Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

HC Standing Committee [Land Commission Bill]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC Standing Committee F [3-52]
Editorial comments: 1030-1300. First Sitting reproduced in its entirety, MT’s contributions making little sense by themselves. She spoke at cc.16, 25, 28, and 45.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 17356
Themes: Industry, Privatized & state industries, Taxation, Housing, Local government
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LAND COMMISSION BILL

Standing Committee F

OFFICIAL REPORT

Thursday, 17th February, 1966

[Mr. H. Hynd in the Chair]

10.30 a.m.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That during the proceedings on the Land Commission Bill the Committee do meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays at half-past Ten o'clock.—[Mr. Skeffington.]

Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter

These are the normal Standing Committee Sittings, as you are aware, Sir, and probably it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we were to adopt the Government's proposal. However, may I take this opportunity of expressing the hope that the absence of the Minister will not constitute a precedent during our discussions, because it is highly important that he should be here to listen to the argument.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)

My right hon. Friend apologises to the Committee for his absence. There is an important meeting of Ministers which he is attending this morning, but my right hon. Friend hopes to be here before the sitting finishes. This is an exceptional case, as I hope the Committee will understand.

Question put and agreed to.

The Chairman

Before calling the first Amendment may I say that there is a Financial Resolution in connection with this Bill, copies of which are available in the room.

I should also like to call attention to the fact that adequate notice should be given of Amendments. As a general rule, I do not intend to call manuscript Amendments; and, whilst I am always prepared to give as much consideration as possible to starred Amendments, I must warn the Committee that I am allergic to them. They will get more consideration if more than one day's notice is given.

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Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am sure that the Committee is grateful for that indication of your views, Mr. Hynd, with which most of us would have a great deal of sympathy. I hope, however, that you will not indicate your disinclination towards starred Amendments too sharply in the early stages of our debates. You will be as well aware as all hon. Members of the Committee that this is an immensely complex Bill, and a great deal of labour is needed by those who do not have the advantage of the Government's machinery at their disposal, in order to get Amendments forward in the right and proper form. We have not had very long to prepare for a Bill of this character between Second Reading and the initiation of our debates.

Speaking for my hon. Friends, I may say that we will, of course, respectfully attempt to comply with your wishes, but I hope that you will cast a kindly eye in the early stages of our debates because of the time factor which, as you will know, is a very real one. We are endeavouring to get our Amendments down as quickly as we can, but in the circumstances that inevitably takes a little time. I hope for your kindly eye in the early stages, with the understanding that we on this side will do our best to comply with your wishes as far as possible.

The Chairman

The hon. Gentleman knows that my eye is always kindly. On the question of collaboration between the Committee and the Chair, I am only too anxious to collaborate as fully as possible.

Clause 1.—(The Land Commission.)

Mr. Michael Noble

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 8, after “established” , to insert “in England and Wales” .

Before I start to move this Amendment may I seek the guidance of the Chair? I suspect that your reference to the Money Resolution, Mr. Hynd, may mean that my second Amendment and subsequent ones linked with it are not in order. May I ask for your advice, because I do not want to stray across the border of these two Amendments if that is so?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Only across the national border!

The Chairman

The hon. Gentleman's suspicions are justified. Amendment [column 5]No. 2, in page 1, line 10, after “Commission')” , insert:

“and in Scotland a body of Commissioners to be called the Scottish Land Commission (in this Act referred to as ‘the Scottish Commission’)” .

and Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5, 8 and 9, all of which seek to leave out “Commission” and insert “Commissions” , are out of order.

Mr. Noble

Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Hynd, I had some warning that this might be so. I would like to apologise to you, Sir, and to the Committee for having the tail end of a bout of 'flu, and, though I hope to be in better voice at later stages of the Committee, may I apologise in advance if I cannot be heard by hon. Members, by the curious-looking microphone apparatus or by the Official Reporters.

It gives me peculiar and particular pleasure at the beginning of an extremely complicated Bill of this kind to be able to move an Amendment which is quite clearly to the great benefit of the Government and to the Committee; because, as is clear, its intention is to remove Scotland from the particular provisions of this Bill. Had my other Amendments been in order I could not have claimed that I was benefiting the Committee so much. The hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has many departmental functions and a great deal of work to do. I know only too well the amount of work that is involved for her in understanding and bringing clearly before the Committee, as is her wont, the various points that may well arise during the course of the Bill if we have still to consider Scotland. I am sure her sympathies will be with me even if, at the end of the debate, her vote, for some curious reason, cannot be.

We have observed from across the Border the natural inclination for England to keep all the good things to herself; and there appears to be a majority in this Committee of some 22 Englishmen to three Scots. Therefore, the English, for once, are in a majority. There was a time when the Scots had the habit of raiding across the Border when they wanted cattle or other good things that existed in the South. Those days have passed. We have become rather more sophisticated now—I notice a certain amount of merriment on the part of my [column 6]right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter)—because nowadays it is the habit of the Scots to employ a Secretary of State to spend a good deal of his time in the corridors of the Treasury in order to acquire perhaps rather more than their fair share of what is going. Alas, perhaps, this happy state seems at the moment to have come to an end. But the majority of the Committee—and I make no complaint about it because it has been a normal practice by the Government—apparently believes that this Bill is a good thing. Let us, in Scotland, be generous and allow them to keep it because as my arguments, I hope, will show, we think there are very good reasons for it to remain.

I am tempted to stop here and appeal to the Committee to accept my very generous offer, but I feel that it is right and proper that I should explain to the Committee my reasons for believing that the Bill is in some ways suitable to England and Wales but in no respect that I can see suitable for Scotland.

Owing to the vagaries of one of our air services I found it rather difficult to be in the House on the day of the Second Reading, but I read the full report of that debate. If I am right, the main purpose of the Government in bringing forward this Bill was to attempt to put an end to what they called the “squalid racket” in land prices, their aim being to ensure that these prices come down. In Scotland we have to some extent been passed over by some of the benefits and disadvantages of the affluent society—and when I talk of Scotland I know that a great deal of what I say applies also to the Northern half of England. As the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) will appreciate, we have not had the great expansion of private building which has taken place in England and which has to some extent helped to create the conditions which have sometimes taken the price of land beyond what was reasonable or sensible.

In the South there has been this tremendous surge of private building, and the endeavours to provide the houses that people want have certainly played a part—though how significant I would not attempt to assess—in building up the [column 7]cost of land, which is the natural resource for so much that we want to do. In Scotland, and to some extent in the North of England, too, the situation is very different. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government, in his usual frank way, announced to the world through the columns of one of the newspapers that in Britain the council house system is mediaeval. For all I know, there may be parts of Britain where this is true, but in Scotland the right hon. Gentleman could certainly be forgiven for this view in at least one fact, that if he looked at our council house rents he would find that they certainly have a rather mediaeval look about them.

This is one of the major reasons why we have not had so much private building in the North. But in the days when I was fairly closely connected with a good many of these problems we looked from time to time at the question of the cost of land and its effect on housing. At that time, only two years ago, it was said that in Scotland the cost of the land was of the order of 5 per cent. of the cost of the finished house. I know that this proportion was exceeded by several times, on average, in England and that in certain places in England where there was a particularly acute shortage of land the proportion might rise to somewhere near 35 or 40 per cent. of the cost of the house. Therefore, I understand why there is particular feeling and worry in England as a whole about this problem, and I understand why it is now agreed, in varying degrees between all parties, that some action should be taken to try to control this rise.

But in Scotland we have about one-third of the land mass of the British Isles and about one-tenth of its population. As a result, we have not had the same pressures for land or the same build-up in price. This seems to indicate that the arguments which were being produced by my right hon. Friends over the last few years—that if there was an adequate supply of land the price would be reasonable—were correct. I believe the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will agree with me that there have been very few cases in Scotland as a whole where the provision of houses or the need for factories has been held up in any way by a shortage of land. Of course, there [column 8]have been isolated cases in the centre of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and isolated instances in other parts of the country where the topography makes it difficult—for example, in Greenock perhaps, or Oban, in my own constituency. But this is not a problem that we have had to anything like the extent that it exists in the South.

10.45 a.m.

I am sure that the hon. Lady, who now has the keys of St. Andrew's House, would be only too willing to allow her hon. and right hon. Friends to see the map room there, which we started. It is possible to obtain, in the most graphic way, an exact picture of the make-up of Scotland and the way the land is now being used and its availability—all the different factors which make it possible for anyone, whether he be a mere Member of Parliament looking for enlightenment, an industrialist looking for a factory site, a developer looking for land for house building, or an engineer looking to see whether the country across which he is going to drive a road is good or bad for this purpose, to derive a clear understanding of the situation. All these things are added together in a clear and unmistakeable way on a map of the whole country. Anybody who has had the advantage of looking at this map can see that the problems which have bedevilled some areas in England can be fairly simply solved in Scotland. That is the first of my reasons for thinking that Scotland can do very comfortably without all the provisions of this complicated Bill.

The second reason is no less important, in its way. In the Second Reading debate it so happened that the only Scottish Member who was able to catch Mr. Speaker's eye was my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie). He made a short contribution almost entirely concerning the problems of planning and compulsory powers of acquisition. With his usual courtesy he said that he did not expect the Under-Secretary, who was winding up a few minutes later, to be able to answer some of the extremely important points that he had made. I am certain that she has read the report of my hon. and learned Friend's speech, and that she may be able to give us the answers for which he asked. [column 9]

The Bill provides the Commission with certain powers of compulsory purchase. My hon. and learned Friend, who has had much experience in dealing with the legal side of these matters for many years, said that as far as he knew there had not been a single case of an authority in Scotland falling down in its statutory obligations. It will be appreciated that although Scotland has a fairly large acreage, it is a comparatively close-knit country, and the relationship between St. Andrew's House and Scottish local authorities has always been a great deal closer and—although I do not want to cast aspersions on the Ministry of Housing or other English Ministries—a good deal easier than in such a large and congested country as England.

