HC Deb 22 November 1954 vol 533 cc876-99

Lords Amendment: In page 43, line 20, at end insert new Clause "A." (1) If, in the case of a compulsory acquisition to which this Part of this Act applies, the appropriate authority is satisfied that the relevant land or some part thereof does not constitute or form part of the claim area of any established' claim, but that a claim or claims in respect of one or more interests in that land, or, as the case may be, in that part thereof, would have been established if made, there shall be issued by or on behalf of the Treasury a certificate specifying—

  1. (a) whether or not, in the opinion of the person signing the certificate, section thirty-two of this Act would have applied to the compulsory acquisition if the claim or claims aforesaid had been established; and
  2. (b) if so, what in that person's opinion, after giving the person entitled to the relevant interest an opportunity to present his case, would have been the amount of the additional compensation calculated by reference to the unexpended balance of established development value of that land or that part thereof which would have been payable under that section in respect of the acquisition of the relevant interest.
(2) Where an amount has been specified as aforesaid, that amount shall be added to the compensation payable in respect of the acquisition of the relevant interest apart from the provisions of this section: Provided that if, after taking into account all the circumstances, the appropriate authority is of opinion that it is not just and reasonable that the whole of that amount should be so added or, as the case may be, that any amount should be so added, the said authority may direct that such lesser amount as he may specify shall be so added or, as the case may be, that no addition to the compensation aforesaid shall be made. (3) In this section, the expression "the appropriate authority" means—
  1. (a) where the compulsory acquisition of the relevant interest by the acquiring authority requires authorisation by a single other authority, that other authority; or
  2. 877
  3. (b) where the acquiring authority is a government department and the compulsory acquisition does not require the authorisation of any other authority, the acquiring authority; or
  4. (c) in any other case, the Treasury or such other authority as the Treasury may in any case or class of cases, direct.

Mr. Sandys

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The Bill provides that when land is acquired by a public authority, compensation shall be calculated on the basis of its existing use value plus the unexpended balance of any development claim established under the 1947 Act. The purpose of this new Clause is to deal with cases where the owner of the land which is being acquired omitted for one reason or another to put in a claim for development value under the 1947 Act.

In such cases, if his land is compulsorily acquired, the owner would be paid only its existing use value, because there is no claim and, therefore, no unexpended balance of its development value. As a result, he may very well suffer extremely heavy loss. As the House knows, the hardship of this was brought home to the country in a most poignant fashion by the tragic case of Mr. Pilgrim, who was driven by his misfortune and the despair which it caused, to take his own life.

8.0 p.m.

The purpose of the proposed new Clause is, in these circumstances, to put the owner of land in respect of which no development claim has been made as far as practicable in the same position as if a claim had been made. I say "as far as practicable" because we must recognise that it will not necessarily be possible years afterwards.

This procedure is not a "one time" affair. The Clause may be applied many years hence and it will not necessarily be possible years afterwards to recreate the position exactly as it would have been if the claim had been made under the 1947 Act, which would have been in 1948 or early in 1949.

The factors governing the development value as it was in 1947—because that is what we have to try to assess—become more and more difficult to ascertain as time goes by. Subject to these difficulties and limitations, we have endeavoured to give to the owner the benefits to which he would have been entitled if a claim for development value had been made.

I should like to say a few words about the procedure to be followed under the new Clause. Perhaps I should explain that the appropriate authority—which is normally the confirming Minister—and the Treasury, both of whom have a part to play in this process, will normally act on the advice of the district valuer, whose impartiality is, I think, above challenge. If the new Clause is adopted, district valuers will be instructed, in all cases where there is no development claim, to advise, after consultation with the owner, whether, if such a claim had been made, it is likely that it would have been successful.

If so, they are to assess to the best of their ability what was the remaining unexpended development value of such a claim at the time of the compulsory acquisition. The owner would normally be paid—and I want to remove any doubts about this—the whole of the sum assessed in this way by the district valuer. It was, however, thought right to include a proviso at the end of subsection (2) of the new Clause to enable all or part of this additional compensation to be withheld in cases where its payment obviously would not be justified.

For example, there are no doubt cases where the owner of the land bought it at no more than its existing use value, quite possibly for the very reason that no development claim had been put in in respect of that land. In such a case the owner has not suffered any disadvantage and there would be no justification for paying him additional compensation.

I hope that, with this explanation, the House will be willing to agree to the new Clause which meets a very real need. It was unhappily overlooked, or rather I should say that it was felt difficult to introduce it at the time of the original drafting of the Bill, but the necessity of it has been brought home to us by the circumstances to which I have referred.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

I do not want to take up an undue amount of time on the new Clause, because we accept it in principle. All of us have been shocked by the tragic ease of Mr. Pilgrim, and none of us would wish to oppose the Clause. I wish, however, to make one or two comments on the method by which the principle has been carried out and how it fits into the general scheme of the Bill.

