HC Deb 04 March 1965 vol 707 cc1680-91

10.48 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I beg to move. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the New Towns Compulsory Purchase (Contemporaneous Procedure) Regulations, 1965 (S.I., 1965, No. 75), dated 21st January, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27th January, be annulled. I am most grateful to my hon. Friends for the brevity with which they dealt with the previous Motion. The Regulations before us propose to speed up the preliminaries to the expansion of a new town. I do not quarrel with the aim and purpose of the Regulations in finding this new speeding up procedure for these preliminaries by running two procedures side by side; speeding them up not by cutting out any steps in the procedure, not by concertina-ing the procedures, but by running two processes parallel.

But I would quarrel with the Regulations if they were to endeavour to speed those procedures by depriving tenants or owners of land of a full knowledge of the events, or a full opportunity of being heard, or of full time to make arrangements which are necessary when one is forced to dispose of one's property compulsorily.

If, in some respects, the Regulations fall short of preserving the rights of individuals, then I think we should look at them very closely. It is for that reason that I placed this Prayer on the Order Paper.

The Regulations are made, as stated at the beginning of them, by the Minister under paragraph 6 of Schedule 2 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, as applied by Section 4 of the New Towns Act, 1946. Incidentally the Regulations do not mention that it is done by Section 4 of the New Towns Act, 1946, and it would have been a little clearer if it had. Schedule 2 of the 1944 Act has been repealed, but is still applied by the 1946 Act. When an Act has been repealed it is no longer in print, and it is a little difficult to find the 1944 Schedule which is now applied by the 1946 Act. The Regulations could have been clearer in helping us through that little jungle.

Paraphrasing paragraph 6 of Schedule 2 of the 1944 Act, under which the Minister makes these Regulations, it says that the Minister may make regulations enabling the compulsory purchase procedure by a development corporation to take place at the same time as the preliminaries to a new town designation. The Regulations do not go quite as far as that. They permit the simultaneous procedure only in the case where there has already been a designation of the new town, and where it is intended only to extend the area of the new town. Let us suppose that New Town X has been in existence for some time and now wishes to expand by pushing its boundaries out to cover another 500 acres. The Minister would make a draft order designating that 500 acres as part of the existing new town. That would be published in the London Gazette and in local newspapers, and served on local authorities.

As soon as the Minister has published his draft Order designating this area as part of the new town the development corporation, under the Regulations now before us, can make a compulsory purchase order, subject to confirmation by the Minister. The Regulations before us say that this can be done when the Minister has published his draft order designating the area as part of the new town. I assume that that means that immediately the Minister has made that order the development corporation can make its compulsory purchase order. But that is not quite clear from the Regulations.

The development corporation will then submit its compulsory purchase order to the Minister, and will publish notice of it. But—and here is a point of grave doubt in the Regulations—had the land already been designated as a new town there would have been no need to serve a compulsory purchase order on the owner of the land. This is in paragraph 2(2) of the Schedule. Under Regulation 4 of the Regulations in front of us: Any proceedings which may be taken by virtue of the powers contained in regulation 3 … shall … be deemed to be proceedings taken after the date on which the Minister makes the relevant varying order. At this stage of the compulsory purchase procedure the Minister is deemed to have made a designation order. Therefore, there is no necessity to serve the compulsory purchase order on the owner of the property. This seems to be a very grave fault in the Regulations. The owner should be served at this stage of the contemporaneous procedure with the compulsory purchase order which the development corporation is putting before the Minister for confirmation.

Having published both the designation and compulsory purchase orders, the Minister then shall appoint—and I stress the word "shall"—a public inquiry if there is objection to the designation order. However, he has wide discretion if the objection is to the compulsory purchase order.

Suppose there is objection to the designation order and also objection to the compulsory purchase order. Will there be a public inquiry at which both objections are heard, covering the whole ground? At that stage those concerned should be able to put their cases in the widest possible way and not be restricted to one or other of these procedures which are at the time going through contemporaneously.

Then the Minister makes and publishes the designation order and confirms the compulsory purchase order. I hope that this is the final point of the contemporaneous procedure. I would like an assurance that this is so; that it is only up to this point of making the designation order and confirming the compulsory order that the procedures are to run together. I would like an assurance that the procedures will be kept in step up to then, along with an assurance that the compulsory purchase order will not run ahead, to the notice to treat and to the actual purchase or even to the entry on to the land before the designation order has been made. Indeed, we need an assurance that there will be no entry on to the land and no completion of the compulsory purchase before the designation order has been made.