Mr. Archie Manuel

The right hon. Gentleman has said that no Scottish local authority has fallen down in its statutory obligations. I can give him several instances. I know of two in Ayrshire, where certain measures had to be taken to make two local authorities—one a very large one—build houses to rehouse people who were living in some very unfit houses in their localities. We had to invoke the provisions of the 1930 Slum Clearance Act so that a public inquiry could be held and the local authorities could be forced to get on with the job.

Mr. Noble

The hon. Member is quite right. There have been occasions when Scottish local authorities have fallen down on some of their statutory obligations. My point is that in the opinion of my hon. and learned Friend the statutory obligations which are laid upon local authorities by the 1947 Act, concerning compulsory acquisition, have been used successfully and rightly.

It is not in dispute that local authorities have these powers, because they are in the 1947 Act, which a Labour Government passed nearly 20 years ago, but it is sometimes said that local authorities do not use them. My hon. and learned Friend pointed out that if this was so the House ought to realise that under Sections 5 and 96 of the same Act the Secretary of State has reserve powers to make certain that if a local authority falls down in its statutory obligations under those Sections—which I believe has not happened—he can move in and insist that those powers be used. He can dic[column 10]tate terms to the local authority as to what it shall do.

I do not remember a case when I, as Secretary of State, was asked to use my reserve powers. I do not believe that any of my predecessors, from either side of the House, was asked to use his reserve powers under these Sections. If there have been cases I am sure that the hon. Lady will have them at her fingertips and will be able to advise the Committee accordingly. If my hon. and learned Friend is right, however, these powers have been shown to be ample during the period in which many complicated new planning procedures have had to be carried out in Scotland.

My hon. and learned Friend's second and equally important point concerned the problem of the powers enabling the Land Commission to interfere with the ordinary planning powers of local authorities, if it sees fit. In his neighbourhood the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) has one of the most powerful and active county councils in the country. I can remember having one or two brushes with it, not unconnected with the establishment of a new town in its area. It did not want the new town, but it has now got it.

The establishment of a Land Commission based in London—because that is inevitable; it will be considered to be in London whether the headquarters are in London or just outside—is likely to have the worst possible effects——

Mr. Skeffington

The headquarters will be in Newcastle.

Mr. Noble

I thank the hon. Member for that information. Perhaps I should have had it before.

Mr. Skeffington

It is nearer the border.

Mr. Noble

It is nearer the border, but for several hundred years there has been a tradition of rivalry across that border, and I am not certain that this is the most acceptable place to the Scots. It is probably more acceptable than London. Nonetheless, some feeling will be aroused in Scotland because this Commission is situated across the border. Before our proceedings are concluded we may be able to get the hon. Member to move it to our side of the border. [column 11]We should not mind that. As it is, there will be a feeling that people from outside are coming in and interfering with our local authorities and their planning officers, who believe, rightly, that they have done a very good job of work, often in difficult conditions. If people come across the border and say, “We do not agree with what you have done. Now you will have to change this and change that” , it will cause resentment and worry, and will not be for the benefit of either country.

The third point is that conditions across the border, and to some extent in England, will enormously change as a result of recent proposals of the Government, set out in their White Paper on Investment Incentives. If we look at the map in that White Paper we see that suddenly, from somewhere just north of York right to the end of the Shetlands, the whole country is to become a Development District with the exception of a tiny section in the middle containing Edinburgh and Leith.

The Land Commission may have valuable powers in creating and collecting betterment levies but these powers can act absolutely contrary to the wishes of people who are trying to plan for the expansion and development of the new Development Districts. I want to anticipate matters to the extent of considering the betterment levy, especially that in Class C, which affects the expansion of existing industries and the bringing in of new ones to Development Districts. This will inevitably need totally different treatment from that which is required in those parts of the country outside Development Districts.

Without doubt, we need every encouragement from the Government to set up new industry and to expand existing industries on the site. The further we get from the central belt, whether in England or Scotland, the more essential this becomes. Yet at this moment, when the confidence of the business community has already been a little undermined in many respects, we have in this Bill a suggestion of a betterment levy starting at 40 per cent. and rising shortly to 50 per cent. Indeed, several hon. Members opposite would like to see it rise a great deal more. [column 12]

In the Second Reading debate, questions were asked about the scope of this type of levy. We understand that in Scotland, like everywhere else, the levy will apply to extensions of industrial buildings. This must provide a considerable deterrent. Will it also cover new ideas in agriculture? In Scotland the main industries in the Development Districts—which have been added to the old Development Areas—consist of agriculture, forestry and tourism. We hope that our native ingenuity and skill will bring new methods and ideas in their train, and that we shall be able to develop our country more successfully and more quickly than we have in the past. If we do this, however, it will not be through a continuation of the old systems which have been in existence for generations; it will be through new ideas, perhaps involving new types of building and new thinking in development.

How can we plan ahead for these things if we do not know whether or not, when they are carried out, they will be caught under a betterment levy? One of the specific industries in respect of which I should like a quick answer from the hon. Lady is the quickly expanding industry of ski-ing. It is not an unreasonable interpretation of this idea of material development to include the building of ski-tows up hills. If so, will those hills be increased in value because the public can ski on them? This is only one example of the new way in which we try to attract business and give pleasure to tourists in Scotland as a whole.

11.0 a.m.

I wonder whether the hon. Lady could tell me whether in this Bill “land” includes water. We know that in a good many cases in other Bills we have been surprised to discover that this is so. But there are great opportunities—and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) will not disagree with me because we are both interested in it—in the North for developing the controlled culture of fish in sea lochs. I hope that the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) will not feel too worried lest the livelihood of his constituenst should be interrupted. But projects are already under way, and some experimental work is being done. In fact, the biggest project may involve expenditure running into tens of millions of pounds. [column 13]If these inland lochs or inlets from the sea, which can be converted into inland lochs, are to be considered in the Bill as land, and if the people concerned have to pay the betterment levy of 40 or 50 per cent, because they have turned a comparatively useless piece of water into a very valuable asset to the nation, and perhaps to the many people who will work on it, this is the sort of thing that might stop all that work dead in its tracks. I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to give us some indication about that.

Mr. John Wells

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the point about water and improvements, I hope that the hon. Lady can give her views on the expansion of the pleasure boat industry which is vital to certain parts of Scotland. There are marine installations, for example. I am simply following up the thought of my right hon. Friend when he referred to ski-ing, and applying it to the water aspect. It would be helpful if we could know the position concerning installations to do with boating which will be actually placed in the sea, as well as fishing.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

He might also be able to say, in connection with the development of water in Scotland, whether confirmation of the existence of the Loch Ness monster would be a material development and so attract a levy!

Mr. Noble

I remember being told by a former Member of this House that the Loch Ness monster was not one but several hundred.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

There should be more levy!

Mr. Noble

There might well be more levy. These are genuine problems. They are problems which were not, for various reasons—mostly the shortage of time—raised during the Second Reading of this important Bill. It is quite clear that our consideration of this important Bill is bound to take a good deal of time. We really cannot afford in the North to have uncertainties of this sort hanging around, because the development of many of these new industries, new ideas, and new concepts of how to use the land of Scotland best depend on people who have perhaps at the moment some money avail[column 14]able, and if there is doubt in their minds, that money might well be used for other purposes.

As I said at the beginning, the problems which I have emphasised particularly concerning Scotland are not, of course, peculiar to Scotland. Exactly the same problems inevitably arise in Development Districts in England and Wales, and they will have the same sort of worries. But I accept straight away that it would be very difficult for the Minister to produce a Bill for England and Wales, as I am suggesting this one should be, and then cut it in half again in order to have a different Bill for the Development Districts in England.

I do not want to suggest, because I know the Minister would not agree, that he should drop all the Development Districts in England and Wales out of this Bill as well. But I hope I have made my case reasonably clear that as far as Scotland is concerned, every one of the main reasons for which this Bill has been commended to the country and to the House do not apply. I do not believe they will apply for a great number of years if we are wise and sensible. We have enough land, and if we develop it sensibly there is no need for the great rises in costs which have bedevilled much of the problem in the South.

I think that we would save a good deal of ill-will between the Land Commission, based even in Newcastle, and Scottish local authorities. I believe we would save a great many civil servants, admirable people though they are. I do not think we need the extra things which the Bill will certainly involve, and I cannot for the life of me see that it is in the least necessary that this Bill should extend across the Border. How much more attractive it would be if the Land Commission for England was situated in Newcastle. It would be rather similar to our putting Dounreay up at the end of Scotland. We would be putting the Land Commission at the extreme end of its territory, and it would stretch out the number of civil servants across the country. Is it not satisfactory that, situated there, it should look after the South from Newcastle, leaving us in Scotland to manage our affairs as best we can and as well as we have done over the last number of years?

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The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Judith Hart)

I think that the whole Committe will be grateful that the right hon. Gentleman provided us with a little of our tradition in these matters, but I find his basic argument an extremely difficult one to understand. In fact, he will forgive me if I say it derives in part from the fact that he has not quite caught up with what is really likely to happen in Scotland over the next few years, and what has been happening in the last year and before that. I think he is well conditioned by thinking that derives from the past.

