§ 16. Sir John Mellor
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning if he will publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT a copy of his letter, dated 29th June, to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield; and why, reversing his decision a second time, he has now decided that the provision of information in Form L. 39 gives no right to professional costs even of a substantiated claim.
§ The Minister of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Dalton)
Yes, Sir. L. 39 claimants have not, and never have had, the right to claim fees. The decision to make ex gratia payments towards fees in substantiated L. 39 claims has not been altered.
§ Sir J. Mellor
Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that the statement in his letter goes back on the assurance given by the Parliamentary Secretary on 25th May when he said that fees in respect of substantiated claims would be paid, and would he also agree that in his letter he has said that the Central Land Board are merely prepared to consider making ex gratia payments, which is surely a very different matter?
§ Mr. Dalton
No, Sir. The hon. Baronet has now asked me four Parliamentary Questions on this form, he has 1122 had one Adjournment Debate, and he has received a letter from me. If it is not clear now, I do not hope I can make the position clearer by going on.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
Will there not be a very heavy burden on public funds if every claim is to be swollen automatically by professional fees; would this not lead to heavy Income Tax payments by the consultants, and is it not a clear example of "jobs for the boys"?
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith
Will not the Minister say whether the position as stated by the Parliamentary Secretary holds good, that where claimants have to incur professional fees in filling in their L.39 and subsequently their claim is not excluded by the de minimis principle, they will then get their contribution to those fees?
§ Mr. Dalton
I think this is very clear, but I will try once more to make it clearer still. The only claimants who have a right to claim a contribution towards fees are those who provided professional valuations by 31st October, 1949, and whose claims are not de minimis. The Board have at no time conceded the right to claim a contribution in substanitated L.39 cases. Payment in these cases will be ex gratia.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
Will the Minister look again at the statement made in the Adjournment Debate on 25th May by the Parliamentary Secretary, where it was clearly said that the L.39 forms will be admissible for payment in substantiated cases; and is not this a case of order, counter-order, and disorder?
§ Mr. Dalton
No, Sir, it is nothing of the kind. I repeat: payments in these cases will be made in certain instances, but they will be ex gratia. I could not make it any clearer if I repeated it six times more.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Would the right hon. Gentleman make it a little clearer how he defines in this context the term "ex gratia"? Is it not a fact that these payments are not in any case provided for by Statute? Would the Minister be a little more clear as to where the line of demarcation comes?
§ Mr. Dalton
The hon. Member himself is a lawyer. "Ex gratia" is a Latin term and means, as the hon. Member 1123 knows, that it is paid without legal compulsion and is a matter of grace—"gratia"—grace.
§ Sir J. Mellor
On a point of order. As the statement which has now been made by the right hon. Gentleman is a repudiation of the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary on 25th May, I shall raise the matter again at the next opportunity.
§ Following is the letter:
§ "29th June, 1950.
§ DEAR MELLOR,
§ I promised, in replying to your Question on 13th June, to consider further action about Form L. 39. I have taken this up with the chairman of the Central Land Board, and he has now reported to me.
§ The Board consider that a special communication on this subject is unnecessary, and that it could not be done without hardship to others.
§ The great proportion of the claimants, many of whom have been professionally advised, have allowed the time for answering L. 39 to expire without replying at all, and their claims have, therefore, lapsed. If a special letter were now to be sent to them about fees, it would be necessary to revive the claims and to give extended time limits, although the claimants themselves have accepted the Board's view that their claims are de minimis. The Board are unable to place these persons in a privileged position as compared with the other claimants who produced professional estimates in the course of negotiation.
§ The Chairman explains that the only claimants (including many who received L. 39), who have the right to claim fees. are those who provided professional estimates by 31st October, 1949, and whose claims are not barred as "de minimis" The provision of the information in L. 39 gives no right to claim for professional fees. The only difference between the claimants in general, and those who received L. 39, is that the latter have been given the opportunity to substantiate doubtful claims before the Board issued their own estimates. In these cases, the Board have agreed to consider making ex gratia payments where the claims are substantiated by professional estimates.
§ Yours sincerely,
§ HUGH DALTON."
§ 17. Sir J. Mellor
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning which professional organisations were consulted, and when, concerning the issue by the Central Land Board of Form L. 39 and the costs of its completion; which organisations approved the contents of the form; which organisations were informed that costs would be paid; which informed that costs would not be paid; and when was a decision publicly announced.
§ Mr. Dalton
As the answer is very long, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
Following is the answer:The Central Land Board invited representatives of the Chartered Auctioneers Institute, the Federation of British Industries, the Law Society, the Royal Institute of British Architects, and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to an informal meeting on 12th July, 1949, when the proposed L. 39 procedure was outlined and copies of the form in draft were circulated and considered. Formal approval was neither sought nor given, but no objection in principle was raised. As de minimis claims only were involved, the question of a contribution to fees did not arise. The representatives were invited to come and talk later on any points arising.In January, 1950, the Chartered Auctioneers and the Chartered Surveyors asked for talks, and separate meetings were held with representatives of each. The Board's note on the Surveyors' meeting says that the Surveyors were generally satisfied with the Board's explanations and did not wish to press their "doubts" The Board understood that the Auctioneers were similarly satisfied. The question of payment of fees in substantiated cases was raised at both meetings and the Board then said that when the occasion arose they would give favourable consideration to the representations which the professional bodies had made on this point. It was agreed between the parties that no public announcement should be made. The reasons for this, so far as the Board are concerned, are that the claims in question do not satisfy the conditions for payment of fees which would therefore have to he made ex gratia; that the request to consider was not general, but limited to those rare claims which were substantiated; and that a public statement would not only lead many L.39 claimants into thinking that they could obtain fees when in fact they could not, but would also lead to unfounded charges from other claimants of preferential treatment.The Law Society wrote to the Board in March about fees and extracts from the Board's reply undertaking to consider applications in substantiated cases were published in the May number of the Law Society's Gazette. In the same number the Society stated that when they were informed of the Board's intention to issue L.39 last year they saw no objection to the proposed procedure.The Chartered Auctioneers published in their April Journal an extract from a letter from the Board to the National Federation of Property Owners stating that the Board would consider applications for a payment towards fees at the appropriate time.Any doubt in these matters appears to arise from an impression that L.39 claimants have the right to claim for fees. This is not, and never has been, the case. The Board may, under regulations and without any obligation to make a payment towards fees, call upon any claimant to provide estimates of values. The conditions on which fees are payable were laid down at the outset and it is now both impracticable and 1125 inequitable to alter them. Exceptional cases can only be dealt with on an ex gratin basis and this is how the Board intend to deal with them.