HC Deb 09 July 1964 vol 698 cc691-707

Where land is to be acquired compulsorily under this Act the price paid by the Council in compensation shall be a price agreed by the vendor and the District Valuer subject in case of disagreement to appeal to the Lands Tribunal.—[Mr. Iremonger.]

Question again proposed, That the Clause be read a Second time.

7.0 p.m.

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

I rise to commend the new Clause to the House. The Bill envisages, most conspicuously in Part II, Clause 5, the compulsory acquisition on a large scale of private property by the London County Council, who are the promoters of the Bill. It is relevant, therefore, for the House to consider the methods used by that authority to assess and value the compensation to be paid to private owners who are the victims. The new Clause, which I and hon. Friends of mine have tabled and which we are now debating, is designed to ensure that these valuation methods shall be such as to command public confidence.

The methods currently used by the London County Council do not, unfortunately, as I shall seek to show, command public confidence. This is not the first time that I have drawn the attention of the House of Commons to this problem. I did so on the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill, when my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, whom the House will be glad to see in his place, encouraged me in his reply to pursue further my researches into the matter. I had not expected to have anything further to submit to the House so soon on this subject. Indeed, on Second Reading of this Private Bill I felt that no useful purpose would be served by further discussion of it.

Since then, however, I have received a remarkable letter from a source so revealing, so authoritative, of such a nature and so relevant to the argument that I feel that it would be only right to put it on record for the information of the House and of the public at large. I do that in the hope that the House may be persuaded to improve the Bill in this respect, even at this late stage.

Before I read the letter to which I have referred, it might be for the convenience of the House if I summarise briefly the argument which is at the heart of the new Clause. It is as follows. When compulsorily acquiring private property most local authorities pay—and, in my submission, all local authorities should pay—compensation to the dispossessed owner at the value assessed by the district valuer. The district valuer is an official of the Department of Inland Revenue. He is entirely independent, especially in so far as he is not employed by the local authority which is acquiring the property compulsorily. If he was employed by that authority, he might be thought to have an interest in paying little rather than more.

The London County Council, which is promoting the Bill, is one of the authorities which do not follow that practice. The London County Council uses its own employees to say what compensation would be fair. The Council is, therefore, in the position of appearing to be judge in its own cause. That transgresses the first principle of justice and causes the dispossessed owner to suspect that he may not have got a fair deal.

I know that the answer which the London County Council would give in its defence is to say that the dispossessed owner can always appeal to the Lands Tribunal if he is not satisfied with what the County Council's—the acquiring authority's—employee tells him the Council is prepared to pay in the interests of the people which it represents. That answer, however, is altogether too slick for the House to accept. Life is not as simple as that, as the monkey found when he tried to pull the nut out of the jar after he had closed his fingers around it.

In the first place, it takes no account of Section 30 of the Land Compensation Act, 1961, and no account of Section 22 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1963. This is a matter on which the National Chamber of Trade and the National Farmers' Union have expressed anxiety and strong feeling, and it particularly affects small shopkeepers on quarterly or weekly tenancies.

In the second place, there are two factors which operate. One is the risk of incurring costs in appealing to the Lands Tribunal, which deters many small property owners from appealing and coerces them into knuckling under and accepting the acquiring authority's valuer's offer.

The other factor is the need for the small occupier to conclude the transaction swiftly so that he can collect the cash and buy himself another home, because he cannot finance the delay of an appeal. So I am afraid that the existence of the Lands Tribunal is not the complete answer by any means to the anxieties of the victims of compulsory acquisition.

So much for the argument. I will now summarise the grounds on which it is based. First, we have the testimony of the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet), which appears in column 283 of HANSARD of 20th February, 1962. She referred to a "large staff of valuers, who acquire land for the use of the council, who negotiate to get the best terms … in the council's interests", and she confirmed that philosophy almost at once, after an interruption from me, with the words: the valuers should get the best terms they can".—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 20th February, 1962; Vol. 654, c. 283.] That was the hon. Lady's view, and that is the considered view of a responsible leader of the authority which actually employs the valuers. That, therefore, must be the duty laid upon them, as they see it.

