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Clause 2

Volume 927: debated on Tuesday 8 March 1977

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

Duties And Powers Of Winding Up Body

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 18, at end insert—

'(iii) without prejudice to the powers of the Secretary of State mentioned in head (ii) above, to offer to sell to previous proprietors, on terms approved by the Secretary of State and the Treasury, interests in land which had been acquired from those proprietors by the development corporation;'.
This amendment implements the undertaking which I gave in Committee to consider a specific provision that previous owners of land would be given the opportunity to reacquire that land from the winding up body before it was offered to third parties. I explained in Committee that that was the Government's intention and that I would give effect to it in the order to be made under Clause 1 by virtue of the provision in Clause 2(c). I accept the view expressed in Committee, and this amendment is designed to meet the points which were then made.

Subject to the right of the Secretary of State, after consultation with the winding-up body, to specify that certain assets should be offered to specified persons—in the case of Stonehouse, this applies to the disposal of the Canderside area to the Scottish Development Agency for industrial development and the disposal of the 98 houses which have been built to the Hamilton District Council—the amendment provides that the winding-up body shall offer to sell land to the proprietors from whom it acquired the land, and that only if the previous proprietors decide not to reacquire their property shall it be offered to third parties. The House will also note that the disposal is to be made
"on terms approved by the Secretary of State and the Treasury".
There is no specific obligation in the amendment for the winding-up body to obtain the best terms it reasonably can. I emphasised in Committee that the Government's intention has always been to adopt a flexible attitude to the terms that would be acceptable for re-purchase. This was provided for in the Bill as originally drafted, which said that the Secretary of State and the Treasury could consent to disposal at other than the best terms they could reasonably obtain. The amendment makes the position clear.

The Government's intention is to be fair and reasonable. We want to consider each case on its merits and in consultation with the winding-up body. The number of farms involved will not reach double figures. Clearly, the current valuation and the cost of the land when acquired will be taken into account, as must other factors such as liability for capital gains tax, the state of maintenance of fencing and buildings, whether improvements or demolitions have been carried out, and whether the farm has been well maintained or otherwise—for example, by the application of fertilisers —since the time of acquisition. In each case we hope to reach a fair and equitable arrangement. I hope that this will meet the point raised by Opposition Members.

I do not wish to detain the House for long because there is much important business still to be considered.

Everyone will welcome the purpose of the amendment which is, as it were, to give the first option to those who had their land removed from them, either voluntarily or by compulsory purchase, to repossess their land if it is not required for the purpose for which it was originally obtained. That is a fair and necessary part of the Bill, and I do not think that it will give rise to any objections from any quarter of the House.

However, I am concerned about the financial basis upon which the cost to the original owner is to be determined. The amendment states that the land will be offered to the previous proprietors
"on terms approved by the Secretary of State and the Treasury".
While I have no doubt that the Secretary of State and the Treasury will try to be fair and flexible in determining the appropriate price, I wonder whether this is the appropriate procedure to write into a Bill of this kind. If someone had land acquired from him against his wishes for a particular purpose, and subsequently it was found that the land was not to be used for that purpose, he should have not merely the right to have the land offered back to him but the right to buy it at the price which the land was worth. In other words, it should not be entirely up to the Treasury or the Minister to decide how much a person must pay to get his own land back.

While in practice the Department may be very reasonable, there will be nothing to stop its fixing a price that is unrealistic and beyond the means of the original proprietor, which would perhaps impose an unfair burden. If a person surrendered his land five or 10 years ago for £50,000, to offer it back for exactly the compensation which was paid at the time might be unreasonable, given the inflation since then. It would seem fair to offer the land back for the same real value as the original compensation. In other words, all that would be required would be to take account of the depreciation of the currency over that period and if the original owner wished to have his property back he should pay the Treasury an amount comparable to that which he received in compensation. That would seem to be fair.

7.45 p.m.

