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Clause 16—(Dispossession On Grounds Of Bad Estate Management)

Volume 438: debated on Wednesday 4 June 1947

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10.38 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 15, line 10, at the end, to insert:

"(2) Where it is shown to the satisfaction of the Minister in relation to any land to which the foregoing Subsection applies or to the owner thereof that the circumstance hereinafter set out prevail, the Minister shall, before exercising the powers conferred by the last foregoing Subsection, afford to the persons hereinafter described in relation to each of the said circumstances, the opportunity, if they so elect, of assuming the management of the said land, and if they do so elect, the Minister shall entrust the management thereof to them.
The circumstances and persons hereinbefore referred to are:—
  • (a) where the land is settled land within the meaning of the Settled Land Act, 5925, the trustees of the settlement;
  • (b) where any child of the owner of the age of twenty-one years or over notifies the Minister of his desire to avail himself of the provisions of this subsection such child, or, if more than one, children, or, where there is no child surviving, to such grandchild or grandchildren being of the age of twenty-one years or over, as shall notify the Minister aforesaid;
  • (c) where there is no child of the age of twenty-one years or over or, there being no child whether of that age or less, there is no grandchild of the age of twenty-one years or over, to such person as may on application to the Minister for the purpose satisfy the Minister that they are fit and proper persons to be entrusted with the management of the said land for and on behalf of any child who has not obtained the age of twenty-one years, or, if there is no such child, of any grand-child who has not attained the age of twenty-one years.
  • For the purposes of this Subsection a person's stepchild, adopted child (whether adopted in pursuance of any enactment or otherwise) or illegitimate child shall be treated as a child of his."
    This is rather a long Amendment but it is self-explanatory and I do not intend to take up much time because I am hopeful that the Minister may accept it. I base that hope on the grounds that, first of all, when the Clause was under discussion upstairs the Debate was concluded by the right hon. Gentleman saying that if there was a real point of substance—and I think there is such a point—he would look at it.

    He said that if something was put forward which did not open the gate too wide he would look at the matter on the Report stage, but he added the cryptic remark that hon. Members must not hold him down on that promise. I hope that, as a result of his having looked at it again, he will accept the Amendment. It turns very largely on the same general point as the last Amendment. It is designed to make more workable, and to facilitate generally, the very difficult and awkward situation bound to arise when a dispossession order is made in respect of land. It does not carry out any new intention not already included in the Bill.

    The object of the Amendment is to enable the Minister, instead of carrying out compulsory purchase where dispossession is necessary, to allow the property to continue to be managed on behalf of minors who would in the normal course of events inherit the property or by or on behalf of trustees for those minors, and generally speaking where there is an inheritance point to enable the property to be carried on until the minors or trustees are in a position to take it over themselves. Curiously enough, this is a point which affects principally small rather than large landlords, and it is the multiplicity of small landlords who for one reason or another are most likely to suffer and be caught badly if some such provision as this is not included in the Bill. The Minister has already stated that he has power under Clause 14 to carry out the general intention which we have in mind in this Amendment, but I think it would be carrying out that intention by rather backdoor methods. Under Clause 14 (2, a) the Minister has power to make a direction as to the carrying out of work and may require that the management to which the direction relates shall be entrusted to a person appointed by the owner to whom the direction relates and approved by the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman has quoted that power to justify the fact that he can already do what is intended by this Amendment. But I think it is agreed that it is not really a very open-handed way of doing it, and it would be very much better to have direct power in the Bill. I think the House generally would be sympathetic towards the provisions of this Amendment, and I trust that it will be accepted.

    It is perfectly true that the Minister said he would consider this matter further, and he has considered it further. The result of his further deliberations, I am afraid, is that this Amendment would not in any way improve the Bill. After all, what is the situation? On the discussion of the last Amendment, the general principle was again gone over as to whether there should be a compulsory power of purchase, and the House again, by the Division which has just taken place, affirmed its, view that, when there has been no satisfactory improvement, the compulsory power of purchase should exist and be exercised. What does this Amendment seek to add? It proposes, in the event of land being settled land within the Settled Land Act and there is no satisfactory improvement, that the trustee should be given a further chance to do what the owner or tenant for life had failed to do. Is there any guarantee, so far as the Minister and the country generally are concerned, that the trustee would be able to manage the land any better than the owner?