Before I came to the method, I should like to ask one question. The new Clause deals with compulsory purchase, and is limited to compulsory purchase only. In the case of compulsory purchase, the compulsory purchase price is paid by the local authority and therefore any extra payment made as a result of the Clause will be payment made by the local authority and not by the Treasury.

It is obvious that circumstances similar to those in the tragic case of Mr. Pilgrim might occur not when compulsory purchase is involved but when compensation is involved. I should like to ask, therefore, whether similar provision is being made where compensation would be payable—and therefore payable by the Treasury—and not merely in cases of compulsory purchase.

On the subject of discretions, as provided in the new Clause, I am sure that the Solicitor-General will agree with me that it is most objectionable to have wide powers of unfettered discretion given to authorities, however reputable and however much above suspicion. It is for the Legislature to lay down at least the principles upon which the discretion should be exercised. Here we have discretion piled upon discretion, without any indication being laid down as to how it should be exercised.

In the first place, the appropriate authority must be satisfied that the land does not constitute or form part of the claim area of any established claim. That should be a matter of fact comparatively easy to ascertain. I am not particularly worried about that provision, except that I should like to know what the position is if any claim has been established at all in respect of that land, though not necessarily by the predecessor in title of the person with whom we are concerned. Does that mean that the person with whom we are concerned cannot make a claim, or that there is no increase in the claim in those circumstances? What precisely happens?

Coming to the discretions of a greater scope with which I am more particularly concerned, the first is the discretion on the part of the Treasury. The Treasury must issue a certificate specifying, first of all, whether or not, in the opinion of the person signing the certificate, section thirty-two of this Act would have applied to the compulsory acquisition… I do not know how that discretion will be exercised.

Apparently it will be exercised by some clerk in the Treasury who comes to the conclusion, I do not know how, that Clause 32 would apply, without any provision being made for any consideration under the Bill, when it becomes an Act, being put before a Treasury official, or for any appeal from a Treasury official to any land tribunal or any body of that kind. It is an utterly unfettered and unaccountable discretion vested in the Treasury.

There is an additional discretion. If the official comes to the conclusion that Clause 32 would have applied, he has to say what in his opinion would have been the amount of additional compensation. Apparently that has Ito be done by a district valuer, though Clause 32 of the Bill does not say so, and it is to be done without any kind of provision for any considerations on the part of the applicant being put before the district valuer or Treasury official who is dealing with the subject. Nor is there any provision for any appeal from the Treasury official to a land tribunal or any body of that kind.

I pass on to another person who has a discretion in addition to the discretions with which I have dealt—which makes three kinds of discretions. The appropriate authority can write down the amount of compensation—although, apparently, it is not allowed to write up the amount of compensation—if it is of the opinion that it is not just and reasonable that the whole of the amount should be paid, to some lesser amount which should be paid.

What is the mystery behind all this? The appropriate authority may be the Treasury, a Government Department, or someone else—one of the series of people indicated in subsection (3). How is this authority to exercise discretion? What is to be the test? Is it to be accidental failure to put in the application? If that is the test it could have been stated perfectly clearly in the new Clause. Is the test to be cases where the purchaser who otherwise would make the application has bought at the existing use value? If that is the case it is perfectly right and proper, as the Minister indicated, but there is no indication of making that a binding provision in the Clause.

In another place it has been suggested that big concerns shall not make a claim but, apparently, some lesser concerns will be entitled to make a claim. Who is to distinguish between a big and a lesser concern? On what principle is that to be done? Are we to have a means test applied to the applications to be made under this Clause? It really is the most loose, unacceptable kind of Clause, giving wide power to civil servants to make payments out of public funds without any kind of principle being laid down in the Bill to provide for those payments.

In my constituency there is a case in which a small man, by bad luck on his part, or on the part of his agent—I am not sure which—has not put in a claim. What is to happen in that case? If it is negligence on his part, is he entitled to make a claim and to receive payment? If it is negligence on the part of his agent is he entitled to make a claim? How is the line to be drawn? What are the principles to be embodied in the exercise of discretion?

All kinds of difficult questions and borderline cases will arise. Hon. Members will be pestered by innumerable persons all over the country to bring pressure to bear on the Minister to make payments in these cases. How are we to decide them? There must be some principles of action for dealing with these cases. Those principles ought not to be left to the uncontrolled discretion of an official, but laid down in accordance with well-recognised principles of which this House approves.

