LAND COMMISSION BILL
STANDING COMMITTEE F OFFICIAL REPORT Thursday, 24th February, 1966 [Mr. H. Hynd in the Chair] Clause 1.—(The Land Commission)
Amendment No. 7 proposed [22nd February], in page 1, line 20, leave out subsection (4).—[Mr. Boyd-Carpenter.]
Question again proposed.
Mr. William Hamling
When the Committee rose on Tuesday, I was dealing with some of the arguments on this Amendment. Particularly for the benefit of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General whom we are glad to see with us——
Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter
—to help right hon. and hon. Members opposite who seem to have difficulty in understanding the law in this matter, perhaps I may recapitulate my arguments.
I was reminding the Committee that one of the main functions of the Commission will be to assess and collect the levy, which is an executive function which should be done by servants of the Crown. Hon. Members opposite have said that the job should be done by the Board of Inland Revenue. But if we are told that the Commission will be a branch of the Board of Inland Revenue, the objections raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) against servants of the Crown will fall. It seems that hon. Members opposite have a contradictory attitude. Indeed, their speeches are mutually contradictory.
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher
If we had our way, the levy would not be collected by the Land Commission at all, so a good deal of that part of the William Hamlinghon. Gentleman's argument would fall.
The hon. Lady's objection was that servants of the Crown could not be sued in tort, which would also apply to the servants of the Crown [column 110]collecting the levy. The hon. Lady must make up her mind about what she really wants. I am no lawyer, as the Committee knows, but I was under the impression that the Crown Proceedings Act, 1947, covered her objection.
I remind her that the Act was passed by the post-war Labour Government. The collection of revenue is, in our estimation, to be an important function of the Land Commission. We would argue that this function could not be carried out by the Board of Inland Revenue but it is surely a function of the Commission, which is the appropriate body.
The hon. Lady's objections will, in any case, be covered by another Bill to come before the House—the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill. I cite that as evidence to the Committee of the good will of the Government in trying to ensure that no subject of the Crown is under any legal disability vis-à-vis the Executive.
I hope that the Opposition, having listened to our arguments, will not press the Amendment. I believe that their objections have been met, and I remind the Committee again of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.
First of all, I would say how glad I am that, in response to the requests made by one or two of my hon. Friends and myself at our last sitting, that a Law Officer should attend. We are glad to see the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General sitting, large as life, opposite. I was trying to remember the full quotation. I can recall something about the “vasty deep” . I am not sure whether it applied to Attorney-General. But we are very glad that he is here, because there are some doubts in the minds of hon. Members about the legal effect of the subsection which we seek to delete. That there is such confusion is very clearly evidenced by the speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling).
As I said at our last sitting, it is the long and honourable tradition of the law officers that they advise Committees of this House as to the law with complete impartiality. It will be useful if, at a fairly early stage of our proceedings this [column 111]morning, the Attorney-General is able to intervene to give us his advice about the legal effects of the subsection on the points on which I shall put to him one or two questions, and then we can consider, with the aid of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, and—in the hope the Minister may sometimes be here, too—the Minister, whether the policy results of these legal provisions, as interpreted to us by the Attorney-General, are satisfactory on their merits. There seem, therefore, to be two stages to our discussion: to get from the Attorney-General what the precise legal effect is, and then, in the light of that advice, to consider whether the legal effect, as so interpreted to us, is satisfactory on its merits.
First, I turn to the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, because in the course of his observations on Tuesday he made one of two criticisms of an earlier speech of mine, and it would be discourteous on my part not to seek to deal with them. At our last sitting, the hon. Gentleman made this rather astonishing observation:
“I am very surprised that the Amendment has been tabled. It seems to me entirely to contradict previous Opposition Amendments. The Opposition are saying here that we should take something out of the purview of the House of Commons.” —[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 22nd February, 1966; c. 103.]
With the greatest respect, that is absolute nonsense.
The question whether, as the hon. Member went on to suggest, we could table Questions to the Minister about the activities of the Commission is completely independent of this provision of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that this was necessary—as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, I think, told us—in order that civil servants should be employed, and that it was upon the employment of civil servants that there depended the right to table Questions about individual transactions. That is a complete misapprehension of the position. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the National Assistance Board is entirely manned by civil servants. I do not know whether he has had any more success in that direction than the rest of us. Certainly, it is my experience that one cannot get past the Table a Question asking the Minister of Pensions about an individual case handled by the National [column 112]Assistance Board. The War Damage Commission was, and, I believe, is still dragging out a miserable existence manned by civil servants. One could never, in my experience, get a Question past the Table about its handling of a particular case.
In truth and in fact, the question of civil servants being employed is neither here nor there on this point. The authorities of the House and Mr. Speaker have always interpreted the matter quite differently as to whether the Statute as a whole set up a body which relieved the Minister of day-to-day responsibility for administration. Where it did do so, there is an unchallenged line of cases, either rightly or wrongly on merits, but surely rightly on the strict law, we are excluded from asking Questions about individual handling of cases. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West can fill the Commission with civil servants, but it will not enable him to table a single Question. Therefore, all that part of his speech was founded on a complete misapprehension, and I suggest to the Committee that there is absolutely no connection between the issue which he saw fit to raise and our desire that the doings of the Commission, as we have made clear on previous Amendments, should be in full daylight and subject to the fullest Parliamentary scrutiny.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary, however, told us that the effect of the subsection would be to exclude the Commission from normal taxation. No doubt in due course the Attorney-General will tell us whether that is right. I think it probably is right, if I may venture, with due diffidence, an opinion—that is to say, right in law. But is it right in merits? Is it a good thing to exclude the Commission from normal taxation? Why should it be? The nationalised industries are not. In the unlikely contingency of their making a profit they pay Income Tax on it; Profits Tax or ultimately Corporation Tax. Why should the Land Commission be excluded from tax?
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary was uncertain, perhaps understandably—here again, no doubt, the Attorney-General can help us—whether as a result of the subsection the Commission would be liable to pay local rates. This will be of very considerable interest to my hon. [column 113]Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) in view of the indication given earlier that the head office of the Commission is to be located in Newcastle. Will it pay rates to the City of Newcastle? If not, why not? A great to-do was made about the Scottish office being at Cumbernauld. Is Cumbernauld to get rates from the Scottish office or what? If—we want the Attorney-General's view on this—the provision excludes rates, why does it? If it does not exclude rates, can we have an assurance that they will be paid?
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary at column 100 made an observation on which I should like to invite the Attorney-General's comments. He referred, very properly, to the first part of Clause 13 of the Bill, under which the Crown status, which it is proposed to give the Commission, shall not have—if the Clause stays in the Bill—the effect of excluding the Commission from planning and similar regulations and restrictions. That, I think, there is no quarrel about; it is plainly right.
The hon. Gentleman went on:
“My right hon. Friend will consider the whole of this matter, so that he can be absolutely certain that what I have said is absolutely correct and that the citizen will not be under any disadvantage in relation to any action which he feels should be taken as against the Commission.—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 22nd February, 1966; c. 100.]
Is that right? The Commission may well be involved in litigation, right outside the restricted sphere of matters dealt with by Clause 13(1). There may be a desire to sue it in contract or sue it in tort. If we give the Commission the status proposed by the subsection, will it have the advantages in litigation which still adhere to the Crown? We are all aware of—indeed we discussed earlier—the Crown proceedings, but it remains a fact—this is confirmed by Halsbury's Laws of England—that the Crown still has very considerable advantages, that one cannot sue the Crown or its emanations in court in the same way as one can sue an ordinary citizen.
Is it, therefore, right, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary appears to be assuring us, that the Commission will not, as a result of the subsection, have the same advantages in litigation as are given for perhaps quite different [column 114]purposes to the Crown? Will it have, for example, the right to claim Crown privilege for documents. As the Committee knows, if one sues a Government Department, any document can be withheld from one and from the court if the Minister concerned swears an affidavit that it is in the public interest that it should not be disclosed. Will that, in certain circumstances, highly advantageous position be given to the Commission or not as a result of the subsection?
We should like to hear the Attorney-General on these points. Among other things, it will throw some light on whether the Joint Parliamentary Secretary did not, in fact—I am sure it was in all good faith—mislead the Committee when he said that the citizen will not be under any disadvantage in any action which he wishes to bring against the Commission. It is extremely important to have it clear whether or not that is right.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that the object of the provision was to make possible the employment of civil servants as officers of the Commission. I have the highest regard for civil servants. I have probably worked with them for longer than any other member of this Committee, and I think we are extremely fortunate in this country to have the most intelligent, most honest, most honourable Civil Service in the world. I am sure that that view is very generally shared in this Committee. 10.45 a.m.
Whether one is doing civil servants any help or kindness by enabling them to be transferred to the Land Commission is, however, a very different question indeed. I am particularly sorry for this reason that the Minister is not here, because there are certain questions I wanted to ask him about his intentions in respect of the employment of civil servants under the Commission, which the subsection, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary told us, is intended to cover and, indeed, make possible.
We have been told that the Commission is to employ 2,000 people for the Central Office, a Scottish Office whose precise status seems to be a matter of some controversy, and 11 area or regional offices. Are those 2,000 all going to be civil [column 115]servants? If not, how many of them will be civil servants?
I also want to know whether civil servants are to be transferred compulsorily to the Commission? It is not, perhaps, a very inviting prospect. The life of the Commission is likely to be, in the words of Hobbes, “nasty, brutish and short” . Its tenure is obviously precarious. Its chances, perhaps, of ever coming to life are, as the days pass, becoming more and more marginal, and it would certainly not offer satisfactory career prospects to any civil servant. Indeed, it seems to me unlikely that any sensible official would desire to be transferred. Therefore, I want to know, in all seriousness, if the Minister is taking powers here to employ civil servants in the Commission, whether he and the Chancellor of the Exchequer propose to use compulsion to transfer them, or will it be done on a voluntary basis?