Secondly, I will further quote from the decision of Mr. J. P. C. Done, a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, of the Lands Tribunal, in the case before him of Ansaldi v. the Stoke-on-Trent Corporation, 1960, reported in 12 P. & C.R., page 220, in which Mr. Done said of the local valuer: During the cross-examination … he admitted that his valuations were the basis of negotiations. … It was implied that he was bargaining, not valuing. It is desirable to distinguish his function from that of a district valuer who is an independent official whose duty is to assess value and advise, and try to conclude, a settlement at that figure. Mr. Done went on to say that the local authority valuer: acts as the local authority's agent and he reflects the obligations of his principals to ensure that the ratepayers acquire property as cheaply as is reasonably possible". Thirdly, still as to authority for the argument, let the House look at the decisions of the Lands Tribunal itself in appeals against the London County Council. Between 1951 and 1960 the Estate Gazette Digest of Cases reports 22 cases against the London County Council. In only four of those cases was the decision in favour of the acquiring authority; in two cases the costs were split; and there were 12 cases in which a straightforward comparison of prices can be made between the authority's final offer and the Lands Tribunal award. In the aggregate these 12 cases accounted for sums totalling £109,517, and the sums awarded totalled £192,267. In other words, when the authority's offers as assessed by its employees were put to an impartial test before the Lands Tribunal they had to be increased on average by about 80 per cent.

Fourthly, the House might be interested to consider this example, which I have taken from the books of one estate agent—

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

To make the picture clear, would the hon. Gentleman give the figure of the actual amounts claimed? He has given only the amount offered by the council and the amount actually given by the Lands Tribunal. The other figure would be helpful to the House.

Mr. Iremonger

I have not got the figure. I have merely extracted these figures. The House will recognise that as the victim of the compulsory purchase is bargaining with someone who is the employee of the compulsory purchaser, he probably starts as far above what he hopes to get as he thinks the compulsory acquirer is starting below what might be considered fair.

I was saying that the House might be interested to consider an example taken from the books of one estate agent, who is a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Over a range of 18 consecutive cases of his which I examined, the aggregate initial offers by the acquiring authority totalled £15,782. The final prices conceded totalled £17,945, and that represents an increase of about 12½ per cent. on average. One might say that as this is. frankly, negotiating and bargaining and not an impartial assessment, that was fair enough, and that divergence was what one would expect in negotiation.

But in six of the negotiated cases the negotiations took over a year, in four they took over two years, and in one case they took nearly three years. In the six cases in which the negotiations took over a year, the average increase was about 72 per cent. compared with the 12½ per cent. overall. So it is obviously a very important factor in getting a fair price whether the victim of a compulsory purchase order, who is often in humble circumstances, can afford to wait and hold on while his representative holds out and negotiates further with the acquiring authority's employed valuer.

So much for the principle, for the broad lines of the argument and for the grounds upon which the Clause is based. When all is said and done, however, the most disturbing element, to my mind, is the undermining of public confidence which this situation of a local authority quote a remarkable document which came to me unsolicited from a Fellow Surveyors who is the head of a highly-of the Royal Institution of Chartered regarded and old-established firm of chartered surveyors.

being judge in its own case is bound to engender. It is on this specific point of public mistrust that I now want to

Before I quote his words, which I find very disturbing, I want to say something—with all sincerity. And I know that in this, if in nothing else, I shall carry the House with me. It is vitally important, in recognising public mistrust of the system and the policy for which we are ultimately responsible, that there should be no possible imputation against the personal and professional integrity of the unfortunate individual officials who are placed by public policy in this invidious position. If they are mistrusted, as it would seem that they are, it is the fault of the system, and the system is the fault of us in this House. With that supremely important reservation, I will now read the letter.

My correspondent says: I was intensely interested to read in one of the journals it was the Real Estate Journal that you had called attention to the London County Council's methods of valuation of compulsorily acquired property. That was a reference to col. 1788 of HANSARD of 20th March this year. I have had a very long experience and was I will not give the details of this gentleman's career for reasons which, unhappily, will be obvious to the House "and my father was the surveyor for" a big public institution "for fifteen years."