8.15 p.m.

The great difficulty of this Bill concerns the provision of money for compensation. That is the root difficulty in the Bill. In the 1947 Act we tried to meet that point by providing betterment and to equate in accordance with the Uthwatt principles. It has been decided to overrule that and here there is no automatic fund provided for dealing with compensation cases.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

The hon. and learned Member seems to be widening his argument beyond the scope of the Amendment.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

With respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am merely illustrating how this provision is part of the difficulty which is fundamental to this Bill. This provision is nightly trying to provide compensation but is in the difficulty that there is no fund available for it and no means, except by drawing on general Treasury account or through payment by a local authority. That is one of the main difficulties of the Bill.

Mr. Powell

Will the hon. and learned Member say where the compensation in cases of that sort, where no claim has been made under the 1947 Act, would have come from under the 1947 Act?

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

Obviously they would not have been met under the two-tier system. The difficulty we are up against is the two-price system.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. and learned Member seems to be carrying the argument beyond the Amendment.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

I respectfully agree, Mr. Deputy-Speaker; I was merely answering the hon. Member.

That is the difficulty which is fundamental to this Bill—the difficulty upon which this Clause impinges—that of providing compensation. From time to time, as in this Clause, we shall nibble into the provisions upon which the present Minister's predecessor took his stand—the 1947 standard of payments. Gradually the whole of those provisions will be eroded and collapse. This is the first encroachment. I am not advising my hon. Friends to vote against this new Clause. It is right and just that this new Clause should be passed, but it shows the fundamental difficulty, weakness and defect, which lies at the foundation of the whole superstructure upon which the Bill is built.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

I wish to ascertain from my right hon. Friend whether certain claims concerning my constituency, which I have been discussing with his Department, and which I have raised in the House, can be met under this Clause. These claims were made under Section 59 of the 1947 Act and were subsequently found to have been made under the wrong Section when regulations were made by the Minister under that Section. It was then too late for the claims to be made under Section 58. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend could say whether such claims could be reopened under this Clause, and whether he has any hope for my unfortunate constituents, one of whom has become seriously ill because of worry over this difficulty.

Lieut.-Colonel J. C. Lockwood (Romford)

Although I do not propose to detain the House for more than a minute, think I have good reason for intervening because this Clause is of particular importance to my constituents. Mr. Pilgrim lived, and, unfortunately, died, in Romford. It is a great pity that this Clause was not inserted in the Bill before it went to another place. I did not quite gather what the explanation was of why that was not done. Whatever the explanation, I think the Clause should have been inserted.

I feel that my constituents would ask me to support this Clause. I think some of the criticisms levelled against it are perfectly justified; it is a loose Clause. I am not at all certain that it will be easy to operate. It is some attempt, although belated, to obviate the recurrence of a tragedy similar to that in the case of Mr. Pilgrim.

There are two questions which I wish to ask, and which are additional to the question which, I think, was properly asked by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas). Paragraph (b) of the new Clause A says that a Treasury certificate will be given … after giving the person entitled to the relevant interest an opportunity to present his case … I should like to know what form that opportunity will take. Will it be a statement in writing or a personal interview? Or is the person entitled to go before a tribunal? I do not know, but I think that such a person should have a proper opportunity to state his case, because if he has not, then it would appear to me that the whole idea of the Bill will fall.

The second and more important point is the question of an appeal. Is there an appeal under this new Clause? I do not think that there is. If there is, I have not been able to discover that fact, and if there is not, I think that there should be. I hope that the Minister will say that there is. I agree that far too much power is given under this Clause to people who, although they may act in good faith, should not have to take that responsibility. It seems to me that a person aggrieved should have the right of appeal. I hope that the Minister will consider seriously what I am saying and will not give an evasive answer. I hope he will tell us whether there is an appeal, and, if not, whether, in his opinion, an appeal should be allowed.

I think that in the long run this Clause will do something to prevent a repetition of the tragedy we all deplore and I am sure, therefore, that in the event of a Division my constituents would wish me to support it.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

I concede at once that this Clause gives us something, but I think it is a good intention badly carried out. What I cannot fathom about it—and I should like the Minister to consider this—is that this is a concession which is now being made on the same basis as if a claim had been established; on the assumption that the matter was not overlooked and that all that had been done was done by the person in question to establish the claim. Why, therefore, should the procedure and the machinery applying to this case be different from that for the normal case?

That must be answered by the Minister. I cannot see why that should be so, once we concede that, had a claim been made, it could have been established. We have removed the defect altogether, and we come back to exactly the same position as if a claim had been made. If it had been made in the first place, a certain procedure would have been applied. But, here, the Minister is seeking to apply entirely different machinery—or rather no machinery at all—and that is something which I cannot appreciate.