    As the whole object of compulsory purchase of land is for the land to be used efficiently in the interests of the nation, what really is to be gained by transferring land from an inefficient owner to persons as to whose efficiency there is no kind of guarantee? In the case of settled land managed by a tenant for life, what would happen would probably be this. The trustee would be a solicitor who, having an office in some town and knowing absolutely nothing about agriculture, would be quite unsuitable as a manager; and the land instead of being improved and brought back to efficient production and made to work really efficiently in the interest of the nation, would be allowed to continue to go downhill and get worse and worse.

    Precisely the same consideration applies in the event of land being handed over to children or grandchildren or anybody else appointed to act on their behalf. There is absolutely no guarantee that there will be any improvement. It might be a complete and absolute waste of time. There might be an estate which is badly managed by the owner and it might be taken out of his possession and passed to people who would manage it as badly as it had been managed or even worse. Indeed, in the case of trustees or solicitors they would probably manage it worse, because they will not know anything about agriculture. I would advise the House that the Amendment does not in any way improve the Bill, and might simply result in a waste of time, with a badly managed estate being even worse managed, and going so far downhill that it would be difficult to reclaim it.

    10.45 p.m.

    The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) said that there was an analogous power in the Bill. That power is exercised by the Minister and the arrangement is subject, of course, to the Minister's supervision. Under Clause 14 (2, a) the Minister can direct that the management of the land must be handed over to a person designated by the owner, but that person must be approved by the Minister. That was described by the hon. Member for Chichester as a backdoor way of dealing with it. I do not think that that makes it any worse, even if that is an appropirate description. What would happen would be that an owner of land would be managing it badly but would not want to lose possession of it. While he felt that personally he could not bring it up to the required state of efficiency, he would have an opportunity of designating somebody who would thus manage the land. That person could manage the land if he were approved by the Minister as a person with the necessary qualifications who would not let it go further down the hill. In point of fact, he might begin to improve it, and such a person could be approved by the Minister and could be entrusted with the land. The object of the Amendment can therefore be covered by powers at present contained in the Bill. I would ask the House to say that this Amendment should not be adopted because it would only result in a further waste of time and would not con- duce to efficiency. Insofar as a suggestion of this sort would conduce to efficiency it can be done by the Minister exercising the powers conferred upon him under Clause 14 (2, a) of the Bill.

    I have not taken part in the previous discussions on this Measure and I only rise to comment upon the spectacle of Satan rebuking sin. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who is Satan?"] I think it would be unfortunate if anyone suggested that the learned Solicitor-General has any intentions which could be called Satanic.

    I would not say that, but when the hon. and learned Gentleman deplored the possibility of lawyers acting as trustees and taking over these duties, undoubtedly he was a little unjust to the learned profession of which he is so great an ornament. There have been many occasions in the past when this sort of thing has happened and when property has fallen into the hands of trustees. Such property was quite often agricultural land. The hon. and learned Gentleman himself will, probably have many cases in mind. Of course, a firm of solicitors did not proceed to carry out the work; they put in someone who was efficient to manage it. When the hon. and learned Gentleman adduced that objection to this Amendment it was a little unkind to solicitors in general. Often they have carried out these trustee duties with the greatest possible efficiency. I think that there is something to be said for the attempt made in this Amendment to make it possible to maintain the hereditary succession. After all, the hereditary system is very dear to many hearts. Even the dockers the other day were planning a system by which their sons could-go into the docks. They almost stopped work as a result. In the farming community this principle probably goes far deeper, and while it may be the Government's view that this Amendment is unworkable, I do not think that the views put forward by the learned Solicitor-General should weigh with us at all.

