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Clause 4—(Land Affected By Government War Work Or Damaged By Government War Use)

Volume 409: debated on Wednesday 11 April 1945

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

The first Amendment to this Clause which has been selected is that in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson), in page 2, line 44.

I have an Amendment in line 44, at end, insert:

"or such right restrictive of the user of any land on which there are government war works as may be necessary in order to secure for the Crown the right to determine the use to which any such works may be put."
This Amendment is related to one in my name to Clause 8, Sub-section (5). If the Amendment to this Clause is not made, the Amendment to Clause 8 cannot be operated.

If that is the case, it could be put in on Report, but the Amendment to Clause 8 will not necessarily be called.

Can you tell us, Mr. Williams, how wide can be the scope of the discussion on commons and footpaths generally on the Amendment you have called? That question arises on many other Clauses, and will it be in Order, in the discussion on this Amendment, to refer to Amendments on the same subject to other Clauses?

I do not think we should become involved in Amendments to other Clauses. We had better confine ourselves to the provisions of this Clause, which are fairly wide.

It will, then, be in Order at a later stage to discuss the question of commons on other Amendments, if they are selected?

In discussing my Amendment will it be in Order to discuss also the Amendment in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison), in page 2, line 42, after "land," insert: "other than land of a local authority"?

Can it not be referred to in the discussion on the Amendment that has been called?

The Amendment which has been selected is fairly wide and we can discuss a lot of these matters on it. It was selected with great consideration so as to give a reasonably wide discussion on a matter of great im- portance. The question of local authorities will come in, not so much on this Amendment, as on the Amendment in the name of the Noble Lady the Member for Central Bristol (Lady Apsley), in page 2, line 48, at end, add:

"(3) This Section shall not apply to land belonging to a local authority or to land belonging to a statutory undertaking for the purposes of its undertaking.
(4) In this Section "undertaking" includes any of the following undertakings, the carrying on of which is authorised by any public or private Act of Parliament or of any Order or scheme made under or defined by any such Act—
  • (a) railway, light railway, tramway, road transport, water transport, canal, inland navigation air navigation, dock, harbour, pier and lighthouse undertakings;
  • (b) undertakings for the supply of electricity, gas, hydraulic power, or water."
  • I beg to move, in page 2, line 44, at end, insert:

    "Provided that nothing in this Act shall authorise—
  • (a) the acquisition of—
  • (i) any common or open space (as those expressions are respectively defined in and for the purposes of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944);
  • (ii) any easement over or right restrictive of the user of any common or open space;
  • (iii) any land forming part of a public footpath or bridlepath; or
  • (b) the discharge or modification of any restriction as to the user of any common or open space
  • except by means of a compulsory purchase order made by any of the Ministers specified in Sub-section (2) of this Section and such order shall be provisional only and shall not have effect unless and until it is confirmed by Parliament."
    This Amendment deals with one of the most important matters in this Bill. The question which is raised by it is whether the Bill should apply to land to which the public have access as a public open space. I will not enter into the various circumstances in which land may be available for the public as a public open space. There are a number of public Acts passed at different times in the last half century under which land has become what is sometimes called common land, and which is more accurately described in modern phraseology as public open spaces. The history of open spaces does not really concern us because the sole question is whether they should be subject to the power of acquisition which this Bill gives to Government Departments. It is common knowledge that commons and open spaces of all sorts have been used during the war for the purposes of the war. In some cases they have been requisitioned and airfields have been constructed on them. In other cases camps and buildings and roads have been constructed upon them, while others have been used for training areas and matters of that sort.

    It is of the greatest public importance that the area of land which is available in this country as public open spaces should not be curtailed. Therefore, any land which has passed into the possession of a Government Department during the war for the purposes of the war ought not to be permanently retained or converted to other purposes, but ought to be restored at the earliest possible moment to the public for the public purposes for which it was required. I can find nowhere in this Bill any satisfactory indication that it is intended to follow that necessary and essential course. Indeed, when one looks at the Bill and at the Amendments which have been put down by my right hon. Friend which appear to deal with this matter, the sense of apprehension as to the future of these open spaces is considerably enhanced. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give some indication of what the intentions of the Government are with regard to the open spaces which have passed under their control.

