§ Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)
I beg to move,That this House, taking note that the powers for acquiring land and property by compulsory purchase, including the powers for compensating those whose rights are thereby affected, differ in various respects, requests Her Majesty's Government to give urgent consideration to this matter and to take whatever steps may be appropriate to prevent such powers from inflicting hardship or injustice upon any of Her Majesty's subjects.We were recently reminded that nearly a hundred years ago, in another place, Lord Campbell referred to works ofa nature calculated to shock the common feelings of decency in a well-regulated mind.He was speaking of obscene publications, but I think his words can without exaggeration be said to apply also to the cases of victimisation which so often assail our ears. I want to raise this morning the question of the just and reasonable rights of the individual citizen. In so doing, I can claim to follow a great many of my predecessors in this House through the centuries.
At a time in history when those rights of the individual are going out over a large part of Europe, and of Asia, too, I want to bring to the notice of the House one or two cases in which, even in this democratic country and under a Conservative Government, certain reasonable rights which should be taken for granted in a free society are being infringed. Normally, Mr. Speaker, when I have the privilege of catching your eye I would not dream of abusing that privilege for more than a quarter of an hour. This morning I am afraid that I must ask the indulgence of the House to be a little longer than that, because I am dealing with a complicated subject.
In modern times, we have rightly so rearranged our affairs as to make the Government responsible for much that was once done—if it was done at all—by private enterprise. So it is often necessary for the community to acquire property belonging to an individual for the purposes of housing, schools, roads aerodromes, cemeteries, and so on. No one would deny that the State must often 2432 have need of the property of individual citizens for those and similar purposes, nor that, where it is found to be impossible to acquire that property voluntarily, compulsory powers must be used.
The whole of my theme this morning can be summed up by saying that, when the just needs of the community require that a person should sell property against his will, the transaction shall be negotiated and carried through in such a way that the principles of natural justice shall be seen to be fulfilled. Those principles include, of course, the duty to pay the owner of property so acquired, or so designated for ultimate acquisition, fair compensation. This is no new theme, and this is not the first time that it has been raised. I can only hope that it will be the last.
The theme has been raised many times hitherto, not only in this House but outside. The Donoughmore Committee, which reported as far back as 1932, the Law Society, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Land Agents' Society, the National Federation of Property Owners, the National Federation of Owner Occupiers and Owner Residents, Aims of Industry, Ltd., the C.L.A. and the C.G.A. have all pungently criticised from time to time the methods by which the Executive work their will in these matters. So far, their criticisms have proved in vain, or partly in vain.
Some of my hon. and hon. and learned Friends have recently collaborated to produce another book, which will be published next week and will be entitled "Rule of Law". My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), who will second this Motion and who is learned in all but the technical sense, is one of the authors of the booklet. I have had the privilege of reading it in proof and I gladly acknowledge my debt to it. I commend it because it will be found to set out much of this case with the utmost clarity and lucidity and to advocate reasonable solutions.
I hope I do not have to stress the importance of the rights of property. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has aptly described one of the main objects of Conservative policy as the establishment of a property-owning democracy. The ownership of property by as many people as possible is one of 2433 the main bastions of liberty. There is nothing immoral about it, although one might think so from hearing what is said about it. Indeed, it has the express blessing of the Church in the 38th Article, and in the Papal Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno.
Such an aim becomes farcical unless, when the Executive has to deprive a man of his property or of his livelihood, two conditions are fulfilled. The first is that it is clearly established as genuinely essential in the public interest that the property should be acquired. The second is that so far as is humanly possible the owner is put in a position to acquire similar property elsewhere, at no heavier expense than that of convenience.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman's statement with great interest, and I agree with very much of it, but will he tell us how he voted last Friday when a Bill was before the House for establishing a property-owning democracy in South Wales and other areas where leasehold properties exist?
§ Mr. Longden
I am ready to give way to anybody who wishes to interrupt but I hope the interruptions will be relevant, because I have a considerable amount of material to get through. Frankly, the hon. Member disappoints me.
In the old days it would have required a Private Bill to dispossess a man of his property. Today, when time goes helter-skelter, that is too long and perhaps too expensive a process, so new machinery has had to be devised. These are highly technical matters which the ordinary man in the street cannot be expected to understand or to follow. When he is affected by them, he does not know what has hit him.
I do not want to be too technical this morning, and I particularly do not wish to burden my speech and the House with chapter and verse from the many Statutes and regulations which govern this matter. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury who is to reply to the debate for the Government, because, alas, so many Departments are involved, will know quite as much as I do about how this thing works. Nor do I want to harass the House by citing examples of the injustice and misery which are so 2434 often inflicted upon the subject as a result of our present system. Only a few of these cases hit the headlines, but these few are the visible part of the iceberg.
I want to remind the House of the methods used compulsorily to acquire land, of the evil results which follow from the designation of land for planning purposes and the means which Parliament in its wisdom has laid down for compensating those whose private interests have to be submerged beneath the public interest. First, as to the methods. In some cases, the Minister, the acquiring authority, may appoint an inspector to inquire into objections. In other cases there may be an administrative tribunal set up for the purpose. In others the Minister may make an order without a preliminary hearing.
All the objections to the former two methods apply a fortiori to the latter. This was well exemplified during war time by Greene's case, in which a wretched citizen was deprived of his liberty on false information. Habeas Corpus was refused; I suppose the excuse was that there was a war on. If anything similar happens when I am a Member of Parliament there will be another war on, with me on one side and the Government on the other.
When there is a preliminary hearing it may be by administrative tribunal which both hears and decides the issue. There, again, the procedure varies. Sometimes the tribunal may state the facts which are found and the reasons for coming to its decision. At other times it may merely give a bare decision. In the case of an inspector, that is to say, when the hearing is done by a person other than the ultimate deciding authority, again the procedure differs, as when it is done under the Town and Country Planning Act.
Sometimes the facts found at the inquiry may be set out and may or may not be accompanied by recommendations. These reports may or may not be published, but the Minister in announcing his decision may state his reasons, and if he does then it may be found that they are based partly on facts not adduced at the hearing, or he may make—and generally does—an announcement of his bare decision. I am afraid it is all too true that the preliminary hearings are often regarded by officialdom as a tire- 2435 some formality, a necessary ritual which has to be gone through before the end in view can be achieved.
It is often claimed that our Civil Service is, by any criterion, the best in the world, and I myself would wholeheartedly support that claim. But not since Wolsey's day has it had so much power, and power does tend to corrupt. I do not think there are many hon. Members in the House who, if they were given the powers which officials have been given today, and if both the legislature and the judiciary were to be deprived of, or were to neglect, the use of their constitutional power of checking and supervising, would not become at best benevolent despots. But a civil servant in a democratic country is not meant to be a benevolent despot.
Also, with the best will in the world the senior Civil Service is apt to get out of touch with the needs and feelings of the ordinary individual. The danger is that the public interest may all too soon become equated in the Departmental mind with administrative convenience, whereas the true public interest demands that justice to the individual shall always prevail over mere administrative convenience.
What does this justice require? I think it requires, first, full publicity before, during and after a hearing. Before a hearing so that all concerned may be warned that their interests may be affected and can take steps to do something about it if they so desire. Before hearing so that the case to be met can be fully formulated and in good time; and so that during the hearing the Press and the public should always be admitted. Professor W. A. Robson, in his "Justice and Administrative Law" speaks of the "thick mist of secrecy which has helped to encourage unnecessary mystery-mongering" by administrative tribunals.
Secondly, I think that justice requires that the hearing authority should be independent of the appointing authority. Nobody should be judge in his own cause, because very often a Minister appoints someone in his own Department. Thirdly, the objecting party should be entitled to be legally represented if he desires. Perhaps at this point I should declare an interest, but I repeat, he should be entitled to be legally represented if he so desires.
2436 Fourthly, the ordinary rules of evidence should be followed. For instance, very often there is no cross-examination, no compulsory disclosure of relevant documents and very often no power to subpoena witnesses. I think that justice requires that the decision when reached should be supported by facts and reasons and that these should be published to all concerned. Lastly, I think that justice requires that there should be a right of appeal to an independent and impartial tribunal.
Some of these elementary canons of justice are observed in some cases. For example, it is the practice of the Ministry of Education to appoint independent persons, generally surveyors but sometimes barristers, to hold local inquiries into compulsory purchase orders, and it is the practice of that Ministry to send a copy of the resulting report to the objector and to the acquiring authority at the time when it communicates the Minister's decision.
That is very good, but, if I may say so, it would be even better to send the report before the Minister announces his decision so that the objector may see for himself that all the relevant facts proved at the hearing have been before the Minister and that any fact not so proved is not, and make representations accordingly.
Nevertheless, I think it is fair to say that in the public view these tribunals are not open, are not impartial, but rather they are like the new mayor who promised he would strive to strike a happy mean between partiality and impartiality. The rule of law, said Dicey:excludes the existence of arbitrariness or even of wide discretionary authority by the Government.…It means he said:the equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary law of the land administered by the ordinary law courts.I hope that there is no one on this side of the House or, indeed, in the House at all who intends, by constant dripping, to wear away that buttress of liberty. Every new-fangled practice of the Executive for by-passing the judiciary and the legislature are dangerously close to coming within Maitland's definition of the Star Chamber, which was:A Court of Politicians enforcing a policy, not a Court of Judges administering the law.2437 I hope that no one will advance against me—
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
That is what an administrative tribunal is, of course. It has not got to decide the law. The Courts can do that by writ if this is out of its jurisdiction. What it has to decide is a question of policy—whether a bit of land ought to be used for housing or not. That is not a judicial decision at all, and the great mistake here is to pretend through these tribunals that it is. It is a policy decision.
§ Mr. Longden
I am obliged to the hon. and learned Member. I agree with him in many respects, but it is wrong that it should be looked on as such.
§ Mr. Longden
If the hon. and learned Member waits he will hear that I have some other suggestions to make before I have finished.
I was just expressing the hope that nobody would advance either of two arguments against me. The first argument which may be used is that the executive decision is made by a Minister who is answerable to Parliament and one of Parliament's duties is to redress just grievances of the subject. But Parliament has neither the time to acquire the knowledge nor the knowledge of the facts of each case. That argument is really a fiction to ease the conscience, if any, of those whose natural instincts teach them that the gentlemen in Whitehall know best.
Secondly, I hope that nobody will ask me to take comfort from the legal process of certiorari. Here, I must become a little technical, but practically everyone in the House at the moment is a lawyer.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Henry Brooke)
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is not a lawyer, nor is anyone 2438 on this side of the House this morning, with the exception of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget).
§ Mr. Longden
This ancient prerogative writ, as is well known, is available to quash proceedings of an inferior court if it does not comply with the rules of natural justice or if it exceeds jurisdiction. It is sometimes made available to administrative tribunals. But it is as often as not rendered nugatory for several reasons.
The High Court only exercises such control over judicial bodies, and a citizen's rights can be infringed by an administrative decision which can be made by many odd bodies which are not judicial. For example, the iniquitous phrases "If the Minister has reasonable cause to believe …" or "If the Minister is satisfied that …" he may do so and so. In spite of Lord Atkins great judgment in Liversidge's case, it has been held that these are purely subjective tests existing solely in the mind of the executive officer concerned and that he alone can decide. But that is totalitarianism.
Again, the statute which sets up the tribunal may expressly exempt it from the process; or may allow it to determine its own limits of jurisdiction or may draw its powers so widely that it cannot exceed them.
§ Mr. Longden
I think it would be better if the hon. and learned Gentleman sought to develop his argument if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker. I have still rather a lot to say.
Again, the High Court can quash an order only if it appears on the face of the proceedings that there has been an error of law. If, as generally happens, the tribunal merely announces a bare decision instead of what is called a "speaking order" giving facts and reasons, the High Court is powerless.
It will probably not surprise the House to know that I propose to say a word or two during the course of my remarks about the Crichel Down case. I cite it for this reason, which I am sure will be acceptable to the House: everybody 2439 knows the facts and I need not waste time in repeating them. They can be read in a recent book called "The Battle of Crichel Down," published by the Bodley Head, if anybody wishes to pursue them further. They perfectly epitomise those facts the dangers which I am raising today. Never has the insolence of office, and not only the insolence but the crass ineptitude of office been more nakedly exposed.
But, alas, the case is not unique, for the remarkable thing about the Crichel Down case is that it is not remarkable. Hundreds of similar cases, perhaps on a smaller scale—but size makes no difference whatever to the principle at stake—are happening all over the country. Let no man imagine that because he does not own 725 acres these things do not concern him.
The main lesson, in my view, which Crichel Down has to teach us is this: it was revealed in all its nakedness only for two reasons. The first reason was that the aggrieved party, the victim, was a man of mettle and of means. The second reason was that the then Minister of Agriculture decided to order an inquiry—which he need not have done. All honour to him for that, and all honour to him for his grace and courage in resigning when the appalling story revealed itself to him for the first time in Sir Andrew Clark's Report.
Neither of those reasons could take effect in a totalitarian or even a Socialist State and the first is another example, if one were needed, that the sentinels of liberty have generally been men of substance. It is all too easy to tyrannise over a society of equals.
May I record the results of the Crichel Down case? The present Minister of Agriculture has reached many excellent decisions as a result of this case. Here are some of them. First, that his Department shall sell land in its ownership whenever it is sensible to do so and shall have-special regard to the claims of previous owners; and that, as a matter of fact, is as far as it can reasonably be expected that it should go.
Secondly, well over half the acreage which is now under requisition will be released as soon as the existing commitments permit. Thirdly, no further use of Section 85 of the Agriculture Act will be 2440 made; that is, the Section which deals with the compulsory purchase of requisitioned land. Fourthly, references to the Agricultural Land Commission will in future be made not under Section 84, which confers compulsory powers on the Minister, but under Section 68, which does not. Fifthly, no further compulsory purchase of land will be made under Sections 16 and 17 except as an extreme sanction, which of course there must be. Sixthly, the Agricultural Land Commission, which then managed about 226,000 acres, has been instructed to equip and to ask the Minister to sell as much of that land as possible.
For this relief, much thanks. It all agrees with what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer reaffirmed last October, when he said:The present Government believes in the duties and responsibilities of the land owner, whether he be landlord or owner-occupier. It recognises land-ownership as a trust. We do not believe that Government Departments have a monopoly of capacity in this field.Everyone who knows my right hon. Friend knows that he does not speak with two voices and that he means what he says.
What can be done? Other countries have different and more effective ways of protecting the individual. There is the Conseil d'Etat, in France. It has been described in a recent book by Professor C. J. Hamson, called "Executive Discretion and Judicial Control." I would respectfully refer my right hon. Friend and others interested to that book. It is to be noted that in 1951–2, which, I suppose, are the last years for which figures are available, 4,000 cases were referred to the Conseil d'Etat, most of them of the kind to which I am drawing attention this morning. Let no one say that administrative injustice is so infrequent that no reform is necessary.
Perhaps better for our system, however, is the American Administrative Procedure Act of 1946. Its working is described in a book by Mr. Bernard Schwarz, "Administrative Procedure in Operation," 1954. The provisions of that Act are very much in point and I would respectfully ask the Law Officers to look at it most carefully.
But there are some procedural reforms to which, in my view, there can be no valid objection by anyone who is 2441 sincerely jealous of the rights of the individual. All of them have been advocated by competent bodies and some of them have been set out by the Law Society and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in a Memorandum which was submitted to the then Lord Chancellor as long ago as 1952.
I am confident that my noble Friend who now holds that office will take some action on it. Do not let us forget that when he was Home Secretary he did away with literally hundreds of controls over the liberty of the subject and that much has been done in the last three-and-a-half years to get rid of executive powers which have no place in a free society in peace-time. Much has been done but more must be done, and if there is no time this Session, I ask my right hon. Friends to declare that they will make it a first priority next Session or in the next Parliament.
Here are some of the suggestions which I make. Needless to say, they are not made for the first time. I have not invented these; I am merely summarising them. First, all whose rights or amenities are threatened should be expressly informed well in advance so that they may prepare to defend them if they so wish—and, of course, they must have an absolute right to be heard. Secondly, the inspectors or tribunals should be chosen from a panel appointed by the Lord Chancellor so that they shall be independent of the Minister who makes the decision.
Thirdly, the Minister concerned must clear the lines before and not after the hearing with all the other Ministries which may also be concerned. The views of all these should be made known in advance to the parties interested and should be subject to cross-examination at the hearing. Fourthly, the objector or appellant must always be allowed professional assistance, should he wish it. Fifthly, the normal rules of discovery should apply so that all relevant documents should be amenable for disclosure, at least to the tribunal or the inspector. Sixthly, the aggrieved party and the tribunal should have the right to subpoena any witness, who should be amenable to cross-examination, with safeguards for privilege in necessary cases, such as where civil servants give evidence before a Select Committee.
2442 Seventhly, in spite of Arlidge's case, the Donoughmore Committee recommended that inspectors' reports should be made available to objectors. These reports must contain all the facts proved at the hearing and should be published in advance of the Minister's decision, for the main purpose of the inquiry is to satisfy those whose interests are involved that the relevant facts, the whole of the relevant facts, and nothing but the relevant facts have been put fully and impartially before the Minister. Obviously, that purpose cannot be fulfilled if the objector has no idea what is contained in the report.
Eighthly, the Minister should always give his reasons if he dissents from the inspector's recommendations, and if those reasons are found to be based in part upon facts which were not adduced at the hearing, the objector must have a further opportunity of rebutting them, except when the Minister can certify that to give reasons would be prejudicial to the national security. "Silent enim leges inter arma." Ninthly, the Minister's decision should also state under what legal power it is made, so that the objector may be satisfied that, if it is discretionary, the Minister has not exceeded his discretion. Tenthly, the inquiry should be held with the utmost promptness and the decision given with the utmost speed.
§ Mr. Longden
Under this procedure. All these decisions should be subject to an appeal as of right. The two bodies to which I have referred advocate rather timidly "a review by Parliament" as being "worthy of consideration," but I go very much further. I suggest the setting up of a permanent administrative appeal tribunal. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford will fill out that argument because it is one of the suggestions which is made in "Rule of Law."
In addition to the above reforms, I suggest that discretionary powers should always be so drafted that the courts may construe them as qualified rather than absolute; that all statutory provisions, which preclude the High Court from inquiring into any alleged excess of jurisdiction should be forthwith repealed, and, finally, that the tribunal should 2443 always be empowered judicially to award costs—because in these days only the well off can afford to fight the State.
That brings me to another cause of extreme hardship and injustice to the individual owner of property. So many hon. Members opposite appear to have what I may call a "Low" idea of the property owner and the landlord, with their fat cigars, fatter bellies, top hats and hooked noses. Let me remind them in the new world of today Mrs. Woolett is very much more typical of the people of whom I am speaking than is this hideous figment of Low's imagination. The second cause of hardship and injustice is the effect of notices of intention and of designation of property for future planning use. This effect is simply to sterilise the property. If the owner wishes to continue to occupy it the sword of Damocles hangs over his head; if he is not in occupation to begin with, or wishes to move to a more easeful situation, he cannot sell his property except at a sacrificial price.
I know of one owner who, while he and his wife were away at the war, had his house requisitioned. During requisition he could not re-occupy or sell the house. Immediately after de-requisition it was designated, and now no one will touch it with the end of a barge pole. If there must be inequality of sacrifice, it seems especially wrong that those whom the war took away from their homes should suffer more than others who, equally valuable though their services may have been, could at least stay at home.