The original owner is in a completely different position from that of any other member of the public who is interested in acquiring the land. If other members of the public wished to buy the land, it should be offered to the highest bidder on the normal recognised basis. That would be fair and unobjectionable. But we are concerned with a restricted class of individual who has been forced to surrender to the Government for a particular purpose property or land for which subsequently the Government or a public body find they have no need. It seems extraordinary that the Government should be providing for themselves powers to charge whatever price they choose in order to return to someone his own property, which was taken away from him without any justification, as it turned out.

This is similar to the Crichel Down case many years ago. One can understand the sensitivity of Governments of all political complexions when they face such matters, but the Minister has not yet given any reason why the total unqualified control over the price to be paid for the return of the land is to be in the hands of the Secretary of State and the Treasury. I know that they will try to be reasonable, but occasionally there will be a strong difference of view about what should be the appropriate price.

Will there be any neutral arbiter in such a situation? Will the original owner of the land be able to say "I do not think the price is fair or reasonable. Let us therefore refer it to an arbitration board or tribunal to decide"? There does not seem to be such a power. In its absence, it appears that the Government are acquiring for themselves a totally unnecessary and untrammelled control over a matter which could lead to a great feeling of resentment, if not injustice, at this power being acquired in such a way.

I hope that the Minister will at least indicate why it is necessary for this power to be given to the Secretary of State and the Treasury, and why it would not be more reasonable and fair to allow the matter to be referred to a third party if there is any genuine disagreement. After all, the question of compensation for land under a compulsory purchase order when it first comes up, as I understand it, is referred to an independent arbiter. Here we are dealing with a similar situation if the land is ultimately to be handed back to the original owner, and it seems reasonable that a similar procedure should apply. I hope that the Minister will address himself to that problem.

Whilst I welcome the intention behind the amendment and am grateful that the Government have proved themselves flexible and sympathetic to the points put to them at an earlier stage of the Bill, I shall be interested to hear what the Minister of State says in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind). I should like to raise a slightly narrower point.

As the Minister of State knows, I have been in touch with his Department on behalf of certain interested parties who contacted me on the general principle of land being offered back. I understand that, whilst the land will be offered back to most of those who previously owned it, there may be some cases where the Government think it right to retain some of that land in the first instance in case any other Government Departments or public bodies may be interested in that land. I know about the procedures, having had to deal with them myself.

From the correspondence I have had with the Department, I understand that on a limited scale the Scottish Development Agency may be interested in acquiring certain land that is at present held in public hands, for some limited form of development in the future. Therefore, for reasons which I understand, I was given the answer that there might be instances where the land would not be offered back, because the Government might wish it to be held in public hands until the interests of other public bodies were ascertained. Certain other public bodies might want to acquire the land. I have mentioned one, the SDA. In such a case the previous owner would not be given the opportunity to buy it back.

Therefore, my purpose in speaking briefly is to ask whether the Minister of State can give me any information on this point, about which I have been in correspondence with his Department. Is it envisaged that the land covered by the amendment will be offered back to all previous proprietors or is there any change in the general position which I raised originally in correspondence? Does the Minister envisage keeping particular restrictions or qualifications on the "offer-back" power which he is seeking? It would be useful to the House if the Minister could explain that power and elaborate on it a little further.

I welcome this useful amendment and the Government's flexibility, but we need a little more clarification of the Government's thinking about land that they may wish to hold for purposes of the kind I have mentioned.

I thank the Minister for the great care he has taken on the whole issue, which was the most important matter we discussed in Committee. I know that he has taken a great deal of personal interest in trying to find a solution, and we are all very grateful.

The amendment concerns a small number of people, but it is right that the House should not think any the less of the problem purely because only a small number are involved. I am glad that we have taken a fairly strong line on the issue.