    It may be that my right hon. Friend will give an assurance that these open spaces will be restored and returned to the public user from which they have been withdrawn during the war. I should not feel entirely satisfied with such an assurance, not because I entertain any doubt that my right hon. Friend or the Treasury harbour any intention to do otherwise than carry it out; but if an assurance elf that sort is forthcoming, and if it is not the intention that public open spaces should be permanently retained, it would be much more satisfactory from every point of view that these open spaces should be withdrawn from the ambit of the Bill altogether; or else that the safeguard which this Amendment proposes, namely, that they should be acquired only with the approval of Parliament, should be included in the Bill. These open spaces have been acquired in different ways under different statutory provisions, in some cases under Acts of Parliament which deal with commons, and in some cases under Private Acts of Parliament. If this land is now to be taken away and diverted to other uses, it is not too much to ask that that should only be done with the approval of Parliament and should not be done at the instance of a Government Department. This is a matter which has aroused widespread interest both inside and outside this House. Indeed, it is not too much to say that it is probably this aspect of the Bill which has aroused the greatest apprehension in the public mind. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give us some assurance that no land which has been dedicated to the enjoyment of the public will now be permanently diverted to other uses.

    A few minutes ago a Tory Member—that is, an intelligent Tory—made the remark that when anything in relation to the land was being discussed there were always a large number of hard faces on the Tory side. When this Amendment was moved, my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), who has a suspicious mind, said to me, "What is behind this that makes the Tories so interested in common land?" I, too, have a suspicious mind, and I immediately realized that it was necessary to ask a question. When taxation on land was introduced the fellows who wanted to dodge taxation floated limited companies. I want to ask the Chancellor if there is a fair amount of land on which the owners allow a certain amount of liberty and which they can claim under this Amendment is common land, and thus prevent the use of it by the public?

    6.15 p.m.

    I had contemplated intervening at this stage before I knew that a point was to be put by my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I do not think I can undertake to interpret the Amendment on the assumption that it might be adopted and form part of the Bill. That is not a responsibility I can fairly be asked to undertake. What we are to discuss on this Amendment is the vastly important question of commons and open spaces in the ordinary sense of the term—lands dedicated to public use and enjoyment. I think that phrase pretty well covers the purpose which my hon. Friend who moved this Amendment so persuasively has in his mind. He will probably agree with me. It is not a question here of land in private ownership, over which people may be allowed to walk or stray from time to time; it is land dedicated to public use and enjoyment. We have to realise that, as a consequence of the war, there are considerable areas of such land upon which works of various kinds have been constructed. Now we have to determine how far it is reasonable to go in order to secure the restoration of such lands for the purposes for which they were available before the war. That is the question in a nutshell.

    I do, indeed, approach this question with a very sympathetic mind. I am bound to say, however, that I think the Amendment which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) has moved goes much too far. Its effect would be that however slight the interference with public amenity by any particular war work and however valuable, important and extensive the war work in question might be, it would be essential, so far as the Bill is concerned, that the land should be restored to its previous use. Perhaps the conception underlying the Bill is derived in part from the existing provisions of the law with regard to the acquisition of common land and similar open spaces by local authorities for public purposes. Such acquisition has certainly been hedged around with very important safeguards. I would call the attention of the Committee to the consideration that, in the case of the existing provisions of the law to which I have referred, the authority which is proposing to acquire land starts fresh, with some freedom of choice. There is no commitment of any kind already incurred. Here we are dealing with quite a different case, in which, for the public service during the war, war works have been erected upon common land.