In this Clause there is no code of practice at all on a very important matter which is likely to be applied over a large field and affect a variety of property of character and value. The decision as to the appraisement of compensation in these circumstances is to be left merely to the whims of different local authorities——

Mr. Hay


Mr. Turner-Samuels

Of course it is. It is no use saying——

Dr. Morgan

The lawyers will come in all right.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

—that it is not. That is displaying in words the same confusion as we have here in print.

The fact is that it is being left to the whims of different local authorities. What does that mean? Exactly the same claims, with the same circumstances, the same force of right, the same reason why a certain amount should be given, are in danger of meeting different conclusions, because it is being left to the whims of different local authorities. As I said, there is to be no code of practice, which is absolutely intolerable. That would be intolerable in private affairs, but in public affairs it becomes absolutely ridiculous. I ask the Minister to consider this and to try to devise—if not now at a later stage—a method of approximating the practice throughout the country.

As I understand, there is to be no sort of tribunal at all. It will not come under the cognisance of the Lands Tribunal or any authoritative person. It may be left to a petty clerical functionary who merely puts his signature on paper on the dotted line and the matter is disposed of—so is the poor applicant so far as his compensation is concerned.

This will not do. I agree that here something is being done. I agree that the tragic circumstances surrounding the Pilgrim case must be avoided in future. But while this may avoid a major tragedy it leaves open the door for minor tragedies. It does not provide adequately or securely for procedure provisions which should be made in a case of this kind. Therefore, I ask the Minister to examine this matter again and devise better means for the future.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

I wish to welcome the initiative and intention of the Government in adding this new Clause which, I suppose, will always be known as the "Pilgrim Clause." Its object is to remove the legalised injustice so poignantly brought to the notice of the public by the late Mr. Pilgrim, but it applies to many other cases and, as the Minister knows, I have had such cases in my own constituency, which I have brought to his notice.

The situation is that a person finds himself the victim of a compulsory purchase order, and then learns that he is to be paid for his land only a fraction of the price to which he considers he is entitled. He then learns that, if he had established a claim under the 1947 Act or Clause 32 of this Bill, he would have got the difference. He is in exactly the position of a new boy at school who is unaware of the fact that, on the school notice board, it was stated he should attend at a ridiculous time at a ridiculous place; and he does not go and he is beaten.

One does not complain about that sort of thing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may complain, but they should realise that that sort of trivial thing does not matter very much. In any case, there is an element of justice in it because the notice board is large and is there to be looked at.

But Clause 32 of the Bill is not large and there are many people who do not look at it and it is not their business to look at it. I think it would be possible to suspend the Constitution if it were done in small enough print, or in sufficiently obscure language. In fact, that is the sort of thing that has been drone in the 1947 Act, and many people have been caught out and it is a shame that they were caught out.

8.30 p.m.

One is not so concerned to protect those with larger interests, because they are the people who can pay lawyers to watch their interests. But there have been many people of small education and humble position and small means, unable to provide for their interests to be watched, and they have been caught out. I think the Government are earning their gratitude, because they are now making some provision to allow part of the difference due to them to be paid. It shows that at least the Government are prepared to sacrifice legalistic minutae in favour of the broader principles of justice. If the Government had not been so prepared, a lot of people would quite rightly have had an enduring grievance, not only against the Government for failing to do that but against this House for failing to see that this sort of thing was not tolerated.

Mr. Skeffington

Reference has been made by the Minister and several subsequent speakers to the unfortunate case which, we understand, gave rise to the introduction of this new Clause. But I would suggest there was nothing inherently wrong with the machinery of the 1947 Act if it had been operated. What surely would have been the way to deal with the situation—and I hope I get the support of the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger)—would have been to see an early introduction of Section 7 of Part I of the Legal Aid and Advice Act. People purchasing land need the advice of skilled professional people who know how to make researches and inquiries and can safeguard the interests of their clients.

Mr. Iremonger

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. In my brief experience in this House, it has been my experience that nothing is more required.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

This seems to be carrying the discussion well beyond the scope of the Amendment.

Mr. Skeffington

I fully agree and I will not pursue the point further, except to say that in many ways this is a kind of steamhammer Clause to crack a small, though very important, nut. I do not want anyone to imagine I am unsympathetic about this kind of injustice, but the remedy I have suggested would, I think, be more appropriate.