Have there been discussions with the staff associations about this? This is a serious matter for the officials concerned. Not only could such a transfer be far from helpful to their careers, but there is also the fact that the location of the offices would almost certainly involve physical transfer of their homes. I have some experience of the problems that arise when one moves officials who are established in one part of the country to another, and I know that special arrangements are made by sensible Governments to help with their transfers, their salaries, their removal expenses and—as it will almost certainly be in this case—their removal expenses back after a short time. I want to know whether discussions have taken place with the staff associations. What proposals there are? I hope we shall be satisfied about this.
Most of us in this Committee have civil servants in our constituencies. Some of these may, for all we know, be affected by the intention of the Minister to transfer them voluntarily or otherwise to the Commission. So it is our duty to probe this aspect of the matter very fully indeed.
Turning from these administrative questions, from questions that go to the merits, I would revert to the Attorney-General and say that, while we should welcome his guidance on the total legal effect of this subsection, I, for my part, [column 116]would particularly value his indication of the effect of this on taxation, national and local; the position in respect of litigation; the position in respect of a citizen who desires to proceed against the Commission, or is proceeded against by the Commission on matters outside those dealt with by Clause 13(1); the position in regard to the claim of Crown privilege in such proceedings, the discovery of documents and the right of the Crown to withhold on grounds of Crown privilege the disclosure of documents.
It might be helpful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman could give us the firm basis of his indication of what are the legal effects of this provision so that we can consider on that foundation what we, on both sides of the Committee, think of the merits of the matter.
The Attorney-General (Sir Elwyn Jones)
I am most grateful for the kind welcome that I have been given this morning. It is reassuring to find the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) in such continuing excellent voice. Certainly, he could not be described as nasty or brutish, and certainly not short.
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman make the comparison, when he studies Hansard, of the length of my observations and those of his hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling)?
I have read with great care, and, no doubt, immense advantage, the Official Report of the proceedings of the Committee last Tuesday.
As I understand it, the burden of the case for the Amendment to delete subsection (4) is that the Land Commission should not be a Crown body at all, because this would give it certain unjustifiable immunities and advantages which would result in the subject, the ordinary citizen, being at a disadvantage in relation to the activities of the Land Commission, in particular in litigation brought against it, or by it.
I should have thought, to begin with, as a broad principle, that it was almost unarguable that a body such as the Land Commission, which is to perform various functions of government, and, in particular, the function of collecting revenue, [column 117]must be a Crown body, as, for instance, was the position in regard to the Central Land Board. That seems to me to be very analogous to the machinery of the Land Commission. Under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, the Central Land Board, which was responsible, among other things, for collecting development charges, was very properly made a Crown body. One of the many advantages of that from the public's point of view is the accountability of the Land Commission through the Minister to Parliament.
There is express provision in Clause 5 for reports to be made, and although it is true that in individual cases, in the hunt and pursuit, it may not be possible—because, after all, the machinery of Government must not be ground down to a halt—the Committee will nevertheless well know the classic opportunities for questioning and exposure which, happily, the parliamentary system provides. I remind the Committee, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich West has said, that the Government are passionately concerned with the liberty of the subject and equality before the law—it was a Labour Administration which introduced the Crown Proceedings Act in 1947—and we have on the stocks—if that is not too unattractive a phrase to relate to any forthcoming piece of legislation——
It puts the citizens in the stocks.
—the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill, which will give to a Parliamentary Commissioner wide and roving powers over these governmental bodies.
I turn back expressly to the matter of taxation. As my hon. Friend said on Tuesday, the Commission, as a Crown body, is not liable or subject to normal taxation. All the profits of the Commission will be paid in one way or another to the Exchequer, and, therefore, to require the Land Commission to pay taxes to the Exchequer would be a rather superfluous and redundant exercise.
As to the position with regard to liability for rates, land occupied by the Commission would be land occupied by or on behalf of the Crown for public purposes, and, therefore, under the Rating and Valuation Act, 1935, it will [column 118]be exempt from rates, but the practice in regard to land occupied by Crown bodies like this, as with regard to land occupied by the Duchies, is that in the case of such land enjoying Crown exemption from rates a contribution in lieu of rates is paid. Those contributions are made ex gratia; nevertheless they are equivalent, as I understand it, to the liability for rates, being the amount that is involved. It may well be that the Minister may be willing to give an undertaking that such contributions will be made in respect of land occupied by the Commission. No doubt my right hon. Friend in due course will be questioned about that, and it will surprise me if he does not give a satisfactory answer.
As to the liability to Stamp Duty, Land Commission documents will be subject to Stamp Duty, save for the specific exemptions that are set out in Clause 25. As has been said already, Clause 1(4) of the Bill has to be read subject to Clause 13, and that subjects the Land Commission to planning control, building byelaws and building regulations, and in that respect the Land Commission will be treated as a non-Crown body. The Land Commission will be acting within the planning system, and there will be no question of the Land Commission having powers to override planning decisions of the planning authorities.
Finally, I turn to the other questions raised by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) on Tuesday with the regard to the position of the subject vis-à-vis the Land Commission. As I have said, the Crown Proceedings Act, 1947, revolutionised the position of the individual citizen in his dealings with the Crown. It headed a whole new era in Crown law. It gave the subject a remedy as of right to get to the Crown, both in tort and in contract, and so far as the procedure in regard to litigation is concerned, as a result of that Act, broadly speaking, the procedure governing litigation in subjects applies now as far as possible to civil proceedings by or against the Crown. So since that Act, which seems to have worked fairly justly, the Crown is, in effect, in substantially the same position as any other litigant, and such differences as were referred to by the hon. Lady do not necessarily place the Crown at an advantage, curiously enough, [column 119]as I have found out since I have been in my present office. 11.0 a.m.
The first matter that the hon. Lady dealt with was this, that if a servant of the Land Commission is deemed to be a servant of the Crown, there are very severe limitations on the right to sue in contract. Section 1 of the Crown Proceedings Act gives a right of action in any case where before that Act a claim might have been enforced by petition of right. Under that remedy—and that is still available to the subject—not only a debt or liquidated damages arising under a contract but also damages for breach of contract can be recovered against the Crown. It is quite true that there are some exceptions to the contracts in respect of which that right of action will lie. I think, however, that the only one of importance relates to contracts of service with the Crown. Servants employed by the Land Commission, like other civil servants, will have no right of action against the Land Commission in respect of any claim arising under a contract of service with them, but, as has been said, since the servants of the Land Commission will be civil servants, whose interests are protected in other ways, it does not seem that the position of the Land Commission in contract will be substantially different from that of any non-Crown body.
The second point that the hon. Lady made was put in this way: Servants of the Crown and the Crown are liable in tort only in very limited circumstances. If I may say so with respect, that is an excessively limited way of describing the obligations of the Crown in tort. The position as I see it is that, since the Crown Proceedings Act, the Crown is subject to liability in tort to much the same extent—subject to limitations which I do not think are of importance in the context of the work of the Land Commission—as that to which the Crown would be subject if it were a private person. It is quite true that Section 2(1) of the Crown Proceedings Act provides that the Crown is not liable unless the act or omission of the servant or agent would, apart from the provisions of the Act, have given rise to a cause of action. I confess that I find the proviso somewhat difficult to understand—the object [column 120]is not entirely clear—but, apparently, to a no less learned authority than the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell)—the author of a treatise on Crown proceedings, which I will most glady lend to the hon. Lady for further study and research in this fascinating field—the proviso is intended merely to enable the Crown to avail itself of such defences as “act of state” . Whether that enlightens the Committee I doubt very much.
The exceptional cases which were referred to in the passage which the hon. Lady mentioned—and I congratulate her upon her researches in this field—and which were referred to in the Hood Phillips quotation, are cases like Broom v. Morgan where the plaintiff is the husband and the servant, the tort feasor, for whom the defendant is sought to be made liable is the wife. The Committee will remember that case, in which the defendant was the licensee of the “Bird in Hand” in Hampstead and she employed the plaintiff, Mrs. Morgan, and her husband. The husband employee, unfortunately, left the front door of the “Bird in Hand” open, purely by negligence, of course, and the unfortunate lady fell through the open door and down the shaft. She sued her employer and, although she could not have sued her husband in tort, she was held capable of suing her husband's employer by reason of his vicarious liability.
I suppose that some ingenious mind could conjure up out of the vasty deep some kind of similar situation affecting the Land Commission. I find it difficult to think of any myself. I doubt whether it could arise even in regard to the present Ministry of Transport, but I must not pursue that fascinating theme; otherwise I shall get into trouble with my right hon. Friend.
As to the position of a subject injured by a tort committed by an officer of the Land Commission in the course of his employment, which concerned the hon. Lady, as I see it, the subject's position is not altered by the Land Commission being a Crown body. An action can be brought against any servant of the Crown in his personal capacity, for a tort committed in his official capacity, since, as the doctrine of the law is that the Crown can do no wrong, a servant of the Crown can never plead the Crown's authority [column 121]as a defence. With regard to criminal sanctions, to which the hon. Lady referred, of course the position is the same with regard to an officer of the Land Commission as to any other individual citizen. He can be prosecuted in the same way as any other subject.
Perhaps I may say something about Crown privilege. I ventured to say earlier that some of these alleged privileges that attach to the Crown are in practice, as I have found to my surprise, not really an advantage at all. The doctrine is asserted. A litigant wants to see a document. In the name of Crown privilege, production is refused in the public interest of maintaining confidentiality, and very often the production of the document would destroy the case of the plaintiff or the complainant. I unfortunately cannot give any illustration of this in Committee, but I would gladly give it privately in confidence to anyone who is interested in illustrations.