He said, for example, that Scotland had been passed over. I think that the right hon. Gentleman, in making his comparison with the South of England, to some extent included the North of England in his remarks concerning Scotland. He said that one result was that there was much less private building in Scotland and that therefore, the problems in Scotland were not of the same order and were not of the same kind as those in the South of England for which he thought the Government had designed the Bill.

He said that he understood why there is feeling and anxiety about high land prices in England and Wales, but he said there is not the same pressure on land in Scotland. Of course, at this moment in time this is true, although it is rapidly becoming less true as every month goes by, certainly in the central areas of Scotland where industrial development is gathering momentum.

He then said that the problems which had bedevilled England did not apply to Scotland. I am amazed he used that argument. Surely he must accept that the logical consequence of the industrial development, for which he hoped when he was Secretary of State, for which we hope now in the Government, for which so much is being done and towards which the Scottish White Paper was published the other week and towards which our policy of industrial incentives is in part designed, must be a much more rapid industrial development in Scotland. Indeed, the indications are already there. The right hon. Gentleman knows that whereas in 1964 something like 9 per cent. of the United Kingdom approvals for factory building took place in Scot[column 16]land, last year the figure had gone up to 17 per cent.

Mr. Noble

I quite accept the desire of the hon. Lady with regard to the industrial development of Scotland, but if she will look at the map in St. Andrew's House will she not agree that in the central belt this may be beginning to bite? The whole of our policy is to use this to spread industry outside the central belt. We have one-third of the land mass of Britain and only one-tenth of the population.

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher

If the Judith Harthon. Lady is so anxious to have more industrial development in Scotland—and I know that she is; my Denis Thatcherhusband is closely connected with a firm which has a factory in Glasgow—why is she supporting a Bill which puts a levy on modernising and expansion on the part of these industrialists who expand their organisations in Scotland? That is what this Bill does. If she wants more industrial development she should be arguing against the Bill and not for it.

Mrs. Hart

We should invite the hon. Lady to join the Scottish Grand Committee.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

That is intimidation!

Mrs. Hart

If the hon. Lady will wait, she will hear an answer to that argument also.

The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that things are beginning to look tight in the central part of Scotland, and he will know there have been example such as that of Fort William. But that was not typical of land prices. Nevertheless, in Edinburgh he will know that the price of land has gone up to around £5,000 per acre. There is a tendency for land prices to take the same course as they have done in England and Wales. Of course, we have a great deal of land in Scotland, and of course the whole policy on which the White Paper is based is to regard the whole of Scotland, with the exception of Edinburgh, as a development area. But wherever industrial development occurs, the price of land soars, and I cannot understand why he cannot, with usual Scottish canny foresight, recognise that in relation to Scotland this is a means of preventing the kind of land speculation [column 17]and land scandals which have been so common in the South. This will prevent what has happened in London and the South-East of England over the last five or six years. If he does not realise that this is so, either he is failing to learn the lesson of the price scandals of South-East England, or has not anticipated the kind of industrial development in Scotland that we are anticipating and intending to achieve. That is the basic argument.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to make various other points in more detail. He referred to the effect in Scotland of a Land Commission based even in New-castle. To the extent that this is legislation which has revenue implications, it is bound to be a Treasury matter, but the Government, so far as this Bill is concerned, is not the Government based in Whitehall. It will be a Government based in Cumbernauld and St. Andrew's House, and I think that credit ought to be given for the imaginative step which has been announced of the site of the Scottish office of the Land Commission in Scotland. It is in a new town which is badly in need of assistance and inducement to other industry.

11.15 a.m.

An extensive body of professional and technical people always comes to a new town where there is industrial development, and a great start is being made in industry. There is no dissatisfaction in Scotland with the fact that we are now to have the Land Commission offices in Cumbernauld. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that there is, he is out of touch. In all our discussions of the Bill in Scotland, we have heard no suggestion that the Bill should not apply to Scotland, nor, if it does, any expression of dissatisfaction with the way in which it is proposed that the administration should be centred in Cumbernauld as well as in St. Andrew's House.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about encouragement being needed for new industries, and this was the hon. Lady's point too. He disapproves of the power to collect betterment levies, because he says that it goes contrary to the efforts for industrial development. This was the tenor of his argument. I agree with him that we need all the encouragement that we can find for new industries and for the expansion of existing ones. Of course, [column 18]this is so, but has he taken into account—I cannot believe he has, or he would not use this argument—the fact that the Land Commission, by having the powers which it will, can ensure that land prices for new factories in Scotland—wherever industrial development or the expansion of existing industries is taking place—whether the capital cost of land or the rent of premises built on land which is not owned by the firm in question, can be kept to a reasonable level?

If we did not have the Land Commission operating in Scotland and were, therefore, exposed to the rise in land prices where industrial development is anticipated or takes place, the direct consequence would be to increase either the rent or the price of the factory for the potential industrialist and would be the greatest disincentive to new industry. This is part of Scotland's attraction to new industry—the freedom from the arbitrary prices which obtain at the moment in other parts of England. We must ensure that this is maintained and that we are not exposed to any disincentives which can result from rises in land prices for development.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about existing planning powers for compulsory purchase. Of course, the existing powers are already available for planning purposes, but they are not the proper vehicle for the assembly of land well in advance of need. This is the essential point. Not all local planning authorities in Scotland have yet made development plans. Some are still in the process of working them out, and those authorities which have not yet prepared development plans and many who have prepared them are so understaffed that they can deal with day-to-day work but not with the long-term planning which is involved in looking forward to the industrial development of Scotland and the movement of population which is likely as we set up industries.

Local planning authorities are not able to spare the staff to take a look at this creative, positive kind of activity which can be undertaken by the Land Commission. Certainly, the Secretary of State has reserve powers, but they are not intended to replace the local planning authority as a general rule and one would expect them to be used very sparingly indeed——

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Mr. Noble

Have they been used?

Mrs. Hart

Not so far. The planning powers under the Land Commission would, one expects, be used very sparingly, but they would be used, for example, in circumstances where more than one planning authority was involved or where, for example, under the Bill there is an intention to designate a new town. The Secretary of State will continue, of course, under the Bill, to have the powers which he has at the moment as housing and planning Minister. Extra powers under the Land Commission would not normally be exercised where a local planning authority had not already given planning approval, but could be exercised in the contingency that this was necessary in the interests of some desirable Scottish development which went beyond the boundaries of one particular planning authority.

No one is saying that local planning authorities are falling down on there planning job, but it would not be reasonable to expect them to do the Commission's job, which is separate and distinct. In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's query about the Planning Act, I would say that the relevant powers of compulsory purchase to which he referred, under Section 35 of the 1947 Act, are, of course, available only where the Secretary of State is satisfied, first, that land is required in order to secure development or redevelopment, if it is land comprised in a comprehensive development area as defined in a development plan, and, secondly, that, in any other case, that the land acquisition is necessary for the purposes of securing its use in the manner proposed by the development plan.

The Commission's powers to acquire land are much wider. An example is Clause 6(3). The powers relate, amongst other things, to land in respect of which planning permission has been given for a use not shown on the development plan, or land designated for new town purposes under the 1946 New Towns Act. These are, I think, the basic and detailed points in answer to the right hon. Gentleman.

Another question of detail which he put was whether “land” includes water. Yes, it does. He asked what happens about ski-ing. Here, of course, is a case very much in point. Betterment levy is [column 20]paid not by the buyer of the land but by the seller. The moment that the Cairngorms area begins to become—as it now is, a fact which we welcome—an area in which the tourist industry is being stimulated, there is a danger that further development in the area will be inhibited because land prices rise as a result of that very success. It is in the interests of the tourist industry in Scotland that the land powers given by the Bill should be there.

There is one further point on which the right hon. Gentleman did not touch, but which I should like to stress. As he knows, a great deal of public effort in terms of planning, direct local expenditure and central government expenditure is being given to the encouragement of industrial growth in those parts of Scotland where it is needed. A great deal of the taxpayers' money is quite rightly being devoted to ending the drift from the North to the South and to this world in which there are two worlds. We believe that it is right that the benefit of all increases in land values which follow from this kind of expenditure of public money for social and economic purposes should accrue to the people rather than to the land owners.

The substance of this argument applies equally to Scotland as to England and Wales. I am afraid, therefore, that I cannot accept the right hon. Gentleman's arguments. Apart from the point of detail which he was perfectly right to raise with me, his basic argument is fallacious and not in tune with what we hope to see happening in Scotland in the next few years.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The effect of the Amendment is to take Scotland out of the Bill. The only argument which I can find against it is that, if it were successful, it would deprive the Committee of the opportunity of hearing the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State on many occasions throughout our deliberations. Although this is a powerful and attractive argument, nonetheless I hope it is one by which the Committee will not be led astray. This is an extremely important matter.

There were moments during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) when I began to feel that I was diverging from him. He seemed to contemplate the possibility [column 21]that the Bill might not be altogether a bad thing for England and Wales. Let me assure him that we regard this as a very bad thing everywhere. However, we have sufficient feeling for our fellow countrymen North of the Border—and I have sufficient Scottish blood—to feel that it would be right to spare them this cross and then, perhaps, proceed to remove it from our own shoulders by a subsequent and probably more prolonged operation.

There is also the point that, even if hon. Members opposite take the other view and think that this is, in the words of the editors of “1066 and All That” , “a good thing” , there is a very powerful case for saying that, if this is to be imposed on Scotland, it should be imposed in separate and specifically Scottish legislation. It is the general practice, in matters dealing with land law, to take into account the fact that the Scots have a system of land law completely incomprehensible to most Southerners and, I expect, to many Scots. Therefore, legislation bearing on these matters is properly framed as a separate Scottish Measure.