Regulation No. 4 raises some doubt about that procedure. This is important from the point of view of compensation, which may well be on the lower scale at which new town corporations can acquire property. If the procedures get out of step, it would be possible for the development corporation to get the land at that lower scale, and then the designation order might fall through and never be made.

We must see that the contemporaneous procedures do not deprive the individual whose land is being taken of being fully notified and given full opportunity of being helped. We must ensure that the compulsory purchase procedure does not reach an irrevocable or damaging stage before the designation order has been made. We must ensure that the people concerned understand that the compulsory purchase procedure is dependent upon the success of the designation order and that they do not act precipitately to their detriment by thinking that the whole thing is cut and dried and that they must obey the compulsory purchase order.

I am generous enough to welcome the Government's action in finding this method of streamlining the procedures, but I am not completely satisfied that in doing so they have had full regard to individual rights and I hope that I will be given the assurances I seek.

11.1 p.m.

Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)

I understand that the Regulations are designed to speed up the process of buying land before it is needed for new town development, and as the Member for Basingstoke, and having in my constituency not only the town of Basingstoke but the town of Andover, both of which are expanded towns, I am very concerned at the concertina-ing that may endanger the compensation rights of members of the public who are affected. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will give the assurance that there will be no extension of the unfairness and hardship that is at present caused under some of these procedures.

I should like to give an example. I have in mind particularly a man in Basingstoke whose house was bought by the council under expanded town development. The amount he was paid as compensation was what would have been the value had there had not been a new town at Basingstoke; that is to say, in assessing what the value was a judgment had to be made of what it would have been had Basingstoke not been developed as a new town. The owner of the property therefore did not receive the added value occasioned by the happy chance of the new town development.

The unfortunate thing is that anyone receiving this sum and then wishing to purchase another house, may be able to find another house of equivalent value in a town that is not developed as a new town, but if he wishes to live in Basingstoke, where his roots and his family and friends are, he cannot with that money buy an equivalent house, because that money will only buy a house of a value equivalent to one that had been there when there was no new town development.

That causes genuine hardship, as it means that people are forced to move right out of the area or move into a standard of accommodation considerably lower than that to which they have been accustomed and which society is taking away from them. I am anxious that nothing under this procedure should lead to an extension of that sort of thing, and I hope that, without trespassing on the time of the House, I have been able to draw attention to one of the hardships one does not wish to see perpetrated in the future.

The tenant farmer is affected even more. When the authorities take over his land, it is true that they give him his tenant-right compensation, but they have taken away the means by which he earns his living, which is very much more than the value of the manures, and so on, in his land. The new town authorities then make a discretionary payment to compensate for his uprooting, but I would draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that that payment is made at the discretion of the authority which pays it, so that the authority is not only judge in its own case but jury as well. Since there is no right of appeal, the unfortunate subject is very often left with a real sense of genuine grievance, but there is practically nothing he can do. I very much hope that the Minister will introduce legislation to deal with that situation.

I noticed, and many of my farming constituents noticed, that the Minister of Agriculture was asked by the National Farmers' Union: What changes are you prepared to make to the existing laws governing compensation for land taken over for non-agricultural use to ensure that no farmer is worse off because the country needs his land?". The present Minister of Agriculture quite specifically pledged that in previous legislation it was the practice to make ex gratia payment, and that this should be obligatory. I hope very much that this point will be conveyed by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, so that this cannot be added to the long and miserable toll of promises that have been made by the present Government and not carried into effect.

On this point and drawing the attention of the Government, in what is, I understand, the Chancellor of the Exchequer's broody period, to the fact that these discretionary payments are subject to tax in the hands of the people who receive them—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Everyone is enjoying it very much, but I think it is a little remote from the terms of the Regulations.

Mr. Mitchell

I thank you for your guidance in that respect, Mr. Speaker, but since this affects many of my constituents very considerably I hoped that I might trespass on the kindness of the House to air this point of view. I thank you for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker.

11.6 p.m.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

I will not trespass, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell), though I understand, as we all do, how very important this matter is to him, and I make no apology to the Parliamentary Secretary for drawing on constituency experience and discussing the Regulations for a few minutes.