The fact is that the doctrine of Crown privilege has been maintained until now by successive Governments and Law Officers in the interests of maintaining confidentiality of communication between civil servants and between civil servants and Ministers. But, as the right hon. Gentleman and some other members of the Committee have pointed out, the doctrine is certainly not received in the courts with any enthusiasm, as I have discovered through painful experience in trying to assert it. In various cases like the Grosvenor case and others there has been a considerable narrowing-down of the doctrine since it was enunciated in all its breadth by Lord Simon in Duncan v. Cammell Laird. If the Committee is seriously anxious about this, I might inform it that Lord Pearson is now presiding over a committee dealing with whole law of evidence, with particular reference to Crown privilege, and it may therefore be that we shall see some new approach to this problem, to which of course the Government will pay very sympathetic regard.
Perhaps I may repeat the point that has already been made, that when the Parliamentary Commissioner operates the provision of the Bill deals expressly with his power to have access to all documents, save those where the security of the State is involved, and he will not be inhibited by the doctrine of Crown privilege. [column 122]Therefore, I hope that that aspect of the matter may not be thought to invest the subject with any real difficulty.
Finally, the hon. Lady suggested that the subject suffers disadvantages in seeking to obtain relief against the Crown, but the position is that, subject to two exceptions, the court may make any such order against the Crown as it may make against the subject. The first exception is that an injunction or an order for specific performance cannot be granted against the Crown, but what the court does have power to do is to make an order declaratory of the rights of the parties and, of course, the court's declaratory order is immediately obeyed by the Crown Department concerned. The hon. Lady seems to think that an order for specific performance or an injunction would be more effective. I doubt it. The court can make the order, but, unhappily, it does not follow that it will always be complied with, and the Crown Departments will surely not require a threat of committal proceedings in order to secure compliance with the order of the court. No such clash has arisen or is likely to arise.
I think the second exception to which I should refer—and, on the face of it, it looks unattractive from the point of view of the Bill—is that an order for the recovery of land or the delivery of property may not be made against the Crown. Here again the court has precisely the same power to make an order declaring the plaintiff to be entitled as against the Crown or a Crown agent to the land, or to possession of it. That is just as effective, because what we are dealing with here are public authorities.
I hope, therefore, that the Committee may think that the anxieties that have been expressed about the impact of the Bill and the status of the Land Commission as a Crown body will not adversely affect the rights of the subject, whose freedoms and whose rights the Government are most anxious to maintain.
It certainly has been worth while getting into legal complications in order to get the Sir Elwyn JonesAttorney-General here to give us such a scholarly dissertation on the Crown Proceedings Act, a dissertation which is so much clearer than that provided in Halsbury. Perhaps in the next edition Halsbury will append a note to the commentaries on the Crown [column 123]Proceedings Act, setting out the Attorney-General's speech in full.
As to the function of collecting revenue, I would accept that the people charged with the duty and responsibility of collecting it should be, and must be, Crown servants. But, as the Attorney-General may observe, or may have heard, we would delete that particular responsibility from the Land Commission. I in particular would do so, because I am familiar with the process of assessing and collecting tax operated by the Inland Revenue, and we are all familiar with the excellent appeal procedure and the independent tribunals and body of special commissioners, and so on, which act so very well in Inland Revenue cases. Therefore, if the task of collection of revenue is left in the Bill, I accept that the Crown privilege will have to remain, and the servants who operate it will have to be servants of the Crown. 11.15 a.m.
But my argument proceeds on another basis: namely, that it should be no part of the job of the Land Commission to do a task which another Government Department is already far better fitted to do. I thought that the Attorney-General's arguments weakened considerably when he came to consider the other aspects of the work of the Land Commission. One observes immediately that as soon as one goes from the revenue function to the compulsory acquisition function, and some of the planning procedure, that is the point at which the protection of being a servant of the Crown is to some extent withdrawn by the Bill itself. What we ask is whether that withdrawal—under. I think, Clause 13—has gone far enough?
The Attorney-General pointed out that one can always question Ministers of the Crown. One can indeed. One cannot, alas, compel them to answer a question, or, at any rate, to give an answer that does anything except sidestep the question. He mentioned the Bill setting up the Parliamentary Commissioner. My impression about that Bill—I have not been through it as carefully as I would wish—is that it entitled the Parliamentary Commissioner to inquire only into administrative faults. That is all. Also, it is beset with many conditions which will sometimes make it difficult for the Parliamentary Commissioner to give his [column 124]full conclusions either to Parliament or to the person who is inquiring about the mischief which has been done.
Again, I would point out that if the Bill itself did not contain such devastating powers against the individual, particularly in the expedited planning procedures, there would probably have been no need for an Ombudsman at all. Members of Parliament are very well equipped to inquire into administrative faults. It is the stage beyond that that is difficult; and it is the stage beyond that which the Parliamentary Commissioner cannot carry out.
I was very interested in the Attorney-General's method of skating round the proviso to Section 2 of the Crown Proceedings Act. It was that very proviso which I did not understand either. When he says that he does not understand it, I can well sympathise with him. But he is here to try to help us to understand it, and if he cannot understand it, I should have thought that it was perhaps somewhat dangerous to conclude that it was not damaging to the subject. The note to that Clause which occurs at the top of p. 49 of Halsbury's Statutes, 2nd edition, Vol, 6, entitled “No proceedings to lie” rather agrees with my interpretation of the proviso. It says:
“It would seem that under the proviso to s. 2(1), no proceedings will lie under s. 2(1)(a), unless in proceedings before the commencement of this Act the person committing the tortious act could have been sued in his individual, as contrasted with his representative, capacity; as to this, see the judgment of Atkin, L.J., in Mackenzie-Kennedy v. Air Council  2 K.B. 517” —
which I read before I came here last week but I have not got with me this week. I thought that our proceedings were getting to such a state that it would be simpler to adjourn to the Library, where the books would be more readily at hand.
That was, of course, a very vexed proviso, and I note that even my hon. and learned Friend on this side who wrote a book about it has no more clear ideas about what it meant than the Attorney-General or perhaps lesser creatures, as myself. But it is an important proviso.
There are a number of other comments which the Attorney-General made which are particularly important when we come on to the extensive powers of compulsory purchase and acquisition [column 125]which the Bill contains. They are extremely extensive; and they are of such a nature as to make the remedies of injunction and specific performance very important indeed. Take the case, for example, where the Land Commission acquires a part of a person's land, and part of the bargain is that there shall be an easement or right of way over that parcel which remains with the subject, and without the grant of that right of way the land remaining with the subject will be virtually useless for the purposes for which he requires it. Suppose that the Land Commission decided that it did not wish to grant that easement or right of way. As with subsection (4), the subject could not get a decree of specific performance. I doubt very much whether he could get a declaration of right—of the rights of the parties. He could most certainly get damages. But he does not want damages. He wants the right of way. That is a very specific case, vitally important in this Bill. What use would a declaration of right be when the Land Commission said, “No, we are not going to grant it” , and the court says, “The citizen is entitled to it” , and one cannot enforce against the Crown by any contempt proceedings?
This is a very specific case, and I had hoped that the Attorney-General, with his most excellent staff, who have much wider knowledge of these matters, would have given us several specific cases of this kind where the subject is at a disadvantage. I am really asking him the following. There are already parts of the Bill—he mentioned Clause 13—where the protection of being a Crown servant is withdrawn from the Land Commission. Is he certain that this has gone far enough? Would it not be better, when one is dealing with compulsory purchase, that further protection should be withdrawn in a case such as the one I have already mentioned?
I submit that it is inconceivable that in a case where, if the defendant were an ordinary citizen, specific performance would be ordered or an injunction would be ordered, the court would not make a declaratory order if the defendant were a Crown Department. If in the circumstances that the hon. Lady has envisaged an order for specific performance would be available were the defendant not a [column 126]Crown body, I repeat that I think it is inconceivable that the Court would not make a declaratory order if the defendant were a Crown body. Of course the effect of a declaratory order by the court is instantaneous. Everybody goes scurrying quickly for shelter, and very quickly seeing that the declaratory order is carried out.
Even in a specific case like this? I suspect that what would happen would be that the Land Commission would then issue another compulsory purchase order to take over the whole of the land, and damn the declaration so the subject would have nothing.
The Minister would be sacked.
I hope the Frederick WilleyMinister would be sacked. But if the Minister would be sacked under those circumstances we really ought to sack him for taking such excessive powers now. I am certain that in a matter of a few weeks we shall have the ability to do so—although I wish him no personal harm at all, for I think that he is a very nice man.
Another case where one might wish to take out an interim injunction would be where the Land Commission was attempting to acquire land under the expedited procedure. After the second appointed day, as I am sure the Attorney-General will know, the Land Commission has very extensive powers of compulsory acquisition, and it may well be that in the case, say, of a factory which has been set up in a development district with American capital, and which has applied for planning permission for an extension, the Land Commission could step in as soon as its planning permission was granted and acquire the land and land adjacent to it. In fact, it could acquire all the land and the factory. If in effect, those servants were not servants of the Crown, one could take out at any rate an interim injunction to prevent them from doing so until the full rights of the case had been heard. As I understand it, so long as they are servants of the Crown an injunction will not lie and one would have no rights; just at the point of time when one needed them their protection would be withdrawn. Again, one does not want damages; one wants to stop the expedited procedure and prevent the [column 127]declaration from taking effect. One would need an interim injunction in those circumstances.
I have made a rather longer speech than I intended to do, but there are two other points. The Attorney-General has given a very interesting and amusing account of certain cases between husband and wife which were the only sorts of cases where Crown servants would be better off than the ordinary person. I would direct his attention to Twine v. Bean's Express Limited, 1946, 1 All England Reports, 202, at page 204—Mr. Justice Uthwatt—which was the case which I read in conjunction with the quotation I gave from page 658 of Hood Phillips, which is the case which is there referred to.