I cannot say that even that would enable us to have the assistance of the Scottish Law Officers on the point, but that touches on another and more delicate matter. However, it would enable the separate Scottish problems and the application of this matter to a totally different system of land tenure to be dealt with separately in a Scottish Measure. Whether Scottish hon. Members opposite accept our argument that Scotland should be spared this, or take the view that Scotland should have it, I hope they will agree that there is a powerful case for saying that if this is to be imposed on Scotland, it should be done by Scottish legislation, which can effectively take account of the differences of law, of fact and of economic position between the two parts of the United Kingdom.

Nothing which the Committee could do in taking Scotland out of the Bill can possibly prevent the hon. Lady and her right hon. Friend, if they so wish, from coming forward with specifically Scottish legislation to impose this on their fellow countrymen.

I should like to take up only one other point made by my right hon. Friend. [column 22]He made a comparison between the Land Commission headquarters at Newcastle and the establishment at Dounreay. There is, of course, a vital distinction—Dounreay is a source of power, the Land Commission will be a source of weakness.

I admit that the hon. Lady, as she always does, made the best of an extremely poor case and I doubt whether she has ever had quite such a bad case to argue or has seemed so uncomfortable. She let fall one very revealing observation, that Scotland cannot be excluded because this has revenue implications and is a Treasury matter. This is exactly the point which we made on Second Reading—that this is a Treasury matter. This is a tax, and the corollary, which the hon. Lady did not follow, is that this tax ought to be imposed straightforwardly by Treasury Ministers using the normal procedure of a Finance Bill and should be collected by the normal tax machinery, that is to say, the Inland Revenue. I am glad to welcome the hon. Lady into the ranks of those, practically all of whom have expresed a view on this. She appreciates that it is a Treasury and taxation matter, and one welcomes her into the fold.

11.30 a.m.

Mrs. Hart

I wondered how the right hon. Gentleman proposed to reconcile the inconsistency of his argument that there should, on the one hand, be a separate Scottish Bill and, on the other hand, that it was a United Kingdom Treasury matter.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

It is perfectly easy. It is quite possible to impose taxation on Scotland, as Scottish Members know, but the right way in which to follow this up is to proceed, if one wants a Commission at all, with a Bill setting up a Scottish Land Commission and then proceed with totally separate tax legislation for Scotland.

My right hon. Friend advanced a powerful argument for sparing us this tax at all as a means of helping Scotland's development problems. We in the last Government set a precedent in our Finance Bill by allowing the fiscal privilege of free depreciation to the development areas, which include a very large part of Scotland. There is, therefore, good precedent for using a fiscal privilege, which would provide a legitimate [column 23]and very sensible method of encouraging the industrial development where we want it. That is precisely the point, and I am indebted to the hon. Lady for bringing me to it.

She spoke about sending this Commission to Cumbernauld. I agree that, if we are to have this thing at all, it is probably as good to send it to a new town as anywhere else, because the hon. Lady is quite right in saying that it is a good policy—it is one that we ourselves pursued—to send Government Departments from the metropolitan centres to the new towns. I myself was responsible for sending the Paymaster-General's Office to Crawley. But I am sure she would not say that that was an argument for imposing all this elaborate business on Scotland. The two things do not balance out. There may be a case for imposing this on Scotland, but that case, if she believes in it, must be a great deal stronger than just to be dependent on an administrative headquarters.

The hon. Lady truly said that there are a number of other Measures before Parliament at the moment, altering—I think in many ways for the worse—the system of inducements to industry to go to the development areas. We agree with the objectives; the difference between us relates to the methods. One method proposed by the Government is that of money grants to those who extend and improve their factories, but does not the Under-Secretary of State realise that applying the levy to that industrial development means that what her right hon. Friend the First Secretary gives out with one hand by way of investment grants, her right hon. Friend the Minister of Land and Natural Resources will claw back some by way of levy?

Does that really make sense? Does she not follow this up? To pay these investment grants and not claw some back must be a bigger inducement to people to develop in those areas than to pay out the grants only to claw some of them back by way of levies. One of the difficulties of the levy in the shape and form proposed in the Bill is that it is a tax on modernisation and development; that it falls on the most active sections of society which are trying to modernise, develop and improve. Those who are [column 24]concerned to see industrial development go ahead in Scotland and see the very fine work, if I may say so, that my right hon. Friend did as Secretary of State on this very matter carried forward to further success, want to spare Scotland the imposition of the levy as, if the hon. Lady likes, a fiscal privilege designed deliberately to help, as free depreciation undoubtedly did help development in those very areas.

The hon. Lady then said—and here I thought that her argument lost vigour—that this provision will help those people extending their factories to get their land more cheaply. Does she really think that? Does she really think that the imposition of a tax payable by the vendor will enable the purchaser to get the land more cheaply? Has she no experience of how taxation works? I thought that Scottish Members, with rueful recollections of the effect in the opposite direction of the whisky duty, would be perhaps a little cynical of the argument that this tax, uniquely in the whole history of taxation, would reduce the price of land.

What it will do—and hon. Members must face it—is to impose an additional charge on those who develop factories in Scotland, directly through the levy on their own improvements and, indirectly, to inflate the price of the land on which they build those developments. If hon. Members opposite intend to vote us down on this Amendment, I hope that they will at least be clear in their minds what they are doing. They are taking a very considerable responsibility. To some extent, they are reversing the policy of this Government and of the previous Government of giving special encouragement to the redevelopment of Scotland. It seems a high price to pay for the dogmatic theories of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources.

There is no reason why, however, we should now open up the wide and general position. We shall have ample opportunity to do that, if the Government go on, at a later stage in this Committee. We are not even excluding separate consideration and separate legislation on taxation for Scotland, if the Government in their unwisdom think fit. We are now deciding whether the imposition of this burden on Scotland shall go forward under this Bill. [column 25]

Perhaps I might say a word of encouragement to hon. Members opposite. In relation to the Rating Bill, which has just finished in Committee, there was a revolt by Scottish Members against an English Minister, which resulted in an Amendment favoured by all the Scottish local authorities being put into the Bill against the will of the Minister. Nothing catastrophic happened to them—unless it was, perhaps, an interview with the Patronage Secretary which is something most of us can endure, if not with amusement at least with stoical fortitude. That Bill has come out of Committee with Scotland spared a burden. I wonder whether Scottish Members in this Committee, with a view to sparing Scotland this imposition, may act similarly.

Mr. Manuel

I am always happy to listen to the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). His arguments are very strong, clear and concise. My only difficulty is that he can always find an argument for every case and on any Bill that comes before any Committee. Today has been no exception. He has a flair. We had a much more honest argument from the right hon. Member for Argyle (Mr. Noble), and I should like to devote a little time to some of his points, and perhaps later associate what he said with the support given him by his right hon. Friend.

The right hon. Member for Argyle clearly thought, rather to the dismay of his right hon. Friend, that this legislation would be much more suitable to England and Wales than to Scotland, and gave us his reasons. He said that Scotland had not had the advantage of private house building proceeding at the same rate as it had in England and Wales, and then got back to the old argument that we have had hundreds of times during the years in the Scottish Committee that council-house rents had something to do with that.

Mrs. Thatcher

Hear, hear.

Mr. Manuel

The hon. Lady has been looking annoyed this morning at hearing different facts, because her husband has a factory in Glasgow and derives rich and lucrative benefit from Scottish workers, and she wants more of it; but we want to make certain that other husbands of Tory wives get a reasonable [column 26]opportunity to get a piece of land on which to build a factory and compete with her husband on even terms. Having said that, I return to the question of council-house rents.

The right hon. Member for Argyle knows quite well that we on this side have put on record many times our belief in reasonable rents, and he must have been pleased to see the increase in rents in areas where he thought they were too low. I must put to him however, as I have done on many occasions, the extreme difficulty local authorities in Scotland had to move in this direction during a period of industrial depression. For years under his Government we had heavy, sustained unemployment, reaching over 100,000 throughout the country. It becomes virtually impossible for local authorities to increase rents when their tenants are existing merely on unemployment benefit.

That was the great scourge of Scotland during 13 years of Toryism, but we are now getting going. I admit at once that the right hon. Gentleman did something in the years leading up to the 1964 General Election, to try to get a different picture. The increase in employment is going ahead. My hon. Friend has mentioned a rise in respect of industrial locations in Scotland from 9 per cent. to 17 per cent. as a result of what we have done in our short period of office. The right hon. Gentleman should pay tribute to the Scottish local authorities for the steps they have taken——

Mr. Noble

I do.

Mr. Manuel

—to improve the position. We are now getting on very well.

I understand the Tory philosophy on land. They do not want this Bill to put any curb on land prices. They want to continue in the old way of competition between various interests, with the highest bidder getting the land. When the right hon. Gentleman referred to high land prices for house building and industrial development resulting in central Scotland he appeared to think there was nothing outwith the area where land prices were going the wrong way. Bordering his constituency is the famous little town of Fort William. I am sure that he knows what has happened to land prices there since the pulp mill went there. The price even of bogland has gone up out of all relation to its real worth, simply because of the [column 27]house building and ancillary industry now necessary there. The terrain is difficult for building, yet land prices have gone up steeply. That rise would have been curbed had this Bill been on the Statute Book.

While the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames builds up a great case against the levy, he never takes into consideration the fact that the price originally paid for the land will be less——

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

No.

