HC Deb 05 February 1931 vol 247 cc2230-4
Captain BOURNE

I beg to move, in page 13, line 33, at the end, to insert the words: Provided that if the Minister proposes to acquire any land under this section in respect of which, if the acquisition were made under the Smallholdings and Allotments Acts, 1908 to 1926, an order or confirmation by the Minister would be required, and if any objection, other than an objection as to cost, is made to the compulsory acquisition of such land, and such objection is not withdrawn, the Minister shall refer such objection to the arbitration of an arbitrator agreed upon by the Minister and the owner of the land concerned, or, in the event of disagreement between the Minister and the owner by the president of the Chartered Surveyors' Institution, and if the award of the arbitrator or the said president is in favour of such owner the Minister shall not make such compulsory acquisition. Under the existing law, the Small Holdings Act, 1908, if a county council proposes to acquire land compulsorily and persons object for any other cause than cost, there is an appeal to the Minister of Agriculture and a legal inquiry has to he held. The objections of the person whose land is to be acquired are taken, the reason for the county council desiring to acquire the particular land is given, and on that information the Minister comes to a decision and either confirms the Order or does not. Under Clause 11, the powers that are at present given to the county councils for taking land compulsorily for smallholdings are going to be vested in the Minister, and therefore it is quite obvious that there is no appeal from the Minister to the Minister. You will not even have an appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober, and it makes the thing rather difficult. I raised this on the Committee stage and moved an Amendment in a rather different form. On that occasion the Minister agreed that it was somewhat anomalous that where compulsory powers were exercised by him, acting as though he were a county council, there would be no appeal against his own decision.

I have tried to meet that by drafting this Amendment in a different form, and trying to arrange that, in the event of objection being made to taking land compulsorily, unless the objection relates solely to cost, in which case it is dealt with by arbitration, there should be an appeal to the President of the Chartered Surveyors' Institution as arbitrator, and the arbitrators award shall be final. It is not extraordinarily easy to draft any very satisfactory Amendment, but I feel certain the House will realise that where the Minister takes compulsorily powers, which by previous Statute have been granted to another body, and under which Statute he was appointed the final judge, it is very undesirable that possibly he would be both jury and judge in his own case.

Brigadier-General BROWN

I beg to second the Amendment.


On many an occasion the hon. and gallant Gentleman discovers a number of important points, and this is no exception to the rule. The case before us, I quite admit, does present a difficult position. I do not think it is in any way possible to accept as a tribunal the proposal set up in the Amendment. The fact is, of course, that the county councils and other bodies in the last 32 years have had these powers, subject to confirmation of the orders by the Minister, and it has gone on very smoothly and regularly. Local inquiries are held when an order is applied for, under the existing procedure, by an officer or special person appointed by the Ministry. Since 1908, there have been 337 compulsory orders, and out of them 116 were not proceeded with, simply because of the mere fact that an order having been made led to agreement with the owner, which is the real reason behind these powers in almost every case. Take the particular case in point. In the case of a compulsory order being applied for, it is advertised in the newspapers and notice is given under the regulation for a calendar month within which objection can be lodged. Finally, if it is compulsory acquisition, the case is dealt with by an arbitrator—though it might be the Minister under the Acquisition of Land Act, 1919. He would assess the compensation in accordance with the provision of the Act, and the Minister would have no power to alter it.

In any case, there would have to be a local inquiry if it was proceeded with, so that there is abundant opportunity for a period of investigation, and, in the last resort, if a compulsory order is made, the assessment of compensation is made in accordance with the Act of Parliament, and the Minister has no say in the matter. Nevertheless, although it has worked quite smoothly and I have no doubt will continue so to work, it is open, I agree, to the technical objection which the hon. Member raises, that to some extent, as far as the power to make an order is concerned, the Minister is judge of his own case, but I am sure that the appointment of an outside arbitrator between a Government Department and private persons by the arrangement proposed in the Amendment would not form an appropriate type of tribunal. I recognise the difficulty and have not yet, quite frankly, seen a way to meet it. I am sure that this Amendment would not meet it, and that this form of tribunal would not be satisfactory, but I will continue to explore the matter, and try to find some means of dealing with it, though I cannot possibly accept the Amendment.


I hope very much the Minister will find a way out of this difficulty, because such difficulties as have arisen in the past in regard to the acquisition of land for the, provision of smallholdings have arisen on the question of the compulsory acquisition of land. There is nothing that is more apt to raise hostility than a miscarriage of justice in regard to the acquisition of land. The Minister in this case admits quite frankly and fairly that he will be judge and jury in his own ease. That establishes a new principle. I do not know any other public service in which the Department concerned is both judge and jury. In the case of the Electricity Commissioners, public inquiries have to be held. They are not held by the Electricity Commissioners. The decision is given by an independent person appointed by the Ministry of Transport. I see possible disadvantages in calling in an outside body such as the Surveyors' Institution where a public Department is concerned, but there should be some way, perhaps by a reference to some other Department of State which might give a decision in matters of this kind. I hope that the Minister will look further into the matter, with a view to finding a way out of the difficulty.

Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has promised to reconsider this matter. He said that he did not think the Surveyors' Institution was the proper tribunal to which to refer this matter. May I point out that in the Bill he has already referred somewhat similar matters to this tribunal, and if he does it in one case, why can he not do it in another?


In the one case it is a technical matter appertaining to the work of surveyors. This is quite a different matter, relating to the issue of a compulsory order. I will give the undertaking to look into the matter further.

Captain BOURNE

Before I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, there is one point upon which I should like to be quite clear. I understand that in every case where an objection is made to a compulsory Order under this Clause, except in the case where the sole dispute is on a matter of price, there will have to be a local inquiry, as would be the case if it had been an order made by the county council. I shall be glad if the right hon. Gentleman will answer that point, as it is a matter of some importance.


The same procedure will apply as if it were an order made by a county council.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.