The Bill for the first time intends to reverse the designation of a new town. A small number of people who previously owned land in the area and had it compulsorily purchased at the time of the designation now find that the distressing thing which happened to them some years ago was not necessary, and that there is now a likelihood that the land is no longer required for a new town, as a result of which it may well have to be disposed of. This could mean a person who lived in a farm or had property in a particular area which he regarded as home being not only deprived of ownership but liable to see someone else stepping into it and enjoying the ownership. That is what the Government are trying to put right by the amendment.

What is the Minister's thinking about thing which happened to them some years the price that is likely to be asked of the former owner? To what extent are we, by this debate, or the Minister, by his amendment, laying down for future holders of his office how they are likely to behave when such a problem arises? We must remember that, rightly or wrongly, the Bill does not apply only to Stone-house but is a general Bill enabling new towns to be de-designated. Therefore, although we all know that Stone-house is the only place likely to be affected now, we are making legislation that can have effect in the future. I should like the Minister to tell us the sort of attitude he thinks he and his successors should take to the problem of the price to be required of a person who is offered back his own property.

We are obviously all agreed that it would not be right for the former owner to have to pay the top price now available for the land. Because of exceptional inflation and exceptional demand for particular forms of land, the price for many farms in this part of Lanarkshire might be unrealistic. There are rumours all over the country of people, particularly those with investments in Arab oil, who may be prepared to pay more than ordinary farmers can offer. That is bad enough in the ordinary way, but for someone whose property was compulsorily purchased it would not be acceptable.

I hope that the Minister will say that a future Secretary of State will take into account the price that the owner originally received as compensation plus a factor to reflect inflation since then. That would be a fair basis upon which a former owner could be offered back his land.

There are two main assurances that I should like from the Minister. First, can he assure us that it is his aim, and that it will be the aim of those holding his office for as far as he can see in the future, for a former owner to buy back his property if a formula can be found which is not adverse to the public interest? Secondly, can he assure us that no former owner will be asked to match the highest price obtainable on the market if that can be seen clearly to be out of step with other prices in the area?

The Minister said in Committee that as far as his information went there had not been much change in land prices in the area around Stonehouse since the property was compulsorily acquired. It is difficult to make comparisons for different pieces of land, and there has been no genuine market in land in the area of the new town during this period, because the new town was due to be built there. But in all the inquiries I have made since the hon. Gentleman said that in Committee I have found no one who lives in the area, or is involved in the buying or selling of land, who will agree that there has been little increase in the value of agricultural land in Lanarkshire over the past three years. Everyone whom I asked said the reverse, that there had been a considerable escalation of the price of land generally in the area.

Therefore, I hope that the Minister will not rest on saying that he thinks that the general market value in the area would be fair. I do not think that it would be fair for the very small number of people with whom we are concerned. That is the case of those in the area who have written to us both about the matter.

I am grateful to the Minister for all that he has done. The amendment should be accepted as a genuine effort to solve the problem, but I hope that before we pass it we shall have an assurance from the hon. Gentleman so that those who may be affected by the provision in the future will be able to refer to the intention clearly stated by both sides of the House, that it is our aim that those who wish to buy back their former land at a reasonable price will be able to do so and will not have to compete on the open market against bidders offering unrealistic prices.

If we can obtain that assurance, the House will have done a good job in protecting the rights of unfortunate people who have suffered great upset and disturbance because of the change of policy, and who feel that their only recourse is to the House to ensure that their rights are respected.

I hoped that I had already given the sort of reassurance that the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) sought. He made the point in Committee, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart). I indicated earlier the basis on which we proposed to consider these matters. The Government's intention was to be flexible.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pent-lands (Mr. Rifkind) raised with me the question of Crichel Down. The procedure adopted after that was that land should be sold on the best possible terms. That was in the original Bill which we discussed in Committee. The amendment therefore provides more flexibility and takes into account the difficulties created for people by our decisions. The situation will not be less flexible, as the hon. Member seemed to suggest.

8.0 p.m.