As I understand it, these Regulations refer to additional land when a town has been designated. That is precisely the situation of Bracknell New Town, which is commonly conceded to be one of the most successful of the new towns. I echo every word uttered by my hon. Friend when he says that these matters of compulsory purchase raise very deep-seated feelings in the general public. Quite frankly, when I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) in his able summary of these difficult Regulations using perfectly clearly the phrase "speeding up of the compulsory purchase procedure", I say without any apology that this sent a shiver down my spine.

It may well be, and we shall await to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary has to say, that this is a perfectly justifiable and limited measure in terms of additional land. But I think that we owe it to the country to make quite certain that the operation of these Regulations is as strictly limited as it appears to be, for, as I have said already, the matters of compulsory purchase are matters of very great concern.

I am not at all sure that we in this House, and particularly the legal Members of it, always realise sufficiently how anxious are persons affected by compulsory purchase procedures when they are in receipt of documents. At this very moment of time, for example, the corporation of Bracknell New Town has published its proposals for designating additional land and is awaiting the Minister's decision on those proposals. In fact, if I may put in a plea to the Parliamentary Secretary, purely and unashamedly a constituency plea, it is that he will—we all realise that he works hard and late—be good enough to expedite a decision in the matter.

The corporation has, so far, not the power to serve upon the owners of land in that proposed designated area the necessary preliminary orders which, as I understand it, the corporation will be unable to do if these Regulations come into force. I hope that I have correctly understood the procedure. In fact, this corporation has served what I might call a "layman's notice" on the house owner, explaining what is involved in the legal documents which are to follow. I would commend this practice to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, for we all know that he is a man assiduous and careful of the feelings of others. In so far as any set of men can make compulsory purchase proceedings human, I genuinely believe that the Bracknell Development Corporation has succeeded in doing so, but the fact still remains that this is a matter which causes the gravest unhappiness and personal dislocation to the lives of individuals, of which this House is rightly jealous.

I want to ask two simple questions. Am I correct in my understanding—I apologise to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, but these are not easy matters to follow—that this new procedure refers exclusively to additional land? I make that point because my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, though he is, of course, concerned, is in a different position to me. He is concerned with an initial designation, and, as I understand it, these Regulations do not refer to an initial designation; they refer to additional land. It is, if I may so call it, a Bracknell Order, a case where an individual town has been initially designated—it has been properly decided to extend it—and it is only that additional land to which these Regulations refer. As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will know, the compensation proceedings under the law as it stands at present mean that the full market valuations are approved.

The second question which I want to ask is what happens if a designation order is not confirmed by the Minister? After all, this is by no means an impossibility. It may well be that, in any one case, the proposals of the corporation are not acceptable to the Minister of the day. I believe that we are moving into an era where the new town procedures will be used increasingly. I have said frankly in the House before that I happen to be one of those who believe that the new towns concept is one of the successes of post-war Britain. I have said that if that means giving credit to the Government party from the days when they were the first Government after the war, I give it gladly, though I think that, in fairness, we should remember that the concept originated from the brilliant work of Lord Reith and his colleagues. I believe that the whole House is indebted to them for leading the way in the wartime coalition period.

If I am right, therefore, that this new towns concept will be increasingly used—I suspect that it will be used in existing towns, as well as new towns—what we are discussing tonight has far more relevance, and impinges far more deeply on the lives of individuals, than might otherwise appear from the simple document which is now before us. Therefore, I repeat my question—what happens if, in any individual case, the Minister does not accept the proposal of the corporation? What happens, in fact, if the designation order is not confirmed? What happens if, upon public inquiry, objections of so substantial a character are made that the proposals, in whole or in part, fall to the ground? It is on those points that I think we would all be grateful for further information.

11.15 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. James MacColl)

I should certainly like to congratulate the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell) on his resourcefulness in having put to me two extremely devastating points, neither of which is exactly what one would describe as included in these Regulations. As far as the question of compensation for tenant farmers is concerned, we had a very interesting Adjournment debate on that very recently. I would commend to him what I said during that debate, and what indeed the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) also said in that debate, if he would like to bring himself completely up to date about the position.

Basingstoke is involved in expansion under the Town Development Act and not under the New Towns Act, and I do not think it would be right for me to get launched off into methods of calculating compensation. That would not only be out of order on this, which does not affect compensation anyway, but would get us on to rather controversial ground.