Mr. Manuel

It will be cheaper under the curbs we are applying. The levy will not be the bad thing he says it is, but a very nice instrument to return to the common weal some of the benefit accruing from the spending of taxes and local rates on necessary development services, such as gas, electricity, water, and sewerage in and on agricultural land previously paying no rates at all. As a result of local initiative and the expenditure of rates in the provision of such services, land like that suddenly assumes a value it never had previously. The person owning the land has not contributed a halfpenny, but what of the workers and everyone else in the burgh, township or village, those who have paid local rates to get these services in connection with industrial development or the building of municipal houses? Should not they get some return if the land is so valuable? This Bill will ensure that that happens. In other words, the common good is to supersede rampant private interests feeding off values created by the community. That is an entirely good thing.

11.45 a.m.

I believe that under the terms of the Bill where land is needed, whether for industry or for the building of municipal housing, it will be much easier in the future to secure it; because, as the right hon. Gentleman himself has acknowledged, often when we have had to take powers of compulsory acquisition of land to build houses for people living in dreadfully unfit and grossly overcrowded conditions we have had virtually to wait years before the machinery of compulsory acquisition took effect and power was secured to enter the land. This procedure has been speeded up in recent years, but I can say, as one who has been [column 28]closely connected with all this, that terrible delays have been caused.

On the question of investment incentives and money grants, I was really astonished at what was said by the right hon. Member for Argyll with whom the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames closely associated himself. Both made the claim that Scotland would be very much worse off in relation to industrial incentive allowances and so on. We had a debate in the House on Tuesday, and the Scottish Opposition Members, after arguing that the Edinburgh area should be a Development Area in line with the rest of Scotland—that the area around Edinburgh and some other part should be included for investment purposes—voted at the end of the debate, aided by English Tory Members, against Scotland being a Development Area at all or receiving any investment allowances. That was the peculiar position into which the hon. Gentleman has got himself by that vote. I do not know how he can justify that decision, although the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) can justify anything. She beams across the Committee so nicely——

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

There is no difficulty about justifying that.

Mrs. Thatcher

We would not have had this White Paper if the present Government had not taken away the allowances in the last Budget.

Mr. Manuel

The hon. Lady must recognise that we have now designated the whole of Scotland as a Development Area, with the exception of the area around Edinburgh and so on; but while Scottish Tories argue about this being included with the rest of Scotland to get the same incentive allowances, they voted against the Government and, aided by their English colleagues, against Scotland getting any investment allowances at all. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames is astute enough to recognise the force of my argument.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I often try to appreciate some force in the hon. Gentleman's argument because I like him personally, but I find it a difficult task. As he will appreciate, our vote the other night was against proposals which involved the withdrawal of well-tried and effective investment allowances, and their [column 29]replacement by grants smaller in scale and much smaller in scope. We were voting against a proposal which might well deprive Scotland of very considerable advantages.

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point. We cannot go back over last Tuesday's debate in the House. Already this debate has become a mixture of the Scottish Grand Committee and the Second Reading debate on the Bill.

Mr. Manuel

I appreciate the point, Mr. Hynd, and I applaud your tribute to the Members of the Scottish Grand Committee who participated in the debate and elevated it above what it otherwise would have been. I hope my hon. Friends will stick to their guns. In my discussions with local authorities about the Bill I find that they feel they are certain they are to be in a better position. I believe the people of Scotland want the Bill. They were concerned only as to whether there would be an office of the Land Commission situated in Scotland which could deal with problems speedily and as they arose. This has been promised and, therefore, any doubt about support from Scotland for the Bill has been removed.

Mr. Noble

Mr. Hynd, you have been very kind to us. It is a case of the kindness of the English looking after the long-suffering Scots or vice versa, in allowing this debate sometimes to wander a little wider than the actual interpretation of the words on the Amendment paper. I feel that this is not unfair and may well save us time later in the Bill. These are important matters, and the information I had hope to elicit from the hon. Lady might have saved a good deal of discussion later.

I am bound to admit at once that my enthusiasm for leaving with the English what the majority of hon. Gentlemen on the benches opposite, suitably packed by the Government, may have thought was a good thing, may have led me into some danger of disagreement with my right hon. Friend; because he feels it is a bad Bill wherever it may be. As far as this Amendment is concerned, I only know it is a bad Bill for Scotland.

In replying to my argument, the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary said that I was [column 30]thinking of the past and was not sufficiently up to date on what was likely to happen. It is perfectly true that I have not been in the map room in St. Andrew's House for about 15 months and, therefore, do not know the exact present position on what is happening in the central belt. But it is childish of her to try to convince the Committee that in a country like Scotland, where we have an enormous quantity of land, we are already getting short of it. I agree that there will be odd places where that is happening, but under the system we had in the Scottish Office—and I cannot believe that the hon. Lady and her right hon. Friends have scrapped it—we had made absolutely certain that these temporary shortages could be quickly seen and action taken to avoid any serious congestion leading to highly-inflated prices.

The hon. Lady told the Committee, though I cannot believe she really meant it, that there was no dissatisfaction in Scotland about this Bill. I do not know a single responsible body in England which has welcomed it. Most have damned it outright, not even with faint praise. Equally, I know of no single professional or other body which has studied the problems of land which has welcomed the Bill, either.

Mr. Manuel

The local authorities?

Mr. Noble

I am quite certain the vast number of local authorities are in no way in favour of this Bill, although I do not say that every local authority is against it, any more than I would dare to say that every local authority in Scotland was equally intelligent. But to try to say there is no dissatisfaction over it in Scotland is absurd.

Mrs. Hart

On the principle?

Mr. Noble

On what principle?

Mrs. Hart

On the principle of the Bill involving a betterment levy and the power to control land use.

Mr. Noble

I believe the hon. Lady will find, if she scratches quite shallowly in her own constituency, that there is, has always been and probably will continue to be intense dissatisfaction in Scotland with what is often mistakenly believed there to be Treasury control from London. If she had wanted to touch the hearts of those who are not Scottish nationalist in [column 31]politics but nationalist in the sense of love of our country, I do not think she would have relied solely on a sub-office for the Land Commission in Cumbernauld.

Mr. Manuel

A Scottish office.

Mr. Noble

I am prepared to amend my phrase—a Scottish sub-office.

Mrs. Hart

I think it is only fair that the right hon. Gentleman should address his remarks to the facts, not to me. There will be a United Kingdom Land Commission. There will be an English office in Newcastle and there will be a Scottish office in Cumbernauld.

Mr. Noble

An English office.

Mr. Manuel

No.

Mrs. Hart

A United Kingdom office.

Mr. Noble

I am delighted that the hon. Lady chooses to put it in that way, but the Land Commission, as she says, is controlled by the English Office—a United Kingdom office. The Treasury was the main factor in this and, therefore, it had to be in the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend has shown how foolish that argument was; but this is a point that will be taken up in Scotland, and the hon. Lady's words will be carefully considered.

Then the hon. Lady said that the great advantage, as she put it, of the Land Commission and the work that it was doing was that it would keep the cost of land down. This is a debatable point. Certain hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the Committee believe it may possibly do so. I do not think a single person on this side believes it has a snowflake's hope in hell of achieving that effect. But even if it did have the effect of keeping the present price of land for development in the Highlands, the Border, the South West and Ayrshire at roughly the level that it is at the moment, there is no question at all that the cost of land for industrial development in Scotland is but a tiny fraction of the cost of the whole operation. Yet the betterment levy, rising from 40 to 50 per cent., and perhaps even higher, can easily swallow up the whole of the 25 per cent. grants that may come under the Local Employment Act. It could swallow up the whole of the 40 per cent. grant that could come under the investment allowances. [column 32]I do not say that it would in every case, but it could, as the hon. Lady will discover if she studies the matter.

12 noon.

What she and her right hon. Friend ought to be wanting to do is not only to bring in factories from America, Birmingham and other places—although we welcome these—but also to see that existing Scottish firms develop their own premises. Many of them have their own land on which they can develop.

The hon. Lady missed the whole point of our argument about betterment levies. She said that the seller of the land had to pay the betterment levy but she has ignored the whole point of the argument, which is that Case C refers to projects of material development of land begun on or after the appointed day. It refers to people developing their own land. They are the people who are being caught for the betterment levy, and it is those people and their expansion plans that we have to consider. If the hon. Lady is going to tell us that under Case C there is no betterment levy for people developing their own property we shall be delighted to hear her. But that is not what the Bill says.

She also conceded a tremendous part of the arguments put forward by my hon. Friends when she talked about Scottish local authorities. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) said that I had not paid sufficient tribute to Scottish local authorities. I had. I said that on the whole they were doing their development planning extremely well, and therefore did not want interference of this sort.

The hon. Lady pointed out that some Scottish local authorities had not yet completed their development plans. The Committee will have been interested to hear the reasons she gave for their inability in this respect. She referred to the acute shortage of staff. Such a shortage exists in certain areas. How will this situation be helped by the arrival of the Scottish Land Commission Office in Cumbernauld? From where will it obtain its staff? I have put this point to one or two local authorities, and in their view it is quite certain that the staff will come directly from local authority planning staffs—because there is nowhere else from which the staff can be recruited. [column 33]

How will this help local authorities to produce their own development plans? Or is it the hon. Lady's intention—as it may be, because her intentions are often very well camouflaged—that Scottish local authorities should be entirely denuded of planning staffs, so that their planning arrangements will fail, thus enabling the Scottish Land Commission Office to take over all the planning of Scotland? If that is so, she should tell us. It would not be welcomed by the people of Scotland, or by Scottish local authorities.

I want to pick up one or two points made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire. I need not continue to take up time by referring to the hon. Lady's speech, because she failed to answer several points which I raised, one of which was the question whether there had been a single case of a Scottish local authority's having failed to use its power of compulsory purchase, or a single case where the reserve powers of the Secretary of State had needed to be used. I imagine that her researches have shown that no such case exists, and that in that respect the Bill is not needed in Scotland.