Again, I do not have that book here today, but my recollection of the case is that this was a circumstance in which a private contractor lent a van with a driver to a Government authority, the kind of case one can imagine arising at Christmas time when the Post Office take over all sorts of extra vans and coaches. Whether or not it takes the driver over, I do not know, but in this case the contractor lent the driver to the Government body and the driver then took home another employee contrary to the instructions of the initial private employment. There was an accident, but the driver was acting in the services of the Crown and the Crown was held not liable to the passenger in circumstances where the private employer would have been liable. That is my recollection of the case, but it is a specific case when the Crown was not liable to a person who was injured in circumstances where the private employer would have been.
My only other point is to ask the Joint Arthur SkeffingtonParliamentary Secretary to give us before we go very much further a specific assurance that the rates payable in Newcastle in respect of the office of the Land Commission to be situated there, or the rates payable anywhere else in respect of Land Commission offices, will be substantially the same as they would have been had the office not been an office of a Government Department. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) wishes to press that point.[column 128]
Mr. R. W. Elliott
I intended to ask for a guarantee following the point made by the Attorney-General in that the headquarters of the Commission are to be in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I noticed what the Attorney-General said about the position under the Rating and Valuation Act 1935 under which Crown property, although not subject to rating in the normal way, is usually obliged on an ex gratia basis to make a contribution to the rates which would equal that which it would pay under the normal rateable position. I am sure that my hard-pressed constituents, hard-pressed from a rateable point of view when my City has an enormous and extensive development programme, will be relieved at the point which has been made by the Attorney-General. I simple seek a guarantee that the ex gratia payment would equal the amount of money which would be yielded from rating in the normal way.
I do not know that I can add any further to what I have already said in regard to the rates position. I have little doubt that the obligations which have been customary in Crown bodies will be fulfilled. I do not think I can take it more expressly than that.
I am sorry that I do not have with me the copy of the Report of the case of Twine v. Bean's Express to which the hon. Lady referred, but I would remind her that that was a case in 1946 and I should have thought that since the Crown Proceedings Act there would have been liability on the Crown in the circumstances of that case. Though I have not examined the case recently, I imagine that the situation is now protected by the 1947 Act.
I have before me, however, the volume of the third edition of Hood Phillips on Constitutional and Administrative Law, and I note that in regard to the famous proprietor the authors take the view that the proviso may be intended to preserve such defences as act of State or acting under prerogative or statutory powers. Then there follow the words which the hon. Lady previously cited. I am satisfied that the exceptional cases where difficulties might arise would be even more exceptional [column 129]than usual with regard to the transactions of the Land Commission.
First, I understood from what the Attorney-General said that we should be given some assurance on the rates point, on the intention to make a full payment in lieu. The Attorney-General—very properly, for he is not the responsible Minister—said that this was the normal practice, and almost invited us to press, as my hon. Friend for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) has done, either the Minister, now he is here, or the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to give a full assurance in those terms. I would certainly not suggest that the Committee should come to a decision on the Amendment until we have had the assurance which we were invited to press for.
Secondly, I must repeat, as the Minister is now here, the request I myself made earlier for an assurance in respect of the civil servants concerned. The right hon. Gentleman was not here, and so I must ask the Committee to bear with a repetition of that still unanswered question. On Tuesday the Joint Parliamentary Secretary told us that the reason for making the Commission a Crown body did not arise from the legal issues to which the Attorney-General has been referring, but in order that it might be operated by civil servants. I therefore asked, and repeat, the specific question: how many civil servants is it proposed to transfer to the Land Commission within the total of 2,000 staff, whom the Parliamentary Secretary, I think it was, told us it was intended to employ?
Secondly, is it intended to use compulsion to secure the transfer of such civil servants, or will the vacancies be dealt with on a voluntary basis? Does it involve the physical movement of civil servants—and, if so, how many—from their present homes to Newcastle or to the regional headquarters?
Have discussions been going on with the staff associations? What stage have they reached? What steps are being taken to protect the career prospects of civil servants who, either voluntarily or compulsorily, are transferred to the Commission, in the event of the Commission being wound up?
These are very important matters for a considerable number of staff and, as we [column 130]have been told that the real reason for this Clause is to permit the employment of these staffs, I think we are entitled to press the Minister very hard to tell us what his intentions are.
The only other thing I wish to do at this stage is to thank the Attorney-General for his very interesting discussion of the law. I am bound to say that at one time I thought he was going to alarm his hon. Friends when he seemed to me to be trying to prove too much, and to prove that Crown status was a positive disadvantage in litigation. As his hon. Friends presumably—though their enthusiasm seems to be diminishing—wants a Crown Land Commission, I should have thought he probably rather alarmed them. But it did emerge, I think to all Members of the Committee, lay and legal alike, that there could be situations in which the deliberate conferring of Crown status by this subsection on the Commission will involve disadvantages to the citizen who is in dispute with the Commission. This fact clearly emerged, for all the assurances and for all the clarity of the Attorney-General's speech.
Therefore, we are still left with these issues, that on the law it is proposed to give the Commission powers and privileges in excess of those enjoyed by an ordinary body, by the ordinary citizen. That, of course, seems wrong.
We await an assurance on rates, which I do not doubt will be forthcoming and, therefore, I will not waste time about it at the moment. Finally, we seek an assurance on the position of the public officials concerned, for which I have already asked in the absence of the Minister, and I have repeated the question as briefly as I can in his presence.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)
I hope that the Committee will permit me to reply to some of the points that have been raised, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be willing to answer any subsidiary questions which the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) may wish to ask.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General gave not only the legal position but details of the normal practice in relation to rates. I am happy to [column 131]say that it is fully intended that the Commission should follow the normal practice; that is, the practice that has always applied in these cases. An ex gratia payment is made, but it is equivalent to what the rates would have been in respect of a normal undertaking.
The staff employed by the Commission will be public servants. The transfer of the civil servants will follow the normal practice and, as the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames is aware, this is not the first occasion when staff have been transferred. I recall that he was, certainly in part, responsible when he was Minister for the transfer of a considerable number of staff, I believe to his hon. Friend's constituency in one case. At any rate, these arrangements have been well tested and the normal practice will apply here.
Of course, there is a great distinction between this transfer and the transfer to which he referred, which was the physical transfer of an existing Department involving no change of the Department or the transfer of officials to a new organisation involving their employment by a new employer.
I was not making the point that it was exactly identical, but I was saying that the normal, well-tried arrangements which have been used in general in this matter will operate in this case.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether or not these people would be directed and compelled to serve. It is hoped that all the transfers will be on a voluntary basis. Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, any public servant, when he accepts service, is liable to serve wherever the Crown pleases, but no difficulty is anticipated in filling these posts on a voluntary basis. Indeed, the indications are that a considerable number of civil servants will like to transfer and to undertake this work. At this stage there is certainly no difficulty anticipated.
The whole of the setup, of course, has been and is being worked out very fully with the Treasury, including, of course, the active participation of the Organisation and Methods Department. The Treasury, of course, will, as it normally does have had consultations with the staff associations. This again is a [column 132]wellknown procedure, of which I know the right hon. Gentleman is well aware.
There may be some cases, of course, where public servants will be asked to move. Again, my information is that there is no dearth of applicants who very often want to move out from London and other centres, and we do not anticipate any difficulty there.
Of course, where a home is being transferred and removal expenses arise, these are normally met by the Treasury, and they will be so met in this case.
I hope that I have satisfied the right hon. Gentleman on these points.
If I understand the hon. Gentleman right, though he hopes to fill these vacancies in the Land Commission voluntarily, he is not giving us an assurance that compulsion will not be used. Am I right?
I do not think that it is given to me, at this stage to read the crystal. I can only give the indications on the information that has been given to me. The indications are that we have a large number of persons who will be willing to be transferred. I do not think it would be right or proper for me to go beyond that. On the other hand, I cannot agree with the negative approach of the right hon. Gentleman. I think that might be doing a disservice to the civil servants involved. All I can give is the information that I have, which, on the whole, optimistic.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the information. The position is clear, that he declines to give an assurance that he will not use compulsion.
Mr. John Wells
Could I ask the Minister a brief question? He gave a Written Answer yesterday, which is reported in col. 119 of the Official Report, dealing with the kindred matter of extra staff for the Ordnance Survey. Will the extra staff which will be directly concerned with the work which will arise out of this Bill be recruited in the same way?
The Minister of Land and Natural Resources (Mr. Frederick Willey)
I apologise for not being here at the beginning of our proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman, I know, appreciates that it is sometimes difficult for a Minister to attend the whole of the proceedings, and I have, unfortunately, been in this [column 133-134]difficulty once or twice. I am sorry for not being here for the whole of our discussion.
On the Ordnance Survey point, the answer is “No” . It is not related to the issue that we are discussing now.
Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause:
The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 8.
Division No. 4.]
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. Hon. Frederick
Box , Donald
Boyd-Carpenter , Rt. Hn. J.
Elliott , R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)
Farr , John
Noble , Rt. Hn. Michael
Onslow , Cranley
Smith , John
Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. John Farr
We have had a long discussion on this Clause, and we were grateful that when the last Amendment was being discussed we had the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General with us. He gave many answers to the questions which had been asked by the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that I may be excused for intervening for a moment, but we have had such high-power discussions between the Front Benches all morning, that together with the large number of complicated books of reference which have been trotted out by one side and another, a complicated Measure has been made even more complicated to those who have not the benefit of experience at the Bar.