What is now to be the position is that very considerable discretions are to be given to the Minister and people in the Treasury with practically no guidance at all as to how they are to be administered. It is true that in various places in the principal Act discretion has been left to the Minister, but—so far as my memory serves me—there has nearly always been some guidance to the Minister as to how he should exercise his powers. Here, there is no guidance whatsoever.

It is another case of rather the same character as that of a Clause with which we dealt earlier, where the people who make the most noise and bring pressure on the Minister through Members of Parliament, or get picture newspapers to take up their case are the sort of people who would get compensation for late claims. But people who do not like to do that, or cannot do it, will endure just the same sort of injustice as was suffered by the unfortunate victim to whom reference has been made.

If the Government says that this is the procedure now to be adopted, why on earth is it only to take place in cases arising after the passage of the Bill? If the injustice is there, and if this is the method to be used, why not go back to the 1947 Act?

In the Pilgrim case the Minister was able, I understand, by using Section 228 of the Local Government Act, to validate an illegal payment by the local authority. I am wondering whether, if we bring pressure to bear over individual cases, the Minister would use that power again. It seems undesirable to make valid illegal payments by local authorities, that hope alternatively that the Minister will go further and agree to look at all cases that have arisen since the 1947 Act, and bring them within the Clause.

Mr. Hay

The reason for the appearance of this new Clause has been touched upon by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington). There is a fundamental defect in the Bill, and the new Clause will do very little to improve it. Under the Bill the Government have refused all along to allow any reopening of the claims which either were made or could have been made, if people had been sufficiently alert, at the time of the 1947 Act.

It is important that we should have an answer from the Minister on this point: what exactly are the reasons why the procedure laid down in the new Clause cannot be operated retrospectively? I can see no reason why a person who happened not to have made a claim, whether for good or bad reasons, in the past, should receive no compensation comparable to that provided in this Clause if his land has been compulsorily acquired between 1948 and the coming into force of the new Act—and that was the position in the Pilgrim case—while he will receive compensation if, after the Bill becomes an Act, his land is compulsorily acquired in future.

That is the fundamental defect of the new Clause, that it does not go far enough. It is a blemish upon the Clause, although I appreciate that the Government have done their best to meet the point, which has cropped up during the passage of the Bill. However, the Government had warning that this sort of thing might arise. My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus (Mr. ThorntonKemsley) and I and other hon. Members drew attention to the problem on Second Reading, and we were then told that the 1947 valuation was the Ark of the Covenant and that it could under no circumstances be disturbed.

Yet, what are we doing in the Clause? We are, in effect, disturbing the 1947 valuation because we are saying that the district valuer, some years from now, will, as the Minister has said, have to decide whether a claim could have been made in 1947 when, in fact, it was not, and, if it had been made, what would have been the amount of development value. If the Clause is still on the Statute Book five or 10 years from now it will be an unreal performance for the district valuer to try to calculate 1947 development values. By analogy, the rating and valuation officers who are at the moment trying hard to determine rateable values by reference to 1939 rents are having enough difficulty. What will be the position in future under the Clause?

I also want to press from this side of the House a point already made to the Minister that, if possible, some kind of appeal machinery should be adopted. We cannot now do it in this Clause because no notice to amend it has been given. However, it is obvious to all hon. Members that an amending Measure will be needed before very long, once the new Act is on the Statute Book. I urge that when the amending legislation is considered, however much it may disturb them now, the Minister and the Ministry should think about some kind of appeal procedure.

As the Clause stands at the moment, the district valuer will apparently decide the past value which is to be used for the purpose of assessing compensation. He will pass that to the Treasury. The person whose land is to be acquired, the man who stands to suffer the loss, has no opportunity whatever of contesting the development value which the district valuer may place upon it.

It has rightly been said that all district valuers are men of probity, experience and knowledge, but anyone who has experience of valuing property knows that each of a series of valuers will give an entirely different, although entirely honest, view of what may be the value of a piece of land for a given purpose. Consequently, I suggest that, if possible, in amending legislation in the future there should be included some appeal procedure.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

Instead of having appeal procedure, would it not be better to treat the case as an established claim and apply the normal procedure which would be applied to an ordinary case by this Measure?

Mr. Hay

That is the point I was dealing with a few moments ago.

I have always felt that the great mistake of the Bill is that it does not give those people who ought to have made a claim but did not do so another opportunity of making one. If that had been the case, Mr. Pilgrim would probably have made a claim, and would not have taken the very drastic and unhappy step which he did take, which seems to me, since sometimes good can come out of wrong and evil, to have focused the attention of the Government and the public on this particular point.