Another example is the case of a constituent of mine who paid £7,500 in 1947 for 3½ acres of land for use as a market garden. Two years later, just as it was getting going, the Middlesex County Council served upon him a compulsory purchase order because it wanted to build a school there. A price of £3,000 was agreed, and, in addition, he had an agreed claim for £3,650 for loss of development rights. That was in 1950. To this day the Council has not completed the purchase, and the Central Land Board cannot therefore pay over the claim. My constituent can make no use of his land, he is out of his capital, and he tells me that he is now living upon the National Assistance Board.
§ Mr. H. Brooke
Will my hon. Friend be able to give me further particulars of that case? I should like to look into it.
§ Mr. Longden
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. Perhaps he will be good enough to wait until I have finished what I have to say about this acquisition. The Council's ostensible reason for failing to complete is that there is some dispute about an occupier who is alleged by the vendor to be a tenant-at-will, but I cannot help feeling that this matter need not have taken five years to resolve, and that the real reason is that the Council is in no hurry to build the school and could not care less how long the vendor has to wait. The legal advisers of my constituent agree that the Council has behaved unfairly. I should use a stronger term. I shall be raising this case with my right hon. Friend.
Then there is the case which was mentioned the other night by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip—Northwood (Mr. F. P. Crowder), which concerned the projected extension of the D-Ring road which, I suppose, is the road, shaped like a D, which runs round London. It would mean the compulsory acquisition of a large track of territory, including 200 dwelling houses, all constructed within the last 20 or 30 years. The compulsory acquisition would mean the destruction of those dwelling houses, which are all owner-occupied by people who have invested much of their life savings in them.
The point is that this road will not be built for about 20 years, even if the Minister finally approves it. In the meantime, none of the owners can do anything whatever with his house. If he dies, it cannot be sold; if he wishes to retire and move to the seaside, it cannot be sold, and if he wishes to change his occupation and live elsewhere, it cannot be sold.
§ Mr. Longden
Because no one will buy it. Of course, it could be sold for £5—if the hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that that is a fair price. Such cases can be multiplied by the thousand, and it cannot be right that they should exist.
I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local 2445 Government has informed the London County Council that the symbols upon the County of London Development Plan,except where the site can be precisely defined or where a whole area is programmed for redevelopmentare no longer to be used. Those marks upon plans are the modern version of mortmain. I should like my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to state whether this will be the general rule throughout the country. At the moment there is considerable scope for abuse.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I am trying to follow the hon. Member's argument with great care. Will he suggest what he thinks should happen in the case of a house which has been requisitioned for 20 years hence? I presume that he is not arguing that people should be allowed to buy such a house and pay an inflated price for it without knowing what a short life it has. How does he propose to deal with this problem?
§ Mr. Longden
If the right hon. Gentleman will only wait I shall come to that point in a moment.
I was saying that what looks remarkedly like a racket in property seems to be developing among local authorities. It is quite open to them to blackmail owners of property which they wish to acquire, and, having acquired property from one owner at a low price, to sell it to another at a profit. Because they might think it nice to do something sometime with a parcel of land, it is open to local authorities to keep off all other comers perhaps for 20 years.
The Law Society's suggestion, made in March, 1953, should be accepted by the Government. It is that local authorities should be prohibited from re-selling compulsorily acquired land at an enhanced price and should be compelled to offer it back to the original vendor at the original price if they do not want it. After all, that is what has been more or less accepted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries as a result of Crichel Down.
It is quite often enough for a private developer to submit plans for development to the local authority for that authority at once to turn a surprised but greedy eye upon the land and take steps to acquire it itself. That has recently happened in a case at Gravesend, in- 2446 volving London County Council, where the owners had actually had their development plans passed. It is very scurvy behaviour, and very typical, too. All too often these local authorities behave like the dog in the manger, or an irate parent forbidding the banns.
The owners of property in the Green Belt affected by this designation should be paid at once whatever is their due for loss of development rights and hereafter there should be no further question of development in the Green Belt. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government will be as jealous of the Green Belt as was his predecessor. I suggest, therefore, though only tentatively, either that land designated for development should have to be taken up within a certain reasonably short period or, and perhaps in any event, the owner of such land should be able to serve a purchase notice upon the acquiring authority which should be bound forthwith to acquire the property at a fair price.
That brings me to the third and last of my points, namely, what is a fair price? The compensation which is awarded to the citizen who is deprived in the public interest of his land and livelihood is, in many cases, derisory. The basis of compensation on compulsory purchase is now the existing use value at the date of the notice to treat, plus the established Part VI claim, if any, at 1947 value, plus interest. There may also be claims under the Lands Clauses Act, 1845, for severance and injurious affection, and under the Agriculture Acts for disturbance. Now there may also be a claim under Section 35 of the 1954 Act where there is no established claim but where, in the opinion of a "person" at the Treasury, there would be one if it had been duly made. This is purely ex gratia and all that can be said of it is that it is better than nothing.
But all these learned provisions do not seem always to do the trick. I do not want to weary the House with an endless recital—for it would be endless—of hardship cases. Every hon. Member must have them in his own constituency. Can it be fair that a man should buy an old property for £200 and spend money on it to make it a decent home, and then be offered 10s. or £1 compensation? Can it be fair that a man should have invested 2447 £3,000 a few years ago in a small business and now be told that he will be lucky if he gets £50?
Then there is the lady who has been given notice to quit a farm where, for over 30 years, she has built up an attested herd of Guernsey cattle which provides her whole livelihood. The price offered for the part which she owns, that is, 1.8 acres, including a house with a 180 ft. frontage to the main road and a depth of 320 ft., was originally £2,250 but has since been reduced to £2,100. There was a Part VI claim for £1,200 which would have been in addition to the offer but, unfortunately, the notice to treat was served on 15th July, 1946,so she loses that. It does not seem to me right that the community, in order to aid and abet its no doubt admirable purposes, should remove a person's livelihood and 12-roomed Georgian house and give her sufficient to buy a small cottage. I do not know whether Section 35 of the 1954 Act can apply to her case, but no doubt her own Member of Parliament will be taking the matter up.
In the matter of compensation, the Government decided to turn down the suggestion that the time for claiming under Part VI of the 1947 Act should be extended. They were probably right. The sooner that lamentable chapter is closed the better. I am talking about the financial motives, not the planning ones, When I say that one can sympathise with some of the motives underlying the 1947 Act. But, how clumsy was the attempt to put it into practice. It was as if one's watch needed repair and one had given it to the plumber.
Unfortunately, however, that chapter is not wholly closed. The legacy lingers on in the form of the 1947 "ceiling," which remains as one factor in determining compensation due in respect of a compulsory purchase. Not only would a complicated administrative structure become redundant but the unconscionable gap between the compulsory purchase value and the current market value, which obtains on sales by private treaty, would disappear. It is that unconscionable gap that causes all the trouble. In some cases it may be partly, but only partly, filled by the gracious edict of some mandarin in the Treasury. Even so a gap remains, and the whole system 2448 is like a fish out of water in a free economy.
Surely the answer must be to pay a man the fair market value of his property at current rates. If his surveyor and the district valuer cannot agree, an appeal should be open to an independent and impartial tribunal. If that is not the answer, I should like to be told what it is. I beg the Government to consider this matter as one of urgent priority and to introduce the necessary legislation to remove these injustices as soon as possible.
I thank the House for a patient hearing to a speech which I am all too conscious has been far too long. I hope I have not exaggerated the case. We are still living in a country in which there is more liberty and less licence than anywhere else in the world. During the war we necessarily surrendered many of our personal liberties. After the war we continued to be deprived, largely unnecessarily, of some of those liberties but. since 1951, many of them have been restored.
I feel that it is because we have not clearly seen the effects of some of our recent legislation that the grievances which I have raised are suffered to continue. Let us open our eyes before it is too late. It is easy enough to float on the tide of inevitability. Let us beware lest the outrage of today becomes the accepted commonplace of tomorrow.
§ 11.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
I beg to second the Motion.
The House and the country should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden) for his very clear and comprehensive survey of this very important problem. I am sure that it will be generally conceded that public opinion is sensitive and disquieted on this subject of compulsory acquisition of land. That is perhaps natural where there is, or sometimes appears to be, a conflict between the public interest and private rights and personal feelings.
I am anxious to avoid extremes in this matter. Extreme positions are frequently taken up. One extreme is represented by the suggestion that all compulsory purchase of land is unjust, unnecessary and malevolent. There is the other extreme of suggesting that all opposition to com- 2449 pulsory purchase is the selfish opposition of land owners and property interests. Both extremes seem to me to be unrealistic. What is needed in this problem, as in so many others, is a cool analysis and calm consideration of constructive possibilities of improvement.
As the House knows, there is nothing new about compulsory acquisition. I do not intend to take the House back to the unhappy precedent of I Kings, 21. I do want to refer hon. Members back to the 19th century, when powers of compulsory acquisition became part and parcel of the normal economy of this country. It was inevitably so, not only because of defence requirements—which already existed—but because of the great public improvements then going on, notably railways, tramways and so on.
It was, in fact, under the Conservative Government of Sir Robert Peel that the Land Clauses Consolidation Act was passed in 1845 to regularise the procedure for necessary compulsory purchase of land. The railways, of course, afford the classic justification for having some powers of compulsory acquisition; they would otherwise tend to go through the country in rather a serpentine way instead of in their present fashion. Compulsory purchase in those days was by means of the promotion of a Private Bill in Parliament. There was, therefore, full Parliamentary control for each individual purchase, together with what would nowadays be considered to be a generous code of compensation.
Later in the century, with the extention of local government activity, the Public Health Act, 1875, passed by Disraeli's Conservative Government, gave powers for local authorities to acquire land compulsorily, and instituted a new procedure called the Provisional Order procedure which combined inquiry by the then Local Government Board with a measure of Parliamentary control. That was a very cumbrous procedure, and in this century we arrived at our modern form of compulsory purchase order originating in the Housing, Town Planning Act, 1909. To show my fairness and objectivity in this matter, I may say that that was not passed by a Conservative Government.
The compulsory purchase order procedure is nowadays reasonably standardised by the Acquisition of Land 2450 (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946,and by rather similar provisions appearing in the Housing Acts. The broad characteristics of this procedure are, first, that there is a right of objection and inquiry; second, that a compulsory purchase order is subject to Ministerial confirmation; third, that there is no direct Parliamentary control, as there was in the case of the old private Bill procedure; and, fourth, that the supervision of the courts is strictly limited to two matters. Those two matters are, first, where it can be shown that the order is ultra vires altogether, that is to say, not within the statutory purposes of the enabling Act; and, second, where there is some basic procedural irregularity that invalidates the whole transaction.
That being so, I think that the following considerations emerge from our history of compulsory purchase. First, in our modern community some power of compulsory acquisition is necessary. Next, being burdensome on individuals, it should be reduced to a reasonable minimum; and there is a duty on Parliament to see that there is fair compensation. Lastly, as the procedure has evolved spasmodically and not on any set pattern, there is obviously considerable room for improvement; and this procedure should now be overhauled with that in view.
I always hesitate to speak of the average citizen, but I would think that the view of the average citizen on compulsory purchase is that, while he accepts its basic necessity in certain cases, he demands first, a fair trial or hearing into his objections and his point of view, and, if his objection fails, he demands fair compensation.
What are the ordinary Britisher's ideas about a fair trial? I should think that these are the basic and minimum ingredients. First, the cause should be tried judicially and openly. Secondly, the material facts should be established by evidence and subjected to cross-examination. Thirdly, there should be no representations behind the backs of the parties—or no representations behind the back of one of the parties. Fourthly, there should be a reasoned decision related to the evidence and the arguments presented at the trial. Fifthly, no one should be judge in his own cause.
I should like for a moment to compare present practice against those basic 2451 ingredients of a fair trial. May I here say that I am confident that, in the ordinary way, in the vast majority of cases, every effort is made to provide a fair hearing; and that where there is failure, the failure is due, not to malevolence or ill-will, but to faults in the system which it is our duty to seek to correct and improve?
There are, of course, variations on the main theme; but in the ordinary case one has an acquiring authority—very often, but not necessarily, a local authority; other authorities also have powers of compulsory acquisition. Secondly, there is a confirming authority who is a Minister, such as the Minister of Housing or of Education—a great many of them have these powers. There is notice of objection and a public inquiry or hearing into the objections.
An inspector, appointed by the Minister, and normally on his staff, presides over the hearing. There is evidence which is properly taken, but, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, there is no specific right of subpoena. It is true that under Section 290 of the Local Government Act, 1933, the person conducting the proceedings has the right to compel attendance. but there is no right of subpoena, as such, available to the parties.
Worse than that is the fact that evidence may be supplemented either before or after the proceedings by communications which are outside the ordinary rules of evidence. A particularly bad instance of this—and I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries present, as is also his predecessor in title on the other side of the House—is the body called, I think, the Provincial Land Commissioners—a somewhat ominous title I have always thought—whose habit it is to give written observations which are not cross-examined and which cannot be checked by normal frensic processes.
The next characteristic is that the inspector who presides over the hearing does not himself make the decision. He makes a report, but that report is not available to the parties. The Minister, as confirming authority, makes the decision. It may or may not be a reasoned decision, or, in the language of the law, a speaking order. It is not necessarily 2452 specifically related to the inspector's report or recommendation, arising out of his hearing of the evidence and arguments. That is the normal procedure, and, I venture to think, the procedure operating at its present best.
As the House will appreciate there are some cases, such as those under the Defence Acts, where there is no machinery for objection or inquiry at all. Although I have taken the case where there is an acquiring authority and then a confirming authority, there are, of course, cases where the two are the same; and there, very clearly, the acquiring authority is judge in its own cause. On that I should like to refer the House to the provisions of Section 37 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, which reads:
"Where any land is designated by a development plan under this Act as subject to compulsory acquisition by any Minister, local authority or statutory undertakers, that Minister or authority … may be authorised to acquire that land compulsorily in accordance with the provisions of this section." It goes on, in subsection (3):The compulsory acquisition of land under this section may be authorised … in the case of land designated by a development plan as subject to acquisition by a Minister, by that Minister.In other words, if land is needed by the Post Office or the Ministry of Works no one else comes into the picture at any time or in any way. The land is wanted for the Department; the Department appoints an inspector to hear the proceedings; and the Department makes the decision. There cannot be a clearer case of the principle of being judge in one's own cause.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I generally try to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman's interjections, but here I think he has gone a little wide of the subject. I am coming to one or two of his more relevant interjections in a moment. Perhaps he will forgive me if I pass from that one which, no doubt, owing to my own slowness, I do not follow.
I should like to add, on the matter of a judge in one's own cause, that even in the more normal case which I have been describing, although they are not technically judge in their own cause, the 2453 confirming authorities—the Minister of Housing and Local Government or the Minister of Education, if land, for example, is needed for housing or for schools—have a certain occupational bias. However, this of course does not go quite so far as making them technically judge in their own cause.
Perhaps I may briefly make some suggestions for improvement. I do not think anyone wants to go back to the private Bill procedure. We certainly do not want to go back to the Provisional Order procedure, which is too cumbrous. We must accept the method of the compulsory purchase order, but we must also seek to make it conform more to our ideas of judicial propriety.
First of all, the material evidence, including that of Government officials and people like the Provisional Land Commissioners, ought to be given at the hearing, and should be subject to cross-examination. Next, there should be no written representations behind the backs of the parties. If any written representations have to be made before the proceedings, they should be disclosed and communicated to both parties. Further, as my hon. Friend has said, the inspector's report should be available to the parties. He mentioned Arlidge's case, which is the authority for saying that it need not be so available. Arlidge's case was decided by the House of Lords in 1915. It was a war-time decision, and war-time decisions make bad constitutional practice. After 40 years, Arlidge's case ought to be reviewed by Parliament so as to ensure that those reports are made available.
A further point to which my hon. Friend referred is the desirability of having a panel of inspectors, not on the staffs of individual Departments, but under the Lord Chancellor. I hasten to say that I do not think they should all be lawyers; but they should be centralised in that way, under the administration of a particular Department, and their status and emoluments should be increased to correspond more nearly to the importance of the work that they are doing.
There should be in each case a full and reasoned decision by the Minister. My hon. Friend said that that already happens under the Education Act and the Road Traffic Act. There is no reason why that should not be accepted in 2454 general practice. At any rate, such a decision should be available, if asked for by the parties, who would then be able to compare the Minister's decision with the inspector's report on the evidence and arguments heard.
Those improvements, which are all very simple, would go a very long way; but we must also make rather better provision for supervision by the courts beyond the methods of certiorari and so on to which my hon. Friend has referred. There is at present a tendency to limit the jurisdiction of the courts in these matters and to deny the citizen access to them. I want to read this very brief passage from a recent case in the High Court. The learned judge said:I may say here I am sure that everyone must have very great sympathy for the plaintiff who has to leave the house which she and her husband have occupied and owned for a total period of some 30 years.It does not appear in the judgment, but this case concerned an old lady 80 years of age who was dispossessed of her house in order that a housing estate could be rounded off by the local authority.
The learned judge went on:I have no doubt that it has resulted and will result to some extent in hardship for her. It is perhaps unfortunate that from time to time the rights of private individuals have to be sacrificed in the interests of public necessity. It goes without saying that powers such as this should be exercised with the greatest possible care, and it is essential that the court should keep a careful watch on the way in which powers provided by this and similar Acts are exercised.If it is essential for the court to do that, it is essential that this House should see that the court gets the opportunity to do so. We could remove much public mistrust and anxiety on this point if there was proper provision for the reasonable supervision of these proceedings by the courts. Therefore, I suggest the constitution of an appropriate Administrative Division of the High Court to exercise this supervision.
I may give the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) the reassurance that they would not review policy. It is not the business of the courts to review policy, because that is the function of Parliament. They would be able to review the findings of fact and the inferences of the inspector, and also review the Minister's decision in so far as 2455 it purports to be based on facts or inferences therefrom.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
To some extent as in the French system, yes. It is a very good system, which could be adopted and operated by an Administrative Division of the High Court without any difficulty and with great advantage, not only to the citizen, but to the civil servant; because, once he overcame his initial unwillingness on this matter he would find, perhaps to his surprise and certainly to his gratification, that the public would regard him with less suspicion and mistrust as they would know that his actions were being supervised by a trusted and familiar judicial procedure.
There is one further recommendation that I should like to make. It would be right, in my view, to extend the provisions of legal aid to these proceedings with regard to compulsory acquisition. After all, in the ordinary way it takes two to make a quarrel, and both of those two may qualify for legal aid in the ordinary case in the High Court. But it only takes one to make a compulsory purchase order. The person who is the victim of it is not at present entitled to legal aid.
I think, with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West, that that is more important than the provision for costs. The trouble about costs is that it is a two-way system. If provision for costs is made for the successful resister of a compulsory purchase order, it is difficult in logic to say that the authority would not normally be entitled to its costs where the order succeeds.
May I add one word about what my hon. Friend so well said about designation for compulsory purchase, which is a town planning matter? It is quite true that the idea of designation in itself was quite sensible. The object was to give clarity and forewarning of planning intentions. But, as my hon. Friend has said, the effect unfortunately is to sterilise land, and it may sterilise it for upwards of 10 years, because a development plan cannot be confirmed if land is designated which will not be actually required for 10 years. Ten years is a long time, however. It is only seven years in the case of 2456 agricultural land, but it is 10 years in the case of ordinary land. If designation is to go on, it may be that that period ought to be reduced, because there is a very real hardship, especially in the case of death and forced sale by executors at a considerable loss.