The experience of my correspondent runs back to the year 1910. He goes on to say: I have always said—why is it possible to settle with the District Valuer and never with the L.C.C. without unpleasantness and a tremendous fight. In fact, I have called the County Hall 'the den of the Forty Thieves'. When I acted for a certain company which my correspondent names over the acquisition of a certain estate which he names I had to fight to obtain the after-damage value on the sites where the houses were bombed. After the last interview I had with them, two valuers came to see me and I asked them whether it was not a case of now hunting in pairs! After a great scrap I managed to obtain what I considered to be my clients' just deserts and a few days afterwards one of the valuers, who had called to see me, came and asked if I could offer him a job as he was disgusted with the whole set-up. I am now engaged in fighting them over the widening of a certain road which he mentions where they are taking so many feet off the front of a block of fiats belonging to his clients' company and they are trying to maintain that the front land is practically valueless because my clients cannot build on it! ! I have come to the conclusion that all the affairs of the County Hall are governed entirely by politics and the word 'justice' simply does not exist. I simply cannot understand why it is necessary for the L.C.C. to have their own Valuation Department when the whole of their area is already covered by the District Valuers. In quoting that view, perhaps I should say again that it is not the view of an irresponsible crank with some small petty grievance. It is the view of a professional man who has been engaged in this business for 50 years, and his father before him, and it is a view commonly held among professional people who have had experience in dealing with district valuers and with the London County Council valuers, too. These people do not complain in public because they fear that the London County Council—they have often told me this when I have discussed it with them—would take it out on them in various ways and their livelihood would suffer—

Hon. Members


Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Iremonger

I am glad that my hon. Friend supports me. He and I know that this is the view expressed by estate agents. They say, "We wish you could do something about it. We can- not come out in public about it because we have to negotiate with these people in the interests of our clients and our business would suffer". They trust the district valuer, and they distrust the county council's valuer. They find the district valuer expeditious, fair and courteous; they find the London County Council valuer, shall I say, less so.

In view of what my correspondent says, I submit to the House that it would be irresponsible to give a fair wind to this Bill without recognising a proper anxiety on the score of the evident public mistrust of the system which, in passing the Bill, we are condoning.

In the meantime, in the context of this Bill it is only fair to consider the statement circulated to hon. Members on behalf of the promoters of the Bill. I am struck at once by paragraph 7 of the statement, which reads: The question of the valuation of property compulsorily acquired by local authorities has already been debated by the House of Commons in the present Session …". Reference is then given to my speech on the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill: when it was raised by Mr. Iremonger on the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill. That is perfectly true, as I have indicated. But if the House is meant to infer from this observation by the promoters that the promoters have heard quite enough of this and would be glad if the House of Commons would kindly lay off the subject and shut up, then I think the House would like to say this to the promoters: "You may have your own methods of and your own pressures for making people desist from criticism which you find inconvenient or embarrassing outside this House, but they do not reach beyond the Bar of this House. The subject certainly 'has already been debated by the House', as you observe, and it will be debated again and again, as long as any hon. Member feels that there is something wrong here which ought to be put right." That is the answer that this House should give to the clear innuendo in paragraph 7 of the Memorandum.

But that is by the way. The main point in the statement is that the L.C.C. should not be deprived of the benefits of being judge in its own case while other mammoth local authorities are to be allowed to get away with it. Put another way, this is the argument deployed by the waiter, in the limerick, to the old man of Peru, Who found a dead mouse in his stew. Said the waiter, 'Don't shout Or wave it about, Or the others will all want one too!'. It may well be that this practice of t local authorities being judges in their own cases should be stopped forthwith. It may well be that we should bring them all into better ways. I can only speak as I find. I have no experience of mistrust or otherwise of other local authorities—apart from the L.C.C.—which act as judges in their own cases. They may or may not be mistrusted.

However that may be, I do not see why the L.C.C. should seek shelter under the umbrella of other local authorities which may be less mistrusted. But if the House is really moved by this plaint on the part of the promoters of the Bill to the effect that others are getting away with it, then perhaps I and my hon. Friends who support this new Clause may introduce a Bill—which I am sure the promoters would wish to support—to apply the principle of this Clause to every local authority in England, Wales and Scotland.

In any case I am not impressed by the objection—that other local authorities are doing it—to the Clause which I invite the House to accept.

I shall not necessarily press this question to a Division if the promoters' apologists plead for leniency in the matter, although the system has to go some time and, like a rotten tooth, the sooner it is out the better. But I do hope that the House will take seriously the warning I have given about public mistrust and the very dramatic and authoritative evidence of that mistrust felt by my courageous correspondent, whose letter—I emphasise—to me was entirely unsolicited. And I hope that the House will at least take this one modest step towards the maintenance of the good name of public administration.

