make Amendments. When an Amendment has been argued very soundly by both sides on the Floor of the House, all that the Minister in charge has to do is to call for a Division. The Whips will stand at one end, and certain intimations will be given to Members. Members who do not know what they are voting about will come in. I am not giving any show away, because we know how many Members come down here and say: "What is this?" and vote according to their instructions. I want to know whether we can be given an assurance that, when the Amendments which have been foreshadowed are voted upon, the House will have a fair opportunity of expressing its will as against the decisions of the Minister.
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) has put a point that the Government will find it difficult to answer. The real solution is for the Standing Committees, which we all understand are likely to be set up in the near future, to celebrate their reappearance by operating on the Bill.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stone I signed the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill, but like him I believe that the Chancellor should be allowed a run, although it is on sufferance, on the Second Reading of the Bill. He certainly did appear to give way on a large number of very important subjects, but his conciliation was of such a charming nature that by the time he had finished I was not at all sure what the shape of the Bill really was. I am wondering whether it might be of interest if I dangled over the Chancellor of the Exchequer certain flies in the shape of principles which I hold to be essential in dealing with a matter of this kind.
It is clear that the Commission will be a body independent of the Government. That principle has been accepted, but it is in the terms of reference that the principles which I am going to state must be expressed most clearly. I do not believe that the Chancellor is prepared to go as far as that, even if it is legally possible to do so. Also in the limitation placed upon the binding decisions of the Commission those principles can be endangered and maybe broken. It is these limitations about which the House is still very doubtful and I am sure that nothing the Chancellor said in his speech in any way allowed those fears. One of the principles is that the Government must prove their case in every particular instance. Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether that principle is accepted by the Government? I do not think they can say it, because in the case of factories under Clause 8 (5) they certainly are not required to prove their case. If they will accept that principle they must include factories within the terms of reference of the Commission.
The second principle is that all the blemishes of the war must be removed, and I think it has been thoroughly and completely accepted in principle—but not in the Bill. The Chancellor says that this is the intention of the Government and I have no doubt it is. We shall have to incorporate into the Bill far more clearly than is stated at present words which will include those cases where the Government have to prove their case for a permanent retention of the land. There ought also to be provision where possible that the term of Government occupation, though long, may not be permanent but limited in the number of years. There ought to be provision for compulsory leasing rather than for acquisition. At a later stage I shall endeavour to move an Amendment to that effect, and I hope it will receive a sympathetic hearing from the right hon. Gentleman.
I accept the Government's contention that if the only way to obtain restoration of the land is by acquisition, acquisition is justified, but I would go much further and say that, in every case of damage if this is possible, and certainly in every case where compensation greater than that which can be obtained under the Compensation (Defence) Act is paid, there should be conditions making it compulsory for the money to be spent upon restoration. Once the Government have acquired land with the express intention of restoring it, local authorities and other interested bodies should have the power of seeing to it and of making the necessary arrangements to have that land restored. I see the possibility of the Government having a very great number of acquired sites on their hands which they intend to restore but which may in future economy drives be forgotten. I should like to see some power in the hands of local authorities or other local interests to insist upon the Government carrying out the terms of their purchase.
The next principle is that where the property has been taken from a public or private owner it must be returned. The Chancellor said that that was his intention in the vast majority of cases. I accept that, of course, as meaning that he accepts that principle but I see dangers attaching to it. It may well mean that where there is to be a big expenditure on restoration the Government may decide that they will acquire, in order to do only partial restoration. It may be necessary for the Commission to decide that because of the unreasonably prohibitive cost of restoration, total restoration is not practicable—but only partial restoration—tidying up and limiting the area of damage—can be done. But whatever the circumstances, full compensation shall be paid; I feel that the owner should be allowed to do this, or the Government should do it for the owner, rather than that the Government should acquire. Why should not the work be done over a period of years and the compensation paid over a period, say, 10 years? In this way the work could be done bit by bit and the financial burden would be lightened.
The Chancellor has accepted the principle that a man's home is of very definnite importance. I was rather surprised to hear my hon. Friend the Senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) expressing surprise that so much emphasis was placed upon a man's home being taken. I consider it to be essential, where a man's home has been taken, that the house should be rebuilt or in appropriate cases the damage made good. The Chancellor spoke very sympathetically about this matter but I do not see it mentioned in the Bill.
Up to what value of the house? The value of 1939? In almost all cases that would only build a very small part of the original property in these days. In the case of a private landowner it would be no defence for him to say to his tenant: "I am sorry that the Air Ministry has knocked down my house in which you lived." It is his duty to rebuild that house. It is equally the Government's duty to see that the owner can carry out his job properly. The fourth principle is one which, as far as I can gather, the Government have not accepted. It is that it is not the normal function of government to acquire compulsorily any property and sell it to a third party. This is surely an abuse of the functions of the Executive. I can see that there may be some small justification for it in the case only of factories, and then only when it applies to factories in urban areas. There may be some justification for it under those circumstances, but certainly to apply that principle generally is to alter radically the rights of property, and it is not the purpose of this Bill radically to alter those rights. The sixth principle follows from that, that in no circumstances whatever can a Government Department be justified in acquiring compulsorily adjoining or neighbouring land to that which they have under requisition, and selling it to a third party. If they acquired in order to sell it would open opportunities for grave malpractices, and I hope this House will never allow the Executive such a power. If third parties want adjoining land they can go into the market, and use the normal marketing methods, but to use this Bill, which is a war-time Bill, arising out of the effects of the war, is to my mind almost an outrage.
I wish to say one word on the question of compensation, because the Minister has power, under Clause 47, to grant greater compensation than what he could grant under the Compensation (Defence) Act. But I do not follow why it is not possible for the Commission itself to recommend, or rather to report upon, compensation provisions. If "restoration" is to be the key word, and we believe it to be so, then surely they must have directions to recommend terms of compensation; it is rather strange to see that the only mention in the Bill where the Commission has power to determine the terms of compensation is in those cases where they may require or accept abrogation of rights from the owner. This is a "miniature" of the spirit which pervades the whole Bill.