My hon. Friend has referred to the Sword of Damocles. It is said that at one of these proceedings to which we have been referring counsel cross-examined a witness of the local authority, and said, "Do you think it right to keep this man under the Sword of Damocles?", to which the witness replied, "Damocles? I do not know him. I do not think he was in the Department in my time."
§ Mr. G. Brown
May I put to the hon. Gentleman the question which I tried to put before, and which I do not think has been dealt with? I concede what has been said about the sitting owner. But in altering his position as suggested, one may make it possible for an incoming purchaser to buy what is colloquially called a pig-in-a-poke, and one may transfer to him the risk of paying a certain price on the assumption that the property is worth more than it actually is. What is proposed to cover that situation? The Pilgrim case was, in a sense, that sort of case.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, and I was going on to deal with that point. Of course, as he will appreciate, and as the House will appreciate, the validity of his argument is based on compensation being inadequate, because there is no such hardship in a new purchaser being bought out if he is to get fair, full and adequate compensation.
The bad thing about designation is not the fact that it is done in order to give some fair warning, but that it has overreached itself, in that the fair warning looks too far ahead. It is not only that. The technical designation—I have to be a little technical at this point—for compulsory purchase is limited to 10 years. But as the House will appreciate, in addition to designation, it is customary to programme the land in a development plan, and that programming period goes up to 20 years and sometimes more.
When we have a land programmed for a public improvement, even in 20 years. 2457 value is struck off the land straight away. It is important to reduce the period of programming, particularly as the programming at this stage generally covers far more land than will ultimately be required. This matter has been dealt with authoritatively by Mr. Michael Rowe, Q.C. Some hon. Members know of his great experience in having had the forensic duty of promoting the County Council of London Development Plan.
I wish to say a final word on the subject of compensation. There are three elements in compensation for the compulsory acquisition of land: the value of the land taken; damage to the remaining land by reason of the severance of the land taken; and disturbance. The law as to disturbance, I venture to think, is quite satisfactory, but the law as to the value of the land or property taken, as my hon. Friend has said, does not work so well.
The House will recall the stages through which the code of compensation has passed. In the late 19th century, it was the value to the owner plus 10 per cent. for a forced sale. After the Assessment of Compensation Act, 1919,compensation was the market value. Now it is the existing use value plus whatever remains of what is called the unexpended balance of development value. In other words, what is left of the admitted claim for loss of development value under the 1947 Act. The difficulty is that it is unlikely, and will become increasingly unlikely, that the sum of the existing use value and the development value will approximate to the market value, for various reasons.
Many people do not make a claim at all, as we know. As my hon. Friend pointed out in referring to the "Pilgrim Clause," Section 35 of the 1954 Act, is purely discretionary. Secondly, if they did make a claim, it may have been excluded under the so-called de minimis provisions of the 1947 Act. Thirdly, where they have an admitted claim, it is anchored back to 1947 conditions and values. As long as we get the development value anchored back to those past conditions, the greater the gulf between market value and compensation as time goes on.
We shall have more and more cases of people buying land or property in good faith at market value and then being dispossessed at something less than what 2458 they pay for it, and less than its value in the ordinary market. Therefore, I think that sooner or later Parliament will have to look once again at this code of compensation. I hope that it will be sooner rather than later, and that we shall not have to wait for someone to hang himself before attention is directed to this matter.
I must apologise for having detained the House for longer than my wont; but I plead, in extenuation, that this is a subject in which I have taken considerable interest and to which I have given considerable thought. It is of great importance that Parliament should seek to find a solution which will reconcile, so far as may be, public interest with private rights.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I think that it may be convenient if I deal with the short town planning point which has been raised. That was the proposal that town planning programming should be shortened. The only effect of shortening it would be to switch any loss of value resulting from that programme from the seller to the purchaser. I think that it would have an additional danger. It would spread the field of uncertainty, and thereby depress values generally.
I believe it to be important that programming should be as far in advance as it possibly can be,so that people may be in a position to make a general assessment as to what are the prospects for land which they propose to buy.
Having dealt with that short point, I am bound to say that, in listening to the two speeches which preceded mine, I was surprised at the confusion which seems to have come into the Tory Party. It is odd, indeed, that the Tory Party should come here and demand the institution in England of the system of droit administratif. That is something that one would not have expected from the Tory Party. Not only would one not have expected it from the Tory Party, but paradoxically I think that it would not be a good thing. The whole system of droit administratif, which works reasonably well in France, is based upon a different conception of what the judicial function is.
A great many of the decisions for which the Minister appoints an inspector—and I would point out that it is an inspector 2459 and not a judge—are policy decisions. The question whether a certain plot of land is reasonably required for housing purposes is not a judicial one. It is a policy decision, and should be taken in the manner in which one makes policy decisions. The parallel is not to a court of law, it is to Parliament.
When the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) said "Here we have a Minister being a judge in his own cause," I pointed to the Government and said: "Are they not always being judges in their own cause?" That is because the function of the Minister and the Minister's inspector is parallel to the function of Government. They have to decide matters of policy. It would be perfectly possible for a Government, instead of having a debate in this House about their proposals, to have a public inquiry about them, to call all the witnesses affected, to refer the matter, if one likes, to courts set up under a system of droit adminis-tratif, but ultimately that Government would have to be the judge in that cause. They would judge their own proposal.
I do not believe that the Government would be well advised to abandon the system of debate and to go over to a bastard system of judicial inquiry. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, Southwest (Mr. Longden) has proposed an elaborate system, including independent inspectors, discovery of documents, rules of evidence and all the other machinery of judicial trial. It would all be bogus, fundamentally, because the Minister is the person who is going to decide, and he is the person who is inquiring as to the rights which he proposes to exercise.
I think that it is the greatest mistake to go through it. It would involve great expenditure. It would involve enormous delay, and when the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West suggested that this would be a quick way of arriving at decisions, I was certainly astounded. It should be understood that the inspector's job, the inquiry job, has to be exercised by Government for Government and of Government right, with regard to property. That is a function analogous to debate in this Chamber. The object of debate is to bring before the Government all the facts and arguments that may be relevant to their decision. So the inspector is entitled, by means of evidence, of what would not be called 2460 evidence in the courts, or by means of letters or of any other methods by which the inspector chooses, to get the Minister the best information he can in order to arrive at what is fundamentally a political decision, which can only be a political decision, and which should not be confused with a judicial decision.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not concede that there is any judicial, or what is known in the jargon of the law, any quasi-judicial function imposed on the Minister either? The effect of the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument is to go back on the principle as at present understood. He is saying that this is a purely political decision. Then why have any right of objection or any inquiry at all if he does not concede that there is a quasi-judicial function?
§ Mr. Paget
The hon. Gentleman argues whether one should go towards a more judicial facade or a less judicial facade. I was putting the argument—and I congratulate the hon. Member on having the wit to appreciate it—that there should be less judicial facade. The quasi-judicial function which is referred to is a judicial function for a Minister to decide judicially what his policy is, and that, fundamentally, is not a judicial problem. I do not think that it should be given the appearance of a judicial problem.
What is important is that everybody should have the opportunity to bring to the Minister, in any way he likes, the facts which he feels may influence the Minister in the policy decision which he is about to take. That is the function of the inquiry. It is equally the function of a debate in the House of Commons, and it is in that sense that the information should be brought to the Minister.
If the Minister decides wrongly, then the sanction is a political sanction, the sanction of this House, which dismisses him from his office. That happened in the Crichel Down affair, but with regard to that affair, I would say this, and I will give way to any hon. Member on the point. Can any hon. Member tell me what conceivable human right was infringed, involved or challenged over Crichel Down? Crichel Down was an instance of outrageously bad property management.
§ Mr. Paget
By the then property owner, whichever public body it was that owned it. I have forgotten its name. The Ministry of Agriculture worked through a body which I do not remember, but there were two or three bodies involved. The whole thing ended up in an outrageous muddle in estate management and waste of public money. That was the trouble over Crichel Down. And there was certainly no justifiable allegation, so far as I could see, that any right of Commander Marten or of anybody else had been infringed in any way.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
As the hon. and learned Gentleman has thrown out a challenge, may I accept it and answer it in a very few words? The right violated was the right of every citizen to have a decision affecting him, his liberty or his property taken on facts which are true and properly ascertained and on inferences which properly flow therefrom. That is what was not done in the Crichel Down affair, and which could have been corrected by the procedure which we advocate today.
§ Mr. Paget
That would be a political and not a judicial right, and, in any case, it was not Commander Marten's property. It was the Crown's property, and the Crown made an awful mess of it.
There is one other staggering thing. I am told that it has now been decided by the Ministry of Agriculture, with regard to any land which may be held by it as trustee on behalf of the Queen, that it shall be disposed of with special regard to the rights of previous owners. What are those rights? Is this a suggestion that the previous owner shall buy more cheaply or more advantageously than anybody else? What is the "special regard" which will be available to him and nobody else?
I would remind the Ministry of Agriculture that, where it holds land, it holds it as trustee for the community. It is breaking that trust if it gives a priority to anybody else. I hope, therefore, that we shall hear more about this alleged new direction which seems to me to be the clearest breach of the trust which the Ministry holds on behalf of the community, concerning the administration of land which it holds on behalf of the Queen.
2462 Finally, I come to what I think is the fundamental question here, and the fundamental confusion in the minds of hon. Members opposite. It is this. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, Southwest said that a widely distributed ownership was a bastion of liberty. I say that that is the utmost nonsense, and no Tory ought to disagree with me in that. That is basically the Lockian heresy, which is to the effect that human rights are based upon property rights. That, I understood, is the fundamental opposite of the Tory conception in the belief of which I was brought up. I often find myself here a great deal better Tory than hon. Members opposite.
The Tory conception in which I was brought up is that rights are the appendages of duties, that those duties are the duties which arise from the status of citizenship within the State; that property rights are an invasion of the general right of the people of England to the land of England; and that property rights exist only as a limitation of the general right to the land of England.
In my conception the King, all through history, has stood as the representative of the rights of the citizen as a whole, and their liberty has depended in the main on the power of the King to curb the over-mighty subject. Right through history we have had the over-mighty subject impinging upon the power of the Throne at the expense of the citizen. So we had the acquisition of Whig power—"The power of the King is increasing and ought to be decreased", not for the benefit of the citizens, but so that it might be exercised irresponsibly by the Whig oligarchy.
That power, in its turn, was taken over by the captains of the Industrial Revolution. All this acquisition of property has been the activity of the over-mighty subject limiting the rights of the citizen. When we had a Socialist Labour Government in power it won back from the over-mighty subject a great portion of that which he had filched from the Crown throughout the years, and returned it to the Crown. Realise this—in property none of us owns anything in law. We are tenants in fee simple of the Crown, not owners, but tenants. That is the uttermost right that is recognised. But the right of the tenant against the Sovereign had become far too big.
2463 My idea of property—this indeed was my father's idea—is that it is something which one holds in trust for the community and for the benefit of the community. Where the community decides that it is required for some public purpose my rights as a property-owner are not infringed because the only rights I have are as a trustee for the benefit of the community. I believe that is somewhat solid Toryism which is more necessary to be handed out to the party opposite than to my party.
I believe that the function of landlordism in agriculture has broken down. The great period of agriculture was the period of the ducal estates. That was an ideal agricultural system. We had there the great estates managed with a sense of responsibility by men who, in general, were passionately keen about the countryside, and farming done by the tenant farmers. But that system of landlordism has broken down. Now we have an absurd and unworkable patchwork pattern. If we are to make agriculture work we shall have to recreate the great estates, and we can only do that by the public acquisition of land.
Crichel Down has taught us not to create estates faster than we have the capacity to manage them. Therefore, any suggestion that by a stroke of the pen we should nationalise agricultural land is ludicrous. We cannot do any good until we have created our management capacity. That is something we must do as we go along. But if our agriculture is to be prosperous, as it once was, and to lead the world, as it once did, we shall have to recreate those estates, and they will have to be public estates.
Secondly, with regard to housing, again the function of landlordism has broken down. We have created a situation in which the only interest of the housing landlord is to get his house empty so that he can sell it with vacant possession. The result is that, in a grave housing shortage, we have never had so many empty rooms. We have a rigidity of tenure which is making houses unusable. Meanwhile, they are falling into decay because the "rotten turnip" Repairs and Rents Act has failed miserably, as we told the Government it would. There is only one answer—more acquisition of land. If housing is to 2464 be used properly in the interest of the community, it has to be municipalised.
So far from going back here, we have to go forward. We have to realise that this does not concern liberty, that property does not belong to the individual—it is a trust for the community, and when the community decides that another trustee is necessary, that decision is one which should be effected simply and with a minimum of fuss. At the same time there should be the political right to petition, which is the right of debate and the right to bring every relevant factor to the attention of the Minister, or the Government, before he decides. We should get on with that system, expand it, and not fetter ourselves with the essentially "phoney" droit administratif system, introduced from France, where it was evolved and worked fairly well, but which here, imposed as an alien law, would be a disaster.
§ 12.48 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Medlicott (Norfolk, Central)
It is always interesting to listen to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget),but not always easy to follow him. I was particularly impressed by his reference to the position of property-owners as trustees. We accept that; indeed, we have often proclaimed it as a basic conception of the ownership of property, but even trustees are entitled to fair treatment.
The arguments which have been put forward by the hon. and learned Member are characteristic of the very kind of thing we complain about on behalf of the ordinary citizen. We have been treated to a learned, but complicated, series of theories about political rights, judicial rights and quasi-judicial rights. What the ordinary citizen complains about is that this whole business of compulsory purchase of land has become cluttered up and confused by such legal and political arguments that we have taken away from the citizen the basic right of knowing where he stands. All he knows, in case after case, as a result of the application of these complicated arguments, is that he has been done out of his property. The issue seems to me quite as simple as that.
In the far off days when the party opposite stood as champions of the rights 2465 of the individual, there was another hon. Member on the benches opposite who, I think, expressed this matter rather more clearly—to say the least—than has the hon. and learned Member for Northampton. That was Will Crooks, a greatly respected Labour leader, who said, "The Englishman's greatest freedom is the right to bang to his own front door."
That right no longer exists. At least, one can shut one's front door, but one will find that it can be immediately opened by one of a hundred or more officials armed with powers of compulsory acquisition. One may well find that one's property is taken away at a price bearing no relation to its cost, at a figure assessed by or at the instance of a Government Department who will decide the issue without affording any effective right of appeal to the courts of justice.
I do not suggest for a moment that powers of compulsory purchase cannot be allowed to exist. The time has long gone by when one man could hold up some urgently needed improvement in his neighbourhood. But we must recognise that by compulsorily taking away property owned by an individual, we are interfering with something which is fundamental to the principles held by hon. Members, at least on this side of the House.
If we have to take away property from a man, we should not do it upon the fictional basis that it is a sale by a willing vendor to a willing purchaser, because in all these cases it is a sale by an unwilling vendor to a willing purchaser. That is something which we should bear in mind. I am not suggesting that there must be no upper limit to the price paid, but that the method of calculating the price is not correct at the present time.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
If the hon. Member does not approve of the calculation of the price upon the method of willing vendor, willing purchaser, how should it be calculated?
§ Sir F. Medlicott
Obviously, some better machinery must be set up, and no doubt we shall hear a number of suggestions put forward today about alternative proposals. I do not pretend that, in my humble capacity as a back bencher, I can provide the answer to a problem 2466 which has baffled all parties and every Government Department for years past. All I am saying is that we are faced with a basic injustice when we assume that there is a willing seller, because he is not a willing seller. We have here a valuation by a Government Department or the Government valuer—on the basis, which I have criticised, of a sale by a supposedly willing vendor. That is the low figure. On the other hand, we have the figure asked by the vendor himself. I do not think it impossible to arrive at a formula which will give an equitable mean figure between those two extremes.
Perhaps at this point I may be allowed to quote an example from my own constituency. There, the Air Ministry has acceded to requests that it should alter the position of a great runway, the flying from which has caused distress to people in Norwich and the surrounding areas. To do so, the Ministry has had to extend another runway into the country, which has involved the demolition of a number of houses, and property belonging to market gardeners. I am glad to say that the Air Ministry has behaved with great fairness, and indeed generosity. But, in spite of the fact that it has been able to deal adequately with a number of claims, in the case of one nursery gardener it has not got anywhere near the right figure.
It will cost this man £6,100 to move to another nursery garden where he can begin to earn his living again. That figure has been calculated on professional advice and is regarded as modest and reasonable. But, on the formula which the Air Ministry is obliged to apply, it has so far been unable to pay the man more than £4,500, so that we have a difference of £1,600 which he will be out of pocket. If there is a gap of £1,600 in a case where the Department has, in my opinion, acted quite fairly and even generously within the limits of its powers, how much more serious must be the gap in cases where that generosity is not so clearly apparent?
I hope I have said enough, in answer to the quite proper interjection by the hon. Member, to indicate that this assessment of value is not a matter incapable of solution. The real difficulty is the vast difference of opinion between the two sides of the House about what we want to do. Where we take property away from a man who has no wish to part with it, I say that we should be willing to be more than 2467 generous, even though that may not accord with certain theories of professional valuation, and so on, because we are taking away from him some fundamental right.
Without wishing to be too critical, I would say that when, as in the case of my constituent, we have a situation in which a man will be £1,600out of pocket, that amounts to little less than confiscation. It is all very well to call it compensation, but he is only getting £4,500 compensation; the remaining amount of the value of the property is being confiscated.
Other hon. Members wish to speak and I do not want to detain the House for long, but I would conclude with a word on the importance of the principles here involved. We on this side of the House believe fundamentally in the value of ownership of property as a means of helping to preserve freedom. We know that it can be abused, and that it has been abused in the past. But I consider that not too high a price to pay for the value which flows from the existence of private property.
If that right be not allowed to exist, it means, ultimately, that we are all tenants of the State. I was interested in the argument advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, that, in fact, all property owners are simply tenants of the State. With respect, that is a metaphysical argument. We know that the hon. and learned Gentleman was referring to the legal situation in which a freeholder is described as being the owner of the "fee simple." But that is a purely academic, legal argument. For all practical purposes, the owner of the freehold or fee simple is—or was at one time—the absolute owner against all comers.
There was a time when there was a real air of independence about the term freehold land—"to hold unto and to the use of the purchaser, his heirs and assigns, for ever"—as the lawyers put it. That was something permanent, something on which could be built the house which was to be the Englishman's castle. But great changes have taken place. Our Liberal forefathers used to sing the Liberal land song, "God gave the land to the people." We now need another verse, "The town planners are taking it back." 2468 We believe that it is only by the existence of a sufficient number of individuals who can stand squarely on the ownership of their own property that there can be a reserve of strength against the encroachment of the State upon private and personal liberty. It is because we believe that the powers of compulsory purchase conferred on Government Departments offer too great a power to interfere with this bastion of liberty that I welcome the Motion so eloquently moved by my hon. Friend.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I must begin by joining issue with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) on both his history and his politics. The history of this country has shown many examples of the struggle of ordinary people against tyranny, and tyranny has taken many forms. It is not true, as he says, that the only tyranny which has threatened the liberties of our people has been that of the great landlords. The State, the King, the Executive, have many times formidably threatened the lives and liberties of the ordinary people, and if there is a threat to their liberty today it does not, in my view, come from powerful individuals, but again from the Executive and also from certain powerful corporations, public and private, which have grown up within the body politic.