    I use the expression "common land" as a convenient term to cover other open spaces. That distinction seems to me to make a very material difference. Nevertheless, the Government from the outset have been concerned to ensure that proper consideration should be given to the preservation of open spaces and of public amenities. I would like, if I would not be out of Order, to indicate very briefly to the Committee the various respects in which the Government have sought to make clear their solicitude about the public interest in those open spaces. In the first place, we have sought to lay down, quite specifically and beyond any possibility of question, that the Commission has a duty to consider the amenity and public aspects of transactions which come under their review. Further than that, we have provided specifically that local authorities, planning authorities and various societies concerned with commons and open spaces and so forth shall have a right of access to the Commission and a right of audience. We have provided that no common land shall be acquired under the Bill for the purpose of doing further work upon it in order to restore it to the public. The provision which originally appeared in Clause 6 (I, a) and which was wide enough to extend to commons and open spaces it is proposed to amend. Further, when we come to deal with works in regard to which the Board of Trade is to have power to give a conclusive—

    On a point of Order. This is the very point I raised at the beginning of this Debate Are we entitled during the discussion of the Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend, to go into the other Clauses? I mentioned specifically Clause 8 (5) with which the Chancellor, of the Exchequer is now dealing. You, Mr. Williams, ruled that I was not entitled to do so Shall I now be entitled to follow on the same lines as the speech which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is now making?

    The Chancellor of the Exchequer did use the words "if I would not be out of Order" and I was beginning to wonder how far I ought to allow the Chancellor of the Exchequer to proceed in this direction. No doubt, he will be able to keep his remarks to the Amendment under discussion, and to deal with the other points when the time comes.

    I was not so much addressing myself to the particular Amendment, as seeking to give the Committee a general impression, an accurate impression, of the attitude of the Government towards this extremely important question. I had no desire whatever to challenge your Ruling, Mr. Williams, and every desire to keep strictly within it, but I feel at a certain disadvantage in endeavouring to explain why the Government think that the Amendment on the Paper is unacceptable, as going much too wide, if I am not free to indicate in very general terms that the Government have gone very closely into the matter and have sought to provide safeguards which do, at any rate, go a certain way in the direction of protecting the interests with which the particular Amendment is mainly concerned. You must pull me up if you think I am going too far—but I have practically concluded what I wanted to say on this point.

    Perhaps it would be of assistance to the Committee if I said that this is how I understand the position: There is a series of Amendments, going off down different lines. In dealing with this Amendment, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was giving a picture not necessarily covering the whole canvas but pointing out, as he has just said, that the Government wish to deal with the matter and have made certain provisions. The matter which we have to decide is whether those provisions are sufficient or not. The right hon. Gentleman having made the statement that he has made, I suggest that as we are dealing with the various Amendments, we shall be able to consider whether each provision is adequate.

    May I appeal to you, Mr. Williams, to reconsider the point? We are entirely in sympathy with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but this seems to be a very important opportunity to discuss the general question. Otherwise we might be placed in very great difficulty, as these bits and pieces of Amendments come on for discussion. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has dealt with the matter in a very wide way, and I now appeal to you to let us have a general discussion. It might save a great deal of time later on upon other Amendments.

    I am in the hands of the Committee, of course, and if the Committee wishes to have a very wide discussion, then obviously we can do so, if we do not discuss the matter again upon each Amendment in turn. I say, quite frankly, however, that it would, in my opinion, be better, in the interests of full discussion of the Bill, if we discussed the sidelines, if I may put it in that way, as we come to them. Although the Chan- cellar has given his assurance that the matter is being dealt with, I, personally, unless the Committee are very strongly in favour of having a general discussion, would suggest that the Committee do not have a general discussion but a discussion on the particular Amendments, some of which come considerably later in the Bill.

    Is it not the case, Mr. Williams, that some hon. Members have been laying down the law to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that they are now trying to lay the law down to you?

    Might I make a submission for your consideration, Mr. Williams? I can see a very clear distinction, in regard to references to subsequent Amendments which go into the merits of those Amendments. I was trying very carefully to avoid anything that would bear that interpretation and was not seeking to do more than to call attention to the fact that those Amendments were on the Paper and that, taken together, they provided the Government's alternative method of safeguarding this particular very important interest. If you will allow me to go on upon that line I will refrain scrupulously from going into the merits on any subsequent Amendment so that each Amendment can be discussed in as much detail as may be thought desirable when we come to it.