The final point, and it conditions everything else in the Bill, and everything said in the Debate to-day, concerns the Defence Acts. If we are unable in this Bill to modify the provisions of the Defence Acts, if we are unable to obtain some degree of control over the Service Departments during this process of transition, this Bill will be practically inoperative. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Mahon (Mr. Turton) has produced. chapter and verse to show that the Air Ministry can do certain things. It will be for the Attorney-General to disprove my hon. Friend's contention, but he will have to go further than that. He will have to show that the Service Ministers cannot get out of their obligations to restore land through using the process of acquisition under Defence Acts, and I feel that if the Attorney-General, in his answer, can give a categorical assurance that the Defence Acts will not be used by any Service Department in allow the ravages of this war to remain unrestored, that will assure him of at any rate a practically unopposed Second Reading of the Bill. When we come to the Committee stage, I shall watch the implementation of the assurances that my right hon. Friend gave during his speech, and I shall restrain my opposition until that time.
As I intend to equal and even outstrip in brevity the many speeches made already against the Bill—there have been hardly any in favour of it—I shall deal only with one matter, that is, the effect of the Bill on commons and open spaces. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave certain concessions on this matter, and I wish he had put them on the Order Paper before to-day's Debate. But he did not altogether reassure me, or, I think, most of the hon. Members on this side of the House. Hon. Members, almost without exception, have mentioned their own con- stituencies. Therefore I may be allowed to say that I represent one of the most famous commons in England, Hounslow Heath, which long ago ceased to be the resort of criminals. I have been asked by the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Society, of whose executive commitee I am a member, to put their case against this Bill.
As hon. Members may know, that society was founded 80 years ago, when it effectively opposed the destruction of the commons then remaining. It fought and won the battles of Hampstead Heath, Wimbledon Common, Berkhamsted Common, and in the constituency of the Prime Minister, Epping Forest. Nominally, these battles were fought in aid of the vanishing village commoners, but actually, and, in fact, they were fought because of urban needs for air and exercise. That society, in the battles it has won during the last 80 years, has really introduced a new era, and I beg this House not to put back the clock. Does the House appreciate the extent of the commons and open spaces which have been acquired by the Government during this war? It is no exaggeration to say that hundreds of commons and open spaces have been taken, and the aggregate acreage is very large indeed. Not only have commons and open spaces been taken, but in my own constituency, in Heston and Isleworth, even land which had already been acquired by the borough council for housing and school playing fields has been acquired.
What was the position of commons before the war? It was decreed by many Acts—Housing Acts, Local Government Acts, Town and Country Planning Acts, and Small Holdings Acts—that even if this common land was required for public purposes, it must not be enclosed or alienated except on two conditions. The first was that an equal area of common must be substituted. The second condition was that Parliament must specifically assent, under the Provisional Order procedure. There was another safeguard before a common could be enclosed. The Minister of Agriculture must give a certificate that this was in the interest of the inhabitants. What was the principle behind those provisions? It was that an adequate supply of open spaces for public recreation was a matter of national importance, and that their existing area ought not to be diminished. The present Bill, even if it be amended in the manner promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, gives no recognition to that fact.
A rather remarkable letter in this morning's "Times" drew attention to the fact that the Water Bill, at present before this House, contains in Section 24 a provision that an order for the compulsory purchase of land forming part of a common or open space shall not have effect until it has been confirmed by Parliament. If that could be put in a Bill for such a vital matter as water supply, why could it not be put in this Bill? The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that we shall find salvation in Clause 26, but I find that this is part of Part 5 of the Bill, which deals with the acquisition of land by local authorities. How can the Attorney-General assure us that Clause 26 is any protection against the alienation of common land acquired by the Government? There is no guarantee, as I read this Bill, that any open space taken from the public during the war will ever be restored, or any equivalent amount of land provided by the Government.
The powers and duties of the Minister of Agriculture, who is, under all previous legislation, the official guardian of common land, seem to be ignored. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he would be consulted. It would have been very much better had that been put into the Bill. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) that there are any number of precedents for saying in a Bill that another Minister must be consulted. I find there is a precedent as lately as the Housing Act, 1936, which deals with this very point of consultation with the Minister of Agriculture before a common is acquired. Again, the Minister of Town and Country Planning is not mentioned. I think it would have been better to have mentioned him in the Bill, and better had he been here during this Debate.
Clause 5 of this Bill enables the Government to acquire and dispose of commons on which war works have been executed, and to acquire adjoining and neighbouring land. My right hon. Friend said it was not intended, under Clause 6, to dispose of any common land which had been so acquired. Will my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General give an assurance that it is not intended to dispose of any common land acquired under Clause 5? Will he also give us an assurance that he will exclude from acquisition by the Government any commons which have been acquired by local authorities or by the National Trust, or which have been regulated as public open spaces, or to which the public enjoy a statutory right of access for air and exercise under the Law of Property Act, 1925? I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will deal with that point. In the absence of any such assurance, it appears that without the sanction of Parliament, against the wishes of the local authority, and without the approval either of the commoners or the public, commons may, under Clause 5, as a financial expedient, be enclosed and converted to freehold. I think this House will be false to its traditions if it does not reject this proposal. Whatever happens to other land, common land which has been preserved as an open space, ought to be exempt from this provision.
Much of this common land is of low value just because by Statute it cannot be cultivated or developed or enclosed. Much of it has been bought and vested in the National Trust at as low as £1 an acre. This common land embraces much of the most beautiful country in England, some of which is suitable for inclusion in the proposed national parks. I suggest that it will be disgraceful if this House gives the Government power to buy such land for a song, to strip the owners and the public of their rights, without recognition of the principles which have been laid down for many years by this House for their protection, and re-sell it as unencumbered freehold. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor gave lip service to amenities, but we want to see his assurances in the Bill. I echo the hope of my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), that, even now, this Bill will be taken back and redrafted. If the Government are not prepared to do that, I hope that those—and there seem to be a great many—who feel as strongly as I do, will vote against the Second Reading of this Bill.
