HC Deb 12 June 1956 vol 554 cc473-6
Mr. Arbuthnot

I beg to move, in page 41, line 26, to leave out "three" and insert "five".

This is quite a simple Amendment, and the reason for tabling it is to give a little extra time. Several years may elapse between the first indication by a public authority of its intention to acquire land and the completion of the sale agreement. Exactly the same thing applies in the case of a notice to treat.

Mr. Mitchison

I do hope that the Government are not intending to accept this Amendment. Three years seems to me to be plenty of time, and if the period is made as long as five years, goodness knows what kind of legislation the Government may introduce about land and, what is far more important, about the houses on the land. I am quite certain that some of the legislation which has been introduced by this Government has already had a considerable and rapid effect on the values of house property up and down—both ways. I think it is far too long a time to let the amount of Duty run at the risk of the Government.

The Solicitor-General

I listened to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) in order to learn how impossible it is to please everybody at once. I must confess that if one is in sympathy with the general principle of this Clause it does seem to me to follow that it would be quite wrong to leave it in a state where the relief which it confers is so limited that it might really be defeated by the quite frequent occurrence of lapse of time between the first intimation by the acquiring authority that it intends to acquire and the actual acquisition. I am sure that no one would desire that result.

We have made, pursuant to examination of the Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach), who is now absent, inquiries to see whether there is any extravagance in practice in the idea that the relief might really be so limited if it were kept to three years that it might not take effect in cases where the Committee would desire it to do so, assuming it favours the general principle of this Clause. In that ground I would desire, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, to accept the Amendment and to advise the Committee that this is, on the information before us, the right way to secure the right result in accordance with the general purpose of this Clause.

Mr. Mitchison

I desire to protest strongly against one thing. Three years was put into this Clause by the Government. Apparently no inquiry was made before that was done. I suppose it was when the Amendment appeared on the Order Paper that the Government, having arrived at three years on a hit-and-miss calculation, thought it had better find out whether that was the right period. If that is not a muddled method of legislating, what is?

With a Clause of this kind, surely the least the Government could do was to make inquiries beforehand and make up their mind what was the right period and not leave it to hon. Members, who have not the same facilities for collecting the information, to correct their hit and miss method. It is a disgraceful way to prepare legislation. I would say that, on the merits of the matter, the answer was short. If five years is needed for this purpose, what ought to be looked at is not merely the legislation before us, but the procedure for compulsory purchase. I commend that to the urgent attention of the Government.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Charles A. Howell (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

May I ask the Solicitor- General what is meant by the words in line 28— … is compulsorily acquired by, or sold to. Can he say if there is any significance in that phrasing?

The Solicitor-General

Broadly, the principle of the enactment is that in appropriate cases one substitutes the compensation payable on compulsory purchase for the principal value which was used for Estate Duty. That is the general principle. The Clause deals with either compulsory purchase or acquisition by agreement by an authority which possesses compulsory purchase powers. The reference to which the hon. Member has drawn attention deals first with acquisition and then by sale; that is, by virtue of an agreement to a public authority possessing compulsory purchase powers. Either method of operating with the property works for the purpose of the Clause.

Mr. Howell

I may be a little bit suspicious, but if I am right—and it is quite likely that at this time in the morning I shall be wrong—where land is compulsorily acquired it is acquired at a price fixed by the public valuer. I presume that the use of the words: … interest is compulsorily acquired by … means that the land is acquired at the public valuer's price. Then the Clause says, after a comma: … or sold to. I want to be sure that at some time later on some clever Charlie will not say that this is ordinary sale as against compulsory acquisition because of the wording of the Clause.

The Solicitor-General

On the wording of the Clause as it stands, I think he would have to be a very clever Charlie. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will leave no aperture at all for Charlies.

Mr. Mitchison

I was under the impression that something of this sort had been the practice for some time past—an informal practice. If that is so, can the Solicitor-General tell me what has been the interval allowed in practice? Has it been three or five years? Does the Amendment which he accepted represent a change?

The Solicitor-General

I did not desire to trouble the hon. and learned Member with the legislative history of the Clause, because that means troubling the Committee with it.


Answer "Yes" or "No."

The Solicitor-General

The hon. and learned Member asked whether there was a forerunner. I will answer if he likes with the word "Yes." This represents, with the exception of subsection (3), which is new, the following of a prototype. Five years would be a change. The reason three years was in the Clause originally was that an undertaking was given to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) during the Committee stage of a previous Finance Bill. He put down a new Clause to that Bill which laid down three years as the appropriate time. Experience has shown that five years is better.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.