Generally speaking, as a back-bench member of the Committee, I have not been at all satisfied with some of the explanations which we have been given by Ministers. We were given an assurance—and it took a bit of getting from the Parliamentary Secretary—that the Land Commission, which is to have headquarters in Newcastle, would pay an annual sum equivalent to the rates which would be paid if it were rateable. Why can they not do this in the normal way and pay rates in the same way as any other industrial concern or individual? The Parliamentary Secretary said that the Commission would pay a sum equivalent to that which would be paid by them if they had been rated. I only hope that that equivalent goes up at the same rate as that at which the annual rates of individuals and individual companies have been going up in recent years. Last year, for instance, rates all over the country went up by over 14 per cent. I hope that the equivalent which the Land Commission will pay on the office in Newcastle, and on the other sub-offices, will keep pace with this annual rate of increase which everybody else is having to face.
I also thought that the Attorney-General, who, I regret to see, is not with us now, made a very weak reply to the question of Crown privilege. He treated it in his usual charming and courteous manner, but, If I may say so, he appeared to some of us to treat the whole matter with a little too much frivolity; he had rather too much of a debonair air about him.
It is a very serious joint and I, for one, was not at all satisfied when he said, “Very often the production of a certain document by the Crown would destroy an applicant's case.” Of course, I do not question what he says, but normally an applicant would not request the production of such a document if he knew that it would damage his case. Although it may be obvious sometimes that the production of this document would damage an applicant's case, in the vast majority of cases it is to the applicant's disadvantage for the document not to be produced.
Nor did the Attorney-General deal at all effectively with the protection of the individual under this Clause. He referred to some Measure which had been introduced into the House—The Parliamentary Commissioner Bill—which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) rightly said, empowers the [column 135]Ombudsman to inquire only into administrative faults and complaints. That is not good enough to deal with the fundamental questions which affect the rights of the individual and which have been raised by this Bill. Anyhow, the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill is a very long way indeed from being on the Statute Book. Whether it is introduced by a Labour Government——
Order. It is because it is a long way from the Statute Book that it is out of order to discuss it too much in this debate.
Mr. Hynd, with the greatest respect, the reference to the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill was almost the sole argument which the Attorney-General put forward in reply to a question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter).
It may be mentioned in passing, but I thought that the hon. Gentleman was embarking upon an argument about the Bill.
No. I would not do that, Mr. Hynd, although I confess that I am not at all enamoured with that Bill. I was just, en passant, stating that I thought that it would be of very little use or assistance to any objector to a specific machination resulting from the Land Commission Bill.
One thing which has disturbed me very much is that the Government Front Bench quite airily, when questioned by my right hon. Friend about the matter of paying taxes, said, “Of course, the Land Commission will not pay any taxation as the whole of their proceeds will accrue to the Exchequer, and it would be superfluous to pay Income Tax or any other form of taxation under those conditions” . No doubt, as we have that assurance, all the proceeds from and receipts of the Land Commission will accrue to the Exchequer. But there will be very considerable expenses and outgoings by the Land Commission. If this great conglomeration of a body ever comes into existence, I expect that in the first year or two the expenses of establishing a new office, recruiting a staff of up to 2,000 and all the other necessary expenses will far exceed the receipts. [column 136]
Generally speaking, people in this country distrust this Bill [Interruption.] particularly those whom I have the privilege to represent and who live in the countryside, who regard it as a quite unnecessary Measure. It is like introducing a sledge-hammer to crack a nut. Personally, I am dissatisfied not only with the objects of this Clause but also with the explanations which have been given by the Government Front Bench, and I shall do my utmost to oppose the whole of the Bill.
This is a very important Clause—the Clause which sets up the Land Commission. I should like to spend a few minutes questioning whether a Land Commission is necessary, or even desirable, in order to achieve the objectives behind the Bill.
I notice that nowhere in the White Paper, nor in the Bill itself, is the case for a land Commission argued at all. It is assumed—and assumptions usually have to be made in the absence of any real arguments, because if one has any real arguments one can usually put them. The White Paper merely states that because the Government want to collect a levy and because they want to acquire land to see that it is ready for development, therefore they must have a land Commission. But the “therefore” does not, in fact, follow at all.
During Second Reading, either the Frederick WilleyMinister or the Arthur SkeffingtonParliamentary Secretary waved a newspaper article at my right John Boyd-Carpenterhon. Friend and myself across the Floor of the House, entitled “Land: Labour's Fair Deal.” This article was by Alan Day in the Observer. The Minister quoted that article in support of his contention that a Land Commission was necessary and desirable in order to achieve these specific objectives, but the penultimate paragraph of that article—which he said supported the principle of the Commission up to the hilt—started in this way:
“The remaining major doubt is whether it was necessary to set up a brand-new Land Commission to operate the scheme, rather than leaving the levy to the Inland Revenue and the wider compulsory-purchase powers to local authorities.”
There is a journalist, quoted as supporting these objectives, who queries the very necessity for the Clause and for a Land Commission at all. [column 137]
We on this side of the Committee also put some queries, and the first—whether the Land Commission is necessary at all—is most important. A number of other newspapers took up the same cry. The Birmingham Post of 23rd September, 1965, called the proposal for a Land Commission “A crafty proposal” . The Times of Monday, 31st January, in its leading article took up the same point:
“It is the commission itself that is the cause of misgivings. It is not easy to foretell the precise size and shape of the monster that is being generated, for the Bill is framed after the modern fashion with many of the crucial things left for subsequent settlement by delegated legislation or ministrial direction. But its outline is plain enough to have alarmed most of those down whose necks it will breathe. Local authorities are particularly apprehensive.”
Commentator after Commentator has made this point, and the Minister will know that local authorities, too, are also very worried about it.
The right hon. Gentleman knows our views about the levy very well. As part of the machinery of the Inland Revenue will be used, it does not seem necessary to have a Land Commission at all for that purpose. Another question is: is it necessary to have a Land Commission to exercise the compulsory purchase powers? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots) deal with this argument during Second Reading, and a number of other commentators have made the same point: if more extensive powers for compulsory purchase are required, it is not necessary to set up a Land Commission to do it because every bit of land within the United Kingdom must already come within the purview of one standing authority or another. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that many commentators have been worried that land acquisition is divorced from planning land use. Planning land use still remains the sole charge of the local planning authorities.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the massive number of bodies which already have powers of compulsory acquisition. We are asking, why set up another one, when there are already plenty of bodies to exercise these powers? For example, various Government Departments, the Services, the Ministry of Transport, the Postmaster-General, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Home [column 138]Office already have extensive powers. Under the second heading are the county councils, the county borough and borough councils, urban and rural district councils and parish councils. Under the third head are all statutory undertakers, the electricity and gas boards, and water undertakings. Fourth, we have development corporations; fifth, nationalised undertakings, such as British Railways, the National Coal Board, British Waterways and London Transport Board; sixth, the drainage boards; seventh, the river authorities; eighth, the police authority; ninth, the Prison Commissioners; tenth, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority; eleventh, the Housing Corporation; twelfth, the constructors of pipe lines; thirteenth, companies, organising permanent track; fourteenth, the Nature Conservancy. Already these people have powers of compulsory purchase. Why add No. 15, the Land Commission?
I understand that one of the main reasons is to secure that land is available to be brought forward for particular use. The Minister is already aware what certain of the local authorities think about that argument. It is their job to designate the use of the land. They are not short of powers, and a comparatively small amendment to Sections 67 and 68 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962 and also of the relevant provisions of the Housing Act, 1957 could serve to give them any additional powers which they may need and would keep land acquisition and planning of land use together within the same authority.
What they are short of, however, is either money or loan sanction. I believe that if one wants to strengthen local authorities, one should wish to give them those powers and not to diminish their powers in connection with planning land use. I agree very much with the speech of the Town Clerk of Manchester at the Town and Country Planning Association Conference when he commented on the system of a Land Commission and pointed out that the local authority would still have to keep all their staff to acquire land, because they have to go ahead now with acquiring the land for planning a larger number of houses up to 1970. They will have to keep the staff. They have the staff there. But they will be competing with the Land Commission [column 139]for the comparatively small number of skilled staff available. They will have to compete with the Land Commission for staff. We therefore come to the crux of the Bill: is a Land Commission necessary? Nowhere has the case been made out. Perhaps the Minister will make it out this morning.
This matter was argued and decided on Second Reading. The hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said, quite rightly, that we know her views. She quoted the Town Clerk of Manchester, who, in fact, talked through his hat.
I do not think so.
His talk indicated that he had certainly not read the Bill.
That is an astonishing thing to say.
If the hon. Lady will read some of the remarks made by the Town Clerk, she will be driven to the same conclusion as that to which I have been driven.
The main argument—whether a Land Commission is necessary—has been argued for a very long time. We set out in the White Paper exactly what are the Government's main objectives. They are to secure that the right land is available at the right time for the implementation of national, regional and local plans: and, secondly, to secure that a substantial part of the development value created by the community is returned to the community and the burden of the cost of land for essential purposes reduced. We believe that this has been argued very fully, Mr. Hynd, and that to achieve these objectives we need a body such as the Land Commission.
I suspect, having looked at the Order Paper, that we shall have a later opportunity to discuss the argument which the hon. Lady deployed about the use of the Inland Revenue. We are making use of the Inland Revenue because we do not believe in duplicating the work of the staff. But the Inland Revenue could not undertake the work even of the collection of the levy. The levy is a balancing device to avoid two-tier prices. [column 140]
The Land Commission's purpose is to secure that we get land for development at a reasonable price and to secure that the right land comes forward for this development when it is required. It would be quite inappropriate for a body such as the Inland Revenue to have powers of compulsory purchase. But these powers would have to be granted in order to serve the purposes which I have defined.