I therefore feel that, though we cannot object to the Government's second thoughts on the matter, we ought to urge that this point should be kept under continuous review in the Ministry, and that, when a suitable opportunity occurs, this whole question should be re-examined and an appeal procedure introduced.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

It is extremely bad manners to intervene in a debate on a Bill of this sort when one has not been a Member of the Committee which considered it. I apologise for doing so, but I never expected to find myself so much in agreement with the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay). I think that on all sides of the House we are in sympathy with the general purpose of this new Clause, and for that reason we are not going to divide against it.

I agree with every comment made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester. North-East (Sir L. UngoedThomas) on the form of the Clause and on the effect which that form will have. We have here discretion after discretion, unguided and, I should have thought, completely unnecessary, at any rate as regards the first two of the discretions which my hon. and learned Friend mentioned. I should have thought that these were matters that could have been stated and proved in the ordinary way, without being left to the opinion of so-and-so.

As drafted, this is a thoroughly sloppy Clause. Of course, it should have been brought in much earlier, but it was brought in at the last moment, and any discussion about its form or possible amendment is, at this stage of the Bill—and, I may add, at this stage of the Parliamentary Session—obviously academic.

Therefore, I wish only to ask the Minister two questions. First of all, it seems to me that, in the mess which this Clause is in, some circular or directions will be necessary at some stage—probably several circulars and several directions. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any indication whether he will lay down in his circular or directions some sort of principle that appears to have been omitted from the Clause itself, and should, at any rate, be given temporary effect?

Secondly, it has been pointed out, and I entirely agree with the comment, that it is really quite unfair to make the possibility of claims under this Clause depend upon the date of the notice to treat. There is no logical distinction of right or justice between a claim which might have been made had the notice to treat been given previously and one relating to a notice to treat given after this new Clause comes into effect. There could be no reasonable ground for that.

There was the sad case of Mr. Pilgrim, who committed suicide. His widow actually received a payment from the local authority concerned, and I should like to ask the Minister, who is also concerned generally with local authorities and their affairs, another question. Is he prepared, if he does issue the circular which I have suggested, to give some directions to local authorities as to proper cases for such payments? After all, if that payment was made in the case of Mr. Pilgrim, it is not required that every claimant who had a notice to treat before this Clause comes into operation should commit suicide in order to justify his claim.

There must be cases in which it would be just as right for the local authority to make a compensatory payment as was done in the Pilgrim case, and I should like to know whether any directions are to be given to the local authorities or any suggestions made to them regarding such payments. In parenthesis, I should like to know under what authority the payment was made in the Pilgrim case, in order that we may know that what was duly done in that case can be duly done in others.

This is the log-rolling season, and logs may be rolled justly or unjustly. My only excuse for taking up the time of the House is, frankly, that I may have a constituency log to roll.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Sandys

By leave of the House, I will reply to some of the points. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said it was bad manners to take part in this kind of debate if one had not been in the Committee. I would be very happy to prove my good manners by refraining to take part in the debate today.

A number of points have been raised by hon. Members, mainly concerned with the discretion given to the Executive, and concentrating in the main on the question whether or not there was a right of appeal. It has been said that this case ought to be dealt with in the same way as other cases where there has been a claim. Coming new to this matter, and being much newer than most hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, I can say that that was my first approach when I was faced with this problem only a few weeks ago. It seemed simple, straightforward and obvious that it should be handled in that way, but the more I looked into the matter and saw the consequences, difficulties and complications, the less easy and obvious it seemed that it could be handled in that way.

These are not cases on all fours with cases where a claim was put in in 1948. Time has elapsed, and much more time will elapse before some of these cases will be dealt with. This process will not take place immediately after the passage of the Bill. There will not be a cleaning-up process to deal with outstanding cases where no claim was put in. Over the years, land will be compulsorily acquired, and in a proportion of those cases it will be found that no claim was put in for development value. In some of the cases it will be found that, if a claim had been put in, very likely it would have been successful. In other words, through the omission to put in a claim the owner of the land is suffering a loss.

These cases may be spread over a long period of years, and as the years pass by it will he more and more difficult to arrive at a precise conclusion what the development value claim would have been if one had been made in 1948. The questions which have to be answered are straightforward but are not always easy of answer.

I do not think that this is a case where any useful purpose would be served by sending out a circular to district valuers advising them how to arrive at the answers to these questions, though I am quite prepared to consider the matter if experience shows that to be necessary. As I say, the questions are quite straightforward. The difficulty——

Mr. Iremonger

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the point of the retrospective——

Mr. Sandys

I have not yet reached the retrospective one. I was proposing to deal with it at greater length. What I am dealing with is the question of the discretion of the Executive and the desirability of providing a right of appeal to a land tribunal or to some other form of arbitration.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering asked whether we intended to send out a circular. I do not quite see what one would put in a circular, because the question is, first, does Clause 32 apply? That was a point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. That is probably the easiest of the questions to decide. It is a question of fact. Though, of course, there can be differences of opinion about facts, I do not believe that, in practice, there will be much difficulty in deciding whether Clause 32 does apply.