Turning to the question of who sets the price on resale, there is nothing here to stop the Secretary of State referring a disputed case to an independent person. The district valuer's opinion might also be sought. As for the procedure of price setting, once one has a valuation, one has to consider the state of the land, the state of maintenance of the buildings, and so on, and the question of capital gains, which has caused some concern.

The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) raised the question of the retention of the land by the former owners. As I have said, Part II provides for the Secretary of State to instruct the winding-up body to sell to specified persons. In the case with which I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned, the farm is within the area which one hopes will be used for industrial development. I know that this matter is of concern to the man involved, who has written to hon. Members and raised it with the Press. All that I can say is that he accepted the price offered, and made no appeal thereafter. So far as the Government are concerned, that is the position. It would not be right to hold out any hopes to anyone within the area which we and the SDA have in mind for industrial purposes. It would be right to proceed with industrial development.

In the event of any of these plans for industrial development not going forward, might there then be a possibility of the land being offered to this gentleman? In previous cases elsewhere, land has lain for a long time and people have forgotten the original purpose for which it was designated. It could be unfortunate in these circumstances if he saw others able to buy back their land.

We have discussed this matter with the SDA, which intends to acquire the land for industrial purposes on Canderside. However, if things did not turn out that way, the gentleman concerned would have exactly the same rights as are available in the earlier cases which I have described.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Bill be now read the Third time.

8.3 p.m.

I should first like to thank the Minister of State for the way in which he has tried to meet as many points as possible during our proceedings. However, it must be put on record that it is a sad event that the Bill should ever have been brought forward or that it should now be passed. It represents a failure of the Government. As the right hon. Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) said on Second Reading, it is a shabby and shoddy Bill.

The Government have always said that they are as strongly in favour of the principle of new towns as they ever were and that they are still anxious to sustain the prosperity of the other new towns in Scotland. But, as has been made clear to the Government and many hon. Members, other people, who feel equally strongly about the future of new towns see the abandonment of this one as a serious and regrettable commentary on the Government's attitude.

Most people would think that the designation of Stonehouse is as necessary today as it was when it was originally designated. Although it was foreshadowed by the previous Labour Government in the late 1960s, it was formally designated by the last Conservative Government, when I was at the Scottish Office, precisely because it was needed as part of the solution to the redevelopment of the whole Glasgow area.

As the Town and Country Planning Association has made clear in a letter to the Minister of State, of which I have seen a copy, it believes that the necessity for new towns as a tool in the redevelopment of Central Glasgow is every bit as important today as it was then. In fact, the Government discovered that they required a large sum for the new East End development in Glasgow, which we thoroughly welcome. We think that it is desirable and that it will be successful. But that meant that they did not have the money to pay for Stonehouse.

Although the previous Conservative Government had set aside funds for the development of Stonehouse, the present Government do not have the money to pay for both. The reason is that they have spent the money on so many other things which are irrelevant to the problems of Glasgow, of Scotland or of the country as a whole.

All those concerned in the techniques of town planning would repeat today that it is a misplaced consideration of town planning principles to think that one can redevelop Central Glasgow only by redeveloping the Eastern-Central part of Glasgow, without the assistance of new towns. As the Town and Country Planning Association has said, the need for new towns is no less pressing and the existing new towns cannot fill the gap left by Stonehouse.

Nor does it necessarily follow that the development which would have gone to Stonehouse will go to the East End of Glasgow—although I hope that it will go there or to the other new towns. There is already evidence that the de-designation of Stonehouse has led to a lessening of interest in industrial development in the area.

Therefore, in reluctantly allowing the Bill to pass, we must regard it as a minor failure among the growing number of failures of the Government. Like all the others, it is due to the fact that they unwisely overspent the money that they had in 1974 and 1975. They, the people of Britain and those concerned with the development of Stonehouse are now paying part of the price.

This is a sorry tale. I am sorry that the Bill has come forward. However, since the Government have run out of funds, I suppose that we must give it a Third Reading.

8.8 p.m.