The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire argued that the reason why we could not have a reasonable rent policy in Scotland was the high level of unemployment—at its worst 4 per cent., or 4½ per cent. over a period of months. But this still means that 95 per cent., 96 per cent. or 97 per cent. of the population are in employment. It still means that the vast majority of people could pay a reasonable rent. The rent situation in Scotland has been a scandal, which the Minister of Housing clearly exposed only a week or so ago in the newspapers. I am delighted that the expansion of industry—which we started and developed, with specific aid to Scotland and to other Development Districts—should have continued.

In Committee the Secretary of State for Scotland, in this corridor on Tuesday said, [column 34]with his usual accuracy, that he could not expect to claim credit for the houses that were built at the beginning of last year because they were all built as a result of the work of the Conservative Administration. I noticed that he was not disinclined to claim credit for the industrial expansion, although the foundations for that were laid even earlier than the foundations for the houses, but this is the “come and go” of politics. There is no doubt, however, that at the moment there is a great feeling of expansion in Scotland, which all hon. Members would want to foster and encourage.

I believe that the Bill will import an element of uncertainty in every Development District, at the very time when we can ill-afford a period of uncertainty. Already the production indices are beginning to turn downwards, although not by a great deal. The figure at the end of last year was less good than at the beginning. Other straws in the wind are easily visible to hon. Members on both sides of the Committee if they look for them. This is the moment when we want to encourage confidence in expansion, and when we want to encourage people to go to Development Districts. This is the one factor in the Bill which will operate in a way exactly contrary to that aim.

Hon. Members of all parties—even the Liberal Party—in the area covered by Edinburgh, Leith and Portobello, have begged the Government to change their mind. I am not in the least ashamed that my hon. Friends and I supported them in the Lobby, on whatever day it was. We are all conscious that certain matters are more important than party disputes. The expansion of Scotland is one, and I believe the Bill will delay it. I therefore ask my hon. Friends to support me in voting for the Amendment.

Question put, That those words be there inserted:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 10.

Division No. 1.]

Ayes

Alison , Michael (Barkston Ash)

Box , Donald

Boyd-Carpenter , Rt. Hn. J.

Elliott , R. W. (N'c'stle-upon-Tyne,N.)

Eyre , Reginald

Farr , John

Noble , Rt. Hn. Michael

Smith , John

Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret

Noes

Dunnett , Jack

Fletcher , Ted (Darlington)

Harrison , Walter (Wakefield)

Hart , Mrs. Judith

Howie , W.

Johnson , James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)

Manuel , Archie

Mapp , Charles

Skeffington , Arthur

Willey , Rt. Hn. Frederick

[column 35]

Mr. Charles Mapp

I beg to move Amendment No. 55, in page 1, line 18, to leave out “of a general character” .

We are now concerned with the fabric of the Commission and how we can ensure that it does its work effectively. As far as I can gather from the precedents, the subsection is fairly normally worded, in terms of setting up bodies of this kind, but there appear to be contradictory precedents for the inclusion or exclusion of the words “of a general character” . I want to take advantage of our experience in recent years to discuss the question whether or not it is advisable to have a measure of flexibility both for the Minister and for the Commission. In my opinion that is desirable.

One of the in-built weaknesses of preceding Governments has been that Ministers, although not issuing directions to nationalised industries, often exert far too much persuasion—and overt persuasion—than is healthy for either party. Clause 5(2) provides that the annual report shall contain any direction that the Minister has issued. I want to know what is meant by the term “of a general character” . Why are we generalising? The first necessity is flexibility for both sides.

The words “of a general character” could mean half a dozen things. We have just had a discussion about a very large area. Am I to infer that “of a general character” could be held to apply to Wales and/or Scotland, or to regions of the country with greater potential than, or as great a potential as, Scotland—including my own area? Are these directions to be laid down precisely by the Minister? Is there any wisdom in tying down the Minister in this way? I cannot see any need for this kind of thing.

Part III of the Bill is concerned with the betterment levy. That is a straightforward collection. It is a purely fiscal matter. There are good reasons why this machinery should be adopted for this purpose. But I cannot see that the words “of a general character” will be of much avail. I am concerned to see that we should continue to set up national bodies which undertake national obligations but which nevertheless have proper obligations to the House. The relationships between such bodies and the Minis[column 36]tries should be frank, open and healthy. That has not been the case in the past, and I want to make it clear that although this comes down on the side of the Minister, he would be tied to instructions of a general character and it would give him certain rights.

12.15 p.m.

The nature of this Bill, certainly in respect of Part II, which deals with the purchase, arrangement and management of land, may give rise to all sorts of circumstances which would lead to matters of vital principle arising under localised circumstances, and on which Parliament, through the Minister, would be expected to give direction. One can think of Crichel Down and various other instances which have happened. They presumably would not be of a general character, though inherent in them is the fact that there are general principles involved. I believe that by putting these words into the Bill we are putting in words which are cumbersome and limiting, when we should not limit too much either the Minister or the Commission.

Although I suppose the argument will be that there are precedents for this—and I have a few precedents for it and against it—I am not sure in which context I would put this Commission, whether it is to be considered a trading organisation or not. Nevertheless, I feel that we ought again to ask ourselves what are the right clothes, functions and machinery that we should give to these boards, bearing in mind that on both sides of the House there is an evident intention to find the best people and to give them the greatest area of movement and flexibility in order to make a success of the jobs which have been undertaken.

Although it happens to be on the side of the Minister, to give him a greater range of direction, I still believe that these words might be better left out and that the ultimate Bill would be better if they were to be omitted. I should like particularly to know what the Minister may have in mind concerning this kind of argument, and whether he might be able to see his way to adopting the principle of these words.

Mr. Skeffington

I very much appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. It is an important issue and, [column 37]indeed, one of very considerable constitutional impact. I hope that when he has heard the reasons why we feel we ought to resist this Amendment, he will feel that we have made out a case and that he can withdraw it.

The reasons why we do not feel that we can accept the Amendment are as follows: the words “of a general character” have been very carefully considered and have been put in in a number of instances of this kind. They are put in primarily because if one has the concept of a Commission undertaking important work, sometimes administering a service and maybe, in this case, doing two primary tasks, one of acquiring land well in advance of need or essential development, and the other collecting the levy, the general view has been taken, I think, on both sides of the Committee, that once Parliament has decided general principles and the Minister is thereafter responsible to Parliament for the operation of the concern or whatever it is, if the body is then to be effective and not a mere appendage of a Government Department, it should be allowed considerable individual initiative.

Although it is possible to work an institution where there is a close institutional connection between the body and the Minister, as in the case of the Post Office, nevertheless, one would think that this arrangement, whereby the Minister is responsible for broad policy and the institutions have to decide on the individual cases, makes for the smoothest working and gives the greatest efficiency.

If the words “of a general character” were taken out of the Clause, the result would be that the Minister might well be expected to be personally responsible for every individual case, in the same way as the Minister may have limited departmental responsibility, but not on the principle we have hitherto adopted in relation to broad activities carried out by public bodies outside the House.

My hon. Friend sees the pressure that could well be brought to bear on the Minister to give his decision in individual cases, or on the Commission to give a particular decision in an individual case. I shall not say the number of individual cases there may be in a year, for instance, on the assessment of levy alone, but my hon. Friend will realise that there will be a good many. If the [column 38]Minister were not asked to give a decision, or equally, if this power were taken away, he could be asked to give reasons why he had refused to give a direction, and it would place on the Minister an almost impossible burden which hitherto has not been accepted as constitutional doctrine by either major parties or by public opinion.

Not only would it place a great burden and possibly a very undesirable burden on the Minister in terms of physical effort, but it would mean that the Minister would consistently be intervening in individual cases. That would have an unfortunate effect upon the Commission itself, or on any other body where this kind of direction applied. The Minister would have to be provided all the time with detailed information on every individual transaction with which the body was dealing. The bureaucratic burden would be immense and would not be justified. Secondly, it would be difficult from the point of view of the Commission to act consistently if it were subject all the time to individual direction by the Minister in respect of particular cases. It would be difficult to have a consistent policy if this particular requirement were imposed upon the Minister.

Therefore, for all these reasons I hope my hon. Friend will see that what he is suggesting is a very big constitutional change. I do not think it is justified by the experience we have. I think there are dangers not only in the pressure of business which would fall on the Commission and on the Minister, but it might lead to undesirable interference by the Minister in individual cases which would make the work of the Commission very difficult. It would also make it impossible for it to have a consistent policy, and one thing that is necessary is that, having laid down principles, the Commission ought to keep to them, otherwise people will think that through the “old boy network” or something like that decisions can be changed. That would be wholly undesirable.

We have had many discussions with all kinds of professional bodies and others, and, while there have been suggestions that one ought to define the type of direction we can give, we have never had a suggestion which would lead to the constitutional consequences of the hon. Gentleman's Amendment. I hope, [column 39]in view of what I have said, that my hon. Friend will consider withdrawing his Amendment in due course.

Mr. Reginald Eyre

I wish to oppose this Amendment, because I believe that the underlying theory which motivates it is simply that the Minister in Whitehall knows best, and that he knows best for all parts of the country and in respect of conditions applying in those parts of the country. If the Bill were so amended, then it would contemplate, as, of course, is intended in any event to be carried out under the powers of the Bill, the acquisition of land throughout the country on a vast scale involving hundreds of individual decisions and acquisitions, as the Parliamentary Secretary has mentioned, with, of course, the consequent interference with the rights of individuals and organisations throughout the country. There would also, on occasion, be the use of a procedure which overrides those local bodies.

