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Clause 15—(Supplementary Provisions As To Directions)

Volume 438: debated on Wednesday 4 June 1947

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I beg to move, in page 12, line 44, at the end, to insert:

"The references in this and the next following Subsection to the provision of fixed equipment include references to any improvement of fixed equipment by the enlargement of buildings."
This Amendment is one of very many, indicating that we were not only willing to listen, but, when we found that an improvement could be made, were ready and willing to make that improvement. The purpose of this Amendment is to extend the class of cases in which landowners may appeal to the land tribunal against a direction under Subsection (2). At present the owner is given a right of appeal in cases of directions to provide fixed equipment. Hon. Members will recall that a good deal of discussion took place in Committee on the question of improvements to fixed equipment. It was argued lengthily, and sometimes learnedly, that it was difficult to decide between the provision of new equipment and the improvement of existing equipment. The effect of this Amendment is to confer the right of appeal on an owner against a direction requiring the improvement of fixed equipment which involves the enlargement of buildings. I think that this Amendment covers one of the more important Amendments which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) was unable to move, and I hope that it will satisfy his needs. A good deal of discussion took place in Committee on an Amendment to provide an appeal in all cases of directions in respect of improvements to fixed equipment. The Amendment was lost on a Division because it obviously went too far. Hon. Members will appreciate that many improvements are a very minor matter, and that a good number of improvements consist of modernising existing fixed equipment, which should clearly be financed by landowners in the same way as maintenance and repair. In the light of the arguments advanced in Committee, I feel that the enlargement of buildings is equivalent to the provision of fixed equipment, and it would be reasonable to allow an owner a right of appeal in such cases.

This Amendment is certainly an advance on what we had in Committee, and my hon. Friends are grateful to the Minister for it. It does not go the whole way as far as we are concerned, because it leaves out two very important points. Money spent on improvements of any sort is capital as distinct from revenue expenditure. This money has often to be borrowed, and it may entail a mortgage on the property. The Minister will appreciate that in that case it is capital expenditure. In the case of maintenance an owner assumes a certain responsibility towards the tenant, but he rarely assumes or is expected to assume any contractual responsibility to finance capital expenditure on improvements. In our view, all forms of capital expenditure should be subject to special treatment. The Amendment should go further than dealing merely with the enlargement of buildings. The most common form of improvement consists, not in enlargement, but in conversion. For instance, it may be the conversion of coverage for feeding cattle to the use of milk production. In other words, it is a question of a change of use in respect of farm buildings already in existence.

As I understand it, this class of improvement is excluded from the provisions of this Clause. These improvements involve a very large cost to the owner anxious to improve his buildings, but in some cases he may be unable to do it, owing to the financial position. It is in these cases that we feel there should be an appeal to the tribunal. We cannot expect the Government to go the whole way in this matter, and we are grateful to the Minister for what he has seen fit to do. We hope that, before the Bill reaches the Statute Book, he will consider the points I have made in regard to major improvements to buildings, and will not restrict the Clause to the buildings themselves.

As the mover of the Amendment in Committee, I add my word of thanks to the Minister for having gone so far towards meeting us in this matter. Having said so much, may I add that I do not think he has gone quite as far as he seems to indicate by his hope that all large works are included in the words "enlargement of buildings." If a farmer is expected to add a small dairy to an existing set of buildings, then that will come within the scope of the Amendment. On the other hand, if it is a question of rebuilding or reconstructing a range of existing cowsheds, which may cost infinitely more, that will not come within the purview of this Amendment. Since the Minister has said that large works shall be included and trivial works shall be excluded, I should like to say that I am disappointed that he did not find a better form of worth for what I deem to be his intentions.

I appreciate the purpose of this Amendment, but perhaps the Solicitor-General can say something in regard to the wording. It seems to me that under this wording an improvement cannot be considered an improvement unless it means an enlargement. In other words, something must be made bigger, before it can be considered as an improvement. It often happens that improvements in the accepted sense, can be achieved by making something smaller, or by using a building for two or three purposes where formerly it was used only for one. Am I to understand that whatever is done will not be an improvement unless, simultaneously, there is enlargement? If that is what is meant, although we are glad to see the Minister moving in the direction we urged during Committee, this does not seem a very happy solution to the problem.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gains-borough (Captain Crookshank) is missing the point. A direction is given by a county executive committee for the provision of new fixed equipment, or for the improvement of existing fixed equipment. I cannot conceive a county executive committee giving a direction to a landowner to reduce a building—that is almost incredible. So long as we cover enlargement of buildings with the provision of new equipment, hon. Members are bound to agree that we shall cover most cases of heavy expenditure. It is simply a question of whether or not an owner who has been given a direction by a county executive committee shall be allowed an appeal to the tribunal. I think, therefore, that I have gone reasonably well along the way to meet as much as hon. Members opposite expected. I hope they will accept the Amendment.

4.0 p.m.

Am I right in understanding that buildings, in this sense, include farmhouses as well as agricultural buildings? It is not clear whether fixed equipment means a dwelling house as well as a farm building, and it is important that we should know whether that is so, because in many cases it is desirable that farmhouses should be included.

I understand, at the moment, that as this is not a Housing Bill farmhouses will not come within the meaning of new fixed equipment or enlargements of existing fixed equipment.

The definition of "fixed equipment" includes any building or structure affixed on the land. I should have thought that a farmhouse was a building or structure affixed on the land. The Clause defines an agricultural unit as a unit together with any dwelling house. A farmhouse is part of the agricultural unit, but is not fixed equipment although it is a building.

From later information I have just had, I now understand that a farmhouse comes within this definition.

Then the point raised by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborougb (Captain Crookshank), about improvements being enlargements definitely arises. One of the problems in my part of the country is that farmhouses are too big, and should be made smaller by being divided.

Does the Minister not think that this Amendment will get us into some trouble? I can visualise a case in which a direction is given for the building of 30 new cow-stalls. Ten may be built from completely new material; 10 may be added as an extension to the existing cowhouses, but the other 10 may be made out of improvements to the old cowhouses. Those to be built separately, and those made by the extension, will be included, but those coming from the improvements to the old cowhouses will not be included. It would be better if the Minister included all expenditure which is not allowed under the ordinary maintenance claim.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.