    The learned Solicitor-General said there could be no guarantee that the trustees will manage the show better than the owner. He has no reason to think they will do any worse. In any case, they will probably not do worse than the Land Commission which is to take over in certain circumstances. We must consider this matter from a human and ordinary every-day point of view. For instance, there may be a son who has lived on an estate all his life and has great sentiment for that estate He is a thoroughly good fellow—he may be so thoroughly good that he would even satisfy the Minister that he would make a satisfactory tenant. He knows the tenants of the land well, and he has his heart in the estate. Why should that man lose his hereditary right to take on that estate just because his father has been a thoroughly bad farmer? His father may have been a hopeless man in more ways than one. He may be aged and infirm and incapable of carrying on his farming management properly. He may be bordering on lunacy; he may be a drunkard. But because his father is a thoroughly bad old man and has let the estate down, why should the son be persecuted under this Bill? There is no doubt that the trustees should be given a chance to put the place in order and to try to get the man who is entitled to succeed the renegade father into his proper position.

    The trustees would not ask for the chance of running the estate unless they thought they could do it properly. If solicitors are the trustees, no doubt, as the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken said, they will get efficient managers to do it for them. In some cases the heir to the estate may well be an enemy of the person who is running the estate at the present time. The latter may deliberately let down the estate because he does not want his heir to succeed. He can in that way very easily hand it over to the Minister instead of to the heir. I do think that in this country we still should give some credit to the right of heredity, and I hope that the Minister will change his mind once more and agree to this Amendment.

    I would like to comment on the extraordinary principle upon which the learned Solicitor-General has based his argument. It is a principle which seems to me to strike far deeper than this Amendment. The principle which he laid down is that there would be no guarantee that the trustee would manage the estate better than the owner. Surely, the whole basis of English law is that people are considered innocent until they are proved guilty. In discussing this Amendment, and every Amendment which comes before us, that is the assumption—that a man is a good citizen.

    It is quite exceptional that a person is not a good citizen and that special measures have to be taken against him. If we cannot accept that principle the whole basis of the democratic system goes to the ground, and upon what the Solicitor-General has laid down it does go to the ground. In exceptional circumstances we would have people who are actually performing the functions doing so badly, but how can we possibly give a guarantee beforehand that they will perform them satisfactorily? As a proposition it is entirely without meaning and strikes not merely at the root of the Clause but at the whole Bill.

    11.0 p.m.

    The speech of the learned Solicitor-General is just another revelation that the Government's attitude is a prelude to dispossession. He pooh-poohed the idea that any help should be given to ensure that a farm which may have been hundreds of years in a family's possession should remain in the family. What rests in the minds of hon. Members opposite and in the mind of the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) is that all owners of land are men in a big way, and he makes a sort of connection with those in another place. The very opposite is likely to take place. It is the small owners of land who are likely to get into the bad books of the war agricultural committees. It is the small man owning, say, one small marginal farm in the North of England whose land the Minister will be taking possession of; not all those thousands of broad acres over which the hon. Member for Thornbury can lick his lips, but small plots of land in all parts of the country. It has been said by the Front Bench that efficiency is the great motive behind the Clause. If they persist in rejecting the Amendment they will be prosecuting a large number of small owners without adding to the efficiency of the industry.

    I hope that the Minister will at any rate say he will look at this again. He has said it once already, but it has not been a useful look, and he should particularly look now at the speech of the learned Solicitor-General. I do not think he was here when the Solicitor-General was speaking, but the Solicitor-General should be more careful than anyone else in speaking about solicitors. One of the reasons he gave for rejecting the Amendment was that one of the trustees who would have to look after the land might be a solicitor, but the Amendment does not make it compulsory for "inefficient" solicitors, as the hon. and learned Gentleman says, to do anything at all. The Minister affords opportunity to certain categories of people to assume management. In that case I should imagine they would be less inclined to rush. They would not say, "At all costs, we must manage this affair." They would recognise their own limitations.

    What I want the Minister to look at is what my hon. and learned Friend said about Clause 14 (2, a). It refers to a case where, in the event of direction, it is possible for someone to be appointed to carry out the work. The Minister may require management to which the direction relates "to be entrusted to a person appointed by the owner to whom the direction relates and approved by the Minister." In the case of direction it is possible for a directed person to suggest someone else. We are now dealing with a case where a Minister has certified that there should be dispossession. It is a sort of half attempt to fob us off because there is something like this in the Bill. I hope the Minister will look at this again. The Solicitor-General in his unfortunate speech said that if you have trustees and somebody acting for the children, what guarantee is there that the trustees will deal with property better than the owner and will be acting in the interests of the nation? Even if you do not accept the assumption that the trustees will be efficient, what guarantee has the Minister that the Land Commission will he any better? It by no means follows that because it is a public body it will be frightfully efficient. We shall be a little more

    Division No. 236.]