For these reasons, I ask the House to accept the new Clause.

7.22 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

I rise to oppose the Clause. It is misconceived in its purpose. The method which the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) has adopted is quite inappropriate for changing the general law. If the Clause were carried it would apply only to one local authority and even then to a very limited part of that local authority's public acquisition of land. For all these reasons the Clause is, I repeat, entirely misconceived.

I am merely astonished that the hon. Member should go on pursuing what seems to be a kind of vendetta against the valuers of the London County Council. The time of this House might be better spent in some other way. The evidence he has produced is almost entirely that which he produced in March and a great deal of it, as I shall hope to show, is not absolutely accurate.

Mr. Iremonger

I want to take up with the hon. Gentleman his use of the word "vendetta". Perhaps he will do me the credit of acknowledging that I did not write to myself the letter that I quoted.

Mr. Skeffington

I was not dealing with that point but with the fact that I know that the hon. Gentleman has had disputes with the valuation department of the L.C.C. over long periods, and I think myself that this would be a bad reason—I hope that it is not the only reason—for him to continue this case.

Mr. Iremonger

I must ask the hon. Gentleman to give way again. Will he indicate precisely what he means? I have had no disputes.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot have two hon. Members on their feet simultaneously.

Mr. Skeffington

I do not intend to give way every other minute to the hon. Gentleman. If he has a valid point, I will see that he has an opportunity to make it.

This annual Measure—the London County Council (General Powers) Bill—contains provisions for the public acquisition of land in connection with some important road works. That is the only matter which would be affected by the Clause. It is inappropriate, even if there is substance in the hon. Member's general case—I suggest that there is none—to use a Private Bill of this kind to try to effect a general alteration of compensation law in respect of one authority for a very limited type of land acquisition.

The hon. Member kept on saying that the L.C.C. attempts to be judge and jury in its own case. In fact, the L.C.C. and every other local authority acquire land only in accordance with the provisions, particularly Section 1, of the Land Compensation Act, 1961. I am quite certain that, if there were any suggestion that the L.C.C had not scrupulously followed the law of the land, this would have been taken either to the courts or to the Lands Tribunal. But there is no suggestion that in any case the L.C.C. has been anything but scrupulous it its attitude.

The hon. Gentleman perhaps does not know—if he does not I excuse him for not mentioning it but he nevertheless should know, and if he does know it is an unfortunate suppression—that, in fact, the L.C.C. itself consults the district valuer in respect of a large number of its acquisitions. Yet, since it has a separate Money Bill every year the L.C.C. has not the same obligation, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary pointed out in March, that is imposed on every other local authority to consult the district valuer. Nevertheless it does so. In these cases it approaches the district valuer to find out what value he puts upon the land. Those who think that the L.C.C. does not bring the district valuer in are not aware of the facts. But the hon. Gentleman should have known and recognised them. But of course it greatly weakens his case.

But the whole case that the L.C.C. is some powerful organisation crushing the little landowner, who is always assumed to be defenceless and without resources—that may be so in some cases—falls to the ground when it is known that the L.C.C. always advises those with whom it is treating to employ for themselves properly qualified valuers and, what is more important, pays the fees of those valuers. That is a complete answer to his suggestion that powerless individuals are having to combat the mighty L.C.C. The fact is that the L.C.C. goes out of its way to see that those with whom it is deaing have the best independent advice freely given and for which the L.C.C. pays. This is stated on every notice to treat. That destroys the whole of the hon. Member's argument.

The hon. Member again referred, as he did in the debate in March, to cases which had appeared in the Estates Gazette. He said there were 22 cases listed between 1951 and 1960 and that in only four cases in which these matters were submitted to the Lands Tribunal was the award of the L.C.C. upheld. That statement was wrong. In seven cases the L.C.C.s figures were either upheld or actually reduced. But he did not give the figure for which I asked him in our March debate because that would throw into relief the fact that the total claims of these 22 cases made on behalf of these individual landowners were as high as £947,000. The L.C.C.'s offer was £139,000 in the 22 cases and the Tribunal's final awards totalled £180,000. So the difference between what the L.C.C. offered and what the Tribunal finally settled was very small. But the amounts claimed were quite astronomic.