Having acquired these areas of land, the purpose of the Bill is then to go on to the allocation of areas of that land for development purposes, sometimes at full market rates but sometimes on a subsidised basis, the theory and purpose of which have not yet been disclosed. Not knowing the philosophy which is to be followed in the allocation of the subsidised land, we are not yet able to examine whatever justification may be advanced for the choosing of the persons or the bodies who are to have the benefit of that subsidy. If the Amendment were to be carried, then all these operations of acquisition and disposal in this tremendously important matter on such a large scale would be carried on without regard to the feelings, interest, or intention of the local authorities, because the Minister would be physically unable, as the Parliamentary Secretary has said, to assimilate the great mass of detailed knowledge which would be necessary if he were to make the right decisions in these hundreds of examples.

In any event, it will probably be that under the operation of the scheme set up by this Bill, the Land Commission will come into serious conflict with the local authorities as their interests conflict. But this would be made very much worse if centralised power were to be allocated to the Minister. Not only that, the very [column 40]suggestion makes a mockery of the regional government proposals which are advanced by the Government, however ill-defined at present those proposals or suggestions may be. But this would clearly damage very much the principle of proper consideration of all those complex regional factors which ought to be brought into consideration.

The straightforward meaning of this Amendment is really to call for centralised control from Whitehall, however ignorant or unaware of local needs the Minister having to make decisions in Whitehall might be. Therefore, in addition to the normal dangers which exist under a Bill of this kind, of setting up a great bureaucratic machine which will clearly interfere with the many facets of life throughout the country, with the suggestion of centralised control, putting tremendous power into the hands of the Minister, this would greatly increase those dangers of a completely unjustified bureaucratic control operating throughout the country.

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Mapp

I should like to make a few remarks which might help the Committee to solve this difficulty. The Parliamentary Secretary's main argument appears to be one completely of constitutional precedent. I respect that, but there are precedents in the other direction, too. There are instances of important organisations, erected for much the same purpose as this one, where this limitation does not exist. But there is no record that successive Ministers or Ministries have wrongly used their freedom.

We are, in effect, making a concession of flexibility to the Minister. I do not want for one moment to interfere or to cause interference with industrial processes and management and the making of decisions, in respect of this or any similar body. That would be the last thing in my mind, as political pressure is the most obnoxious of all to fight against on fact or equity. I am averse to any argument that Whitehall knows best.

However, I feel that, in putting his argument about precedent, the Parliamentary Secretary went to the opposite extreme. If the words were withdrawn, he accepted that Ministers would be willing and anxious to interfere in whatever [column 41]reportable detail reached their attention——

Mr. Skeffington

I do not think that they would be willing, but there would be tremendous pressure on them to do so. I think that this is the great constitutional danger.

Mr. Mapp

If that is so, the Minister ought to be able to know what to do with pressure of that kind. He ought to know whether it has merit on general lines of principle consistent with national policy or not. It is because I am anxious to have a rather more flexible attitude in this respect that I was concerned that these words should be in, but it is clearly against the wishes of the Committee. With the Committee's permission, I should like to withdraw the Amendment.

Hon. Members

No.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), not in the terms of his Amendment but in his manifest dissatisfaction with the Minister's answer. I thought that the Minister was not very happy. The first evidence of this is his reliance on precedent. As he knows, a large number of the precedents for these words come from the nationaliation statutes and this is a confirmation of our view that this also is a nationalisation Measure.

These words are exactly those used in several major nationalisation statutes and they must be intended, therefore, to have the same effect as they have in those statutes. This is an indication at least that the relationship which the Parliamentary Secretary foresees between the Minister of Land and Natural Resources and the Land Commission would be, at any rate in this respect, the same as between, for example, the Minister of Power and the electricity boards.

This is revealing and rather helpful, but the Parliamentary Secretary went further and said that the Amendment would expose the Minister to pressure. I agree with the hon. Member for Oldham, East that a Minister who is not prepared to resist pressure is not fit to be a Minister at all. Anybody taking Ministerial office who does not expect to be exposed to pressures is a little naive. When the Parliamentary Secretary says, as he did, “Look at the burden on the Minister” , I [column 42]would ask him to be realistic. Every hon. Member present knows that for the last four months there have been the most desperate efforts, scratching round Whitehall, to find something for the Minister to do. A strange rag-bag of functions has been dragged, more or less unwillingly, from half the Departments to justify the Minister's existence and to prevent the grim bogy of unemployment stalking into Gwydyr House.

The Parliamentary Secretary says that the Minister has been too busy, but I ask him to be his age. The hon. Gentleman made a very revealing remark which was interesting to some of us—that this would lead to undesirable interference by the Minister—and went on to refer to the “old boy network” . I suppose he knows his Minister, though I am not sure that he would continue to say that if his Minister had been in the room. However, the Minister is not here. But will it lead to undesirable interference? If the Minister is a proper and efficient Minister, there may be some constitutional argument of validity about division of function, but it is the Parliamentary Secretary's arguments against the Amendment which, to many of us, seem to be rather stronger than those of the hon. Member for Oldham, East, in favour of it.

All the talk about undesirable interference can only lead to a revelation of what might be expected if this mushroom Department goes on under its present administration. Of course, the real nub of the matter and why the Parliamentary Secretary feels that he must resist the Amendment is that if this were put into the Bill the argument for having any Land Commission at all goes straight out of the window. If the Minister were to have power to issue particular directions in individual cases—I am not expressing a view at the moment as to whether he should or should not—what we have is the point that, subject to nine highfalutin commissioners with nine highfalutin salaries and great offices at Newcastle and Cumbernauld, this would be simply a question of allowing the Minister with his civil servants to administer the thing straight away.

I am not sure that many hon. Members would like that. As between forms of nationalisation, what one calls the [column 43]Herbert Morrison form, with a State corporation with a considerable degree of independence from the Minister in day-to-day administration, as against the Post Office type of administration which is directly administered by a Minister, many people believe that, of those two evils, Lord Morrison 's is the better. This is the issue raised by the Amendment, but the Parliamentary Secretary knows that the Amendment is fatal to the concept of a Land Commission.

As we were told by the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland something about the principles of the Bill, I would point out that in the long title three of the five prefaces are to set up a Land Commission and one of the remaining two is, “purposes related thereto” . So the hon. Member for Oldham, East is inadvertently trying to knock out parts I and II of the Bill. Because he is worried about his precious Land Commission, the Parliamentary Secretary has to resist it.

The debate has been useful. It has revealed the largely muddled and sloppy thinking which lies behind this Measure.

Mr. Skeffington

I do not want to delay the Committee very long, except to say that I hope that when hon. Members take the trouble—as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East did—to put forward a very serious Amendment on this point, the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) will try to deal with these matters seriously instead of making minor, partisan, debating points. They do not help the Committee and they do not help the right hon. Gentleman. We know that he is extremely embarrassed by his own record over land for the last decade and a half, but he must try to forget it and get down to the serious issues before the Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East was right to say that, as, at one point, did the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames—when he devoted his mind to the Amendment, which was not very much of his time—a constitutional principle is involved. The principle is far more important than the minor debating points of the right hon. Gentleman. It is that if there is an executive body, it should, as far as possible, [column 44]be able to function under the general supervision of the Minister, but separate from that supervision. The Minister is responsible to Parliament for the general direction, and the executive body ought to get on with its own duties. It is because we feel that the Amendment would breach that constitutional principle that we resist it.

Although it was difficult to tell from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, I think that that is the view of the Opposition, so far as they have one. The precedents go, as my hon. Friend said, both ways and each case must be decided on its merits, but in any executive function where there is likely to be a large number of individual cases, the argument for sticking to the principle which I have enunciated is very much stronger than cases where the number of individual instances of administration is very small.

It is not only in the case of the nationalised industries that this form of words has been used. It was used in the nearest comparable analogy, the Central Land Board, where the Minister had the right to give directions of a general character for very much the same reasons. I hope that my hon. Friend can do as he intimated he would.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The Parliamentary Secretary seems, even at this early stage of our discussion of the Bill, to be getting irritable. I should like to give him a word of advice. If he is to be abandoned by his Minister, as he seems to have been today, and left in sole charge of the Bill, he will find that it will be more helpful if, instead of trying to brush off points which he cannot answer by referring to them as minor and partisan debating points, he would address his mind to the arguments and answer them. If they are debating points and minor, the Parliamentary Secretary, well briefed, will have no difficulty in dealing with them.

Most of us know that this is the traditional reaction of a harassed Minister who knows that he does not have the answers and therefore has to brush off questions in this way. If this Parliament goes on and if the Government are sufficiently interested in the Bill to keep Parliament in being until it is law—which may be doubtful—it will have a very long road ahead of it. If the Parliamentary Secretary is to take the [column 45]line that arguments which he cannot answer are minor debating points, he will not exactly help the proper progress of the Bill. This Bill requires consideration and obviously requires a great deal of improvement, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary's display is a touch of what was called, in another quarter, “ill-informed inexperience” , rather than a deliberate line of conduct.

Amendment negatived.

Mrs. Thatcher

I beg to move Amendment No. 62, in page 1, line 19, to leave out “given to them” and to insert “prescribed” .

Hon. Members will realise that the insertion of the word “prescribed” instead of the words “given to them” would place upon the Government the duty of publishing any Regulations and any directions of a general character made by the Frederick WilleyMinister. Those Regulations would then have to be laid before Parliament and we should know at the first possible stage what kind of general directions the Minister was giving. Parliament itself would have the opportunity of making comments upon those directions and, if necessary, negativing the Regulations under which they were prescribed.