I have no desire to detain the House for more than a very few moments, but since I am one of those whose names were put down to the Amendment for the rejection of this Bill, I have some observations to make. Four things emerge from to-day's Debate: first, that a Bill of some kind is necessary in the national interest; secondly, that this Bill is not the Bill, because it is a bad Bill; thirdly, that nobody likes the Bill—I think only one speech has been made in support of the Bill; and, fourthly, that in view of the concessions which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made, he would have been much better advised had he done what he was asked to do, namely, withdrawn the Bill, inserted the concessions that he has made to-day, and let the House see it before Second Reading took place. I think Members would agree that, if there is one place above all others where the advice given in the Latin tag "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" applies, it is on the Treasury Bench "Beware of the Greeks when they bring gifts"—I translate for the benefit of any non-Service Member in the House. But if there is any one Minister above all others to whom it applies, it is to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—not this Chancellor of the Exchequer only, but any Chancellor of the Exchequer. Bitter experience has taught us that the concessions given by a Chancellor of the Exchequer may sound very good, but careful examination has very often proved that they are not quite so good as the House was led to believe.
I do not wish to recapitulate the arguments which have been so ably put by other Members, but I would like to reinforce what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) on the question of commons and open spaces, more particularly because I represent a common which is perhaps the most widely-known, and on one day of the year at any rate, the most popular, in the world, namely, Epsom Downs. It is a serious matter that it should be possible, under the guise of a war necessity, which nobody denies, for a large hospital, for example, to be built on a common, and that then the Government should acquire that common—which ought to be retained as an open space—because it would be so expensive to do away with the hospital, and because it was desirable, in the national interest as it might well be, that such a hospital should exist somewhere. One Member said to-day that this House was the guardian of the public purse. I say that it is the guardian of something much more important, the national honour. It is the duty of a Government to be most scrupulous in their dealings with those whom they govern. Let me remind the Government and it is perhaps time that it was said—that the Government are the servants of the people, and not their masters. This country is not as yet a totalitarian state. Yet if ever there was a Bill brought into this House which was designed to increase beyond all reason the power of the Executive, this Bill is it.
I admit that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made many concessions, but it remains to be seen on the Committee stage, to which this Bill must now go, what the results will be. I think it would have been better if the Bill had been redrafted before the Second Reading Debate took place. I wish the advice and the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) had been accepted by the Government. If it is not too late, and if they are not too stony-hearted, or too thick-headed, it would not be a bad thing if, even now, they reconsidered the matter, and adjourned the Debate, so that we might see the Bill brought in and discussed with all these Amendments included. It is very hard to see how they will affect the structure of the Bill when we can only consider them as they have been mentioned on the Second Reading. When this Bill comes before Committee, and these Amendments are brought forward, let the Chancellor of the Exchequer understand quite clearly, that there will be other Amendments brought forward by back-bench Members. With past experience to guide us, it is not unfair to say that we are a little afraid that when some Amendment comes forward which the Government do not like, we shall be told that it is a criticism of the Government's conduct of the war, and that it is going to be made a Vote of Confidence. Fresh in our memories is the time when we were told that a Debate on education was not the proper occasion to debate the question of equal pay for teachers—it is difficult to understand what would be a better occasion, but there it is.
No Bill recently has stirred popular feeling in the country quite so much as this one has. Let the Government understand that the people are beginning to be very critical of the grasping of power by the Executive. Men fighting overseas are not fighting to come back to a country in which no liberty any longer exists. They want their open spaces; they do not want to see Marlborough Down almost obliterated by some building which the Government say must remain there. They realise the sacrifices which had to be made by everybody in this country for the successful prosecution of the war but they believe that, where it is possible, it is the duty of the Government to honour its implied pledge, and to hand back to the owners, whether public or private—because it is not only private owners who are concerned in this matter but the public itself, those who, in effect, own the open spaces, for example—what they took in order that the purposes of the war might be fulfilled, as nearly as possible in the same condition in which it existed before the war began. On the Committee stage many Amendments will be moved, and I hope that they will be pressed, if necessary, to a Division. If to-day this Bill has a Second Reading, it is on the explicit understanding that the Government will expect criticism and amendment when the Bill comes to the Committee stage. I hope it will not be said then, "This is a criticism of the whole conduct of the war by the Government." It will be nothing of the sort; it will be a question of whether, on the Committee stage of this Bill, certain things should be left out of the Bill or certain things should go in.
I hope that the Government will not finally close the door to the suggestion made by my hon. Fiend. It would be far better to adjourn the Debate to-day and let us have a new Bill, with these Amendments printed in it. That would shorten the Committee stage, and allay many misunderstandings and fears, if misunderstandings and fears exist, and it would be not only to the Government's advantage, but to the advantage of the House of Commons as well.
I did not intend to say anything in this Debate, particularly after the concession by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the matter of open-cast coal working, but I feel a little nervous after listening to the Senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) and other hon. Members who have emphasised the fact that, because an assurance was given in the House, it does not necessarily mean that it will be implemented in the Bill. I represent Newcastle-on-Tyne, and as other hon. Members have said that they are representatives of certain commons and places of that kind all over the country, I feel that I must say one word to emphasise the importance of the Town Moor to Newcastle.
It is a very large area of open land in the hands of freemen, who are there by legislative sanction, and have been there for a great number of years, and have guarded this open space very carefully throughout this period, even against the Corporation of Newcastle. During the war, a certain fraction of the moor has been devoted to war service, and, since the necessity arose for more coal, a large area of its surface has been used for coal working, on the definite understanding that it would be replaced and the soil put right after the end of the war. I understood from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that that was the Government's intention, and I take it from him that that is the case. I hope that the Attorney-General, when answering for the Government, will make it clear that something will be put into this Bill, before it becomes law, to show that the intention of the Chancellor is being carried out. I have implicit faith in the Chancellor. I am not so certain that I have confidence in his Bill. It is not a Bill that commends itself to me. It is an ugly little thing, and I thought so when it was introduced. It may have a heart of gold, as the Chancellor told us, but it will have to go through a close examination and a good deal of alteration before it becomes the law of the land.