Although the Government have made some concessions tonight on the most controversial parts of the Bill, I should not like it to receive a Third Reading without some comments being made from this Bench.

We in the SNP believe that the stillbirth of Stonehouse New Town has implications for the whole of Scotland, far beyond those that it has for the local area, of which I am a native. The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), referring on Second Reading to the Government's public expenditure policy, said that he saw no way of avoiding the de-designation of the new town.

It is particularly amusing that the Conservative Party, of all parties, in view of its present policy, should think that it could find enough money to ensure that the West of Scotland received a decent deal from Westminster.

Would not the hon. Lady agree that if the Government had not spent hundreds of millions of pounds, with her help, on nationalising the aircraft and shipbuilding industries, the money could have been spent on Stone-house? Would she not have preferred it to be spent in that way?

No doubt the hon. Gentleman would prefer all the money to be spent on defence, which is a policy with which I would not agree.

I should like to refer the Minister back to the comments of his right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart). The right hon. Lady referred to the fact that what was happening to Stonehouse was a complete change in Government planning strategy. Despite the protestations during Second Reading and in Committee, many of us are not convinced that there has been a change in the Government's planning strategy.

Representing, as I do, a new town and speaking, as I have, to representatives of the development corporation, the local council and Strathclyde regional councillors, I can say that there is a great fear that a deliberate policy is being adopted by regional authorities, with the blessing of the Government, against the new towns. For example, in Cumbernauld a college was closed for no apparent reason. We feel that this is part of an overall strategy.

I am still shell-shocked by what the hon. Lady has just said. What did she mean when she said that defence is not a policy that she cares for?

The SNP does not believe in increasing expenditure on defence. We would rather see an independent Scotland play its rôle, as do other small countries in Europe, by contributing about 5 per cent. of GNP on defence rather than exorbitant sums advocated by the hon. Gentleman who might prefer to spend his money on Globtik.

I remind the Minister of the important part that the new towns have played in attracting industry. I find it unacceptable that there should be so much uncertainty about what the SDA should be doing in respect of new towns such as Stonehouse. They have provided homes for people who have come from the most deprived areas in West Scotland. I also draw the Minister's attention to the DOE statistic of 95·7 per cent. in the worst areas of multiple deprivation.

There is a fear that because of the Government's present change of attitude the project will take much longer to complete than anticipated. How de we retain people in West Scotland if we do not have new towns that are expanding and developing? One of the greatest curses of Scotland has been that many of our young talented people have been forced to emigrate because of lack of job opportunities and decent housing. The new towns have provided that in West Scotland.

I reiterate that my party is totally opposed to public expenditure cuts. We find them completely unacceptable. Given that there is great potential within the Scottish economy at the moment, there is no reason why the Government cannot have a policy whereby the new towns complement the old conurbations in West Scotland.

8.12 p.m.

The speech of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) was another example of the attitude that one can spend, spend, spend so long as one does not have responsibility. I hope that the people of Scotland will realise that a policy of spend, spend, spend also means a policy of tax, tax, tax.

Does the hon. Gentleman concede that in the two new towns where the SNP has control our ability to handle the economic situation has meant that rent and rates have been frozen?

All that means is that the SNP is not providing services. Anyone can cut public expenditure as long as he does not have to provide the services. I shall take a more realistic attitude than the hon. Lady.

I entirely accept that what the Government have done has been decided by priorities. All of us are sorry that Stone-house New Town has been buried in this way. Many of us hope to see more money spent on projects such as the East End project in Glasgow as a result of this change in the Government's tactics and strategy.

Therefore, while many of us regret the passing of Stonehouse New Town, we shall judge whether it is right or wrong by what happens in the months ahead. That is what this debate is all about.

I hope that the Minister will say a few words about Government strategy in this regard. Many of us hope that as a result of the passing of the Bill more resources will be devoted to projects such as the East End project in Glasgow. That is a fair point to make.