There have been a number of other cases of which, apparently, the hon. Member is not aware. Other cases went to the Tribunal between 1951 and 1963 and in every one the Council was upheld by the Lands Tribunal and to the extent that in three cases that the Lands Tribunal actually awarded less than the County Council had offered. This accords very ill with the picture of a crushing machine trying to get the land for the least possible payment.

Perhaps he does not have better ammunition, but I do not know why the hon. Gentleman keeps referring only to ancient cases. I could give him many more which have occurred since 1960. Ten cases have been brought to my attention since then which were referred to the Lands Tribunal. In only one did the Tribunal award the same amount which was offered by the County Council and in seven out of the other nine cases, the amounts awarded were less than the County Council had offered. In the claims during the period from 1952 to 1964 the total amount claimed by owners came to more than £1 million, the Council offered just less than £200,000 and the Tribunal awarded £237,000. On that volume of cases that is a very accurate valuation, supported by an outside independent tribunal with but slight variation. It makes complete nonsense of the hon. Gentleman's argument.

I therefore hope that we can dispose of the suggestion that the County Council in these cases has acted unreasonably in the amounts offered, or in the way in which the amounts have been negotiated. If the picture is as bad as the hon. Gentleman has suggested, it is extraordinary that there has never been any suggestion of duress in the counties of Middlesex, Surrey and Gloucester or the county boroughs of Birmingham, Plymouth, Bristol and Brighton, and the City of London—which, I am sure, is very dear to the hon. Gentleman—which all employ precisely the same method as London County Council.

In his very full and comprehensive reply on 19th March, the Parliamentary Secretary said: I do not think it either fair or accurate to dub this particular procedure"— that is the employment of qualified valuers— as the local authority or anyone else acting as a judge in his own case because the district valuer is no more of a judge in this case in the sense that he is an independent arbitrator than any other valuer which a local authority might employ … I should want a great deal more evidence from records of cases to be convinced that the London County Council valuers are overruled more often than district valuers or any other form of valuer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1964; Vol. 691, c. 1799–1800.] From the information which I have quoted—and the list is comprehensive and nothing has been consciously left out—it will be seen that the sums offered by the Council were supported by the Tribunal, or when they were reduced, the difference between the two figures was very small indeed.

In view of all that, and as the hon. Member has had a run for his money, now that we know that there is nothing whatever in his allegations, on the figures, the number of cases, or on the methods employed, and as he did not tell the House that the London County Council does consult the district valuer about the price, and in view of the far more important fact that the London County Council advises every applicant with whom it negotiates to equip himself with a qualified valuer, whose fees are paid by the Council, we can dispose of the story of the luckless and defenceless individual fighting this huge L.C.C. machine. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that he has achieved whatever purpose he has had in mind and will now have the decency to withdraw the Clause.

7.36 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)

I do not want to repeat all that I said in the earlier debate on this subject, but I remind the House that the general position is that all local authorities are free to employ anyone they like to negotiate the price of land which they are about to acquire, whether by agreement or compulsorily. There is a minor exception to that in that it is laid down in the New Towns Act that a district valuer is to be employed, but even here it is not for the same sort of consideration which has impelled many local authorities to employ a district valuer. It is because a district valuer's certificate is important for loan sanction to ordinary local authorities and to new towns for the financial support from the Treasury on which the finance of new town corporations is based.

I agree with the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) that, whatever the merits or demerits of the new Clause, it would be wrong to legislate in a Bill of this sort not only against one local authority, but in respect of one set of acquisitions, which are very limited compared with the enormous number of negotiations about land which a body of the size of the L.C.C. has to contemplate every year.

On the other hand, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman when he says that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) has no right to bring forward this argument on the Bill. If he strongly feels that something is wrong, my hon. Friend has every right to bring up the matter in this way. But this is not the right way to legislate, even if I accepted all his strictures against the London County Council valuers.

As I tried to explain in the previous debate, the London County Council is not a judge in its own case. This is basically a question of negotiation. No one would claim that valuation was a sufficiently exact science for anybody to be able to say, "This is the value of plot A". I am sure that these very distinguished and devoted people who serve the district valuers' departments would be the last people to make that claim. There is always an element of negotiation and there are bound to be differences of view and, if the appeal procedure to the Lands Tribunal is to mean anything, there are bound to be occasions when the Tribunal will disagree with the party acting for the acquiring authority.