The withdrawal by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of Sub-section 1 (a) of Clause 6 means that we know even less than before where we are on the question of restoration, and I would like the Attorney-General, when he replies, to tell us the Government's intentions on that subject. I want to put what is really a Committee point—an extreme case which is within my personal knowledge. In the centre of a very large and particularly well-managed farm, there is an avenue of trees. This avenue of trees has, for a long time, been used as a lorry park, and, in order to carry the lorries over a day soil, a concrete bed has been put down. What is the position owner of that farm? I estimate that the cost of removing this concrete, unless it is done, as it should be done and as I hope it will be done, by German prisoner labour, will be enormous and quite beyond the capacity of any private individual. Here is one large field in the middle of a large farm. Obviously, it is no earthly use to the Government if they acquire it, because it is no use by itself, yet its remaining in its present condition is highly detrimental to the farm. That is an extreme case, but, all over the country, you get instances of that sort of work where the restoration of the land, unless done by German prisoner labour under Government supervision, would be quite beyond the power of the owner. I can find nothing in this Bill which gives any indication how that particular situation will be met.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was this morning in a most conciliatory mood, but the Bill for which a Second Reading is asked to-day is a very different Bill from that outlined by the Chancellor. The Chancellor gave us many and varied assurances, and he tried to explain away the Bill by promising far-reaching Amendments, which, in point of fact, transform the Bill. There are already on the Order Paper several pages of Amendments, and those proposed by the Chancellor will occupy another considerable volume of space. Almost every speaker to-day has appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw the Bill for further consideration so that we can have before us a Bill which can more readily be understood and properly appreciated at its Second Reading. I, therefore, appeal, even at this late stage, to Members of the Government front bench to consider whether it would not be the decent thing now to withdraw this Bill and to bring it forward again in an understandable and workable form, because we are all agreed that some Bill of this nature is necessary.
The Bill, I think it is fair to say, has been most indifferently handled. It has caused great confusion up and down the country, and, indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that it is, throughout the country, one of the most unpopular Bills which the Government have yet presented, certainly it has shown the Government to be entirely out of touch with public feeling. May I therefore again appeal to them to show themselves at least in touch with the feeling in this House, which has been expressed by almost every speaker, by withdrawing the Bill for further consideration?
Seldom, in my submission, has a Bill been presented when fewer of those directly affected have previously been consulted. I do not want, at this late hour, to go over the fact that neither the names of the Ministers of Agriculture nor the Minister of Town and Country Planning appear on the back of the Bill, and that none of the planning authorities or corporate bodies interested have been consulted, nor any of the various bodies which represent those interested in commons and open spaces. The Bill, as it stands, shows that the Government are prepared to go back on the most solemn promises which they made at the beginning of this war, when public lands and private lands were taken, The Bill, in its present form, is fundamentally bad.
After all, what have we to consider to-night? We have to consider whether this 'Pill as drafted is worthy of Second Reading, and the only manner in which we can properly address our minds to that is, in my submission, to ask whether the principles of the Bill as now set out are good. The principles of the Bill before the House are thoroughly bad. It may well be that the principles of a Bill such as that which the Chancellor indicated he would like, might be good, but the Bill before us now is a bad Bill. I do not propose to go through the various fundamental objections to it, to which attention has been drawn. The War Works Commission which is proposed inspires no confidence. It is to be neither impartial nor independent, and incidentally, its deliberations are to take place in secret. The principles upon which the Commission is to act, as outlined in Clause 10, are abhorrent.
As the Bill is at present drawn, it is. proposed to take power to acquire not only land on which works have been built and land which is adjoining, but it is proposed to take neighbouring which may mean quite distant land. There again, I understand that the Chancellor is prepared to offer some concession. Why did not the Chancellor table some of these concessions before the Second Reading so that we could see them and then we could have addressed our minds, with proper time for fair consideration, to the proposals which are before us this evening. Further, contrary to all previously established practice, which steadfastly refused to allow private owners to profit from suppressing rights of way and common, the Government, as the Bill is drawn, propose to make a profit by suppressing these rights. Nowhere in the Bill is there any direction or obligation to consult a planning authority; throughout the length and breadth of the Bill planning is wholly ignored.
When one looks at the proposals of the Bill in regard to open spaces, they are exactly as indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling). What is the yardstick by which the Bill, as it is before us, is to be measured? Simply this, the only yardstick which is in fact in the Bill itself, namely finance, with the public interest wholly ignored and with planning ignored, too. It is agreed on all sides, and in all quarters of the House, that some Bill is indeed necessary but this Bill is an ill-conceived and mischievous Bill in its present form. I once more appeal to the Government to show that at least, if they are not in touch with feeling in the country, they are conscious of the feeling in the House to-day as expressed by every Member who has spoken and urge them to withdraw the Bill and reintroduce it in amended form in due course.
I find myself in rather a singular position. I take a less unfavourable view of this Bill than any Member who has spoken hitherto on either side of the House. That does not mean that I regard this Bill as a perfect Bill. I accept the position which the Chancellor put to the House this morning that the Bill will certainly require very extensive amendment on the Committee stage before it becomes wholly acceptable. But it is conceded on both sides of the House that a Bill of this sort is necessary. It is, I suppose, possible to take the view that matters might be allowed to take their course. But no Member has hitherto expressed that view. Therefore, we seem to be agreed that some Bill of this sort is required.
The question is whether this Bill is such a bad Bill that we ought to reject it altogether. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) says that we should. He says "Restore Britain whatever the cost may be." That is the view which will find fairly general acceptance on both sides of the House. Or is this such a bad Bill that it ought to be withdrawn now and re-introduced, with the Amendments which the Chancellor said are required.
I invite the House to approach this Bill from a rather different standpoint; to disregard the detailed criticism of the Bill and to examine the principles upon which it is based, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Etherton) referred. I take a different view of those principles from the views which he has expressed. I find in this Bill something which I regard as a very great advance on the procedure for the compulsory acquisition of property which is usually adopted in legislation conferring upon Government Departments rights of compulsory acquisition. This Bill marks a valuable advance in the view which the Government take of the rights of individuals to a proper and a judicial determination of their case before their property is taken from them by compulsory acquisition.
I, for my part, welcome the provisions that I find in this Bill. It is proposed to set up a War Works Commission. That body appears to me to be intended to be an independent body and of a semi-judicial character. Hon. Members have expressed considerable dissatisfaction with the constitution and with the procedure which it is proposed that this War Works Commission should follow. I must say that I feel a good deal of sympathy with much of the criticism which has been expressed. But it remains plain that the intention of the Government is that this body should not be an administrative body but a body having a semi-judicial character. That marks a notable advance in our ideas about compulsory acquisition in the House of Commons.