    [11.8 p.m

    Baldwin, A. EButcher, H. W.Crowder, Capt. John E.
    Barlow, Sir J.Clarke, Col. R. S.Cuthbert, W. N.
    Beamish, Maj. T. V. HClifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. GDarling, Sir W. Y.
    Bossom, A. C.Conant, Maj. R. J. E.Davidson, Viscountess
    Bower, N.Cooper-Key, E. M.Digby, S. W.
    Braithwaite Lt.-Comdr. J. G.Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)Dodds-Parker, A. D.
    Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. WCrookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. CDugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)
    Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. EFraser, H. C. P. (Stone)

    experienced a year or so from now when we shall see the results of every commission the House has set up with such rapidity. Anyhow there is obviously a need for guaranteeing efficiency. It is something which counts in this country from the point on view of sentiment that people like sons and children and trustees within the meaning of the Settled Land Act should be afforded an opportunity. The Amendment says that in these categories the Minister should afford them such an opportunity. All the time there is the shadow of Clause 13 under which he can see that efficiency is continued.

    I did look very carefully into this question on the Committee stage, and the longer I look the more convinced I am that my first opinion was right.

    The right hon. Gentleman's mind is now more firmly fixed than ever.

    I do not think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman really appreciates what Clause 13 deals with. It has no relation to Clause 16. I suggest that he looks at Clause 13 again. Although the right hon. and gallant Member can look at Mr. Deputy-Speaker and feel satisfied that solicitors can always do their job, I am quite sure when it is a question of looking after agricultural land that my hon. and learned Friend was right in the submission he made. I therefore want to give the right hon. and gallant Gentleman no sort of hope that there is any likelihood of a change of mind on this subject. We have looked at this thing very carefully, and with a will to do what we consider best in the interests of the industry, and we are satisfied that if we are to keep efficiency in front of our minds all the time we are bound to resist the Amendment.

    Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

    The House divided: Ayes, 86; Noes, 209.

    Fraser, Sir I (Lonsdale)Mackeson, Brig. H. R.Spearman, A. C. M
    Gage, C.McKie, J. H. (Galloway)Spence, H. R.
    Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
    Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)Maitland, Comdr. J. W.Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)
    Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)Marshall, D. (Bodmin)Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
    Haughton, S. G.Molson, A. H. E.Studholme, H. G.
    Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir CMorrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
    Henderson, John (Cathcart)Morrison, Rt. Hon. W S. (C'nc'ster)Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)
    Hinchingbrooke, ViscountMott-Radclyffe, Maj. C EThorp, Lt.-Col. R A F
    Hollis, M. C.Neven-Spence, Sir B.Touche, G. C.
    Hope, Lord J.Nicholson, G.Vane, W. M. F.
    Hurd, A.Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.Ward, Hon. G. R.
    Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'gh, W.)Osborne, C.Wheatley, Colonel M. J.
    Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.) |Peto, Brig. C. H. M.White, Sir D. (Fareham)
    Jeffreys, General Sir G.Ponsonby, Col. C. EWhite, J. B. (Canterbury)
    Jennings, R.Prescott, StanleyWilliams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
    Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.Raikes, H. V.Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
    Kerr, Sir J. GrahamRenton, D.York, C.
    Lambert, Han. G.Roberts, Maj. P. G. (Ecclesall)
    Lancaster, Col. C. G.Ropner, Col. L.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
    Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)Mr. Drewe and Major Ramsay.
    Lennox-Boyd, A. T.Smithers, Sir W.