As was said by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden), when moving the Motion, it has usually been men of some substance who have stood up against that tyranny. I do not say they were men of very great wealth, but it has been the peasant proprietor, the yeoman type, who has resisted that tyranny, and I certainly believe that some degree of property is essential to the full development of a man. to his well-being and his liberty.
I am horrified to hear the hon. and learned Member for Northampton saying he looks forward to the day when this country will be inhabited by a property-less proletariat run entirely by officials. That is apparently what he wants, and, apparently, that is prevented from realisation now only by the fact that there are not enough officials. I am bound to say that I dissent from his view, and I believe that a large proportion of his own party would dissent from it, too.
2469 I remember that this subject, whether property is essential to liberty, was discussed by the Council for Civil Liberties, and that debate was eventually finished by Mr. Low, the cartoonist, who said that he was in favour of property at least to the extent that he intended to retain his ownership in his own toothbrush. That may indeed be the minimum, but some property is essential to the well-being of ordinary people.
I think that the House owes a great debt to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West and to the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), who moved and seconded this Motion, both for having introduced it at all and for the way in which they did so. I do not want to speak long, and I should like to direct most of my remarks to this very important point, whether we should overtly go in for some form of droit administratif and have a system of courts on the French model.
I say "overtly." because we have that to some extent already. Droit administratif has crept in since the days of Dicey, but I doubt whether it should be encouraged, and I would ask those who are in favour of it what exactly they have in mind. The hon. Member for Hertford was in favour of a court which would have the power to review the facts presented to the Minister and which would have power to judge whether the Minister, in a case referred to him, carried out the proper procedure.
However, the hon. Member was careful to say he did not want to take away political responsibility from the Minister. I must confess that I am not really very clear where the distinction is to be drawn. Is a case to be taken to the court after the Minister has given his decision, or is it to be taken to the court instead of to the Minister? At what point in the process is this court to be able to intervene?
On this point at present I rather agree with the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton. The tradition of this country is to keep as far as possible a reasonable distinction between the Administration, the Judiciary, and the Executive. If we were to alter that, there would be far-reaching effects—rather too far reaching, no doubt, to be decided on a Friday afternoon. I 2470 do not think we should necessarily break down our system and tradition, but a great deal can be done to improve it, and many suggestions to that end have been made today.
I suggest that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton was right in saying that fundamentally a great many of our difficulties are the effects of political decisions. If that is so, are we satisfied that our political machinery is correct? I suspect that a great deal of the trouble arises because so much legislation is passed through this House without proper consideration. So many Orders go through this House, as we know, without any consideration in detail at all, and their effects are very often very different from those which we expect. I suspect that a large part of the trouble over town and country planning was due to the fact that the effects of the Act were not thought out.
Moreover, local authorities are hopelessly overweighted with work. In my experience they cannot always carry the burden put upon them. The result is that many errors creep in. I rather agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton that fundamentally the trouble about the Crichel Down case arose because of bad administration; though I do not go so far as to say no personal injustice was involved. That is the fault of this House, to my mind, because we put on to officials jobs for which proper machinery is not set up, and a great burden of work is imposed upon them.
I wonder if the House could not set up a Committee of its own to examine Orders, and possibly a Committee to examine disputed cases of compulsory purchase as an alternative to some form of conseil d'etat. I agree with the hon. Member for Hertford that the right of appeal to the courts should be extended. I believe that one of the arguments against that is that these matters are technical matters whereas the courts are legal bodies fit only to examine legal points; but courts like the Land Court in Scotland, which have assessors who are expert in agriculture, are the sort of courts which could act in some cases of the compulsory purchase of agricultural land. I know that delay in these matters is a danger, and it is a danger which we should not rule out.
2471 We have to draw the distinction between the administrative and the judicial functions. That is a better line of approach than the bringing in of the droit administratif. When an inquiry is held into the compulsory purchase of some land it has not really a judicial function at all.
I would wholeheartedly agree on improvements which have been suggested in the conduct of inquiries. I think the inquiries should be well advertised in advance and that the grounds of the decisions should be made known, and that the reports of the inspectors should be made available. However, we should bear in mind that they are not fundamentally judicial operations, and we should try to unscramble some of the confusion there is between the administrative and judicial functions.
I am not an expert on these matters, and there are experts here who may be able to correct me, but it seems to me that an example is the position of the valuers who advise the local authorities when they are thinking of compulsorily purchasing land and at the same time are to some extent arbitrators between the authority and the vendor. I think that the valuer's position is thoroughly unsatisfactory. I cannot see why, if there is a dispute about the valuation between a local authority, or whoever it may be who is trying to acquire the land, and the owner, it should not be taken to an entirely impartial tribunal, whose function in such a matter would be entirely judicial. So, in the case of agricultural executive committees, if they want to take over a man's land, I do not think there is any objection to giving a right of appeal to a court which is of the nature of a land court.
I pass to the question of compensation. Here I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Sir F. Medlicott). There are very serious difficulties when it is well known that development is to take place in an area, and that a 10-year period has to elapse. I do not think there is any completely satisfactory answer to the points raised by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). The only solution we can insist upon is that the compensation should be generous, and that it should take into account the loss of earnings or some other of the difficulties which are 2472 put in the way of the owner of the land by its being taken from him. Although a good deal of lip-service is paid to this principle, not much is done about it.
There was an example in my constituency, where a local authority was willing to pay a price perfectly acceptable to the vendor, but it was told it could not pay it without risking surcharge, because the valuer had put a lower price on it. I personally reject the idea that a true price can always be put on by the valuer, because I do not think there is any price other than the market price. It is difficult to see how one can find out what the market price is without testing the market. However, I think that the local authorities should be encouraged to be on the generous side.
I would draw attention to the fact that the Government have a Bill going through the House, the Crofters (Scotland) Bill, under which they give power to the Crofting Commission to take a croft away from a man and pay him no compensation. Nothing I can say will induce the Government to give power to pay compensation, in spite of the fact that we are very concerned about the matter. Certainly the crofter is not the owner of his land, but he has security of tenure, and the croft may be part of his livelihood. If we are to be generous about compensation we might start there.
The phrase "public interest" is always brought into these discussions. Part of the public interest is that private rights should be respected. It is not necessarily the maximum agricultural production and the widest and straightest road that are the only public interest; it is also the feeling that this is a fair, decent country and that while property is ultimately a trust and it is our duty to exercise our trust for the benefit of the community, nevertheless we have our rights; and it is our business to see that they are not arbitrarily removed, particularly from people who are less well able to look after themselves than others. That is part of the public interest.
I would put two points on the other side of the argument. I do not accept that if property has been acquired in the public interest, a fair price paid and the matter amicably settled, that the vendor or his family has a right to first 2473 refusal if the property is offered back to the public. There may be a question of convenience, as in the case of Crichel Down, where the offer of first refusal to Commander Marten was the natural thing to do. But generally speaking, once land has passed into public control at a fair price, the main interest is that of the public.
Lastly, we ought to put in a special caveat against the criticisms which have been made, not in this House and certainly not by the mover or seconder of the Motion, but elsewhere, against the Civil Service. The fault in these matters is ours. It is fundamental in this country that Ministers and Parliament are responsible for what they do. This should be borne in mind when we are discussing administrative courts. The Minister should not be able to hide behind the court. Otherwise we shall not be able to make him answer questions or make his life a burden until he does. At any rate, we should not be able to do so as easily as now. Despite all the trouble that it involves—and there are troublesome cases—our confidence in the Civil Service should be maintained at all times.
A very large proportion of the success of this country is due to the fact that it has the best Civil Service in the world. If that is so, it must be given protection. At the time of Crichel Down there was a demand that Civil Service minutes and letters written privately in the Department should be produced. That would not be right. People put things into minutes which have an entirely different complexion when brought into the light of day.
Injustices should be eased as fully as possible, but let us keep responsibility where it belongs. The fault, and there is grave fault, in the abuses which have grown up in dealing with private property are those of this House and of the Government. I still believe that we can cure a great deal of the evils which we have talked about today if we get back to fundamental principles concerning the responsibility of the people who make decisions, and re-establish independent appeals.
§ 1.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
I support the criticisms which have just been made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) of the state- 2474 ments that were made earlier in the debate by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). From my own knowledge of English history I should have thought there had been countless examples of men of property acting in the interests of the community and of the country. One has only to think of the meeting between the barons and King John at Runnymede.
Like hon. Members opposite, I do not oppose the principle of compulsory purchase. The only difference of opinion between the two sides of the House is on the method by which compensation should be arrived at in regard to the dispossessed owners of property. Two principles ought to be kept in mind when people are to be compensated in these circumstances. The first is that the individual concerned is entitled to receive an equitable price for his own property. Secondly, he should receive adequate compensation for being shifted out of it.
This applies particularly to the man with a business. We have not given sufficient consideration in the past to the compensation that should be paid to a man with a business who has to be shifted out of it because the land is required for some other purpose. I do not think that any strict rules are laid down. Sometimes the assessment is that he should get two or three years' profits. In many cases, the assessment is extremely low. I heard of a case not long ago where the profits for only eight weeks were taken as the basis of assessment when shifting a man out of his business premises. It was most unfair.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland was right in saying that compensation should be generous. Particular attention should be paid to the mental disturbance which is caused to owners of property in these cases. It is difficult to estimate the consequences of mental disturbance, and the State should, therefore, pay compensation generously rather than in a niggardly way.
I sit for a constituency which suffered very severely during the last war. Like many other hon. Members with similar constituencies, I find that a considerable part of my time is taken up with problems arising out of compulsory acquisition of property. I will not take up the time of the House with particulars of the cases which I have ventilated in the last 18 months, of constituents who have claimed 2475 compensation under the wrong Section of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. It is scandalously unfair that legislation should be enacted whereby a person who has suffered in such a manner or in any other manner should be deprived of his property without compensation because of some failure to claim at the right moment, for whatever reason.
There have been cases in my constituency where compensation has not been paid, or has been claimed under a Section of this Act which has subsequently proved to be the wrong one. The local authority, when drawing up its plans for rebuilding the city, allowed for compensation to be paid for those properties. When fixing ground rents for sites under its rebuilding scheme, it benefited from the fact that it had paid previous owners nothing at all. In effect, therefore, part of the cost of the rebuilding schemes has been borne entirely by the small business and property-owners who had suffered. It is scandalous that such a state of affairs should arise. I am not blaming the local authority. Unfortunately, as legislation stands at the moment, the local authority cannot do what it thinks right with the property of such people who live within its boundaries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden) referred to property which has been designated in his constituency and which has not yet been settled. I have got a case—I think I am right in saying more than one case—in my constituency where notices to treat were served in 1938 and the person concerned, for various reasons, has not yet been able to effect a settlement with the local authority.
I think it is absolutely disgraceful that notice to treat should be served unless the property is required at that particular moment. If it is subsequently proved that the property is not immediately required, then I think that the notice to treat should be withdrawn and a new one served when the property is required. Otherwise the sword of Damocles is hanging over the owner's head for years and years.
§ Mr. H. Brooke
My hon. Friend must remember that in what is he saying it is the Exeter City Council that he is criticising. No Government Department comes into this matter which he is mentioning.
§ Mr. Williams
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, but all that I am saying is that it is disgraceful that legislation should be enacted to allow that state of affairs to continue, and that in the future legislation should not be passed by this House to permit of such a state of affairs.
In conclusion, I should like to say that I think the whole House, and indeed the country, is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West for introducing this subject, and I hope that the points which have been raised during the course of the debate will be borne in mind by the Government in any future legislation that may be necessary.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Smith (Nottingham. South)
I will not detain the House for more than a few minutes. Indeed, I would not have intervened at all but for the appalling, reactionary speech of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I much prefer the approach of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams). After all, he did not go any further than saying that, if anybody was to be compulsorily removed from his property, compensation should be on the generous side. That is only human nature and proper decency, with that I would agree. Even though my approach to property and its ownership is completely different from that of the hon. Member for Exeter. I will assent to what he said.
But the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland made a different approach, in the absence of which I would not have spoken. His was a most appalling exhibition of class selfishness. His approach was not empirical, like that of the hon. Member for Exeter. He started laying down an abstract proposition to which he expected the House at this time to assent. He said that some property was essential to the well-being of the ordinary person, and that without some property the ordinary individual could not have a sense of personal well-being. But what is the nature of the property with which we are concerned? It is income-producing property.
§ Mr. Grimond
I should like to make it clear that I was not necesarily thinking about income-producing property. There is much property which is not 2477 income-producing, and what I was saying was that some property—or, if the hon. Member likes, possessions—is essential to ordinary human decency.
§ Mr. Smith
I do not see how any but income-producing property could be concerned here, when we are dealing with compensation, because compensation takes the form of money that can be invested at interest.
If the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is right, that a man cannot fulfil his functions unless he is possessed of some property, then, to make sense of the Motion moved by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden), I suggest that the property must be income-producing, and that what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is saying is that a few of us shall have this kind of property which can produce an income because the rest of us have not got it. That is an appalling piece of class selfishness in this mid-20th century. When I was young I read the works of a Frenchman named Saint Simon, who laid it down that property was robbery.
Where the hon. Member gave himself away in the most appalling fashion was when he said that it was better, on the one hand, that anybody who had a bit of property should be convinced that this is a fair and decent country, presumably because he would not be disturbed in his ownership, than that the road upon which he travelled should be the widest and the safest—
§ Mr. Grimond
I am sure that the hon. Member wants to get on to his financial view, about which we all know, but before he does so I must again point out to him that what I said was that if we were considering the public interest there were other considerations besides, for instance, the straightness of the road. I merely gave as an example the straightness of the road. One of the other interests may be whether a person is able to get ordinary justice when his property is condemned. Does the hon. Member not agree with that?
§ Mr. Smith
I have a note here which will stand up to any investigation, and the hon. Member referred to the widest and safest road.
But the other comparison made by the hon. Member was even more damaging. He denied that maximum agricultural production was as important as the deep conviction in the mind of the freeholder that the freeholder was not to be disturbed. We can have all sorts of dollar deficits and even be short of food rather than that a freeholder should be disturbed.
It is necessary to approach this matter in an empirical manner and not make the ownership of income-producing property a legal and political faith, almost a religion. The days are gone when any hon. Member of this House, with the possible exception of yourself, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, holds such obsolete views.
§ Sir F. Medlicott
Does the hon. Gentleman deny the right of the working man to own the house in which he lives?
§ Mr. Smith
No, I have not said anything that would induce the House to think that I want to take away a man's house if he lives in it. All that I am saying is that no abstract, doctrinaire ideas about a man's freehold being more important than the welfare of the community should be allowed to influence a matter of this sort. That is all I have said, and the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Sir F. Medlicott) knows perfectly well that is what I said; but he is another Liberal and they are even more reactionary than the Tories.
§ 1.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
I am not going to join in the onslaught on the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), because I want to deal, first, with some of the points 2479 he raised about the suggestion for an administrative division of the High Court, referred to by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden). The House may well think that that is a matter of very great importance to discuss. Also, he did at least appear to have some sense of "natural justice" and its application to administrative decisions.
I was, however, astounded to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who, I regret to say, is not now in his place, and who is, after all, a member of the legal profession, saying that it was absolutely bogus to suggest that we needed a right of appeal as the natural legal right of the citizen with regard to administrative decisions. When he talked about it being reactionary, and suggested that such matters should be dismissed, he was going back further than anybody in the debate, even to the seventeenth century and the great struggles for liberty to which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred.
What was perhaps the most astounding statement of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, and which showed a misunderstanding and cleavage of opinion on the question of natural justice in these matters, was when he said that no rights were violated by the behaviour of certain civil servants as revealed in the Crichel Down inquiry. That I thought was a remarkable statement, and I should like to refer to the Report of the Crichel Down public inquiry, page 31. paragraph 24, and to read what was, in my opinion, the most telling phrase in the report. It said:A most regrettable attitude of hostility to Lieut.-Commander Marten was evinced by"—and then it says by whom—and to a lesser degree by certain other lesser junior officials. There was no excuse whatever for this attitude. Lieut.-Commander Marten acted perfectly properly throughout and was merely endeavouring to stand up for what he conceived to be his moral rights. This attitude was engendered solely by a feeling of irritation that any members of the public should have the temerity to oppose or even question the acts or decisions of officials of a Government or State Department.The House should bear that in mind when considering the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, 2480 South-West (Mr. G. Longden) that what is really required by the citizen is to know, in the first instance, the case which he has to meet, and, in the second instance, that he will have a fair hearing of his complaints or representations.
§ Mr. G. Brown
The hon. Gentleman should be fair to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), even if he is not here. The point on which he challenged hon. Members opposite was to disclose the right which was infringed in the case of Commander Marten. What the hon. Gentleman has done is to read a passage from Sir Andrew Clark's Report which said that Commander Marten was made to suffer hostility on the part of civil servants. That is not what my hon. and learned Friend asked, and, with great respect, it does not answer the point. The point is, what actual right which Commander Marten had in that property was infringed by anything which anybody in the Ministry did?
§ Mr. Neave
The right of a fair hearing of his representations in this matter. Unfortunately—and this is not intended to be a criticism of the Civil Service as a whole—the conduct of the officials concerned displayed no acknowledgment of that right.
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will expand on the rights which, I say, and which some of my hon. Friends have already said, the citizen is entitled to, and which would be protected by the proposal that there should be an administrative division of the High Court. The passage to which I have referred shows the atmosphere in which the whole of this unsavoury business was conducted.
I think that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton rather suggested that the power of the Executive should be something similar to what we, I thought, during the past few generations had been trying to whittle down to a position wherein the citizen has certain essential rights. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West drew attention to dangers which have grown up over many years past.
They were first noticed by Lord Hewart in "The New Despotism," a book which I have no doubt many hon. Members have read, and which is a land- 2481 mark in the history of the growth of administration in this country. Lord Hewart said that nothing was more repugnant to the English mind than that authority should be irresponsible or uncontrolled, or that it should operate at leisure or in the dark. They are very picturesque and telling phrases, describing what we feel to be the essential attitude of ordinary persons to Executive authority.
Lord Hewart thought that this was an incontrovertible need, and I think that he would have been very surprised by what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton. He thought it obvious that anybody employed in an administrative capacity should not be entrusted with judicial duties in matters connected with his own Administration. The phrases used by Lord Hewart express, far better than I can, the way in which I think we ought to approach this whole question of the compulsory acquisition of land.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West—in what I think the House will agree was an excellent speech, and one to which he had obviously devoted a lot of research—referred to the recent case of Mrs. Woollett. I, too, am going to refer to that case because I think it is of importance and of interest to the House. It is quite clear from the case—which was decided quite recently—that if the reasons for retaining Mrs. Woollett's land had been stated openly and at an earlier stage, they would have been seen quite obviously to lend weight to the essential right of Mrs. Woollett to her land.
Since the reasons of the Minister ought to be something which could be reviewed by the High Court, then if. as I have suggested, we had an administrative division this sort of case would not arise. I share the fear of other hon. Members that there is a possibility that similar cases may arise again if these matters are not put right.