I confess that I find it difficult to understand the view expressed by the Chancellor this morning that, because questions of Government policy might be involved in the cases which come before this Commission, therefore cases involving such questions ought to be withdrawn from the Commission altogether. Why is it that Government Departments are so reluctant that their cases should be brought before independent or judicial tribunals? It is not a new feature. I see no reason why a semi-judicial, independent tribunal such as is contemplated under this Bill should not be able to determine whether questions of Government policy are involved in the cases which come before it or whether they are not and I should have thought that that question was a very proper question which might have been left to the Commission.
There is one other thing which I desire to say about the procedure for this intended Commission. It is not intended that the Commission itself should hear the cases which would be brought before it. It is to have recourse to that system which has usually been adopted of holding a public local inquiry, not presided over by one of the commissioners but by an inspector whose duty it is to make a report to the Commission. I hope that on the Committee stage my right hon. Friend will be prepared to agree that this Commission should be so constituted that at least one of the commissioners will be present and will preside over the hearing of the cases which will be brought before it. This system of inquiry by a person who has no power to give any decision and whose duties are limited to making a report to some other person, who does not see the witnesses himself and depends for his knowledge of the case entirely on what is reported to him by a third party, is not a proper or suitable judicial proceeding.
I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend will agree with that. One of the essential elements of a judicial proceeding is that a person should have the right to appear before the individual who has to give the decision in his case, and the right to be heard by him. I hope that at the Committee stage we shall see that this War Works Commission is a body which will deal with the business which comes before it in that way.
There is one other point to which I desire to refer to briefly. I welcome this Bill because it recognises that different considerations apply to the acquisition of dwelling houses from those which apply to other forms of property. That difference was recognised very clearly by this House in the Town and Country Planning Bill of last Session. My learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes) made some reference to it at an earlier stage in the Debate. He was prepared to agree that some distinction should be drawn between the powers of acquisition of a dwelling house and of other forms of property. But he asked that the definition of a dwelling house should be qualified. The reason why it has not been qualified is probably because it is very difficult to determine who is to be regarded as the person who is to be protected by this special provision. Therefore, I think that the Bill is right not to attempt to limit too precisely the persons who are are to be regarded as the owners or occupiers of the dwelling house or the persons entitled to enjoy this special protection.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes) was good enough to refer to some contribution which I have ventured to make to the public discussion of this matter. I was astonished to hear him say that he was not prepared to agree that persons whose property was to be taken by compulsory powers ought to have the right to a judicial investigation before their property was taken. It seems to me that the great merit of this Bill is that it takes the opposite view. This Bill, whatever its shortcomings, seems to me to recognise clearly the proper approach which the Government ought to take to this matter, and it is for that reason that I welcome it and, if it goes to the Division, I shall vote for it.
As one of the Members whose names appeared on the Amendment for the rejection of this Bill, I was firmly of the opinion that the Bill should be rejected until after I had heard the Chancellor's speech. Ever since then, I have been asking myself what is left to reject in the Bill. There must, I feel, be something, and undoubtedly there is the Title. The Title is a bad one. I sometimes wonder who selects the Titles of the Bills because I find it difficult to conceive a worse selection of Bill Titles than those which are usually presented. However, because the Title is bad, I do not myself consider that that is sufficient reason for voting against the Government on the Second Reading of the Bill.
What is the primary object of this Bill? As I understand, it is to regulate the restoration of the requisitioned land, and land which has been used by the Government during the war and to do so in an orderly and proper manner. The emphasis as I see it is upon the word "restoration." That I believe is the Bill's primary object and intention. It is an amenity intention, but what we really have is a financial Measure. I understood that it had been decided not long ago, in fact I think it was during the last Debate upon the Finance Bill, that finance was to be the servant and not the master of our policy, but clearly I think this Bill shows that the matter has got out of hand again, and that finance is once more becoming the master of policy and not its servant.
There is another matter in which I differ from the hon. and learned Member who has just spoken, and that is on the fundamental objects of this Bill, which I consider to be the over-riding of private rights. I have no doubt it is proper that public interests should be supreme where they clash with private rights, but it is not proper that private rights should be supplanted and taken over by the Government, when it is not essential for public policy and public interests. I feel that this fundamental point is a grave one. It goes to the root of the whole question, and I cannot see how it is possible to amend this Bill, and shape it into satisfactory form in the Committee stage. But I feel that the assurances which we have had from the Chancellor go such an extraordinarily long way, that it may be possible, even now, to implement the steps which will be necessary, if we are to reinstate what this Bill does away with—the general effect, as the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) pointed out of the Barlow, Uthwatt and Scott Reports—and if we are to restore the principles of civil rights, and, finally, if we are to put the Treasury in its proper place. That is going to be a very big undertaking on the Committee stage.
There is another point about which I am rather anxious. I have the greatest respect for the integrity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we all know that when he gives assurances, he will do everything in his power to see that those assurances are carried out. Only last week we were, in this House, taking a rather strong line against this principle which is creeping in of Government by Ministerial assurance. I share the view already expressed that it is essential that the assurances we have been given should be implemented in the Bill by Amendment. It is not right for any Government Department to hold powers which are vastly more extensive than those which it is intended for them to use.
The Chancellor mentioned this morning that in the vast majority of cases the works would not be handed back. All that is needed is a comparatively small Bill for a minority of the works. What we have is a very big Bill for the majority of the works which will be handed back, and for which a Bill will not be required. All that superfluous power which is placed in the hands of the Department in question is contrary to all principles of government, and I urge the Government to recognise that point of view and not retain powers which it is not intended shall be used. It is upon the assumption that Amendments will be accepted which wilt fundamentally alter the whole conception of the Bill, and incorporate the assurances we have been given, that I, for one, will not oppose the Second Reading.