My hon. Friend has not added anything to the evidence which he produced before. So far as I recollect, the 18 cases which he quoted then are those which he has quoted today. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington has quoted a number of others. I admit that I did not take down the figures and I shall read them with interest in the morning. However, there is no great evidence that the Lands Tribunal consistently finds that the L.C.C. valuers are under-estimating values and forcing people to go to the Tribunal in order to get a fair deal.

Mr. Skeffington

The figures are the other way.

Mr. Corfield

As I said, I did not take down the figures, but I will accept the hon. Gentleman's word for what they prove, in so far as figures prove anything.

To be frank, it is not right for a big authority which is acquiring land under compulsory powers to regard its own valuers' functions as primarily to do the best they can for the authority. There may be occasions when there are very large deals, which would probably go to the Tribunal anyhow owing to the wide difference between the two parties, when that might be a legitimate attitude. But I have sympathy with my hon. Friend on the score that there are many small people involved and one wants to ensure that they are not forced to the extra expense and anxiety of an appeal to the Lands Tribunal.

However, it is only fair to underline what the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said—that the L.C.C. pays the fees of independent valuers and goes out of its way to advise people to employ them. It is not right to conclude, as my hon. Friend has done, that the L.C.C. valuers are particularly hard-hearted as valuers go, or that the London County Council is. There is no evidence that the L.C.C. is taking undue advantage of the opportunities which inevitably arise from compulsory powers.

I hope that my view that it is not the intention, particularly when dealing with smaller claims, to do the best for the authority, but rather to find a fair price, will be heeded if it should be the case that another attitude is taken. It is certainly the attitude of the district valuers that their function is to find the fair price and not to negotiate the best price. I think that this is the right attitude, and I hope that it will always be the attitude of any valuer employed by a public body, and especially one of the importance of the L.C.C.

I do not think that the case has been made out for special legislation against the L.C.C. crossing the whole of the general law, which is that local authorities are free to employ their own employees. As long as they adhere to the law as laid down in the Land Compensation Act—and if they do not they will soon be put right in the courts—this seems to be something with which we should not interfere, bearing in mind that as a matter of pure administration if district valuers were required to take over this task in London, the only alternative would be to employ the same men enrolled in the district valuer's corps, or staff, or whatever it is called.

I do not think that this would be a practical proposition, but my main reason for advising the House to vote against the new Clause is that I do not think the case has been made out. Even if I did, I do not think that this would be the appropriate way of altering the law which I would have thought should be applied throughout the whole country and with effect to all public bodies concerned.

7.42 p.m.

Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)

I was glad to hear the Minister give the advice which he did, and I would not have risen to speak but for what he said about a statement that I made. Perhaps I made it rather quickly and without the clarification which should have attended it. namely, that the valuation department of the London County Council secures the best price that it can. I should, perhaps, have clarified my statement at the time, and I do so now by saying that it acts in accordance with the requirements of the law which imposes on it the duty to secure a fair market price, and also in accordance with the known wishes of the Council that a fair price should be paid, particularly to the smaller people.

As the hon. Gentleman said, valuation is not an exact science, as I know to my cost from recent experience in trying to buy a house. It is a matter of negotiation. Recently I wanted to acquire a house for a friend. A certain price was asked, and I had to toss up whether to pay the price or to risk losing the house by offering a lower sum. That is the kind of thing which happens between the parties concerned in matters of valuation.

I listened with care to the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), and I was a little perturbed to think that there should be such delay, but the considerations which apply to whether a person should refer the case to a lands tribunal applies to the speed with which these negotiations are conducted. As the L.C.C. pays for a fully qualified chartered surveyor to advise the other party, it follows that that adviser, having found at some stage that he is not likely to get any further with the Council, may decide to refer the matter to the Lands Tribunal. If he does not do so, it is obvious that he feels that the Council can be pressed to go further, and obviously he himself has doubts about whether the Lands Tribunal will give a better price to his client.

I say these things to make it quite clear that the London County Council acts in a fair way, and is anxious to do so. I emphasise this by saying that that is the only known wish of the Council. Officers of the valuation department are professional officers, with their own private codes of which they are very proud, and it is not up to any member of the London County Council to tell them to depart from them.

Question put and negatived.

Bill to be read the Third time.