The facts of the Woollett case were that in 1947 Mrs. Woollett bought a plot of land on which to start a smallholding. It was part of land already requisitioned. In 1949, the Minister announced that, as a matter of principle, he would release the land. On the strength of that statement, Mr. and Mrs. Woollett started to spend money on equipment, and so forth, 2482 and considerably improved the land. Unfortunately for them, six months later the Minister completely changed his mind, and said that the land would not be released. Mrs. Woollett and a number of other people concerned with the land appealed. That was only after one year's consideration by the Minister. They were unsuccessful, and in October, 1952, the Minister issued a certificate, which he was entitled to do, empowering him to purchase the land compulsorily.
Mrs. Woollett then started an action in the High Court. Public opinion was sufficiently concerned about this matter to compel the Minister to release the land. His reason for that decision should have been communicated to Mrs. Woollett at an earlier stage. Such circumstances, I am going to suggest, would not arise if we had an administrative division of the High Court. There should be no confusion between the proposal for an administrative division of the High Court and the taking up in this country of the doctrine of droit administratif They are quite separate matters, and I will develop the point in a moment. In fact, we are not taking up the doctrine of droit administratif, but are setting up a new machinery for reviewing Ministerial decisions. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that they are different matters.
§ Mr. Neave
Quite clearly they are. Droit administratif is a body of law relating to the conduct of officials. This is not a body of law which we are setting up, but a mechanism by which the rights of the ordinary citizens can be protected and by which the reasons given by the Minister can be reviewed together with all the facts.
§ Mr. Paget
Surely, if it is proposed to appoint a division of the High Court to deal with administrative questions of a semi-judicial character, one would, in that process, build up a series of precedents and thus develop an administrative law. In fact, we should be setting up a division to deal with what is administrative law already. It is exactly what the French do.
§ Mr. Neave
No, I do not think that that is so. The French have a code of conduct for officials and civil servants, a body of existing law, which, as the 2483 hon. and learned Member knows is applied upon the basis that it exists as a body of law. This is a totally different affair. This is a suggestion that a High Court judge should preside over an administrative division of the High Court in order to review certain decisions according to the law of England—the common law, if one likes—and the facts of a particular matter. That is a totally different proposition, and I am surprised that the hon. and learned Member does not see the distinction, because, quite clearly, there is a distinction.
I do not know whether, at this stage, I can advance in great detail this proposal to set up an administrative division of the High Court, but I should like to answer the question raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, namely, at what stage would a person be allowed to appeal to that division? He asked whether it would be before or after the Minister had made a decision. The answer must surely depend to a great extent upon whether or not there had been hearing before a tribunal. It is suggested that the subject would be entitled to appeal to the High Court in cases where there had been no preliminary hearing by a tribunal, but simply a Ministerial decision. It is suggested that the court would have power to call for a statement of the facts upon which the disputed decision was based.
For example, if a taxi driver had his licence refused and wrote to the proper authority to ask for the reasons, and those reasons were either not given or were not regarded as fair, he could then appeal direct to the High Court without the intervention of a tribunal, and an order could be made. This is merely a proposition, and I am giving only such details as can be discussed at this stage, but it is clear that a different situation would arise if there had already been a hearing by a tribunal and the Minister had afterwards made his decision.
It would then be the task of the administrative division of the High Court to review the finding of fact and see whether the tribunal and, subsequently, the Minister—if he had made a decision as a result of the hearing before the tribunal—had fairly applied its findings, and also whether his decision had been made within the legal powers conferred 2484 by Parliament. It is surely the right of the citizen to know whether such a decision had been made in that sense, and also whether the Minister's discretion had been reasonably exercised.
To sum up, the suggestion amounts to the court being given power to review findings of fact and to consider the reasons of the tribunal and the Minister for arriving at their decisions. This suggestion is certainly well worthy of consideration, and it might afford the type of protection to which the citizen is entitled. I have dealt as well as I can with the points raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland about the position of the Minister and his decisions.
I now turn to the difficult subject of compensation. Under Section 35 of the 1954 Act an additional payment upon an ex gratia basis is not granted as of right, but is paid only if it can be shown that a claim to the £300 million fund would have been met if it had been made. It must be paid unless, in the opinion of the "appropriate authority," it is not just and reasonable to do so.
Is that really sufficient, having regard to the possibility of hardship such as arose in the case of Mr. Pilgrim? It does not seem to me to amount to more than a kind of consolation prize which one might get if it is agreed to. There is no right to this extra payment, and I do not think that there is any appeal from a decision not to pay it. The question, therefore, is whether our approach to these matters should advance towards providing the citizen with the right to fair compensation, regardless of what some authority might say about an ex gratia payment being "just and reasonable."
In appropriate cases, this procedure might well prevent hardship, but does it generally meet the principle that compensation should be fair and at the full market price? I know that a great deal of anxiety about this matter exists among small owners of property, and it may be that the Government would like to express their views whether Section 35 goes far enough.
The House should be very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) for raising matters which have given rise to a most interesting discus- 2485 sion. I find myself at variance, both from the legal and philosophical points of view, with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton because of his views upon the need for an application of these principles of natural justice to administrative decisions, but the debate has at least raised matters of which the Government should take note, and which may lead us further along the road to more liberty for the subject in matters of property.
§ 1.46 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
I hope that the House will forgive me for intervening at this stage. I offer my apologies to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden) and the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay)—who, I understand, is to wind up—but as I have a long-standing engagement with the Free Churches in my constituency, it is just possible that I shall have to leave to catch my train before the debate is concluded.
At some stages this morning this Chamber seemed not so much like the great Mother of Parliaments debating a great issue but much more like a gathering of lawyers having a somewhat academic discussion among themselves. Indeed, at one stage the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West almost committed himself to the view that if there were any of us for whom this matter was too technical we might as well go out while those who understood it got on with the job. Speaking as a layman—and I am a lonely figure at the moment—I would remind the House that this place is really the people of England governing the people of England for the people of England—
§ Mr. Brown
Yes; I should not have forgotten that, and I accept the correction. While the experience of the practitioners of the law gives them a certain basis for giving us—the people of Britain—their assistance, there is no case for supposing that they know rather better than we what is required. We must bear in mind the fact that lawyers naturally tend to assume that they know so much more about these matters than we do because they work in the courts—which has really nothing whatever to do with the issue. 2486 That being so, I offer no apology for taking part in the debate as one who is not a lawyer. We all feel great sympathy, and get caught up in the emotions which are unleashed, when somebody, especially a small somebody, obviously gets hurt in the process of something happening which may or may not be of value to the State. I do not think that there is any difference between the two sides of the House, or between the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West and any other hon. Member, upon that point.
That is why I regretted the fact that he felt it so important, every now and again, to throw in some such remark as, "Of course, this thing happens under Communism or Socialism." The point is that, whether or not one regards oneself as a Socialist, one does not like it when Mr. Pilgrim, Mrs. Woollett or anybody else gets hurt by the operation of something which he or she cannot understand. No matter what is done, everybody has admitted—although the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West tried not to—that in the end there will always be cases where compulsory acquisition will have to take place, even in the case of property owned by small people.
When we get to that point, we can make the procedures as cumbersome and long-winded as we please, but it is very unlikely that the small person affected is going to see that someone else's requirement of his land is greater than his own requirement at the moment. Therefore, at the end of everything that can be done, I suspect that we shall always have this problem of somebody feeling that something has been taken from him of which he had greater need than others. If we put the proposed arrangements into operation I do not think that in the end we should be any better off than we are at the moment.
There are fundamental differences between us in the House about the way in which we approach this matter. I thought that the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) was a little patronising to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) about his view of the nature of property, and of property rights and where they stem from. The fact remains that my hon. and learned Friend's statement is a classical definition of property, its duties and its rights. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are flying in the 2487 teeth of all our great teachings by denying it.
When the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West says, as he did at the beginning of his speech, that the principles of natural justice should be seen to be followed, he is really using a phrase that may sound very well but means nothing at all. What are the principles of natural justice? My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who can always be relied upon for an appropriate aside if one is near enough to hear him, said that when in the Stone Age the gentleman clubbed the lady and dragged her by the hair into his cave, that was then natural justice.
§ Mr. Longden
The phrase "natural justice" has a meaning understood by the vast majority of the people. In the course of far too long a speech, I went on to describe what should be done to give effect to these principles, which is not being done now.
§ Mr. Brown
At no stage did the hon. Member define what he regarded as natural justice, and the point of the aside by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields is that natural justice is what is regarded as natural at the time. There is no great principle about it. It is a matter of what is accepted. The only great principle is that the occupation of property flows from the principles which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton was trying to establish.
§ Mr. Brown
I want to say something later about that, arising out of what has been said today from the benches opposite about Crichel Down.
The other basis on which the approach of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West seemed to go wrong straight away was the declaration that the ownership of property by as many people as possible is one of the great bastions of 2488 liberty. Speaking for those of us who have been always the vast majority in the country and have not owned property, there is no great evidence that this was a great bastion of liberty.
We have had to fight very hard to free ourselves from the tyranny which ownership of property by others enabled them to impose upon us. One is really flying in the face of all the history of the trade union struggle and of the working-class political struggle for 150 years if one says that the fact that somebody else owned property, which gave them rights which infringed upon our natural rights, was for us a bastion of liberty. Indeed, it was very nearly a badge of slavery. Therefore, in that sense, we in this House are approaching this matter from quite different angles and there may be no meeting of minds on it.
Even though we really regard the rights of the individual as necessarily subordinate to the rights of society as a whole, none of us wants a situation in which the rights of society produce endless hardship to the individual. In that sense, there is no conflict between both sides of the House. What we then need to do is to examine some of the examples and see whether such an examination leads to the view that a great change in the machinery by which society likes to look after the individual is required.
I do not think that there is anything at all in the argument that if we substitute an administrative division of the High Court for the responsibility of a Minister to this House we thereby strengthen the right of the individual or thereby improve society's arrangements. Lawyers know more about courts and judges than I, happily, do, but if it is to be argued—and the hon. Member for Abingdon came perilously near arguing it—that there is something about a court of justice which makes it better able to look after the rights of citizens than the House of Commons, it is an argument that strikes at the whole basis of Parliamentary democracy.
The theory must be that in the exercise of a Minister's executive duties—which he is assumed to be competent to exercise, though that may appear fanciful in some cases at the moment—he is legislatively qualified to exercise them. It cannot be argued that a special division of the High Court can be qualified to do that job.
2489 It may well be qualified to decide whether a Minister went outside what he had a right by law to do. But to ask the court to try to draw a distinction between reviewing the facts as the Minister has assembled them and the inferences which he has drawn from them is to lay on judges or lawyers a duty that they cannot possibly exercise, and one which, if they did exercise it, would be usurping our function in this House.
Somebody said in the course of this debate that this business of Parliamentary control is a fiction. The right hon. Member for Richmond, York (Sir T. Dugdale) does not regard it as a fiction at all. It operated in his case with great efficiency. He paid the price for having, either by his own conscience or somebody else's, been held not to have exercised his duties in a manner which people were prepared to accept as proper. Whether he paid for his own shortcomings or somebody else's is neither here nor there, but the whole doctrine of Parliamentary and Ministerial responsibility came into play.
Hon. Members opposite are not getting at a deficiency in the mechanics by which society looks after itself. They are getting at the occasional evidence of Ministerial incompetence or a falling below generally accepted standards. It seems to me that that matter will not be put right by having an administrative division of the High Court to deal with it.
Crichel Down was mentioned by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West when he opened the debate, and has been referred to once or twice since then. I thought that the hon. Member was extremely unkind to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent),when he described Crichel Down as a case where the insolence of office and crass ineptitude were exemplified. I am sorry that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is not here now, and I was surprised that when he was here when that remark was made he did not challenge his hon. Friend on it.
Those who keep referring to the civil servants concerned in the Crichel Down case must grasp the fact that the great point there was that every single Minister in that office was apprised again and 2490 again of all the facts during the whole history of the case. I know that the hon. Member for Abingdon has quoted from the Report of Sir Andrew Clark. Incidentally, Sir Andrew Clark was not the chairman of the inquiry but the single commissioner. I think that makes a difference to the validity of the Report.
I repeat here what I have said before: to anyone prepared to read the evidence given before Sir Andrew Clark it is impossible to regard his Report as anything but a travesty of the situation. One cannot make the Report tie up on matters of fact, on matters of description or on matters of the evidence that was given before him. That Report was written to fit in, not with the evidence given before Sir Andrew, but to fit in with his prejudices.
Although, as I have said before, I would not defend the conduct of the two civil servants, who had to pay for their mistakes, the fact remains that neither the Minister nor the Joint Parliamentary Secretaries—one of them is still at the Ministry and the other now holds another office in another place—could deny that they were fully acquainted. They went there, they saw, they investigated.
When there is talk of the infringement of right being an infringement of Commander Marten's right to have his representations properly heard, it must be remembered that he had interview after interview with the Minister. There was, therefore, no infringement of right. If the Ministers did not listen properly, that concerns the exercise of Ministerial duties. Sir Andrew Clark does not argue that the Minister did not hear Commander Marten properly, but refers to alleged hostility on the part of civil servants which has, I think, little to do with the case.
I do not think that Crichel Down supports this allegation of there being some weakness in the law. Nothing went wrong—there was no decision that went wrong—at Crichel Down. The land belonged to the Crown at the time when the question of its use came up. It had been bought properly and paid for, and additional compensation had been paid for disturbance and so on. At the time of the consideration of what was to be done with the land it was Commander Marten's no more than anyone else's. 2491 From then on mistakes, bad practices, arose in dealing with it. Those I do not condone in the slightest. There was no allegation of fundamentally improper practices until an outside firm of private enterprise—estate agents—came into the picture, and it is with regard to them and the steps which they took to arrange that the tenant of their choice should get the land that any argument of improper practice at all can arise.
There was nothing in the law that was wrong. The decisions were right—I think one can always argue whether decisions are right but that would apply also to this proposed administrative court. The decision of that court could still be as wrong as people may now like to think was the Ministerial decision on Crichel Down. At that stage there was nothing wrong about the way in which the decisions were taken.
What went wrong subsequently were the practical methods by which a tenant was found. That again, on the hon. Gentleman's own statement, would not be a matter even for this administrative court, because the facts would have been ascertained before then. It was an ordinary matter of day-to-day Departmental administration for which the Minister paid, and for which, I think, other heads also should have rolled.
I think it is no secret to the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) that he is not always one of my favourites here—I see that apparently it was a secret.
§ Mr. Brown
I was thinking of a previous passage at arms we had, and I only put it that way because of what I now want to say.
I found little in the speech of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West which at all attracted me. There was a good deal of ordinary emotion but very little evidence of really trying to tackle this problem. But the speech of the hon. Member for Hertford was different. I am not competent to argue the French experience and how much it proves, except that if one argues in favour of anything like the French droit administratif one has to remember that Ministerial responsibility in this 2492 country is wholly different from the position in France. Even though the droit administratif system may there work very well—and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton says that it does—we should be trying to introduce here something which has no relevance to the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility.
Where I felt that the hon. Member for Hertford was beginning to carry me with him was when he spoke of the inspectors who hold the inquiries and report to their Ministers. Speaking entirely for myself, I regard the existing arrangements for inspectors' inquiries and reports as being far from satisfactory. That is my own view. But I do not want to establish some authority in place of the Minister; that is to say, I do not want to turn the inspector into a tribunal. In my view that would clash fundamentally with the Minister's responsibility.
The inspector holding an inquiry ought not to be regarded as a tribunal. He is not there for the purpose of determining the issue. That is where the misunderstanding arises. When "The Times" commented, in a leading article last December, on two agricultural cases, it was pointed out—I think by Lord Ridley, but in any case in a letter afterwards—that the mistake made there was that the body inquiring into whether there were any additional facts which the Minister ought to know was assumed to be a tribunal.
That is the mistake which everyone makes. They go before an inspector at the inquiry, and no matter what is done to explain the position they tend to think that they are appearing before an independent, impartial tribunal. It is their annoyance about that that leads to a lot of the subsequent bad feeling.
I do not want such an inquiry to be turned into an independent impartial tribunal. It must remain the Minister's inquiry—undertaken by someone who goes there genuinely to see what facts there are additional to those already put before the Minister, and whether the alleged facts really are facts. I want that to be genuine. I hope I shall be forgiven by any past, present or future colleagues if I say that I am not always satisfied that at present that is so or that it can always be regarded as genuine.
2493 The idea of having a Department under the Lord Chancellor attracts me. It would be, I suppose, a sort of panel of inquirers who would do this job, owing no allegiance to the particular Minister at the time of the inquiry, but who would have a certain expertness in doing the job and presenting a report to the Minister. That does seem to have something to be said for it. I thought it probably the most constructive of all the suggestions made today. It is certainly one that attracts me very much.
If. however, the hon. Member wants to take that further—I was not quite clear whether or not he wished to do so—and turn such a person into an independent tribunal—and I thought all the arguments about publishing the reports and the evidence and the cross-examination and all that got very near to suggesting it—I cannot go so far. But on the first part I do agree.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Perhaps I may assist the right hon. Gentleman in this way. What is sought to be done is not, of course, to make the inspector in any way take over the functions of the Minister, nor to make the proposed administrative division of the High Court take over the function of decision. What is proposed is that the administrative division would be able to supervise the inspector in the discharge of his own function; that is to say, to see that his findings of fact and his inferences were correct. It would supervise the Minister, not in any policy decision, but only in seeing that, in so far as his decision is alleged to be based on facts found by the inspector, the decision does follow those facts. There would be no policy supervision or supercession.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Gentleman is now dealing with something with which I was trying to deal during his absence. For the reasons I gave then, I am not able to accept that.
If we have arrangements for assisting the Minister to ascertain all the facts, on the basis that they are presented fairly—which I am not sure can be done in this case—I prefer to rely on this House as the place to deal with a Minister who manages either to get the facts wrong or to make a wrong decision based on the facts. For that reason, I do not like to substitute an administrative 2494 division of the High Court for that arrangement.
The other general point with which I want to deal is the question of compensation. Of course, this is very largely the crux of the matter. If compensation were still not regarded as adequate and in the end a person still lost his property for what he regarded as inadequate compensation, he would be no more satisfied than he is at present. Therefore, the real crux of the matter is compensation.
Most hon. Members have used words approximating to those which the hon. Member for Hertford used, and which I took down. He said that I envisaged compensation not being adequate and that my problem arose from that assumption. He said that, on the basis of fair, full and adequate compensation, these problems would not arise. Those are nice general words, but they have to be turned into hard facts—into hard cash, indeed.
If we accept that compensation shall always be the market value, we have then to face the problem that market value becomes inflated when there is any question of compulsory acquisition by a local authority. Indeed, one of the reasons why nobody can accept this idea is that, if one does accept it, the community is held up to ransom in such a way that it is impossible to carry out projects which should be carried out in the interests of the community. That is why, over the years, some standards have had to be imposed by which compensation is judged.
There will always be some hard cases. I am not competent to argue whether we can accept as fair the standards laid down in the town and country planning legislation in the last few years, as it has now evolved with its reference to the unexpended portion, and so on, which I could never understand. No doubt, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will be saying something about that later. I am certain that nobody can ever accept a simple market value determined by what somebody will pay to get a property when that person knows that there is a chance of it being acquired at a later date. Therefore, we must find some other basis. We must provide for something less than that.