The Attorney-General, who is to reply to this Debate, at any rate cannot start his speech by saying, as Ministers so often do in replying to Debates, that the Government are gratified by the reception which this Bill has received, because practically every speech to which I have listened has been highly critical of the Bill. I believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a grave mistake on political and procedure grounds, and if this Bill has had a bad reception to-day it is the Chancellor's own fault. He knew quite well, he had had representations made to him from various quarters, he had been told the points that were to be raised, he had been given opportunities of withdrawing the Bill and rewriting it with the Amendments to which he has referred, or even of introducing the Bill and placing the Amendments on the Order Paper, as we are allowed to do nowadays, so that Members could see in advance what the Minister's intended Amendments would be, but he took none of those courses.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning that other course which the Chancellor could have taken. However, he took none of those courses, and if the Bill has met with a bad reception to-day, it is entirely his own fault. On the merits of the Bill, at this late hour, I will not say very much, but I ought to say a few words about the Commission. If the House will look at Clause 1, which deals with the setting up of the Commission, and the Clause dealing with the terms of reference, it will be seen that the Commission is set up by the Treasury, and the terms of reference, except for the words "relevant considerations" are mainly financial. That may be all right to us here in this House, but to the public outside it would appear to be purely a financial transaction, and in legislation to-day, when we have an intelligent public watching our actions very closely, I feel that not only must legislation say what it means but it really must say what the public want it to mean. It is no good misleading them, and I submit that there is a mistake in the public mind, which is a very reasonable mistake to make, that this Bill is purely a financial Measure. I do not believe this is primarily a financial Measure; it is not intended to be, but it is intended to take into consideration the question of agriculture, town planning, and all the rest of it, and the words "relevant considerations" are intended to cover it. We must amend the Bill on the Committee stage to see that that view is fully met. It is that sort of misunderstanding which the public have got into their heads and it will take a long time to get it out of their heads.
One other word on the setting up of the Commission. As the Bill is drawn now—I know there are to be certain Amendments—it seems to me that insufficient publicity is given to those who are interested in the land or the works concerned. There ought to be adequate publicity about the sittings of the Commission, and there certainly ought to be rights of being heard not only for those having an interest in the plan, but those who are likely to be injuriously affected by any decision of the Commission. I hope therefore that an Amendment on those lines will be moved by the Government. Those likely to be injuriously affected include not only such societies as the National Trust and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England but local authorities, who are very greatly interested from the town and country planning point of view.
Another thing about this Bill which has been cleared up to-day, but was not clear before, was the fact that the vast majority of these works, and the land concerned, are in defence areas. It covers, as I understand it, not only barracks, military hospitals, gun sites, searchlight sites and so on, but every form of defence work which it is proposed or may be proposed to maintain. Under the Defence Acts the Government already have complete power to do what they like—acquire, sell, exchange or anything else—and I am hoping in the course of the Committee stage that we shall amend certain of the provisions of the Defence Acts so that the Government shall not have such tremendous power to sell and exchange—although they may rightly have the power to buy for security reasons—land which they have been using for defence work but which they no longer intend to use for that purpose.
I want to ask if there will be sufficient delay between the Second Reading of this Bill and the Committee stage to allow local authorities to be consulted. I know there have been certain consultations, but there is still a good deal of misunderstanding by local authorities as to the implications of this Bill. Therefore, I would ask the Government to delay the Committee stage until those consultations have taken place in order that the local authorities really know where they stand, not on the Bill as written but as the Bill is written plus the Amendments about which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given so many assurances to-day.
I will end on this further point. The Bill, as drawn, makes it possible for the owners of land to come to arrangements with a Government Department whereby they get their money back on condition—I think it is implied—that they reinstate, but in cases where the Government acquire the land there is no guarantee by the Government that that land will be reinstated or restored. I should like to see some provision in the Bill not only to make owners restore or reinstate their land but in cases where the Government acquire the land, that they will carry out the reinstatement forthwith. Otherwise there will be thousands of acres in this country left derelict, and I think it is not in the interests of town planning or anything else that the scars of war should remain on the land for years and years to come.
The main difficulty which I think the House is in at the moment is that it is endeavouring at one and the same time to discuss two entirely different Bills. One is the printed Bill which we have before us, and the other is that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer expounded to-day. They bear no relation to each other, and it makes it a little difficult for us to determine exactly what it is we are talking about. I think that the Attorney-General may have received a little chill comfort from the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson), whose voice was almost the only approving voice which has fallen upon his ears during the last three hours. I want particularly to refer to that speech, because my hon. and learned Friend dealt with the matter of the functions of the Commission, which are referred to in the Bill which is in print, and not the Bill which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was talking about this morning. My hon. and learned Friend explained that this would be a semi-judicial body, and also told us of various matters which, he said, he had always been brought up to believe. I feel sure that one of the things he was brought up to believe was that a tribunal which has to determine rights as between different parties must be a judicial body. I do not know what he means by "semi-judicial." This tribunal either ought to be a judicial body or not. To be assured that it is half a judicial body does not warm my heart towards it any more than it did when I first read of it in the printed Bill.
Regarding the general approach which this Bill makes towards the functions of this Commission, Clause 2, subsection (3) states:
… the commission shall … cause such inquiries to be made, and give to such persons such opportunities of making oral or written representations as the Commission think fit. …
Those words are symptomatic of the whole attitude of this Bill. Why should not people, who have objections, have their considerations taken into account? Under the Bill as it stands they can only be heard if the Commission thinks fit. It does not appear to matter whether the objectors think fit or not. Similarly, under Clause 9 the overriding power which is given to the Minister is exercisable merely if one of the grounds is that which is specified in the Clause. It means that it does not matter whether the Commission reject on another ground. If the Minister has originally claimed on the overriding ground he can reject the advice. So he has only to include that ground among others to be able to override the Commission every time.
Many speakers who have taken part in this Debate have referred to the open spaces in which they are particularly interested. Each one has been notable for its loveliness, its fame, its spaciousness, or for some other reason. I want particularly to defend one which has all the qualities which have been referred to in excelsis. I am particularly interested in the effect of this Bill on the South Downs of Sussex. They have been used for war purposes, and so far as I can see there is not the slightest reason, under the powers in this Bill as it exists, why they should not be taken away from us for ever. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks) referred to private rights. I am not concerned at this moment to defend private rights; I am dealing with public rights, the rights of the public to have access to that lovely bit of country in the South Downs, and I hope this Bill will not be left in such a form as will deprive us of that loveliness. In conclusion, it seems to me that it would have been far better if the Chancellor had committed to paper the Bill which he outlined this morning. If he had done so it would have been considerably easier for us to have known precisely what we were debating.
The speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has, on the whole, received more commendation in the course of this Debate than the Bill which he introduced this morning. I had better do my best with the latter. The first point I wish to make is directed to the suggestion which has come from a good many speakers—and I hope Members will forgive me if I do not mention them all by name, but I have done my best to pick up the various points which have been made and my right hon. Friend will, of course, study very carefully everything which has been said in the course of the Debate—that my right hon. Friend's statement this morning, together with the modifications, alterations and omissions to which he agreed, has, in effect, altered the principles of the Bill. I repudiate that completely. I wish to he as conciliatory as possible to all the suggestions which have been put forward, but, believe me, it is a very difficult problem. This Bill has been described by one speaker as a relic of the Victorian laissez faire, by another as totalitarian, and by my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. G. White) as a disorderly incursion, I assume, into an otherwise well ordered universe.
The fact is that the war, and the pressure and necessities of war, have compelled the Government to take property and spend the taxpayers' money on factories, buildings and works of all kinds, at a moment's notice, without, of course, the inquiry and consideration which would be devoted to such matters in peace-time. We are faced with vast areas where works have been put up, and it is necessary to do our best to see how the various interests affected—owners, public and financial—can be safeguarded and dealt with. My right hon. Friend agreed first of all that Clause 6 (1, a) should go, but that is not a question of principle. He explained the special class of case to cover which that Clause and Sub-section were inserted. There were a limited number of cases in which it was thought that it might be proper to have this power, but I think we can probably deal with them in other ways, and we are quite content that it should go. With regard to Clause 11 (5, b) which provides for direction for the Commission with regard to dwelling houses where they are entitled to take into account the fact that damage to the house has been of such extent that the cost of restoring it would be greater than the value, there, again, that is not a point of principle. A misapprehension existed in the minds of some speakers in regard to Clause 11 (5). Unless (a), (b) and (c)—now it will be (a) and (c)—exists the Com- mission have got to recommend that the dwelling house be cut out.
They have to address themselves to the question, Aye or No, Should it be cut out if (a) or (c) exists? That is a minor though a very important point in dealing with the question. Then there is the fact that there should be something in the nature of a negative resolution when the Minister disagrees with the Commission. That is not a great question of principle. It is important, but it does not alter the main structure of the Bill. Again, the right of societies, such as the Commons Preservation Society, and local authorities, to go to the Commission is very important, but it does not alter the whole construction of the Bill. Therefore, I would suggest, respectfully and conciliatorily, that really the main outline of the Bill remains as when my right hon. Friend asked the House to give it a Second Reading.
What is the main outline of the Bill, and is there any justification for the suggestion that we should withdraw it and redraft it? Everyone agrees that there must be a Bill of this kind and that it is a matter of some urgency. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) said the Government undertook not to bring in controversial legislation, but I do not think the Government ever undertook that they would not bring in legislation which was necessary in the circumstances in which the country found itself, and a Bill dealing with the acquisition of land is necessarily fairly urgent and, I am sorry to say, is bound to be controversial. Of course, as my right hon. Friend explained, the broad picture which the Government and the House have to face up to is that a very large amount of money has been spent and buildings have been erected on land which does not belong to the State. That is the big problem with which we have to deal. In those circumstances, something very much in the nature of 5 (a) is very necessary. Let me take the most unpopular one first. There is perhaps waste land, or land of very little value, which has been requisitioned and there has been built on it a factory, or some other building, worth £200,000 or £300,000—if it is worth nothing, there is no point in acquiring it under 5 (a)—which it is proper to leave there. There is no objection, planning or otherwise. Every one will say it must remain. As the law stands, it would go back as a present to the owner of the small amount of land that has been requisitioned. There must be power to preserve that value. Under this power it goes to the Commission and their decision is final. It is said that there ought not to be powers similar to those set out in 5 (1, b) and (1, c). Factories have been put up which it is not necessary should be 100 per cent: ordnance factories but which should be under such control as to be available, if necessary, for shadow factories. The taxpayers have paid for them and there must be proper safeguards. The right to use any works, or to determine the use to which they are put, should be in the Government representing themselves, whose money has built the work. I believe that is right in principle.
I come to Clause 6. This is the other side of the picture—not the financial but the restoration side. I ask those who say this is purely finance to reconsider their views. If the taxpayers have put up a factory and it is necessary in the public interest that it should remain either for use or for control, surely they have a right to say the Government must have that power. As my right hon. Friend explained, at present the amount that we can give by way of compensation for restoration is limited by the value. Clause 47 enables us to go beyond that. No one objects to that. But that is not the Treasury trying to pick up odd pounds here and there. The Bill enables us to give greater compensation than we can give at present, provided that we are satisfied that it will be used for restoration. There is another affirmative amenity provision under 6 (1, b) by which land can be bought if it is desirable in the public interest that it should be dealt with in a particular manner, with a view to the total or partial rehabilitation thereof, and the land is only likely to be dealt with in that manner if it is acquired. There may be cases where the owners are not prepared to give the necessary assurances under Clause 47. There may be a case where there is a multiplicity of small owners and it is difficult to get them all to come in. There may be cases where the use of the land makes it impossible to restore it but where it may be put to some other use. I was told by one hon. Member that certain types of land cannot be used for agricultural purposes after there has been tank training. I was informed that shingle is found on top and the only thing that can be done is to afforest the land and that it cannot be restored to its original purpose. Although I am not complaining of people saying this is financial, when we come to look into it we find that, although it deals with financial considerations and with the public aspect of the question that it contains positive provisions to enable the Government to have the money and to spend it on restoration. My right hon. Friend said that it is the Government's policy wherever practicable to effect restoration. I have been asked one or two specific questions on that which I will deal with later.
I pass from that general bird's eye view of the Bill to one or two other questions. A good many speeches have been directed to the Commission. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Clifton Brown), my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton (Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe) referred to it. My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley referred to the financial side, and suggested that it was too largely a financial Bill. What I have said about that was very much directed to the criticisms he made. I would strongly repudiate the notion that because a Commission is appointed by the Treasury, it is not an independent and impartial body taking into account all proper considerations. We have the War Damage Commission, which has functioned to the general satisfaction of the House, of the public and of those with whom it has had to deal. It is not intended that the Commission should be a wholly judicial body. From the point of view of this House, the fact of it being appointed by the Treasury is that, if you do not like its composition, you can shoot at my right hon. Friend, and I should have thought that was an advantage. Indeed, in this Debate suggestions have been made as to the type of people who should be on the Commission. That is a very relevant question to address my right hon. Friend if he is going to appoint it, but such questions could not be raised if that power were taken out of his hands.