    Adams, Richard (Balham)Farthing, W. J.Moody, A. S.
    Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)Fletcher, E. G. M (Islington, E.)Morgan, Dr. H. B.
    Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Foot, M. M.Morley, R.
    Alpass, J. H.Forman, J. C.Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)
    Attewell, H. CFraser, T. (Hamilton)Morris, P (Swansea, W.)
    Bacon, Miss AGaitskell, H. T. N.Moyle, A.
    Baird, J.Gallacher, W.Murray, J. D
    Balfour, A.Ganley, Mrs. C. SNally, W
    Barton, C.Gibbins, J.Neal, H. (Claycross)
    Battley, J. R.Gibson, C. W.Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)
    Bechervaise, A EGilzean, A.Oliver, G. H.
    Benson, G.Glanville, J. E. (Consett)Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
    Berry, H.Gooch, E. G.Palmer, A. M. F.
    Bing, G. H C.Greenwood, A W. J (Heywood)Pargiter, G. A.
    Blenkinsop, A.Grey, C. F.Parker, J.
    Blyton, W. R.Grierson, E.Paton, J. (Norwich)
    Boardman, H.Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)Pearson, A
    Bowden. Flg.-Offr. H W.Gunter, R. J.Peart, Capt. T. F.
    Bowen, R.Guy, W. H.Piratin, P.
    Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)Hall, W. G.Piatts-Mills, J. F. F.
    Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.Poole, Major Cecil (Lichfield)
    Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Hannan, W. (Maryhill)Porter, G. (Leeds)
    Brook, D. (Halifax)Hardy, E. A.Price, M. Philips
    Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Hastings, Dr SomervilleProctor, W. T.
    Brown, T. J. (Ince)Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)Pryde, D. J.
    Buchanan, G.Herbison, Miss MPursey, Cmdr. H
    Burden, T. WHewitson, Captain M.Randall, H. E.
    Burke, W. A.Holman, P.Ranger, J.
    Carmichael, JamesHouse, G.Rankin, J.
    Champion, A J.Hoy, JReid, T. (Swindon)
    Cobb, F. A.Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)
    Cocks, F. S.Irving, W. JRoberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
    Coldrick, W.Janner, B.Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)
    Collins, V. J.Jeger, G. (Winchester)Rogers, G. H. R.
    Colman, Miss G. MJones, D. T. (Hartlepools)Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
    Comyns, Dr. L.Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)Royle, C.
    Cook, T. F.Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)Sargood, R.
    Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G.Kendall, W. D.Segal, Dr. S.
    Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)Kenyon, C.Shackleton, E. A. A.
    Corlett, Dr. J.Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.Sharp, Granville
    Crawley, A.Kinley, JShawcross, C. N. (Widnes)
    Crossman, R. H. SLang, G.Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)
    Daggar, G.Lee, F (Hulme)Shurmer, P.
    Davies, Clement (Montgomery)Leonard, W.Silverman, J (Erdington)
    Davies, Edward (Burslem)Levy, B. W.Skeffington, A. M.
    Davies, Harold (Leek)Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)Smith C (Colchester)
    Deer, G.Lyne, A. WSmith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)
    Delargy, H. J.McAdam, WSnow, Capt. J W.
    Diamond, JMack, J. D.Solley, L. J.
    Donovan, T.McKay, J. (Wallsend)Sorensen, R. W.
    Driberg, T. E N.Mackay, R. W. G (Hull, N.W.)Soskice, Maj. Sir F
    Dumpleton, C. W.McKinlay, A. SSparks, J. A.
    Durbin, E. F. M.McLeavy, F.Stamford, W
    Dye, S.Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)Steele, T.
    Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Marquand, H. A.Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E)
    Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)Mathers, G.Stross, Dr B.
    Evans, John (Ogmore)Medland, H. M.Stubbs, A E.
    Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. RSwingler, S.
    Ewart, R.Mitchison, G. RSylvester, G. O.
    Fairhurst, F.Monslow, W.Taylor, H B. (Mansfield)

    Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)Watson, W. M.Willis, E.
    Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)Wills, Mrs. E. A.
    Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)Weitzman, D.Woodburn, A
    Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.Woods, G. S
    Thomas, George (Cardiff)Wigg, Col. G. E.Yates, V. F.
    Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)Wilkins, W. A.Younger, Hon Kenneth
    Titterington, M. F.Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)Zilliacus, K
    Ungoed-Thomas, L.Williams, D. J. (Neath)
    Vernon, Maj. W. FWilliams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
    Wadsworth, GWilliams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)Mr. Collindridge and
    Watkins, T. E.Williamson, T.Mr. Simmons.

    Further Consideration of the Bill, as amended, adjourned.—[ Mr. Pearson.]

    Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee and on re-committal), to be further considered To-morróow.