The moment we get something less than that, we get something less than what the 2495 person paid or something less than the owner expected to get for the property. Then this element of unfairness and dissatisfaction arises. The interjections which some of us on these benches have made about transferring hardship from the sitting occupier or the sitting owner to a future owner if we interfere with the town and country planning arrangements are quite valid unless one accepts the argument that the market value should be paid, no matter what it may be and no matter how it may vary between similar properties.
The attack upon town and country planning principles and legislation is one of the saddest things which have emerged in this argument. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West, in most of what he said, attacked the whole basis of the town and country planning legislation. The hon. Member for Hertford argued for the reduction of the period of programming. I gather that he does not object to the 10-year period for designation; his objection was to the programming which extended beyond 10 years. In seeking to do away with that, the hon. Gentleman was hitting at the basis of town and country planning which we have all accepted because the country got into an awful muddle before the introduction of town and country planning legislation.
One thing I should like to know is whether the Financial Secretary can tell us what are the chances of the Government speeding up the consideration and approval of the various development plans. I am told that only three have so far got through. Will he tell me whether I am right about that?
§ Mr. H. Brooke
This is a matter entirely within the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. If the right hon. Gentleman would care to put 2496 down a Question to him, I am sure that he would give the exact figures.
§ Mr. Brown
This doctrine that the Opposition should know the answer to every question that it asks cannot be accepted. It is not our job to give the answers because the Government do not happen to know.
There is a tendency in the House, as shown by this debate, to regard administrative tribunals which have grown up over the last few years as somehow inferior to the legal tribunals in this country. I do not accept that suggestion. Such experience as I have had as a trade union official over many years of these quasi-legal tribunals and the more conventional legal tribunals does not lead me to believe that the justice obtained in the administrative or quasi-legal tribunals is any less good or any more costly or any less satisfactory than the judgments delivered in the conventional legal tribunals. Indeed, in many cases the work would have been done much better before one of these tribunals than in the county courts.
I would commend to the House what "The Times" said about this on 18th December, and "The Times" has not had a very happy grasp of all this matter. But it did say one thing in the midst of its criticisms which I should like to repeat:Administrative tribunals, whose decisions are enforceable as law, have no doubt come to stay. They do, as a rule, dispense fair judgments—comparatively cheaply over a great range of subjects on which the Queen's judges have, and would claim, little competence to pronounce.I believe that we must accept that as a fact. These administrative tribunals do a job that the judges could not really do, 2497 and I see very little reason for criticising what they have done, or for arguing that their judgment is less good, from the point of view of the person who appears before them, than it would be if it came from the judges.
I also wish to emphasise that we cannot have a judicial review of administrative tribunal decisions, which is ultimately on policy—I think in the end it would have to be, otherwise I cannot see this distinction—and at the same time have Ministerial control of policy and administrative responsibility to Parliament, which is the basis of our whole thinking about these matters. I do not believe that we can have the two things.
§ Mr. Hay
I think that there is one point which is fundamental to the argument that the right hon. Gentleman is making. Very seldom do the administrative tribunals carry out policy. The rent tribunals, the agricultural land tribunals. the Lands Tribunal itself—these are extra-judicial bodies, outside the scheme of our courts, to investigate, by means of a trained and highly-skilled personnel, certain matters which will come before them as between two of Her Majesty's subjects. The question of policy, from the point of view of the Government's policy, does not really come into the matter.
§ Mr. Brown
In that event, much of the case put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite disappears. When a tribunal, particularly a tribunal concerned with the acquisition of agricultural land, takes a decision that involves some small occupier, smallholder or other person, in hardship, the attack develops on the question of taking the property at all and scarcely even on the facts. As someone said, in the case of Mrs. Woollett, the question was that whatever the grounds of the Minister's decision was known to be, it would always seem to be not as important as it was claimed.
If we were to have an appellate court to supervise these administrative tribunals, and this was done in the hope of helping and satisfying the people affected, the complainants, we should have to have some element of supervision over policy involved in it. Otherwise it would be what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton has called a facade, which would annoy even 2498 more, because the bigger the facade the bigger would be the dissatisfaction of the people when they found out that it was only a facade.
This is a fascinating subject on which we all feel deeply. We all know that in our modern life there is conflict between what one individual thinks to be his interests or rights at a particular moment and what society and those responsible for directing its operations think are the rights of society. Those interests are bound to come into conflict.
I do not share the views of hon. Members opposite who have supported this Motion because I do not think that it is the mechanics that are wrong. I do not think that it is the administrative tribunals that are wrong. I do not often think that it is policy that is wrong. Our real problem is that whenever an individual gets hurt in the operations of the great machine, nothing on earth will ever persuade him that he ought to suffer his hurt because it is in the interests of a larger number of people that he should.
So long as compensation is less than he could get, or thinks that he should get, in the open market, he will always suffer a sense of hurt. I think that we should do better to speak a little bluntly to people about this—while chasing Ministers whose standards of Departmental competence fall, as we did over Crichel Down—than to be deceived ourselves by the emotion which must cloud the issue.
§ 2.24 p.m.
§ Mr. C. N. Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), with whom I share the distinction of not being a lawyer, committed himself, in the course of his speech, to an astonishing statement. He said, if I did not misunderstand him, that because someone is affected by compulsory purchase, he is bound to feel a sense of injustice, and bound to be hurt and, therefore, there is not much good in doing anything about it and we would be better to accept the position as it is today.
The difference between him and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was that the right hon. Member for Belper wanted the processes of public inquiry and appearances before an inspector, and so on, to be genuine. 2499 The hon. and learned Member for Northampton thought that these processes were really a facade. He wanted to see less rather than more of this, as he described it, "elaborate judicial facade" than there is at present. What we on these benches want is to see that this is not a facade at all. We believe that these processes ought to be genuine, real and understood and that they ought to be just.
It is one of the national characteristics of the British people that they have a strong sense of justice. Speaker after speaker in this debate has spoken of our belief in the rule of law. We are deeply determined that justice shall be done, that justice shall be done impartially—and by that I mean that justice shall be no respecter of persons—and that justice shall be done manifestly and without fail.
Therefore, it is the more strange that by design or by accident, I know not which, we have in this country excluded from the field within which the rule of law runs, a large province of executive Government. We allow Ministers and civil servants in all too many cases to exercise a large measure of executive discretion without any kind of judicial supervision whatsoever.
§ Mr. Paget
Will the hon. Member give way for a moment, because I think he has not followed my argument? How can the question whether field A is or is not required by local authority B for a housing scheme be a judicial question? The whole point which I was making is that although we may send an inspector so that the facts may be publicly ascertained it is a mistake to give the facade of judicial proceedings to what fundamentally cannot be a judicial decision.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I know that argument. I listened to the hon. and learned Gentleman making it. It is, of course, true that the Minister is in charge of his Department. For example, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who is responsible for planning, must, in the long run and in the ultimate, be responsible for planning the right use of land.
Many of the processes which have been discussed this afternoon are not judicial 2500 processes; they are administrative processes as the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. If he will listen to me a little longer I think I shall be able to show, although I do not think I shall be able to convince him, what is in my mind about this question. I think that the French are right. I think that they have succeeded where we in this country have failed in bringing in this large domain of executive discretion within the province of their Conseil d'Etat.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden), who initiated this debate, referred to Professor Hamson's book on the subject, which many hon. Members will have read. In France, as I understand, the Conseil d'État, which dates back to the Napoleonic days, has attracted to itself, as the Treasury has in this country, the cream of the Civil Service. They are there not to criticise the administrative acts of Ministers—that is not their function at all—but to help the Ministries.
So often in this country we put into our laws phrases such as, "If the Minister is satisfied" and "If it appears to the Minister to be desirable." The presumption must be, therefore, that the Minister has reasonable grounds upon which he has based his decision. If those grounds are challenged, I think it is right that a Department of the judiciary should be available for the ordinary individual to have that decision examined, for instance by sending in papers, as is done in France, to see whether the Minister has acted in consonance with his duties and if he has examined all the facts.
The right hon. Member for Belper criticised the Report of Sir Andrew Clark in the Crichel Down case. Would it not have been better if, instead of having to go through the ad hoc procedure of referring the facts in that case to a single individual, they had been referred to a judicial body which was already sitting and was accustomed to dealing with exactly that kind of thing? I believe that, in the end, justice would have been done, justice would have been seen to have been done, the Minister concerned would have been saved a great deal of difficulty and the whole process would have been softened, made more palatable and certainly made more just.
2501 Our sense of justice in this country has been strong enough in the past to create institutions, and I hope that one effect of today's debate will be at least to give some further impetus to the creation of something analogous to the Conseil d'État to which injustices of the kind referred to often this afternoon could be referred.
A number of hon. Members wish to speak and I will therefore pass to another facet of this case. I want to refer for a few moments to the financial implications of compulsory purchase. As is well known, the basis of compensation where land is compulsorily acquired is the existing use value of the land plus the unexpended balance of the claim for loss of development rights.
We tried in Committee on the Town and Country Planning Acts last year—for we tried in the Scottish Act as well—to have that altered and to bring about a departure from the basis of 1947 prices, but the Government absolutely refused to budge. Their reason for that was understandable, for I think they hoped for a once-for-all settlement of the vexed question of compensation and betterment.
The Government sought some form of compromise between, on the one hand, the expropriation of land without compensation and, on the other hand, payment for land compulsorily acquired at full market value. All the way through they referred to the settlement at which they had arrived as the ark of the covenant and they persisted in what they were doing; and then, having said that time and time again, of course they had to depart from it.
They departed from it in the unfortunate Pilgrim case. They were forced to do that, I hope by a sense of justice, but certainly by pressure of public opinion, and they decided that even where there had been no Part VI claim, no claim for loss of development value established, yet in certain cases it might be assumed that the claim had been made and had been agreed; and in those cases there would be added to the existing use value of the land in cases of compulsory acquisition the amount of the claim which district valuers thought would have been agreed had the claim been made in terms of Part VI of the 1947 Act.
2502 Of course, the result of present policy is that we have two values for land. On the one hand, we have the open market value and, on the other hand, we have the compulsory purchase value assessed in relation to 1947 prices. As one of my hon. Friends has said, the further we get from 1947 the more difficult it will be for valuers—I am one myself and I know this to be true—to decide what 1947 prices were. It is difficult enough already in 1955, but by 1970,if it lasts that long—and I do not believe it will—it will be almost impossible for anyone to say what prices were in 1947.
I could have said much more, but I want to be brief. I want to press for the payment of full market value. I think that this ought to be in accordance with the rules of compensation under the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919. That, I believe, is the fairest basis and it is the basis to which we should return as soon as possible.
The right hon. Member for Belper said that one of the difficulties was that once there is a suggestion that land is to be compulsorily acquired, then the market value goes up. I am not sure that that is true.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
Then what we must do—and it is perfectly easy—is to insert in the new legislation the kind of provision which exists in Section 51 (3) of the 1947 Act which says, roughly, that where land is designated for compulsory acquisition and is so acquired, no account shall be paid in assessing the value of the land to the fact that it was designated.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I looked back to the 1919 Act—the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act—and I should like to see it back again.
May I deal with two further points, which are minor in comparison with other points which have been mentioned this afternoon but which are not unimportant to a number of people. When I have made them I will sit down. Both of them concern the designation of land for compulsory acquisition.
The first is a point to which I invite the attention of my hon. Friend the 2503 Financial Secretary, because it is a Treasury point. Where land consisting of buildings—perhaps houses—has been designated for compulsory acquisition and is acquired within a period of five years, the owner loses the benefit of his maintenance claim, because the basis of a maintenance claim is that where he has spent money on the maintenance of the property over a five-year period he car claim back that amount; but if the axe falls before the end of the five years he loses the benefit of his maintenance claim.
I should like that point to be considered. I do not expect my hon. Friend to give an answer today, for it is a technical point, but when someone from the Treasury looks through the speeches made today perhaps he would consider that point and see whether there is not some validity in it. I know it has given rise to hardship in a number of cases.
The second point which I want to make about designation is this: when land is sterilised by designation for compulsory acquisition it loses a large part of its value. No one wants to buy it If it is put on the market no one will buy it because prospective purchasers will go to the county council or borough council offices, look at the development plan and see that the land is to be compulsorily acquired in the next five or ten years; and they will say, "I am certainty not going to buy that."
The owner of that property ought to be in a position to serve notice on the planning authority that it should fulfil the purposes of designation and take over his land. I do not think he ought to work until the last moment. His land is being sterilised in that way and he ought to be in a position of looking round to find something else. When he is in that position he should say to the local authority, "Either withdraw the designation, or fulfil the designation and take my property over." But, of course, I add this—it must be at fair market value.
§ 2.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
There is standing on the Order Paper in my name a Motion which I regard as dealing with the most important subject in the world. It reads:
§ [That in the opinion of this House the early establishment of a World Develop- 2504 ment Authority designed to provide substantial financial and technical assistance to schemes of land reclamation, irrigation, agricultural and industrial development and hydro-electric schemes for the raising of the standard of living of the people of the undeveloped territories of the earth is a matter of primary and fundamental importance, and that this House therefore urges upon Her Majesty's Government the need for giving an immediate lead by declaring their willingness to participate in the social and financial obligations imposed to the fullest extent both in the interests of world peace and in discharge of a moral duty.]
§ What the Tories regard as the most important subject in the world, apparently, is cash and compensation. As, quite clearly, there is not the slightest chance of getting my Motion discussed, it seems to me that I might take the opportunity of making a few observations on this subject which I think should be made. All the speeches made today so far seem to have been related to the middle of Salisbury Plain, or to the Cumberland hills. I apologise for the parish pump approach, but I think of Oldham. When one looks at property there one finds a totally different picture.
§ The recipe today has been, "The mixture as before." We started with a few classic phrases about human rights and national justice. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) talked about abstract justice, justice with mercy, fairness and impartiality, and so on, but then we came down to the real subject, which is what the Dukes of Northumberland were saying years ago, "Why cannot I do what I like with my own? Why should I not be paid full value on the day I sell?" No hon. Member opposite has said, "Let us have the value of 1940" —when a million people gave their lives to save that property and property rights. They have had virtually no compensation for loss of life, loss of limb, or loss of years of life. No one says that, but hon. Members opposite say that a yard of land is sacred.
§ If a hydrogen bomb were invented which would devastate the land of the country there might be a chance of getting a peace policy in this House. This has been the attitude we have known for years—compensation, compensation, 2505 handing down by any means—including tax evasion—the same amount for one's own property from one generation to another and harvesting the acres together. We know what happens to compensation as we gradually extend the years of public ownership. Out go the Tories to the Colonies, to Africa, from Tangier to Capetown, with the result that a mass of Tory ownership is growing up there—a mass of bad Tory ownership, too.
§ Let us look at Oldham for a moment and consider the problem there. There are 130,000 people in Oldham. A Bill was introduced, which was hotly contested, dealing with compensation for slum houses and giving rights to landlords to increase their rents if the houses were in good condition. How many notices were given in Oldham? It is not that the landlords are generous or charitably-minded, although there are good landlords in Oldham as there are good people in other classes there—there are good Members of Parliament for Oldham. The reason why notices have not been served in Oldham is that not one in four could possibly get a certificate saying a house was fit for habitation.
§ What about industrial property? That is a problem we are facing this very weekend in Oldham, as we have been facing it for years. When I first came to this House the largest firm of employers in Oldham was a great textile engineering firm which was going to move because it had no power to acquire factories, or modern equipment, because there was no land available. Even compulsory powers would not do it.
§ Oldham corporation decided to build houses for the people. It adopted and supported as best it could the plan of the Labour Party to provide homes and living accommodation for the great mass of the people who had been denied it. What was our problem? There was not a yard of land in Oldham for house building, not a piece of land big enough on which to build a school. First, we had to go outside the area and seek compulsory powers to acquire land by getting a Bill through Parliament to increase the area of the borough. It was agricultural land and roads had to be laid out and ancillary services provided. We had to try to provide shops, factories, and other things and have not even yet succeeded in doing it.2506
§ That is what should have been done. All this was by the process which hon. Members opposite so stoutly defend, by the process of having to give six months' notice here or there, having tribunals and arguments and then having to come to this House with Private Bills. All that was in order to take the first essential measures to provide a limited amount of housing for people who are hard pressed.
§ There are bad houses in Oldham today. A fortnight ago I found two very respectable families living in conditions in which I would not permit a pig to live. They were living in a house in which some members of the family had already died of pneumonia and bronchitis and it was a wonder how the others have managed to survive. That is the truth about housing in Oldham. That is the toll it takes of death by disease, not only the toll of the misery of living in those conditions, but the toll of health that occurs. Yet we are told that the rights of property must supersede every other law.
§ Mr. G. Longden
The history and geography of Oldham is a fascinating subject, but does not happen to be the subject we are debating today. If the hon. Member had a property in Oldham—as he may well have for all I know—and that property was acquired by the community for perfectly good and valid reasons—no one of this side of the House is attacking compulsory purchase, as one might think from what the hon. Member has said—would he be prepared to hand over that property to the community, either for nothing, or for half its value?
§ Mr. Hale
I dislike the personal argument, because it is a bad argument, but in the last twenty years I have given away half my income. That is not a sign of virtue; it may even be a sign of a certain casualness. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden) began his interruption with the remarkable statement that we are not debating Oldham today. That is exactly why I rose, because no reference has been made to urban conditions and I felt it my duty reluctantly to intervene in this debate.
If the hon. Member is suggesting that Oldham is excluded from the definition of land and property, I would point out that he drew his Motion in wide terms. That was the only justification he could 2507 have for addressing the House for over 50 minutes. The Motion calls attention tothe various powers of compulsory acquisition of land and property.In a moment I shall come to the question of factories—and goes on to say:That this House, taking note that the powers for acquiring land and property by compulsory purchase, including the powers for compensating those whose rights are thereby affected, differ in various respects, requests Her Majesty's Government to give urgent consideration to this matter and to take whatever steps may be appropriate to prevent such powers from inflicting hardship or injustice upon any of Her Majesty's subjects.What has escaped the hon. Member is the definition of "Her Majesty's subjects."
The position has changed in the last 150 years. The people of Oldham are included among Her Majesty's subjects. Those subjects include not merely those who own the mills, but those who work in them; not merely those who own houses, but those who live in them. Indeed, they are some of the most loyal of Her Majesty's subjects. We are entitled to consider what hardship the system inflicts upon the people of Oldham, not merely on the people who own property, but also the people who do not own property. That is the hardship which, in my view, the House should be discussing.
Earlier, I made an intervention which appeared to be relevant. We had a reference to modern Toryism, whatever that may mean. Certainly, it has nothing to do with what has appeared in election pamphlets in the last few years. But whatever it may mean, we had the opening statement this morning that Toryism believes in a property-owning democracy
Only last Friday those of us sitting in the Chamber heard that the directors of Western Ground Rents, Limited, owning 11,000 houses in Cardiff, were saying, "We are not prepared to permit you to provide reasonable terms under which the tenants of those houses could acquire their property and could become property owning democrats themselves." Eleven thousand houses in one town—I am strongly tempted to use strong words about this, I almost yielded to that temptation for a moment, but I am happy to say that I have overcome the momentary pressure of my thoughts.
2508 Perhaps I may put it in this way, by saying—if one may so express it with a very real sense of modesty—that there does not seem to be much sincerity in this particular thought. There does not appear to be any altruism which one can define. There has been the feeling that the property owner is entitled to special treatment, that ownership of property confers rights, but the ownership of a mind and a body do not.