    That being, as I understand it, the general wish of the Committee, the Chancellor will put the position in a wide way, that the Government are meeting the case, and later the right will be conferred on individual Members to discuss their own particular line. That is what I have been trying to secure. It would be impossible to discuss Clause 8 and this Clause at the present time.

    I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Williams, and I hope that I shall be able to keep my remarks strictly within the limits that you have indicated. The position of the Government is, in a word, that we do draw, as hon. Members supporting the Amendment draw, a very clear distinction between land which has been dedicated to the public use and enjoyment and land which is in ordinary private exclusive ownership. That is the fact, and I wish the Committee, if they will, to address themselves to this Amendment with that in view. I have given to the Committee my reasons for thinking that the Amendment goes much further than is really consistent with the public interest, although I believe it to be the case that there are very few factories on common lands. I have been told that there is only one Ministry of Supply factory on common land. I know that there are other works, of a more or less extensive character, some of which might, without offence, be categorised as eyesores, some of which are comparatively harmless and some of which, I venture to say, actually add to the attraction of the landscape.

    6.30 p.m.

    Some earth works which I can think of add considerably to the amenities of some districts. Perhaps it might be desired to preserve, as our forefathers have preserved, some suitable monuments of the period through which we have been passing. I do submit to the Committee that the proper course to take is to safeguard at every point where we can, by specific provision, the rights of the public in these common lands, but not by one stroke, by a sweeping Amendment of this kind, to remove from the scope of the Bill—because that is what the Amendment would do—all works, and not only all works but all rights, easements and rights of way whatever they may be. This Amendment is wide enough to cover all these matters which are dealt with later in the Bill in some elaborate provisions. I submit we should leave the Commission, constituted as we intend it shall be, of men of experience and reputation, commanding the public confidence, to consider, on the merits, each case in which the Government might propose, for one reason or another, to take into permanent possession any common land or open space on which war works have been erected. I feel bound, therefore, to say that in the view of the Government my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment is, for these reasons, unacceptable.

    I have listened with great interest to what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but I must confess that he has not convinced me by his arguments against this Amendment. I remember many years ago fighting to preserve the commons, and I was surprised by the intense, keen public interest shown in the question and the support given from all parties and all parts. I think in discussing this question of the commons we must remember what is in the background. There is in the public mind the memory of what this House has done in former times. We committed a great crime against the people of this country about 1840, by the seizure of about 5,000,000 acres of common land. That was a disaster to the people of England. I am sure that memory remains, and the people are desperately keen to keep the whole of the commons which they now possess.

    I feel that my right hon. Friend has not met the argument which has been advanced on this Amendment. He said that this Amendment would prevent these essential properties from being acquired by the State. Surely it does not. This is the common method that has been adopted by Parliament since somewhere about 1840 and it is up to this Houe now to see that the remaining common lands are preserved. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has mentioned, although I cannot refer to them, various concessions which he is going to give in the future. Can he give an assurance that in accordance with the precedents of the past 50 years, if he takes so many acres of common land he will have compulsory powers and obligations, to acquire so many other acres, for the use and enjoyment of the public? This has been the procedure for many years. In the 1944 Town Planning Act, there is the obligation that if common land is taken away, other land is required to replace it. Let the right hon. Gentleman give me that assurance and I will withdraw my support from the Amendment. But if he cannot give that assurance, then if this Amendment goes to a Division, I shall vote for it.

    Might I just say that the matter which has just been referred to by my hon. Friend could very well be the subject of a special Amendment, and the Government would certainly then deal with that particular matter? I cannot go into it now, but the Government would be perfectly ready, at the proper time, to meet the challenge. There really is nothing between us in the matter of principle, but there is essentially a difference as to method. May I now, as I know that other business is in contemplation, suggest we should report Progress at this stage?

    Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again" [ Sir J. Anderson], put, and agreed to.

    Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.