The other questions will be more difficult to answer. For instance, there is the question of whether, if a claim had been made in 1948, it would have been successful, and, if it had been successful, what would have been the amount of the development value that would have been established. These are points which, one may say, could be put to a tribunal, and on which there could be some process of appeal. But we have not only to decide whether the claim would have been successful, but also how much it would have been, and, in addition, what would be the unexpended balance of that claim at some future date when the land came to be acquired?

I do not believe that this is a fair proposition to put to a tribunal. This is not a question of law, but of opinion. It seems to me that we are doing our best to fog back to 1948. That is a very difficult thing and one which does not lend itself to precise legal definition. It is an extremely difficult one to be decided by the courts of law. I am sure that if it were to be referred to the courts the processes would be absolutely interminable. Arguments could be advanced and evidence could be produced which could be questioned in every sort of way.

I believe that what we have to do is to make the best of a difficult task. We have to see whether we can provide, if not a perfect solution, at any rate something which will ensure reasonable justice being done. When we know that the sympathy of the country and of Parliament is behind the policy of this Clause, I think the House may be sure that where there is error it will tend to be on the side of the person who might be suffering loss and not on the side of the Exchequer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) emphasised this point when he said that the whole thing will be a rather unreal procedure. It will be an unreal procedure, but we are trying to put something right which has resulted from an omission several years ago, and, as time goes on, the span of years will be greater. It will be a somewhat unreal procedure, but I believe that, by and large, we shall achieve a measure of rough justice in this whole process. In the circumstances, that is probably the best that we can do.

Mr. Mitchison

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned with great force the two discretions under (a) and (d), but it seems to me that the latest and most important one, and that on which a circular is most needed, is in the proviso to subsection (2), which at present is absolutely at large.

Mr. Sandys

There is a point which I should have made. This is a different matter, but there will probably have to be a circular on it. I wish it to be made absolutely clear to district valuers that they are to consult the owner concerned from the very outset, before they begin to apply themselves to these problems. There may be some misunderstanding because the subsection says: after giving the person entitled to the relevant interest an opportunity to present his case. I want to make it clear that throughout all these different processes the owner of the land shall be brought into consultation and given an opportunity to state his case and to argue why he does not agree with what the district valuer is to propose. Although it may be said that that is not a legal right of appeal, I believe that in practice it will work out fairly well and that the owner will probably have a better opportunity than by taking his case to a court of law, which is always an expensive business and something which he might feel that he could not afford.

Under the Clause, he will have a sympathetic hearing and, as we shall emphasise to the district valuers, every opportunity to be helped. I want to make it clear that in the whole of this process it is not left to the owner of the land to make a case. Wherever there is no claim forming part of the compensation money payable, it will automatically be the duty of the district valuer to look into the matter and to see whether there should not have been a claim, in which case the whole procedure of the Clause will come into operation.

Mr. Sparks

Presumably the Minister is limiting what he said to acquisition by local authorties, because there will be many cases in which no claim has been submitted and the land will never come into the possession of the local authority, so that the question will not arise. Presumably he is referring only to those cases in which local authorities take steps to acquire land upon which there is no established claim.

Mr. Sandys

Not only local authorities, but also public authorities or the Government. That is the only case where the question could arise, and it is covered by this procedure.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

I want to follow the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). We appreciate what the Minister said, and welcome it, but it is not sufficient for us to have an answer on the valuation point. What is extremely important is the principle upon which the words "just and reasonable" are to be administered.

Mr. Sandys

That is a very important point and I will deal with it straight away. I want to make it clear, as I thought I had earlier, that it is proposed to withhold payment only in cases in which loss has not been suffered as a result of the failure to make a claim.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

Can my right hon. Friend clear up this point? He is now saying something which I understand is quite contrary to what was said in another place by the Lord Chancellor. He gave two examples. The first was the man who had bought land at its existing use value and, therefore, should not be compensated for more than at its existing use value; and the other was that of the large and powerful financial institution. Once we apply a means test of that kind, we open up all sorts of possibilities, and I should like the Minister to apply himself to that question. If it is not a question of hardship, are these large financial institutions to come into it?