It is only a fortnight since hon. Members walked unanimously into the Division Lobby to approve the manufacture of a hydrogen bomb at an expenditure of £500 million. Where are the natural rights connected with the hydrogen bomb?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that the hon. Member was in order in drawing attention to the position of Oldham in this connection earlier, when there was an intervention, but the hydrogen bomb is a little far from what we are discussing today.
§ Mr. Hale
My own opinion, Sir, is that the hydrogen bomb has gone far too far, but I will not pursue that argument further except to say that the hydrogen bomb, if it exploded, would affect Oldham as well as any other places. Like the rain, it would fall upon the just and upon the unjust alike—and in the case of Oldham it would be upon the just.
The factory situation in Oldham is a matter about which I wish to speak for a few minutes. There the things which we feared have, in the last few days, assumed real gravity. The anticipation of unemployment in the cotton industry, which has been the subject of debates in this House over the last two or three weeks, is unhappily, being realised. This is a matter of far too great gravity for anything but the utmost concern. Already, I know of mills in Oldham which are closing down and we have a period of short-time coming. The problem in Oldham is that the Minister has not the power to acquire factories. He has not power to say what shall be done. Time after time we have asked, and he has said that he has no power to give directions for the use of factories for industry.
What happens? Mill after mill is being bought and used for storage purposes. Mill after mill is being used for 2509 the storage of war potentials, or war materials, or for other matters, and taken over from industry. More and more we find a limitation on the possibility of successful employment in Oldham. When the recession in trade came in 1952, a number of mills in Oldham closed, never to reopen. Lately, it has been the practice for one of two things to happen. Either the mills closed and remained closed because of taxation, or closed mills have been handed over to fictitious owners to save the rates.
The other day we had a case of an empty mill and a local town council wrote off some thousands of pounds of rate arrears without anyone knowing who was the owner. Everyone had a rough idea who was the owner, and everyone had a rough idea that it was a bit of a financial swindle—not on the part of the council, which was helpless in the matter because it could not collect the money, but on the part of the people who transferred the mill to a nominal owner.
The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West has done a real service to the House in raising the question of the inadequacy of the Minister's powers. The Motion clearly refers to the necessity for a variation of the powers and to the fact that his powers are not always adequate. Time after time we have asked the President of the Board of Trade about this. Time after time we have said that it is a vital problem in areas like the over-populated cotton area of Lancashire or the pottery area of Stoke-on-Trent.
§ Mr. Hale
I am glad to hear it, because they will be in the very good hands of my hon. Friend.
Everyone who knows the pottery industry knows that in Stoke-on-Trent we have skilled workers. The standard of skill in the pottery industry is very high. The continued use of the old potter's wheel and the old manual operation in high-class work is something which we still contemplate with great pride. But 2510 in Stoke-on-Trent one can see skilled workers carrying their products balanced on a plank on their head upstairs and downstairs, round kilns and along corridors, and so on, because kiln after kiln has been piled on top of each other and pushed into a small space in order to cram into the available area as much production as possible.
In Oldham and in Stoke-on-Trent we all know that in the end, unless the Minister can acquire compulsory powers of acquisition, we cannot hope to expand the productivity of the cotton or the pottery industries. It cannot be done. By way of comparison, may I refer to the position in Australia, where there is ample land. There, I have seen cotton mills where the carding, spinning, weaving, dyeing and finishing is all done under the same extensive roof.
§ Sir F. Medlicott
May I ask the hon. Gentleman a question? I had not the advantage of being present in the Chamber when he started his speech. For my information, will he say whether he is discussing the next Motion, relating to a world development authority, which appears on the Order Paper in his name? Or is he discussing the Motion on the compulsory acquisition of land and property, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden)?
§ Mr. Hale
The hon. Member should be a little more courteous to the House, because Mr. Speaker has given a Ruling about interventions and it would appear that the hon. Member is now making a challenge to Mr. Speaker's Ruling.
The hon. Member said that he had not the advantage of being present when I started. All of us have claims on our time, and it is not essential for any hon. Member to be present throughout the whole of the debate. I have not been present the whole time and one normally submits to the inhibitions which absence imposes upon one. But one does not rise to say, "I did not hear what has been said. It may have been wrong. I did not know that Mr. Speaker gave a Ruling, but he had not the advantage of my advice and, therefore, I should like to make a few effective observations."
If the hon. Gentleman wishes an answer he can have it. The question I am discussing is the Motion moved by the hon. 2511 Member for Hertfordshire, South-West. I have read out the Motion once and I did not want to waste the time of the House. It reads:To call attention to the various powers of compulsory acquisition of land and property; and to move, that this House, taking note that the powers for acquiring land and property—
§ Mr. Hale
I am very glad—by compulsory purchase, including the powers for compensating those whose rights are thereby affected, differ in various respects, requests Her Majesty's Government to give urgent consideration to this matter and to take whatever steps may be appropriate to prevent such powers from inflicting hardship or injustice upon any of Her Majesty's subjects.The "hardship and injustice" for the people of Oldham is that they are losing their work. This is a very serious matter and it is mainly because of the inadequacy of planning powers and the complete absence of any policy of this Government for the cotton industry.
We raised this matter with the President of the Board of Trade a week or so ago—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is now trying to discuss the cotton trade, which is far removed from the Motion before the House.
§ Mr. Hale
I was not attempting to do that, Sir, but if I strayed for a moment I will at once come back to the narrow line of political and Parliamentary rectitude.
It is very difficult to talk of an industry in vacuo—although much of the cotton industry in Oldham is in vacuo at the moment. If one refers to a factory one has to refer to what it is doing to get the line of the background clear, but I shall try to be very strict about this matter, for I think it is important that I should.
In my view, the first additional power the Minister should have is the power to acquire industrial property for use as such. We have always taken that power in Development Areas. Whenever powers have been taken to designate and to develop a Development Area power has been taken to acquire property compulsorily forthwith. One could not develop a Development Area on any 2512 other terms. When it was a question of dealing with Nelson and Colne and Oldham the line was drawn nearly to Oldham: one borough gets the powers, one does not. It seems to me that there could not be greater nonsense than that.
If the Minister had that power he would be able to intervene at the earliest possible stage. The moment any hon. Member of the House called the Minister's attention to the potential closing of a productive unit the Minister could hold an investigation at once, and give notice at once that he would not permit the sale or transfer of any property for any purpose not of value to the community.
The whole object of industrial planning is to provide for productivity. The whole object of a Socialist scheme for the planning of industry is the maintenance of full and good employment. The whole object of compulsory powers of acquisition is to facilitate that purpose.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
Is my hon. Friend not paying an unwarranted compliment to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden) in suggesting that that is the motive behind the Motion?
§ Mr. Hale
Hon. Members opposite have dealt very little with anything but cash—very little.
I was for many years a member of the Liberal Party, and in those days we used to sing a hymn, "God gave the land to the people." I remember being present at the Liberal land conference of 1926 when we discussed these matters. The hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Sir F. Medlicott), sitting opposite, was once a nominal member of the Liberal Party. He seems to have left it in spirit now. I am not sure that I have, except on the question of economics. I certainly retain a good many Liberal views.
The issue we always discussed then was that of this Motion, and the issue of compensation, and the question, how do we determine it? This is the test. The 2513 increase in the value of land has always come from public effort. Land does not increase in value except by one of two causes. It may increase in value because of agricultural development. A farmer may, by fertilisation, planning, irrigation, and ditching, turn bad land into good and valuable land. The only other way in which land increases in value is that of action by the community. If we drive roads over Salisbury Plain the land adjoining the roads increases in value. When we build new towns vast areas all about increase in value. All of us have watched the rise in the value of urban land to quite fantastic heights these last few years.
Why should the owner benefit from this? It may be said that all this is part of an inevitable process of inflation, and that since the owner of stocks and shares obtain some benefit from the inflation, therefore the owner of land ought to get some benefit, too. But why should he? We have examples of cases in which nothing was done whatever to develop the land at all, cases in which no houses were built, because there was obstruction. Whenever town planning is discussed we always hear the argument that if we let a local council infiltrate into the area of private ownership we shall destroy the value of every house in the neighbourhood of the privately owned property because some part of its social or other amenity will be reduced. That is the argument.
How often have we heard the argument, not so often nowadays but constantly in years gone by, that the very existence of private ownership was a contribution to the social welfare of the community, that private owners had something the others had not got—which was certainly true—and that private ownership was an historical advantage. We have not heard that argument advanced quite so frequently of late as it used to be in times gone by, but we may observe that those supporting this Motion are standing against an inevitable and historic process, as the Tories, indeed, nearly always have. All through the centuries they have opposed reform. All through the centuries they have had to yield to it. All through the centuries, immediately after reform, they have published pamphlets saying that they thought of it first and had always meant it.
2514 Everyone knows now that the process of national ownership of land is going on and that the area owned by the State on behalf of the community is constantly increasing. The building of local council houses; the ownership of vast housing estates by parochial, rural, urban, town and county councils; the utilisation of death duty provisions to enable land to be handed over in payment of duty; the establishment by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) of the National Land Fund, which, I am sorry to say, has not been used to the fullest extent; the development of new towns, and the creation of National Parks, have meant that a vast and rapidly increasing proportion of land has been taken into public ownership.
I should also have mentioned the National Trust, a very great owner of land and a very great landlord. This organisation has shown that a sense of national responsibility can confer very real benefit. In Cumberland, for example, many farms have altered beyond all knowledge under the National Trust, particularly in accommodation for tenants. This is all to the good.
The result of all this is an automatic increase in the value of our land. Landlords are now asking compensation for rarity value. They are asking increased prices, to be assessed by a judicial tribunal. One of the most important features of our Constitution has been our ability to keep the judiciary and Parliament apart. They were very nearly in conflict last December, but for the fact that the Court of Appeal disallowed a decision which might have brought Parliament very strictly into conflict with the courts. There was an assertion of the power of the judiciary to send a tipstaff to arrest one of Her Majesty's Ministers on his way to give advice to Her Majesty. That was an interference between a Minister, a confidential servant of the Queen, and the Queen herself; an assertion of power hardly ever equalled in our history, even in the bad old days of the Star Chamber.
Fox said that we had an imperative duty to criticise the judiciary when it was imperatively necessary to do so. We have an equal duty to refrain from it unless it is imperative. Charging judges to take decisions which are inevitably political in every sense is a very great 2515 danger. The use of the courts and the position of a judge have been protected over the years. The basis of the judge's position is that he has to make a decision on the lines of the words laid down by Parliament and he has to refer the words of Parliament to the jury. He is not called upon to express or to indicate an opinion. Hon. Members should remember that it is in this realm of quasi-judicial decision—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I would be obliged if the hon. Member would address some of his remarks to me. He turns his head away, and then it is very difficult to hear him.
§ Mr. Hale
I apologise very sincerely, Mr. Speaker. I was trying to make a subsidiary point.
Many of the speeches of Government supporters have been devoted to the theory that the courts could deal more properly with these matters than a Ministry inspector or an investigation by a civil servant, which, of course, has never pretended to be a judicial investigation or even a quasi-judicial investigation. It is an inquiry very much like an inquiry in military and naval matters. It is the sort of tribunal which is set up to report facts for consideration.
It might be a decision of very great gravity for this House to say that matters which inevitably have a political bias and would involve judges in political determinations should go to the courts. Judges, being human, must have views on political matters, and, indeed, have often been Members of this House. It seems to me that there is a very great objection indeed to the suggestion of hon. Members opposite that matters of this kind could be better referred to the judges for their decision than the present method, which still leaves the judges the ultimate power of appeal in certain matters; which still leaves the judges the right to say that the Minister has acted outside the ambit of the powers vested in him; which still allows the judges the final right of interference in a manifest injustice and abuse of the law even though it leaves the position generally secure.
Curiously enough, the debate today has taken the line very much of a rehash of what was said in the celebrated case about 18 months ago, commonly known 2516 as the Crichel Down case. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has, I think, replied to that in terms which I would completely endorse. Certainly, the Report on the Crichel Down case failed to give effect to the great measure of necessary defence of the Minister's action.
I personally have always held the view that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dug-dale) was, unfortunately, sacrificed to a little political antipathy on the back benches at that time. I personally found very little to complain about in the attitude of the then Minister of Agriculture. There were some unfortunate acts on the part of his civil servants for which he gallantly and rightly took responsibility, but I never thought that that was a matter that merited the resignaion of an exceedingly popular Minister. I was one who sincerely and seriously deplored the decision he then took.
May I come to the question of the acquisition of slum property, which is perhaps the most important aspect of the Motion we are discussing today? The Act which was passed recently does give the appearance of making an advance in the procedure for acquisition. We have powers in Oldham where large portions of property not in a fit state for human habitation, as indeed much of it is not, can be scheduled and taken over at the site value. Unhappily, every report that one gets from every local authority on this matter indicates all too clearly that very few of them have been able to take advantage of this provision, because of the burdens which have been put upon local authorities in connection with the acquisition of land.
Those burdens are of a very heavy description indeed and have substantially increased over the last year or two. There have been increases in the loan rates which have increased the whole burden of financing the public ownership of property, and if we are to consider the implications of the provision of new homes for the people by the exercise of slum clearance powers, acquisition and compensation, we find ourselves facing quite enormous burdens. As the House will recall, there are two cases of property in this connection. There is the property that the landlord is not prepared to put into a habitable condition, but which 2517 the local authority can maintain in a sufficiently habitable condition for a period.
The House will also remember that the provisions there laid immense burdens both on the tenant and on the local authority. The local authority had got to spend the money to put the house in order, then capitalise the sum over a limited period, I think about 10 years, and charge it on the rent. The tenant was absolved from paying the original rent, but he had to pay a new rent based on the amortisation of the cost of repairs and replacements.
I cannot find any council which thinks it will be able to do that. It may be there are some, particularly in areas where slum property is comparatively small, but in the great industrial areas of the North, where the need is most acute, councils generally are saying, "Our rates are so very high, and our burdens are so heavy due to the financial policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the rate for loans, that it is hopeless to undertake any further acquisition of property for slum clearance."
I do not complain about the site value compensation, because that is a comparatively small matter. In the main, I would say that is the least of the burden. But when we consider the obligations for replacement, the cost of a new house today, and when we see the provisions for compensation and for acquisition under the Act introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence, who, I understand, will be Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs next week, we find that this has proved almost completely abortive and is not being made use of at all. That is the main tragedy of slum clearance.
I will now take the main aspect of this problem, which is one of very real importance in connection with the whole problem. It is the issue of town planning. Here, again, I must venture to complain that whenever we discuss town planning in this House people always choose Welwyn Garden City as an example. But the town plan for Oldham starts from the centre of the town, and it means pulling down the centre. When we come to the necessary powers for the acquisition of land, in order to provide for the 2518 town planning of Oldham, we find that we have to start from the centre and rebuild the whole centre of the town.
If one could imagine Oldham being completely evacuated for Wakes Week, and a bomb dropping in the middle of the town as in Coventry, not doing any damage to anyone, that would be the cheapest type of town planning for Oldham. We shall have to pull down the centre and leave only a few of the present buildings. We shall have to replan the roads and almost everything, but we have only a limited area. Our applications to successive Governments to take in more substantial areas have not been successful. We have only taken in a comparatively small acreage of land on the Yorkshire side of the town. Who is ever going to find an industrial area in the North that can face the difficulties that confront Oldham? Who is ever going to find a chance of doing this? What is the use of standing here talking about Crichel Down when all these towns in the North are demanding additional powers which they so badly need?
The problems of employment, housing, accommodation and health are tied up with the question of whether the economy of the country is to be directed in favour of the people of the country, disregarding the plaintive pleas of the land owner, or whether it is going to be left in its hopelessly unplanned condition. We are asked to respect the rights of property as if they were something laid down as part of a fundamental international ethic or part of our religion.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale) rose—
§ Mr. Hale
I am always most happy to give way to the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), for whom I have a considerable personal respect for his work for disabled persons, but I would say that the voice of Westmorland is not the voice that should be heard in this debate. We have already heard the voices of the widespread rural areas. Indeed, we might have been talking of Western Australia rather than of 2519 overpopulated England. I shall be very happy to give way to anybody who wants to say something. There is a certain resilience in hon. Members opposite which may have been caused by the length of the other speeches.
I hope that the Minister will say what he intends to do.
§ Mr. Hale
That is true I am most anxious to give time, because I have sat here all day waiting to talk about world development.
I am a little perturbed at the outlook of hon. Members towards this Motion. They do not appear to be concerned with the second Motion on the Order Paper. However, I surrender that willingly I hope that the action I have taken will be appreciated.
I should like to ask the Minister to answer questions about textiles, perhaps, which are important, but I cannot go outside the narrow terms of reference that I have already set myself in this matter. I should like to say something about textile machinery, but I cannot. But the position in Oldham at the moment is that the largest firm in the textile industry, occupying a factory over a hundred years old, has been good enough, after many years talk of removing from Oldham—which would be a tragedy—to remain. It has a large factory at Barton. Platt Brothers are part of the body and soul of the town. They have been associated with Oldham since 1844,and if they went away we should lose not merely a large proportion of our employment, but one of our best employers.
At the moment its factory accommodation is obviously inadequate and old-fashioned. Some months ago, when the announcement was made that huge orders were to be placed with Russia, the firm announced its intention to spend £750,000, if necessary, in putting that factory into condition. That was the best news that Oldham had had for a very long time, but now we are told that some of these orders have been cancelled and. unhappily, there is a recession in the textile industry. I am going up there to find out what the situation is, but there is no doubt that it is a serious one.
2520 What are the Government doing about factory accommodation? What have they done so far? They have repealed every Act we made for betterment, replacement and new equipment. There as not an Order or a Statutory Instrument of any kind in existence now, or so we are told. This is not a matter which I am springing upon the Minister upon a Friday afternoon; it is not a matter which has been brought up in a hurry. We have raised it with the President of the Board of Trade both upon the Floor of the House and in interviews during the recession of 1952,and we have constantly asked him about it since.
What will he do? Is he prepared to take special steps? Is he prepared to protect employment in the North? What action is he going to take, in view of the evidence that has been poured upon the Ministers about factories going out of production, mills being used for stores, or being left empty to save tax? Every possible and practicable device is being used to make money without regard to employment. Of course, there are some very good and very generous employers who consider their workpeople—
§ Mr. Hale
Yes, Mr. Speaker. The Motion refers to land and property.
In this respect, I feel that the acquisition of property is perhaps the more important of the two. It is true that a good deal of the debate has been concerned with land, but the Motion refers to land and property, and the acquisition of property cannot be more fully or better discussed than in regard to this field of employment. However, I have made my point to the Minister and I should like his assistance upon it.
I now turn to the subject of the conversion of slum property. The Minister has had quite long enough to watch the working of the Act which came into force upon 30th August last year. Those landlords who intended to take advantage of the provisions for the increase of rent will have done so by now, so the relevant figures will be available. Councils have been asked to prepare schemes—
§ Mr. Hay indicated dissent.2521
§ Mr. Hale
If the hon. Member will refer to the Act he will find that I am accurate. Landlords have so many months before the passing of the Act, and so many months afterwards, if they want to take advantage of it. They still have reserve rights; they can still benefit under certain conditions; but in the main it is perfectly reasonable to say that they will have taken advantage of the Act by this time. I am sorry that I did not understand the hon. Member at first. He will remember that there is a legal anecdote about shaking his head, with which I shall not bore the House now.