May I put a question to the Opposition: are the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends upset by the squalid racket of land prices? If they are, they had better tackle it resolutely. They have not done this. The minute they knew that we intended to introduce legislation to establish a Land Commission, they said, in the most ambiguous way, that they, too, were in favour of a levy.
On a point of order. Would it be in order for subsequent speakers on this Motion to discuss the Conservative Party's proposals for land? I should like to know, because I can then prepare somewhat lengthy observations on the subject.
The only question which is in order at the moment is whether the Clause should or should not stand part of the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Conservative Party's proposals. This would be an interesting revelation, because we have not yet heard what they are.
On a point of order. If the hon. Gentleman persists in this line, I take it, Mr. Hynd, that you will allow me and others the right to reply to him—otherwise the right hon. Gentleman is attempting to abuse the Rules of this Committee.
It is entirely in your hands, Mr. Hynd. I would say that the issue here is that which was decided on Second Reading: are we serious about dealing with the scandal of land prices? Are we serious in believing that land ought to come forward for development in a better way than that in which it is coming forward now? The hon. Lady says that the powers already exist with local authorities. The point is that they have not been exercised. This is a matter which we have debated in the past, and [column 141]there are reasons why the local authorities have found it difficult, if not impossible, to use their powers to help development. But the issue, in short, Mr. Hynd, is the issue which we decided on Second Reading. The Government are determined to deal with the scandal of land prices——
Order. I must remind the Minister that the issue at the moment is whether this should be done by a Land Commission or not. We are debating the Clause.
As to that, Mr. Hynd, I believe that the appropriate way to do this is to establish a Land Commission.
My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) put, in the most serious terms, on this Clause which sets up the Land Commission, a very powerful argument why there should not be a Land Commission, and therefore why this Clause should not stand part of the Bill. No one could pretend—not even the right hon. Gentleman's greatest admirer—that he made any attempt whatever to reply to that argument. Indeed, he simply said: it was decided on Second Reading. The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong on that. Unless he regards this Committee as just an instrument for counterstamping the decisions of the Government, the issue is open in this Committee, and if the Government have sufficient interest in the Bill to keep Parliament sitting long enough for it to go through further stages, it will be the responsibility and duty of hon. Members at all stages to decide just this issue. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that he will forward the case for his Bill by abandoning an attempt at argument and just saying that it was decided on Second Reading, he is showing an ignorance of the customs of this House which is surprising even in him.
The right hon. Gentleman went further than this. Not only did he attempt to raise broader issues which, Mr. Hynd, subject to your Ruling, I cannot follow, but he also thought fit to include in his speech an attack of an eminent public official who is in no position to reply to him. This is a very low level of Ministerial conduct. This official in question has infinitely more experience of these matters than the Minister has or [column 142]ever will have. He is a man held in the highest regard by members of all political parties. I have here the text of his speech at the very eminent body where it was delivered. For the right hon. Gentleman to get up and say that this gentleman was talking through his head is a most astonishing Ministerial performance. The right hon. Gentleman would better serve the dignity of his office and his own reputation if he would withdraw that remark. But the one thing one which apparently we cannot teach the right hon. Gentleman is taste——
On a point of order. I wonder, with respect, Mr. Hynd, whether we are to spend our time on personal attacks from the Front Benches or whether we are to get on with the purpose of the Clause?
Further to that point of order. The question arose from a personal attack made by the right hon. Gentleman on an eminent public official who is in no position to reply. The right hon. Gentleman may make as many attacks as he likes upon those who can reply, but—subject to your Ruling, Mr. Hynd—he made such an attack contrary entirely to the standards of Ministerial conduct in this House, and those of us who disagree with his behaviour are entitled to reply.
Order. The Minister expressed an opinion which seemed to me to be not out of order, in a Parliamentary sense. The right hon. Gentleman made a comment on that. I think that we can leave it at that.
I think that public opinion, too, Mr. Hynd, will leave it at that, and I know where public opinion will stand about a Minister who behaves in this way.
The right hon. Gentleman then dealt in the most airy way with my hon. Friend's serious suggestion that this levy could be collected by the Inland Revenue. He just said, “It couldn't be done.” Does he recall that on Second Reading, when he was challenged he disputed that this could be done, he made no challenge to the proposition that it could perfectly well be done by the Inland Revenue? Is he prepared to tell us why he thinks that this Department, which collects some £3,000 million of revenue from an enormously wide variety of taxes, including [column 143]taxes very closely analogous to this—such as Capital Gains Tax and Estate Duty—cannot undertake this collection.
He is right in saying that it would be foolish to give the Inland Revenue, in addition, compulsory purchase powers. But if he had listened to the argument, he would know that the argument of my hon. Friend was that it was not necessary to give either the Revenue or the Commission compulsory purchase powers because all the land in question could perfectly well be dealt with by the compulsory purchase powers of the central Government, the New Towns Corporations and other public bodies, and, above all, by the local authorities. And it is a travesty of argument on the part of a Minister supposed to be in charge of a Bill that when he does come here, all he says is that something is impossible which he accepted as possible on Second Reading. Without substantiating any arguments at all, he simply says that a body which collects £3,000 million of taxation in a wide variety of ways cannot do this collection.
He intends to use this body, anyhow. Does he believe that he will get a separate set of valuers for the Commission? Perhaps he would tell us from where they are to come. We all know that there is the greatest shortage of valuers and that he will have to use the Valuation Department of the Inland Revenue. He is using their Valuation Department. Why cannot he use their local offices for collection? What practical reason is there? The real reason is that the Labour Party put in their Manifesto that they were going to set up a Land Commission and, as they have broken practically every other pledge, they thought that they ought to try to honour this pledge, at any rate in name. That seems the only rational and understandable argument, and it is at least a much better argument than the right hon. Gentleman's comment, “It can't be done” .
I will come, if I may, to one or two detailed points on the Clause. We have not discussed at all, so far, Mr. Hynd, subsection (1), the body of Commissioners. I appreciate that detailed discussion of that must await the time, if it ever comes, when we reach the First Schedule to the Bill, but there are some preliminary questions of major importance which arise on [column 144]the Clause rather than on the Schedule. What sort of people, if the Bill becomes law, will the right hon. Gentleman appoint as Commissioners? In particular, will he appoint people of political impartiality or not? Will he follow the examples of the first Secretary of State and the Minister of Health and appoint. Labour Party supporters to public positions, or will he, in a highly controversial subject like this, appoint people without pronounced political predilections?
If the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary wants chapter and verse about the political appointments which Ministers are making, I shall be very happy to give it. He knows perfectly well the disgraceful conduct of the Government in this very respect. I want to know from the Minister whether he intends to follow this practice or whether he will follow a better practice, that of appointing impartial professional men and women. Will he appoint people from Scotland? Will he appoint professionally-qualified people?
Mr. Charles Mapp
On a point of order. It seems to me that the comments which we are hearing are irrelevant to the Motion. There are Amendments on the Order Paper to Schedule 1. Bearing in mind that subsection (1) merely sets up the body and that Schedule 1 fills in the details of numbers and so on, may I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman's comments on this aspect are out of order and should be left until we reach Schedule 1?
The question whether it is better to discuss them now or under Schedule 1 is a matter of opinion. There is nothing out of order in asking questions about the body which is envisaged in subsection (1).
I am obliged to you, Mr. Hynd, and I appreciate how embarrassing this subject is for the hon. Member and for his colleagues, but when we are asked to pass a subsection giving the Minister power to set up a body of Commissioners, it is a little startling that some hon. Members should appear to discourage my asking who and what sort of person the Minister intends to appoint. We shall be very happy, as I said, if we ever get to the First Schedule, to discuss particular aspects in detail [column 145]and in accordance with Amendments put down. I am now asking the general question as to the type of people the Minister would appoint. I hope that he will be frank with the Committee. Very few Departments, even newly-established Departments, proceed with a Measure of this sort without having very clearly in mind the names of possible people to approach and the type of people to approach. This is the point at which the Minister can illuminate us on this matter.
We were told—it took a good deal of extracting, but we got it out eventually—that there would be a staff of 2,000 for the Land Commission. I think that rather shocked the House when it was stated during discussion of the Money Resolution and it shocked opinion outside. This is obviously going to be a very large bureaucracy. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that it will in no circumstances exceed 2,000, or is this going to be like so many of the efforts of the present Administration, which expand and become more and more expensive, as was revealed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement on the Vote on Account yesterday? Is the Minister prepared to give a firm assurance that the staff will not exceed 2,000, and will he tell us what this staff of 2,000 will, in fact, do, what duties they will perform? They are not apparently to do valuation; that, apparently, is still to be undertaken by the Inland Revenue. What are they going to do? Upon what duties will they be engaged? What ideas has he on this subject?
As my hon. Friend said, we view this proposed Land Commission in a very critical way. No case has been made—and to the knowledge of the Committee the Minister did not even attempt it this morning—to justify creating it at all. No argument has been put forward for creating it. As my hon. Friend said, it duplicates the compulsory purchase powers of many other public authorities, and principally the local authorities, which are, after all, responsible to electorates. The Land Commission is sheltered, as a result of our decision on some of the earlier Amendments, from detailed Parliamentary criticism by Parliamentary ignorance of what it is doing. Not responsible, as local authorities are, to their electorates and to elected councils, it is [column 146]to be created with not merely the same powers of compulsory purchase as have local authorities—for here by hon. Friend understated the case; for if the Committee adopts Clause 8 and the Second Schedule, the Commission will have greater powers than are entrusted even to Ministers.
For what object? The Minister says, “If you are serious about land prices, you must support the Commission.” Why? What evidence has he produced that this Commission will cheapen land prices? To begin with, someone will have to pay for the Commission itself and its staff and offices. They will ultimately be charged, will they not, on the price of land or on the taxpayer and therefore, through taxation, back to the same source? What reason is there to believe that setting up this body will cheapen land prices?