Mr. Sandys

I do not think it would be proper for me to refer to what goes on in another place. I think that I have made clear what is the Government's policy in regard to the making of these payments. A great deal of discussion has taken place on this problem. We know that in our House different things are said and arguments are listened to, but what I have said is a considered statement of policy in reply to the question put to me by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

On the question of Exchequer grants, the position is perfectly simple. The extra cost of purchase which will result from the acceptance of these hypothetical claims will be dealt with in exactly the same way as the element in the cost of purchase which results from the unexpended balance of the development value in the case of other purchases of land where a claim was put in, and they will rank for Exchequer grants in exactly the same way. By this Clause we are trying to prevent further hardship and injustice accruing as a result of people having, for one reason or another, overlooked putting in a claim for development value.

It has been argued in this debate that this Clause should have been made to operate retrospectively. We should like that to be possible. It is a good thing to prevent further hardship and injustice, and, naturally, we should all like to put right hardships and injustices which have already been caused. The House is very familiar with amending legislation of all kinds and reforms of all kinds, and it is rarely possible effectively to go right back and put right everything that was wrong. What one tries to do is to prevent that wrong being done again, and, in so far as it is practicable, to deal with some cases which are concerned with the immediate present or the very recent past.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

This is a very vital matter. The Minister has himself indicated that the only thing which will be considered is the case where it is obvious from the circumstances that it would have been an established case if the applicant had been alert enough to have asserted his rights. Why, in that case, and on that assumption, should it not be right to apply the normal procedure——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman is now repeating the argument which he has already used in his speech.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

I want the Minister to deal with that.

Mr. Sandys

We have the strongest sympathy with the feelings which have prompted this proposal and we have examined the possibility exhaustively; but we have reluctantly come to the conclusion that it would not be wise to pass legislation which would have the effect of invalidating contracts and agreements which have been entered into left and right and casting doubts upon the ownership of land which has already been acquired by local authorities and upon which in many cases they are already building.

Generally, it is a bad principle to pass legislation, not only in this field but over the whole commercial field, which casts doubt upon the validity of contracts and agreements made in the past. That is one of the fundamental bases upon which so much in our economic and commercial life rests. We feel that we should not be doing a service to the country if we embarked upon legislation of that kind.

I said that we would try to deal with the immediate past, even though we could not make this legislation completely retrospective. We cannot make it retrospective at all, but we can to some extent, by administrative action, deal with difficulties in the immediate past: that is to say, in cases where the transaction is still not completed. Some of the negotiations for purchase go on for a considerable time.

In the case where a transaction for a purchase has not been completed when the Bill comes into force, if local authorities wish to make an ex gratia payment, as the Romford Borough Council has done to Mrs. Pilgrim, we are ready to support them. Where appropriate, these ex gratia payments will rank for Exchequer grant in the same way as if they had been made under the Clause in the future. That is going only a little way, I know, but we have just got to do what we can, and the more cases we can bring in in one way or another, the better it will be. These cases are not unlimited, and the Clause will prevent further cases occurring.

I should like to reply briefly to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams), who raised a slightly different point. Under the 1947 Act, there were two schemes of compensation, one under Section 58, which provided the £300 million fund, and the other under Section 59, which provided special compensation in the case of bomb damaged property in certain special circumstances.

There are a few cases—I do not believe they are very many—some of them in my hon. Friend's constituency, of owners of bomb damaged property who were wrongly advised that they came within the scope of the special scheme under Section 59 and, therefore, they made no claim on the £300 million fund. Subsequently, they found that they did not qualify for compensation under the special bomb damage scheme. Meanwhile, the closing date for claims on the £300 million fund had passed, and they were left in the position, like some of the cases to which we have been referring, that they had not put in a claim of any kind. In fact, they are in exactly the same position as all other owners of land who, for one reason or another, failed to make a claim against the £300 million fund.

In the case of future compulsory acquisition, owners in this position will get exactly the same benefit as everybody else under the new Clause, like all other people who for any reason fail to submit claims. It would not be just, however, to single out this class of people—owners of bomb damage property who made this mistake—for special retrospective treatment more favourable than that which we are able to accord to other persons who failed to put in a claim.

Mr. Mitchison

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question on ex gratia payments by local authorities. He cited a case where a transaction was not yet complete. Did I understand him to agree that there might be other recent cases, too? It would, of course, depend on the circumstances and on the date of the transaction.

Mr. Sandys

The statement I made did not go beyond the cases where the transaction is still incomplete. If the hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind cases where further assistance can be given, I will gladly consider them.

Mr. Dudley Williams

May I say to my right hon. Friend that I do not think he has grasped quite clearly the position of my own constituents. They were not people who failed to make a claim. They had made a claim under Section 29, but the regulations which covered——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must not make another speech.

Question put, and agreed to.—[Special Entry.]