A number of references have been made this morning to precedent. This subsection, in some respects, follows previous precedents and in others departs from them. It is interesting to see in what respects it gives the Minister greater powers than were ever accorded to him under similar precedents under the nationalisation Acts. I take it that the Arthur SkeffingtonParliamentary Secretary; if not the Minister, will have studied all the precedents——

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I doubt it.

Mrs. Thatcher

—and that, therefore, these which I will read out will not be new to him. However, it is interesting that, under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act of 1946, the Minister was not given quite such wide powers with regard to general directions as are given in this subsection. Nor was he in the appropriate Section in the Nationalisation of Transport Act of 1947. I have both of those volumes with me and I see that people are trying to get them out in another place in the Committee. [column 46]

Section 3(1) of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, reads:—

“The Minister may, after consultation with the Board, give to the Board directions of a general character as to the exercise and performance by the Board of their functions in relation to matters appearing to the Minister to affect the national interest …” .

12.45 p.m.

Two phrases there used are left out in this subsection. First, the Minister does not have to consult the Land Commission, whereas he had to consult the National Coal Board. This obviously gives him much wider powers than the appropriate Minister ever had under the Act that nationalised the coal industry.

A similar point occurs in the Transport Act, 1947, where we read in Section 4(1):

“The Minister may, after consultation with the Commission, give to the Commission directions of a general character as to the exercise and performance by the Commission of their functions in relation to matters which appear to him to affect the national interest …” .

There, again, the Minister had to consult the Commission; here, he does not.

Futhermore, the general directions in those Acts were limited to the exercise and performance by the Commission of its functions. Under this Measure, they are not limited in any such way. The modern version of takeovers is much more far-reaching than was the case with the 1945–51 pattern. This is really a quite serious point. One would have thought that in making directions, particularly in the early stages, the Minister would have had the duty to consult, and would have been limited as to the kind of direction he could make in relation to the exercise and performance by the Commission of its functions.

It would have been easier if the Frederick WilleyMinister had been here this morning, because it is he who is given the powers to make directions of a general character. He could have said what directions he had it in mind to make. The kind of directions he may give are very wide. I am aware that they have to be published, after the end of the year, in the report of the Commission but, going through the Bill, one has to ask very seriously what kind of directions the Minister will give.

Will he, for instance, give a direction that Clause 6(3,a) shall be operated in such a way that the Commission shall [column 47]acquire—I notice the civil servants present are looking at this, but not the Arthur SkeffingtonParliamentary Secretary——

Mr. Skeffington

I have already got it.

Mrs. Thatcher

Then I withdraw the comment; I did not notice the hon. Gentleman looking at it once again—in such a way as to acquire as much land as possible. This is a very far-reaching subsection. It gives the Commission power to acquire any land for which planning permission has been given. The Minister can therefore give the Commission a direction on how it shall apply the provision to acquire as much land as possible for which planning permission has been given——

Mr. Manuel

Would not the hon. Lady agree that the whole atmosphere has changed considerably from the passing of the nationalising legislation she has quoted? Today, we have large capitalist concerns, wielding much financial power, pleading with us to take them over. They hold much land. The former atmosphere of hostility is not there to be overcome. John Browns and Fairfields are pleading with the Labour Government to take them over.

Mrs. Thatcher

I should not have thought that Fairfields was a very good case for the Archie Manuelhon. Member to quote at this moment, but if he tells me that he wants the Minister to give a general direction to take over any land only when the owner or user thereof is pleading with the Minister that he should do so I will be very happy. But that is not the kind of general power that is given by the Bill.

The hon. Member will be the first to appreciate that if one has given extensive powers it is his duty, just as much as mine, to consider the width of the powers, and to consider not only the persons who are there at the moment to operate them but how they might be used if they got into the hands of people whose intentions were very Left, indeed, and who could then turn round and say, “You gave us the powers under a more moderate Government” .

Under Clause 22 certain people can ask the Commission to elect whether it shall take over the land within a certain [column 48]time. What kind of general direction will the Minister give in that case. Will it be for the Commission to take over as much land or as little land as possible in certain circumstances?

One then comes to the very vexed Clause 23, which gives the Minister the widest power of the lot. It enables him to give a general direction to the Land Commission to take over any land anywhere that it wants, or any land which the Minister wants it to take over. This is the Clause which enables the Commission to go even wider than the compulsory purchase orders set out in Clause 6. That Clause, coupled with the power of general direction by the Minister, without consultation or prior publication, enables the Commission to do almost anything it likes with any of the land.

The Commission has certain other discretions in relation to fiscal powers which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp). I am appalled that there should be any question of discretion in relation to any fiscal provisions. That runs absolutely contrary, as the Arthur SkeffingtonParliamentary Secretary himself knows, to existing law on the construction of fiscal provisions, which law is that one is not liable to any tax unless that liability is clearly set out within an Act of Parliament.

Not only do we have the Commission with power to set this out in regulations but also a certain amount of discretion as to whether the levy shall be chargeable or not. That is laid down in Case C in Clause 59 by which the Commission may, if it thinks fit, waive the levy. Will the Frederick WilleyMinister be able to give a general direction to the Commission about the character of the cases in which liability to tax shall be pursued or waived? If that is so, it is a very new principle in English law—and a very serious one.

Will the Minister also give directions as to whom land is to be disposed? It should be noted that this need not be a particular direction but directions of a general character which render certain recipients able to receive very considerable financial advantages at the expense of other taxpayers. What kind of directions would the Minister give there? [column 49]

As the Parliamentary Secretary will know, under Clause 16, the Land Commission, except where it receives a direction from the Minister, has to dispose of land

“… for the best consideration in money or money's worth which in their opinion can reasonably be obtained.”

It therefore has to dispose of the land at market value, except where it disposes of it under the crownhold provisions of Clause 18. What kind of directions will the Minister give to enable the Commission to dispose of land at less than market value, and who will benefit by those directions?

Because the Minister has such very wide powers in his directions, we feel that, at any rate, for an initial period of five years, or perhaps 10 years, Parliament should have a say in those directions, and should have an opportunity to revoke them. We therefore hope that the Committee will look favourably on this Amendment, especially as the hon. Member for Oldham, EastCharles Mapp—who, I am sorry to see, is not present at the moment—said that he approved very much of the idea that any directions should be as open and frank as possible, as should the relations between one body and another. This Amendment would enable them to be open and frank, and would very much relieve our minds about the kind of directions which the Minister may give under these extremely wide powers.

Mr. Michael Alison

I support the Amendment. My hon. Friend made a very important point in drawing the analogy between the general tone and character of this Bill and what was proposed for the nationalised industries. There is an important distinction, because there is a real case for giving the National Coal Board, for example, or British Railways, these wide general powers. Those organisations affect the whole community, and there is a sense in which their products and functions have a similar impact on every part and quarter of the country.

We have been misled by some of the language used about the Land Commission, and particularly by the words “community at large” . The Minister very freely implied during the Second Reading debate that, in some sense, the operations of the Commission as proposed [column 50]in a very highly localised context with repercussions on local communities and affecting a coherent body of people in the same sort of relationship with one another, had a relationship with the operations of the Commission over the country as a whole.

That is as if there was any meaningful sense in, for example, a project for material development under Clause 37 in a corner of the West Riding of Yorkshire overlapping into Clause 65, under which there might have to be a material extension because one had to take possession of a little piece of adjoining land for, perhaps, drainage. It is as if there were any meaningful sense in which the Commission, representing the community, stood against the individual and the locality, as one against the other.

It is quite meaningless to talk of the Commission in this broad communal way The Commission is essentially a body that will operate in a local community on wholly localised communal problems. We do not need to think of this organisation as a nationalised industry with some sort of broad national responsibility, because to give it that connotation in this work is quite meaningless. The Commission will be operating very much in conjunction with local authorities.

I want to draw attention to the extent to which the powers of the Commission will not only duplicate, but in many ways very drastically exceed the powers given to local authorities. The obvious case is in Clause 12(1) in which the Commission is given these fantastically wide powers to develop land it holds in respect of engineering and building projects, and so on. One could imagine a situation, for example, in which the Commission, acting in my part of Yorkshire, might well find itself wishing to drain a canal and turn it into a road—the sort of project for which a great local authority such as Manchester, Birmingham or Leeds would have to promote a Private Bill. The Commission already has great local powers, but only in a context affecting local people and not the community as a whole.

There is no sense in which the Commission's operations in the West Riding will benefit the community in Penzance. With the Coal Board it is different, because the Board's product is equally [column 51]saleable in Penzance or in Yorkshire. This is all a matter of locality, and to give the Commission these broad national powers appropriate to the nationalised industries without making it much more responsive to Parliamentary scrutiny, in the same way that the great local authorities have to present their case for Parliamentary scrutiny in Private Bills, is highly undesirable. [column 52]

My hon. Friend touched in a very important way on Clause 23(1)——

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Committee adjourned till Tuesday, 22nd February, 1966, at half-past Ten o'clock.

The Following Members attended the Committee:

Hynd, Mr. H. (Chairman)

Alison, Mr.

Alldritt, Mr.

Box, Mr.

Boyd-Carpenter, Mr.

Dunnett, Mr.

Elliott, Mr. R. W.

Eyre, Mr.

Farr, Mr.

Fletcher, Mr. Ted

Harrison, Mr. Walter

Hart, Mrs.

Howie, Mr.

Johnson, Mr. James

Manuel, Mr.

Mapp, Mr.

Mott-Radcliffe, Sir C.

Noble, Mr.

Skeffington, Mr.

Smith, Mr. John

Thatcher, Mrs.

Wells, Mr. John

Willey, Mr.