I must not stray on to Clause 2 and Part III of the Bill, but it would be unique in our experience of taxation if a tax were to be imposed and to have the effect of cheapening the commodity on which it fell. There is no precedent in human history, as far as I know, for that. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman thinks that he can work miracles, but he has not told us how. Is it thought that this Commission will speed the bringing forward of land? Is it not possible that the knowledge that the Commission can compulsorily purchase any land on which a planning decision has been given will discourage owners of land from bringing forward land for planning permission and so making it available? If someone brings forward his land and gets planning permission, that, once the second appointed day has operated, exposes his land to compulsory purchase by the Commission to which it would not have been exposed had he not taken that step. That is overwhelmingly likely to discourage the flow of land for development.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman see that the remedy for the high land prices which disturb us all is not to be found by setting up another competing body with compulsory powers? It is to be found in the old principles of the law of supply and demand, because the only answer in the face of the powerful demand that exists for land for housing, which is a good thing in itself, is to [column 147]increase the supply of land with planning permission. Does anybody believe that this Commission will have that effect? Is it not clear that it will have the opposite effect? Is it not clear that the real remedy is to be found not in the right hon. Gentleman and his tinpot Commission, not in any of the provisions of this Bill, but in the planning system that is administered by his far more powerful and influential colleague, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government? That is where the remedy is to be found, in securing the supply of land available with planning permission, and practically every commentator on our Second Reading debate said just that.
For the right hon. Gentleman to say blandly, as he did, “If you are serious about getting a supply of land for building, you must want the Bill” is a complete non sequitur. There is no logical intellectual justification for connecting the two things at all, and indeed, as I have said, the effect must be the exact opposite. The effect must be to inflate the price of land and to make it scarcer. Let us get it quite clear. That will be the effect of this Measure. The right hon. Gentleman knows in his heart that it will be. But as a political gimmick he nonetheless pursues this ridiculous Measure.
Mr. Donald Box
I am a comparative newcomer to this question of the Land Commission, and I have hesitated to intervene in the deliberations of this Committee so far because I felt I ought to get the feeling of the Committee before I did so. But to-morrow I shall be going to see my town clerk and, no doubt, he will ask me how the affairs of this Committee are proceeding, and I think he will be amazed when I tell him that the Minister, acting on behalf of the Government, has made the most astonishing attack on a very worthy colleague of his in the City of Manchester. I think we can assume that town clerks know sufficient about land and proposed Land Commissions to make statements which have some authority, and I think that in the remaining 35 minutes or so that we have to deliberate this matter, the Minister ought to reflect on the situation and withdraw this scurrilous statement before it is too widely reported. [column 148]
One of the points the Minister made when he was speaking just now was that he thought the Land Commission would increase the supply of land. In my submission, the Land Commission is acquiring massive powers which are totally and completely unnecessary. I think we should throw out the idea of the establishment of a Land Commission, as outlined in Clause 1, for a number of reasons.
First of all, I think the establishment of a Land Commission will mean more expensive homes and not cheaper ones. My right hon. Friend and many hon. Members on this side of the Committee have been at some pains to explain to the Committee that to put a levy or a tax on any item cannot possibly reduce the price of that particular item. I am not going into details about the levy, Mr. Hynd, because I think you would rule me out of order, but I think equally the Committee would agree that the levy is an integral part of the Land Commission and there would not be much purpose in having a Land Commission unless it was able to apply a levy as well.
We are approaching Budget Day, and undoubtedly taxation will be increased very considerably. I defy anyone to tell me that any item which is subject to tax will go down in price, although it may become more plentiful in supply because fewer people will be able to purchase it.
Secondly, I think the operation of a Land Commission, or the setting up of a Land Commission, will mean fewer homes. The mere publication of the scheme, which I believe took place last September, brought an immediate reaction from associations representing builders and trade employers. For example, the Federation of Building and Trade Employers pointed out in a statement as recently as 12th January last that
“The proposed Land Commission has already arrested the flow of land for private house buildings.”
How does the Minister square that up with his contention that this legislation is going to produce more land? I am afraid it will not produce any more land at all. It will freeze the existing supply and there will be very much less land available for development than hitherto. [column 149]
Third, I think the establishment of the Land Commission will retard modernisation because the position, as I understand it, is that if an industrialist is fortunate enough to obtain planning permission to extend his premises, the levy becomes immediately payable. That seems an extraordinary way of encouraging industrialists to increase their modernisation.
My fourth reason is that I think the Land Commission will cause a good deal of confusion and uncertainty. It seems that the setting up of this body may even require the notification of more or less all normal buying and selling of houses so that the authorities can find out whether there is a levy payable.
Fifth, I think it will add to the taxpayer's burden. As my right hon. Friend very rightly pointed out, I think the estimated cost of administration will be something like £7 million a year—a very paltry sum, I recognise, under the plans of this spendthrift Government. They are going to start off with some £45 million of taxpayers' money to operate, and, as we heard, they are going to employ something in the order of 2,000 civil servants to operate the scheme. Quite recently there has been a similar case in which there was an increase of 2,000 civil servants in the City of Cardiff over a period of some three and a half years, although there has not been any increase in the population of the City. I wonder whether the local authority will have to employ more people so that they are able to cope with the way in which the Land Commission encroaches on the local authority's particular areas.
Finally, I think the local authorities already have wide enough powers to acquire land where it is required for development. There is absolutely no need to duplicate these powers unless it is intended that the Land Commission should usurp the local functions.
Those are the bases on which I hope the Committee will reject Clause 1. I am absolutely certain that the one thing the Land Commission will not do is increase the ready supply of land. In fact, it will do just the opposite.
Mr. Michael Noble
Mr. Hynd, you were very generous to Scotland at the beginning of the debate on this Clause, and therefore I do not want to keep this Committee for too long in [column 150]considering the same problems. But I was a little surprised, when the Minister made his short and not very relevant intervention, that he did not refer in any way to the interesting debate that we had at our first Sitting. I know he was busy, but I am sure he read the report of some of the debate afterwards. He omitted to say that the main reason why he and the Government have said that they wish to set up this Land Commission is that they have to get the land they want at the right time.
This has never been a problem for any development that I am aware of in Scotland. In the earlier debate when I sought, without success, to save Scotland from the expense and lunacy of a good deal of what is in this Bill, the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in answering me quite clearly could not find an example of our having been in any difficulty in this sphere.
The Minister enjoys using the phrase “squalid land prices” . We in Scotland have been remarkably free from any degree of squalidity. The cost of land, as a proportion of the cost of a house, 18 months ago when I was at the Scottish Office, was of the order of 5 per cent. That is a very tiny and perfectly respectable fraction of the cost of a house. The hon. Lady the Under-Secretary said that I was out of date, that since then it had been rising—she did not say “very steeply” —particularly in the central belt. I, at least, am not responsible for that. The whole purpose of her party's policy and of our party's policy is not to concentrate everything into the central belt of Scotland but to spread it around the other areas. We have the powers and we have the ability to do this; we have the land which we need, and it has been demonstrably shown that if the supply of land is adequate the cost does not become excessive. So there is not one single point of the Minister's speech which has any relevance to Scotland at all.
I should like to make my final point quite shortly, because it may well be—none of us knows—that this is the last meeting that this Committee will ever have. Indeed, a good many of us hope that it is the last we shall ever hear of a Bill of this nature. The world is an uncertain place, and it is difficult to tell [column 151]whether we shall go on, day after day, debating this rather squalid Bill. The point that I would like the Minister to consider seriously, before we decide how to treat this Clause, is this: There is, without the slightest doubt, a great difference of approach to these problems in those areas of the country where there is a high rate of employment, a tremendous amount of development and great pressure on land. This is a totally different problem from that of the large parts of the country which have now been designated, or are to be designated in the legislation which the Government say they are going to bring forward, as development districts.
The hon. Lady, when we were discussing the undoubted disincentive effect of a betterment levy on the expansion of industry in these areas, said that she would answer this point. When it came to her speech—I have studied it carefully—the only argument that she put against the disincentive effect of having to pay betterment levy for development on one's own land, if one is an industrialist, was that it would keep the price of land down. Of course, this is a perfectly fatuous argument. Quite apart from whether one side of the Committee or the other thinks that the price of land ought to be kept down by the action of this Bill, it is a totally irrelevant argument to the point that we were making. In this case, the developer himself owns the land. Therefore, there is no question of the price being higher or lower. He merely has to pay the levy on the land which he already owns. So there he is, and he is undoubtedly put in a disadvantageous position by the type of levy and the type of discrimination which takes place.
I hope the Committee will feel that it is appropriate to oppose this Clause. I myself do so. I would willingly have exempted Scotland from it. I should like to have had our own separate Land Commission for Scotland, which I would hope would not be as ill-planned and ill-thought-out as this one has been for the whole country.
As this may be the last occasion on which this Committee meets, I hope the Minister can give a proper explanation. Not one of the arguments that I have made against the Clause has been refuted by the Under Secretary. Local authorities [column 152]do not want it, owing to shortage of staff and so on. The Minister has had a shot, but he has not answered the points in any way. I am not too hopeful, but I hope he will try to explain why he has not set up this Commission in such a way as to deal with the objects which he regards as desirable.
I believe it will meet the convenience of both sides of the Committee if I now move “That the debate be now adjourned.”
I certainly do not rise to oppose this Motion. If the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Frends have lost interest in the Bill——
On a point of order. It is surely an absolute breach of the rules that govern this Committee that when an approach is made to the Minister in charge of the Bill, a remark such as this should be made.
That is not a point of order.
Nor have I made any approach to the Minister in charge of the Bill. So it is an irrelevant interjection as well. If the Government have lost interest in the progress of the Bill——
Mr. Archie Manuel
This is quite shocking.