This is a matter which will be discussed in Committee, and I do not want to take too long about it. There is a great deal to be said for leaving it as it is. My right hon. Friend has explained his intentions, with which I think the House agrees, and we shall be able to discuss the way the Commission does its work. This is where my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson) comes in with the suggestion that there should be a Commission to deal with these matters over a very large area of the ground. The appointment of the Commission is another principle in this Bill which we ask the House to affirm on Second Reading. There has been some difference between the critics as to whether the Commission's findings should be absolute on questions of policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) made a very well informed and deeply felt, and also a well reasoned, speech. It was a very fair speech in facing the difficulties which this problem presents. In the things that he said he agreed it was necessary to have a Bill, and I felt that the gap between us was not a very great one, He took the view, and I agree with him, that there were constitutional objections to saying that the Commission should have the last word where questions of policy are involved.
This is one of those questions which goes backwards and forwards. One of the first Bills in the discussion of which I was ever asked to take part on this bench, was the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1934. The great apprehension there was that the Unemployment Assistance Board was to be independent of the Minister. Therefore people did not like it. I agree that each case has to be considered on its merits. In some cases it is a good thing to have an independent body whose word is final. In some cases that would be wrong, for it would take away the control of this House over the Executive and would delegate the power to have the final word to a body appointed once and for all. We have drawn a line in this Bill, and we believe we have drawn it in the right place, but this is a matter for discussion later. The Commission's word is final under Clause 5 (1, a) on finance; it is final on the amount of compensation under the highway Clause; it it final under Clause 6 (1, b) dealing with purchase for rehabilitation; and it is final on the dwelling house. It is not final under Clause 5 (1, b) and (1, c) and in certain other matters where the Minister says, "I think this power ought to be exercised in the public interest" and then disagrees with the report. There is then the possibility of control by this House, and the responsibility has to rest, ultimately, on the shoulders of those who sit on this bench and not on the shoulders of the Commission.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton referred to the powers of the Secretary of State for Air under the Air Navigation Act. The position, as I understand it, is that if any existing aerodrome is desired to be purchased for a civil aerodrome or for handing over to a local authority for use as a civil aerodrome, the powers under this Bill will be used, for the very good reason that, if the Secretary of State used his powers under the Air Navigation Act, he would have to pay the owner for the aerodrome that he himself has set up with State money.
Supposing he wanted to get land to use for other purposes, he could use his powers under the Air Navigation Act, or he could buy an aerodrome under that Act without using the protection of this Bill at all.
This Bill does not cut down his existing powers under the Air Navigation Act. All I was saying was that if he was proposing to buy for civil purposes an aerodrome which he has provided during the war, he would use. this Bill. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the New Forest (Major Mills) asked about commoners' rights. Those refer to Crown land, so that the main purpose of the Bill does not arise. I am told, and I think it is right, that there is no power under this Bill, it being Crown land, to buy out the commoners' rights. There are certain powers under the Defence Acts which are left untouched, under which commoners' rights may be bought out, but I do not think that this Bill places those rights in any jeopardy.
That is a different thing. My right hon. Friend has understood from those who are particularly interested in this problem of common rights and open spaces that their main apprehension arose under Clause 6 (1, a). That was, as he explained, the reason which led him to say that he was willing to delete that provision, which he certainly never intended for that use and which he was satisfied was not essential to the main purpose of the Bill. It has been suggested that there are other Clauses under which common rights might be affected. That question to a large extent depends on the nature of the work that has been done. I can assure my hon. Friends that if there is such a danger under other Clauses, my right hon. Friend will give the most sympathetic consideration to suggestions which may be put forward.
Under the Bill at present, there is no statutory provision unless the land is bought by a local authority. I àm not quite sure in how many cases commons have beeen used in a way which would be likely to give rise to that situation. The main commons cases are those which have been used for training and so on, and the main apprehension was that they might have been brought under Clause 6 (1, a) on the ground that the cost of repair—
I must interrupt my hon. Friend. I am afraid I cannot do so. I hope my hon. Friends will listen to my arguments on this very complicated question. I can say on behalf of my right hon. Friend that he will give the most sympathetic consideration to any suggestion that may be made where common rights are or might be jeopardised under the Bill. I cannot now deal with all the points which were emphasised with his usual vigour by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pick-thorn), but we shall discuss them at a later stage.
The reason why the Minister of Town and Country Planning, and planning itself, were not mentioned in Clause 11 was twofold. We believe there is some constitutional objection to saying that one Minister must consult some other Minister. There was considerable discussion on the point a few years ago. We put "all relevant considerations" into Clause II and we certainly—is my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) here? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I see; he is hiding behind Cambridge. I was saying that we certainly shall look again at those words, and I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. Once you start making a list, however, you tend to suggest that what is not in the list, does not matter. That is the real danger. My right hon. Friend is quite willing that there should be an extension of Clause 11. There are many things which the Commission ought to consider. As to puting in any reference to the Minister of Town and Country Planning, that is a matter we shall discuss, although the Minister has been consulted at all stages of the Bill. There will be further discussions in the course of all the action which is taken under it—and I include the Minister of Agriculture. Whether it is right to mention them in the Bill is a matter that I cannot discuss in a minute.
I have endeavoured to give the House a fair view of the Bill. I believe it is on right and necessary lines and I ask hon. Members to give it a Second Reading. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Mahon will see his way to withdraw his Amendment. We are very anxious to deal on the Committee stage with all legitimate points. There is a problem here to be dealt with. It is difficult, but we shall endeavour to get it done in such a way that nobody can say that the power will be used in any circumstances in the way that has been objected to.
I am not at all clear what my hon. Friend's point is on this matter. That is my trouble. The powers under the Air Navigation Act remain, and I do not suppose that anybody at the moment wants to alter them. Under the Bill, an aerodrome which comes within its main lines can be dealt with. If it is desirable to use an aerodrome constructed during the war as a civil aerodrome, I think the powers under the Bill would be used, because otherwise the Air Minister or the Government would be paying for it twice over. I do not wish to make a peroration. I commend the Bill to the House and I hope we shall get our Second Reading without a Division.