I agree with the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East that there must not be a vacuum with regard to projects in Glasgow. They affect people's lives, and the hopes and aspirations of younger people in particular, as well as their opportunities. I hope that as a result of the passage of the Bill we shall see a new impetus and energy in developing the East End of Glasgow.

8.14 p.m.

The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) went through the usual ritual dance that we expect from the Opposition Front Bench about this being a great failure because the Government had run out of money. The hon. Gentleman completely ignored the fact that there are very good planning reasons as well. Many of us who represent constituencies in Glasgow feel that there are good planning reasons why this should be done. I dealt with this in the course of my Second Reading comments.

When the population growth estimates in West Scotland first appeared, there was very much a need to relieve the population in Glasgow. By and large, that was done by the several new towns in Scotland. The subsequent forecasts fell short of the previous forecasts and showed quite clearly that there was enough housing and industrial land in West Central Scotland without Stone-house.

Does not the Minister recall that the Town and Country Planning Association, an entirely nonpolitical body, has written saying that his last statement is untrue? Would the hon. Gentleman be prepared to publish or send me a copy of any reply that he may have sent to the letter that he received from the director of the Town and Country Planning Association?

I shall be happy to do so. It is simply a matter of judgment. This is the judgment not only of myself and the Government, but of the Strathclyde Regional Council as well. Both central and local government have changed the emphasis of their social and economic policies towards urban renewal in West Central Scotland. In those circumstances, it does not seem to us to be justified to continue to develop Stonehouse with the major expenditure on infrastructure which that would entail.

The hon. Gentleman said that this had nothing to do with planning but was to do with money. He suggested that had we not decided to nationalise the shipbuilding and aircraft industries we could have had the resources to do this. The hon. Gentleman sometimes forgets that in the course of the last few weeks we have been able to help people on the Clyde in Marathon and in Scott Lithgow. We have also given considerable support to workers in the car industry. There has been a very clear indication of the Government's industrial priorities in Scotland. It may well be that with regard to Marathon, Scott Lithgow, Chrysler and British Leyland we could not have counted on the support of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. They were totally opposed to the actions which the Government took at that time.

The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) questioned the attitude of the Government with regard to the new towns in Scotland. At the risk of sounding arrogant and conceited, I should like to think that I played a small part in the development of Scottish new towns as a member of Glasgow Corporation for many years. I have always been of the view that these five towns are necessary, and it is still the view of the Government that we should allow them to continue to the targets which were set for them some time ago.

But I do not think that setting up a new town in any area is necessarily the complete answer to the problems. One of the main problems in this part of Lanarkshire, which I know quite well, is finding jobs for the people of the area. It is not necessarily to attract people from Glasgow to take up jobs. It is to attract the jobs themselves. That is why we have been careful in the presentation of this Bill to ensure that there was land available for a major industrial development.

We are all conscious of the fact that this is a big area, and we do not want to fritter it away on small developments. We know the difficulty about having enough land for large-scale developments which are essential in Central Scotland.

The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) asked what we proposed to do about the East End project. I represented an East End seat on Glasgow Corporation for a considerable time. The area is greatly in need of regeneration in terms of housing, industry and everything else. One of the most exciting things to have happened since I have been associated with the Scottish Office is the decision of the Secretary of State and of his predecessor to go ahead with what I think will be an exceedingly valuable contribution to the people of Glasgow.

It is worth remembering that people who live in the East End of Glasgow and have lived there all their lives are entitled to stay there and to have their being where they were brought up. This is an essential part of the Government's thinking, and that is why we are going ahead with this very exciting scheme—something which many of us have wanted to see happen for a very long time. The Government will do all that they can to ensure that it goes ahead as fast as possible, and in this connection we are indebted to the regional council, the district council, the SDA and the Scottish Special Housing Association for the assistance which they are giving.

With those few explanations, I trust that the House will agree to give the Bill a Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Town And Country Planning (Scotland) Bill Lords

As amended (in the Standing Commit tee), considered.