As regards the point made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), yes, these Regulations will apply only where additional land is being added to an existing new town. They will not apply to a new new town which is just starting off. Secondly, whereas the Minister could approve the draft designation order but reject the compulsory purchase order if he thought it was unfair, it would not be possible for him to reject the draft designation order which is the source of the whole operation and approve the compulsory purchase order. You can only get your right to compulsory purchase because you are carrying out something in the designation order.

Under the general Town and Country Planning Act, there is a procedure whereby if a particular operation requires an amendment of the development plan it has long been possible to carry both the amendment of the development plan and the compulsory purchase order under contemporaneous proceedings. As far as I know, that has worked very well. It has not caused any complaints. It has been used a great deal, and, of course, it has this advantage, which I would commend to hon. Member's who have been sticking up for the owner or the tenant, that it does save legal expenses. If there is only one inquiry going on, one lot of legal representatives and one lot of witnesses, it is much easier than if there is first an inquiry into the draft designation order and then subsequently an inquiry into the compulsory purchase order. But I should perhaps make it clear that in fact this procedure is not, strictly speaking, a joint inquiry, because there are two people involved. On the one hand, the Minister is making a designation order, and that is subject to inquiry, and normally the inspector is an independent person appointed from outside to take the inquiry. Then the development corporation is the party to the compulsory purchase order because it is making the compulsory purchase.

Therefore, there are two separate inquiries But what is done here is that they are brought together; one is taken immediately after the other, and the inspector would have a good deal of discretion in hearing the evidence and considering one lot of evidence when he is considering the other matter. The valuable thing is that it is a saving of expenses and of time, and it also means that the two operations are very much in the mind of the inspector at the same time.

If I could deal with the various points that have been made. The owner certainly would be served, as in another case where the two inquiries follow, with the notice. As far as objection is concerned, once he got to the inquiry he would be able to object to anything that was going on. He would not be barred from objecting to the one case because he in form had objected to the other.

The other point which was raised was that the compulsory purchase order cannot be made before there is a draft designation order. The former would follow the draft designation order. Normally the procedure would be that the draft designation order is made and there is then a minimum period of 28 days to allow time for objections to be lodged. Then, as the hon. Gentleman has rightly said, it is possible, as soon as the notice has been served, to make the compulsory purchase order. It might be running a day or two after the other, but it is possible for the Minister to extend the period of objection on the draft order so that the two periods of objection time end together.

Then, after the objection period has ended, there has to be the announcement of the inquiry; and that has to be not less than a period of 42 days from the announcement. This gives sufficient time for people affected by the order to consider their position and frame their submissions if they wish to do so.

I think that those are the major points which have been raised tonight. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) for having moved the Prayer because it has given me the opportunity to say what I have; but, having heard my explanation, I hope that he will feel happy about the facts and not proceed any further.

11.23 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page

I thank the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, but I do not think he has paid quite enough attention to the service of the compulsory purchase order. Quite definitely in the present procedure there is the Regulation that it does not need to be served on the owner when there has been a designation order.

Under Regulation 4 we have to deem—that is the expression—all the way through that there has been a designation order. If one deems that there has been, then the owner has not to be served and I believe that the Parliamentary Secretary will have to make some amendment. He will have to look again at the Regulations so as to bring into operation the procedure which he says he proposes should be adopted.

Mr. MacColl

I do not think that that would be required; I do not think there need be an amendment. It is recognised good practice, and has been since the Committee on Tribunals thought that this should be the procedure. It is the normal practice which is followed, and I assure hon. Members that the Minister would lean over backwards to ensure that justice was seen to be done. I think that that procedure certainly has advantages from the point of view of getting a move on when this very important work on the new towns has to be done. It causes no hardship, nor injustice; there are savings of legal costs, and there is also full opportunity for those persons who may be affected by the orders to be able to consider them and put their points of view at an inquiry.

I hope that the House will approve the Regulations.

Mr. Graham Page

If I may speak with the leave of the House, I would say that we are all grateful to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for the explanation he has given us on these Regulations. I think it has been worth putting on the record what is the procedure, for it was not clear from the Regulations.

We on this side of the House will watch carefully how the Regulations work and see if they are working fairly for the individuals concerned. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.