Town councils have certainly been asked to prepare their schemes, and to say whether they intend—and to what extent—to take advantage of the slum clearance provisions of the Act. Most of them, through their finance and other committees, have tried their best to see how far they can avail themselves of the provisions.
§ Mr. Hale
I believe that that is true, but I think that we have now reached a stage where the Minister can have discussions with town councils in order to find out what are their views. The views of towns in the North have already been made manifest. They regard the provisions as not unreasonable. They regard them on the whole as beneficial. They feel that here would be an opportunity of dealing with one of the vital problems of the North and that this is an intelligent effort to try to deal with what has been for long an intractable problem, but they answer that they cannot find the money. They do not know how they can find the money. Unless the Treasury is prepared to give increased grants there is very little chance of these important powers being used. These things are part of health planning and of the lives of the community—and there cannot be a more important aspect of the matters which we are discussing today.
It is precisely on these lines that we should be approaching the whole question of the acquisition of land and property. This is, of course, the other side of the 2522 picture that has been talked about all day today. We have had any amount of discussion of what happens to compensation, but no one has spoken about what the land is for, except my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) who spoke learnedly of the political history.
In the main, however, no word has been said about what land is for. The three basic needs for land are for the provision of homes for the people—and I hope gardens and at least sufficient accommodation to make life tolerable—the provision of employment for the people and the provision of food. In the provision of food I also include, of course, mining and industrial operations.
If one approaches the Motion in these terms, what is this matter which we are discussing today? We start from the proposition that the people have rights in this island—not that landlords have rights but that the people have rights. They have a right to live, to prosper—
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
On a point of order. We have already had from you, Mr. Speaker, a Ruling in the matter of the hydrogen bomb. If we go on now to the general question of defence and the Minister is to be invited to make a reply on that point, shall we be in order in pursuing the matter further?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Oldham, West(Mr. Hale) has been introducing a number of illustrations of his argument which have covered a very wide field of human affairs. I think it would be for the convenience of the House as a whole if, hereafter, he would confine himself more strictly to the Motion which is before the House.
§ Mr. Hale
I am obliged, Mr. Speaker. I am most anxious to comply with your Ruling. In the light of yesterday's debate, your reference to illustrations of 2523 my speech fills me with some anticipations of horror, but I do not dissent from what you have said.
This is a big problem and I did not draft the Motion. My own proposed Motion was limited to development all over the world. Perhaps I could deal with a point which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton made, which seems very relevant because it brings in the whole question which hon. Members opposite raised about natural rights. I said that in relation to problems of the home or of health, natural rights clearly prevail.
I think we could say that this is the line of cleavage in the House: if we start with the conception of natural human rights, the right to live, the right to develop—with the conception that all men are born equal and that even if they are not all born with equal abilities or equal health they are entitled to such equalities of human treatment as a fair-minded State can give them—if we start from that then, of course, the natural right of the community predominates over the rights of the property owner. We then say to the property owner, "We shall give you your pound of flesh, but we shall give it with reluctance, weighed out with care, and we shall pay the lowest price for it that we can."
§ Mr. Brockway
My hon. Friend has defined the acquisition of land for the purposes of providing homes, employment and food. To those uses has now been added defence. May I ask my hon. Friend whether, in these definitions, he would not also include acquisition for providing playing fields and recreation spaces?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
It would not be in order to pursue that in relation to this Motion.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Acquisition, yes, but it would be out of order to argue the use to which the land is to be put when acquired.
§ Mr. Hale
It is necessary that Parliament, as the grand inquest of the nation, should give consideration to what rights it shall give to Ministers. The point is 2524 that the rights will vary according to the purpose for which they are given. There will be rights given to acquire land for defence, rights given to acquire land for playing fields, for acquiring slum property for acquiring houses and factories and so on. In those respects I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) was seeking information, which I am most anxious to give him because it is rarely that he lacks information.
This is, of course, the problem of Oldham. There we have not got the playing fields. If this House were considering matters in relation to natural rights, if we were approaching matters from the point of view of natural rights then, instead of talking of atom bomb stations and airfields we should be talking about playing fields.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I must draw attention to the terms of the Motion, which deal with the powers of acquisition of land and property and not with the general purpose of the acquisition.
§ Mr. G. Brown
This is rather worrying, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. When the Minister replies he has to reply to a number of questions—which have been permitted by the Chair during the day—about the rights of the individual based on the purpose for which he needed the land or property and the rights of society based on the purposes for which it needed the land or property. You are now ruling, at half-past three in the afternoon, that the Minister cannot reply to points in a debate which has gone on all day. It is a little difficult.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am only suggesting that what is in order under the terms of the Motion are the powers under which the land or property is acquired.
§ Mr. Hale
The words are:…powers for acquiring land and property by compulsory purchase, including the powers for compensating those whose rights are thereby affected, differ in various respects, requests 2525 Her Majesty's Government to give urgent consideration to this matter and to take whatever step may be appropriate to prevent such powers from inflicting hardship or injustice upon any of Her Majesty's subjects.
§ Mr. Hudson
The question of the hardship or injustice which might be inflicted upon Her Majesty's subjects was dealt with at the beginning of this debate, very largely with reference to Crichel Down, and the argument on that has gone on at very great length. If Crichel Down can take so large a part in the discussion why is it not possible to deal with the playing fields?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The references to Crichel Down which I heard were made to illustrate the use of the machinery—the method by which the acquisition was made.
§ Mr. Hale
It would appear to have been used as an illustration of machinery not having been adequately lubricated at the time. I did think that after the discussion had ranged for a long time on the injustice inflicted upon one individual I might take up a few moments to refer to the other 49,999,999 of Her Majesty's subjects, all of whom have an interest in this matter.
I would respectfully submit—and I do not challenge your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—that hardship can be inflicted either by using or by not using the powers. If Parliament says to a Minister, "You have powers of slum clearance; you have the duty of slum clearance"—because it is part of the whole of our theory that the giving of a power implies a duty to use that power in the public interest—hardship can certainly be inflicted by the neglect to use those powers.
If a Minister does not acquire land for playing fields and does acquire it for aerodromes or atomic energy stations and hydrogen bomb plants, harm is done to Her Majesty's subjects. Of course, some of my colleagues who do not share my view may feel that Her Majesty's subjects were being benefited.
If I may introduce the name of my right hon. Friend—I beg pardon, the right hon. Member—for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), I remember him saying in an earlier speech which I much admired— and I hope I shall not incur censure for this generous tribute—that the language 2526 of priorities was the language of socialism or the language of Christianity—as, indeed, it is.
§ Mr. Wilfred Fienburgh (Islington, North)
My hon. Friend has put it rather better than the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan).
§ Mr. H. Brooke
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am in some difficulty. I want to show courtesy to the House, and I would point out that a number of other points were raised by other hon. Members before the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) spoke.
§ Mr. Hale
I would be willing to respond to the appeal of the hon. Gentleman. We are a courteous lot of people, and if the hon. Gentleman insists on replying I will not stand in his way, in the circumstances. I am glad, on the whole, that I did take my decision to speak, in view of the fact that similar courtesy has not been extended to me and no time has been allowed for discussion of a Motion which I regard as important. I thought that I should raise matters of first-rate importance. I would not have intervened if I had not thought that I had something of importance to say.
However, if the Financial Secretary feels that it would be discourteous to him for me to develop my points more fully, as I had intended and hoped to do, I think I will respond to his appeal. I would add that I will take an early opportunity of introducing to the House that much larger portion of my speech which remains undelivered.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Henry Brooke)
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) agreed that he had not heard the whole of this debate. I have done so, and I should like in this relatively short time to reply to as many points as I can.
I think that the House, without exception, feels that this debate has been worth while, and I should like to join with many other hon. Members in thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden) for having initiated it. I thought he gave an outstanding Parliamentary performance in the way that he covered the 2527 ground in opening this debate. He was followed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), who, in a shorter time, picked out a number of the main points and presented them most fairly to the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West was so much in advance of his time that he had read a book which is not to be published until next week. I cannot compete with him in these matters, and indeed he might wonder why a Treasury Minister should be replying at all. Of course, the Treasury is, as it were, the general purposes committee of the Government. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is sorry that he has missed this debate. He would have been here but for the fact that he is ill.
The Treasury never makes a compulsory purchase Order, so that in that sense I am entirely innocent. I am myself not a lawyer, nor have I any professional training in property matters. I have, therefore, what I might call amateur status, and at the same time the ignorance of the amateur; and, in common with perhaps a number of other hon. Members, I find these subjects difficult to understand. I believe that all those, without exception, who have spoken will agree that solutions for them are difficult to find.
The scope of the Motion is not perhaps quite as wide as some people have suggested. The main purpose of the Motion is to ask the Government to take whatever steps may be appropriate to prevent powers of compulsory purchase from inflicting hardship or injustice upon any of Her Majesty's subjects. None of us would wish hardship or injustice to be inflicted on anyone. I am very willing that appropriate steps should be taken. I would only say in passing that we must not expect that there will ever be any swift or easy path to the removal of all the difficulties that have been mentioned.
But our laws in this country, fortunately, are not the laws of the Medes and Persians. They are capable of change by this House. Neither, let me say on behalf of the Government, is our administrative policy frozen for all time. The search for perfect justice never ends, 2528 and I trust that the House will pursue that search without cessation.
Various matters which have been mentioned today are, I think, outside the scope of the debate—requisitioning practice, the retention of land after it has been purchased, the disposal of land that has been compulsorily purchased. I shall not seek to develop any of those aspects. I shall concentrate on the issue of compulsory purchase.
Not a single hon. Member has suggested that we could do without compulsory purchase. The hon. Member for Hertford indicated that otherwise we might have railways that would corkscrew and serpentine across the countryside. We all look forward to the day when there may be new motor roads in this country. We all hope that these will not be directed hopelessly out of what would otherwise be their normal course because of the absolute refusal of some particular owner to part with his property under any circumstances. The balance has to be held.
The House, I think, unanimously desires the Cromwell Road extension to go forward, so that it will be easier for people to get in and out of West London. Without compulsory purchase, these public needs could not be served. I agree entirely with the hon. Member who said that justice to the individual must always prevail over administrative convenience, but the public advantage has to be supreme, and what we need to do is to find means to ensure the proper balance, so that public advantage is served but injustice and hardship to individuals are, so far as possible, avoided.
There is also the time factor. We must not act too hastily in this question of compulsory purchase. At the same time, the procedure must not be so slow that interminable uncertainty hangs over everybody concerned. In my view neither Ministers nor local authorities should seek to make compulsory purchase orders which are not absolutely necessary. If that principle is followed, then we may at once cut down the quantity of cases in which difficulties may arise.
I am bound to say that I think the Minister must take the final decision in these matters. I think it is a political decision, and we cannot escape from that. But we must examine the instruments 2529 whereby the Minister can gain full assistance in reaching his decision. The procedure, I think, is well known to the House.
The acquiring authority is required to serve on owners, lessees and occupiers a notice of a proposal to make a compulsory purchase order. That has to be advertised. Anyone may make an objection to the Minister. A minimum of 21 days must be allowed for objections to be made. Unless the objection relates exclusively to matters which can be dealt with by the Lands Tribunal, the objector, if he is an owner, lessee or occupier, must be given an opportunity of being heard by a person appointed by the Minister.
Where a number of objections are made, or where the Minister thinks that a proposal is one of general public interest, he usually holds a public local inquiry. A private hearing normally takes place only if the proposal is of restricted interest and there are only one or two objectors who wish to be heard.
Inquiries and hearings are normally conducted by the Minister's inspectors, who are civil servants appointed by the Minister solely for that purpose. The acquiring authority sets out the case for the proposals, and any witnesses are called. These may then be cross-examined by the objectors. The objectors then present their arguments, calling witnesses if they wish, and these may be cross-examined by the authority. Finally, a closing statement is made by the authority.
The inspector then reports to the Minister, and in due course the Minister reaches his decision. There is no appeal against the Minister's decision on merits, but anyone aggrieved by a compulsory purchase order may, within six weeks from the date of publication of the notice of confirmation, appeal to the High Court on the ground that the Minister had no power to confirm the order or that the statutory requirements have not been complied with.
When the order is confirmed, the acquiring authority is required to publish notice of the confirmation of the order. In addition, the Minister sends a letter summarising the objections which have been made and explaining the reasons for his decision to each objector and to the acquiring authority. Where an order is 2530 rejected, a copy of the Minister's letter to the acquiring authority is also sent to each objector.
I was glad to hear my hon. Friend say that in the vast majority of cases every effort is made to ensure a fair hearing. Whatever individual aberrations there may be, we all pay tribute to the general excellence of our civil servants. What we are examining here is the system under which they work, and one objection which has been raised is that inspectors ought to be independent of the acquiring authority and the confirming authority.
The proposal was again put forward that there should be a panel of persons appointed by the Lord Chancellor. I should like to point out that it is important that the inspector, however he is appointed, should be thoroughly well-versed in the subject concerned. It may be water, it may be sewerage, it may be roads, it may be houses. Only if he is well-versed can he judge the force of the local authority's case, and I believe that his experience will also help him to assist the objectors, certainly those who have not the benefit of professional assistance.
A further objection which was raised was that the inspector's report was not published. There are pros and cons in this connection and, as the case for publication has been put, may I just mention the kind of difficulty which may arise if the report is published? Under the Ministry of Education's procedure, the report is normally published, and there has lately been a case, known to some hon. Members, in which the person appointed by the Minister of Education to hold the inquiry recommended that a compulsory purchase order should not be made.
That report was published, and subsequently the Minister determined that the order should be made. The reason was that there was a fact not known to the person who had been carrying out the inquiry. He had been led to believe that there was analternative site which would be equally suitable for the school in question, and it was not known to him, but it became known to the Minister, that the alternative site was in Crown possession and that the Commissioners of Crown Land had for some time been negotiating for the sale of that land to a public authority for a different purpose.
2531 I mention that case to indicate that it does not mean all difficulties disappear if reports are published. I know that the Donoughmore Committee recommended publication, but I think it right to mention that the ex-Lord Chancellor. Lord Simonds, who was a member of the Donoughmore Committee, subsequently said that he had changed his mind and, on balance, is now against publication.
When the Minister takes his decision, he has to bring everything into account. He has to consider the need to acquire the land for the particular service. That, to a large extent, is a policy decision. He has to consider its cost. That, of course, also has financial implications in relation to the grant aid which the Department may be called upon to give. That, also, is policy.
He has to consider the suitability of the land. I know that is partly a technical question, but it is also partly a policy question. He has to consider the nature of the objections and the weight to be given to them. In particular, he has to make up his mind whether the objections are so strong that, even if he is satisfied on the first three tests I have mentioned, the order should be rejected. He has to take all that into account.
The public inquiry is a very important part, but it can only be a part, of the process by which the Minister eventually reaches a decision. The object of the public inquiry is to elicit all the information that can be obtained, but, as I have pointed out, there may be further considerations which must weigh with the Minister before he reaches his decision. I hope that the House will hold firm to the principle that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. If that is not fully the case at- present, we must all join in trying to discover how we can further improve our arrangements. I am closing no door; I am saying that all this must be further examined. I am only mentioning that to my mind there is no easy solution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West spoke of difficulties arising from designation. Those are matters for the Minister of Housing and Local Government. They precede the subject of this Motion. The hardship to which my hon. Friend was 2532 referring arises, not because land is compulsorily purchased, but until it is, or because it is not, compulsorily purchased. I hope he will forgive me if I do not pursue that matter.
I intervened to indicate—I hope tactfully—to the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) that I thought he was straying a little from the Motion when he referred to development plans. But, of course, I have the figures he wished for. Out of 149 development plans, 60 have already been approved by the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
I noted the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) about maintenance claims, and will write to him about it.
Finally, my hon. Friend spoke about compensation. Compensation in all normal cases takes place now under the 1954 Act. Compensation is based on existing use value plus the unexpended balance of the established development value. I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West will not think I am naughty when I mention that he did vote on both Second and Third Readings of the 1954 Act in favour of that Act. If he now says he did not fully understand the Act, he was and is, in very good company.
§ Mr. Brooke
I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that we should give the 1954 Act time to operate, so that we can see how things work out. I would remind him that the 1954 Act was passed to help us to escape from the chaos caused by the originating of that dreadful thing, development charge.
He referred to the case, which, I think, occurred in the Southampton neighbourhood, of a lady who is mentioned in the newspapers this morning. I am advised that in that case notice to treat was served on 15th July, 1946, and therefore compensation has to be assessed under the 1944 Act; that is to say, on the basis of the market value of the property at 1939 prices plus 30 per cent. His complaint was that the lady concerned will not also get the £1,200 for loss of development value under the 1947 Act. He must 2533 realise, of course, that payment for development value is included in the compensation payable under the 1944 Act, and, therefore, it would be unreasonable, I think, for both to be given.
No less a person than my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has said:Market value for compulsory purchase has serious shortcomings."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 19th October, 1954; Vol. 189, C. 446.]Market value, at first sight, appears to be an attractive solution, but it is not a perfect one.
If hon. Members will apply their minds to the case of an authority seeking to acquire land for a new road in the neighbourhood of a new town. I think they will realise that it would be somewhat unfair if the authority had to pay full market value in every case for such land, when that value had been greatly improved by the creation of the new town, also at the public expense. Under the 1954 Act one may get less than market value, or one may get more, but we shall watch how the Act works. I hope every one agrees that it is far too early to think of getting ourselves into the colossal trouble of amending that Act.
I am not closing any door. The Government will study carefully everything which has been said in this debate, and when I say "everything," I mean every-
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the Affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 30 (Majority for Closure).2534
§ thing. I trust that those hon. Members who have special cases brought to their attention will not hesitate to send them to whichever of my right hon. Friends is responsible so that they may be further examined.
§ My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West spoke of "common feelings of decency in a well-regulated mind." I do not know whether I have a well-regulated mind, but I hope that I have shown common feelings of decency in the spirit in which I have approached this debate. I think that, by this Motion, my hon. Friend is saying that the present arrangements need to be watched constantly and improved whenever possible, with the object that individuals may be protected against hardship and injustice. Surely, that is a purpose in which we can all join.
§ I should like to thank the House for having provided this opportunity for the ventilation of a highly important subject. In the sense which I have just indicated, I accept the Motion, and I commend it to the support of the House.
§ Mr. Hay rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put:—
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 29, Noes 24.2533
|Division No. 51.]||AYES||[3.59 p.m.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Heath, Edward||Studholme, H. G.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Sutcliffe, Sir Harold|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Langford-Holt, J. A.||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Leather, E. H. C.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Carr, Robert||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Turton, R. H.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Wills, G.|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Fisher, Nigel||Molson, A. H. E.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Grimond, J.||Russell, R. S.|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (K'ns'gt'n, S.)||Mr. Longden and Mr. Hay|
|Brockway, A. F.||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Deer, G.||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech||Sparks, J. A.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Fletcher, Erie (Islington, E.)||Mitchison, G. R.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Follick, M.||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.||Willey, Frederick|
|Freeman, John (Watford)||Pargiter, G. A.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hale, Leslie||Parker, J.||Mr. Edward Evans and|
|Holman, P.||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.||Mr. Skeffington.|
§ It being after Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.