——if they realise that there is no purpose in going forward with a Measure which has been discredited——
Let us carry on.
The Motion is withdrawn.
The right hon. Gentleman says the Motion is withdrawn. That shows a singular ignorance of the rules of procedure, singular even in him. If the Government have lost interest——
Let us carry on.
——then I see no reason why we should object. The Bill, as we now know, will never be law. The Bill is dead, and if the Government want to go to the funeral supper, I see no reason they should not.
An approach was made to me that it would meet the convenience [column 153-154]of Members on both sides of the Committee if we adjourned now because of a function which Members feel obliged to attend. It was for that reason that I moved the Motion. The right hon. Gentleman, I am sure, knew the purpose for which I moved it. In spite of the offensive remarks which he has made, I still move the Motion.
On a point of order, Mr. Hynd. I cannot find anybody who knows what this approach was about, or who wanted to adjourn the proceedings. I am sure it would help the Committee if we could be told.
I wonder if I could be of help? A number of hon. Members approached me before the Committee started today and said that it would be slightly inconvenient if the Committee were to sit till one o'clock because there is a luncheon of the Parliamentary Scientific Committee, an annual function, which many Members here would like to attend. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman was here at the beginning. I asked every Member, on both sides, who was here, if this would be agreeable, and I then mentioned it to the right hon. Gentleman. I gathered from him that he would not oppose the proposition. I would not have dreamed of doing it if I had not had the consent of all Members whom I was able to see before the Committee met.
On that point of order, the Parliamentary Secretary has referred to me. He has given, as he knows, an incomplete account of our discussion. I told him that I would not oppose this Motion, and I have told the Committee that I do not oppose it. I did tell him that I would make some comments on it. The Parliamentary Secretary, in giving an account of this conversation, would have served Parliamentary tradition better if he had given the whole of it. I told him that I would make those comments; I have made them. They are legitimate. I hope they will be noted—and let the Parliamentary Secretary go to his funeral supper.
Question put and agreed to..
Committee adjourned at twenty minutes to One o'clock till Tuesday, 1st March, 1966 at half-past Ten o'clock.
The following Members attended the Committee: Mr. H. Hynd (Chairman.)
Box , Mr.
Boyd-Carpenter , Mr.
Dunnett , Mr.
Elliott , Mr. R. W.
Eyre , Mr.
Farr , Mr.
Fletcher , Mr.
Hamling , Mr.
Harrison , Mr. Walter
Hart , Mrs.
Howie , Mr.
Johnson , Mr. James
Manuel , Mr.
Mapp , Mr.
Noble , Mr.
Onslow , Mr.
Skeffington , Mr.
Smith , Mr. John
Wells , Mr. John
Willey , Mr.
The Attorney-General also attended. [column 155] Appendix
Land Commission Bill
Standing Committee F
Tuesday, 1st March, 1966
[Mr. H. Hynd in the Chair]
The Minister of Land and Natural Resources (Mr. Frederick Willey)
I beg to move,
That the Committee do now adjourn till Tuesday, 15th March at half-past Ten o'clock.
I wonder, Mr. Hynd, whether you would allow me to express on behalf, I am sure, of the whole Committee our indebtedness to you for the courteous and helpful way in which you have conducted our procedure. Knowing that your intention is not to return to Parliament, may I also express our best wishes to you on your retirement, and as an old friend, a Member who has long served with you in the House of Commons, may I say what a great loss it will be to the House of Commons to lose such a courteous and intelligent Member.
Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter
This is a motion to adjourn to the Greek kalends.
It would therefore be very appropriate for us to join the Minister in expressing to you, Mr. Hynd, the gratitude of my hon. Friends for the admirable way in which you have presided over our proceedings. You have given, if I may respectfully say so, an appearance of absolute fairness, absolute impartiality, and a most pleasing sense of humour, and though you may privately be relieved by this Motion of a fear that you would have to preside over us for what might have been a somewhat longer period, I am sure that all Members of the Committee will carry away with them, whatever other impressions they carry away, a most happy recollection of their Chairman. As the right hon. Gentleman said, you are, we are sorry to know, one of those who have decided to leave this place. In present circumstances there may be more leaving this [column 156]place than are at present aware of that fact, but you, Sir, at least have made up your own mind and have decided to terminate your long and honourable career, and I should like very sincerely to add my good wishes, and those of my hon. Friends, to those which the Minister expressed, and to wish you happiness in your retirement and that surprising exuberance of good health and return of youthfulness which seems to come to all who leave this place.
One other matter arises from the fact that this Motion, which we do not oppose, brings to an end the discussions on the Bill. It is one of some practical importance on which, I hope, the Minister will have something to say. The Committee will recall that we have been proceeding on the basis that there would probably be an appointed day some time at the end of the year—I think December has been mentioned——and in that context the right hon. Gentleman has throughout made it clear that the provisions of the Bill, including both the levy and the threat of compulsory purchase, would apply to all transactions taking place since 23rd September of last year, the day of the White Paper.
Whatever may happen, the time-table for an appointed day clearly has gone out of the window, and if events turn out elsewhere as they are likely to, there will be no Land Commission and the levy will appear in the ordinary way and subject to the ordinary principles of taxation. If, by some extraordinary mischance, they go otherwise, then this Bill, or something like it, plainly cannot be reintroduced until well into the month of May. The time-table which the Lord President of the Council gave us last night for re-assembly, with the State Opening on 20th March, followed by a debate on the Queen's Speech, followed, of course, by a belated Budget, means that however resourceful the right hon. Gentleman is with his colleagues, the Bill could not be under way until well into the summer, and quite plainly the timetable on which he has been working, in perfectly good faith, I have no doubt, has been frustrated.
It is very important, therefore, if the flow of land for building is not in the interim to be interrupted, that the right hon. Gentleman should make it clear that retrospection back to 23rd September last [column 157]year will in no circumstances be insisted on. I think that he owes it to those outside, who have been put in some position of uncertainty by this relating back to 23rd September, and who should not have that aggravated by the fact that, for whatever reason, the Government have decided to take a step which means at the very least a considerable postponement of this, or indeed of any Measure.
It is the wish of all of us, on both sides of the Committee, I am quite certain, that it should not be a by-product of this decision that the flow of land for development and for housing is interrupted. It is quite plain that there will be the inevitable uncertainties of a General Election period, but I think that it would be a great pity if the impression were left that in the event, however unlikely, of the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends succeeding at the polls, there would be this long relating back, as it would prove to be, to the date of a White Paper in a previous Parliament which had lost all relevance in the light of the decision which we are taking today and the decision which the Prime Minister announced yesterday.
If the right hon. Gentleman in another Parliament is in a position to go forward with this Measure, he will no doubt be in a position to select whichever date he thinks fit as the date from which these provisions should run. But it would, I think, be very wrong of him—and I should be surprised to see him take this line—to persist in a date which has become obsolete. If he would say here and now that, whatever happens, whatever subsequent legislation may or may not be introduced shall not bite on transactions from the period 23rd September until—shall we say—the assembly of the new Parliament, I think that he would be doing something, quite apart from party considerations, of very great practical advantage to the housing of our people. I hope, therefore, that before we accept this Motion and part with the matter the right hon. Gentleman will say something about this.
On the broader question which results from this Motion I would only add three sentences. The decision which the Government have taken involves the sacrifice of the greater part of their legislative programme and the throwing [column 158]overboard of the work which has been done during the four or five months of this Session. It is for others, not for us, to judge whether that throwing overboard of so much legislation, at a moment which may be thought, however wrongly, to be of electoral advantage to the Government, is a responsible act to take. I will not comment on it here, but it is important that we should all realise that it is a fact.
I am greatly obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for raising this point. The Government have no fear of any extraordinary mischance.
That is an admission!
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall adhere to our time-table. There is no reason for him to be concerned about this. We shall adhere to the time-table. The preparations for the Land Commission are well ahead and they will proceed smoothly during the General Election so that we can come back well able to keep to our original time-table.
That is a preposterous statement. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if any due regard has to be kept for the Parliamentary process, a time-table which may have looked possible, though a little bit tight, in respect of a Bill introduced in January, following a White Paper in the previous September, is obviously absurd in the case of a Bill which could not be introduced, at the earliest, until well into May. That must be so, otherwise why were these dates thought of in a January context? Therefore his reply was just a display of futile obstinacy. The right hon. Gentleman may well know in his heart that, as he will not be here to carry it out, it is all right for him to indulge in this attitude.
I should have said, too, that he would be highly irresponsible if he were to incur further expense in preparation for a body which will not come into being, and that that may be a serious responsibility which attaches to him. He has indicated that that is what he proposes to do, and he has been warned that that is a serious responsibility for him to take.
But on the narrow point which I raised, which I beg the Committee to [column 159-160]realise is of very great practical importance, all of us who want to see nothing happen which will interfere with or prevent the present building programmes know that to talk about adhering to the present programme, to talk about relating back the provisions of some future Bill to what will be then many months back in a previous Parliament, is simply playing with a serious matter. It confirms the view which many of us have been forming—that the right hon. Gentleman simply does not understand the issue.
May I first thank the Minister and the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) for the very kind remarks which they made. I have mixed feelings about the Committee adjourning today because I thought that I had a job for life. However, all things come to an end, and I think that the most appropriate thing for me to say is “Morituri te salutamus” .
Question put and agreed to.
Committee adjourned accordingly at Nineteen minutes to Eleven o'clock till Tuesday, 15th March, 1966, at half-past Ten o'clock.
The following Members attended the Committee:
Hynd, Mr. H. (Chairman)
Elliott, Mr. R. W.
Harrison, Mr. Walter
Johnson, Mr. James
Wells, Mr. John
Williams, Mr. Clifford