HC Deb 26 October 1966 vol 734 cc1198-204
Mr. Willey

I beg to move, Amendment /title 16, in page 9, line 31, to leave out "or shorter".

I think that it might be convenient if with that Amendment we could discuss Amendment No. 17, in line 32, at the end to insert: Provided that, with the consent in writing of every occupier of any of the land specified in the declaration, the Commission may execute a general vesting declaration before the end of that period of two months, or of the longer period so prescribed, as the case may be.

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Willey

The effect of the Amendment is to prevent the Commission executing the general vesting declaration in a period shorter than two months from the first publication of the notice of making a compulsory purchase order without the consent of the occupier. This was discussed in Committee, and I have looked at it again. The important thing is that it should depend on the consent of the occupier.

Mr. Graham Page

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I take it that we are permitted to discuss the Amendment to the proposed Amendment No. 17, namely, in line 1, after the first "of", to insert "every owner and"?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Yes. I think it would be convenient if that were discussed at the same time.

12.30 a.m.

Mr. Graham Page

This case was discussed in Committee, when we were dealing with the general vesting declaration, which is coupled with the last Clause on special procedure. I have called it an abominable procedure. I cannot think of an apt Parliamentary word to describe it, although I can think of many unparliamentary ones. Under the special procedure the Commission can take the citizen's land from him and follow up by signing its own conveyance of the land to itself—because that is what a general vesting declaration is—thereby setting aside anyone else who has an interest in the land. That is a most depressing picture. Under subsection (2) as it stood the Commission could exercise its right to convey the property to itself within a period less than two months.

We are grateful to the Minister for Amendment No. 16, which removes the words "or shorter", so that the compulsory purchase order can grant a longer time between the order and the general vesting declaration, but the right hon. Gentleman has inserted a proviso to the effect that with the consent in writing of every occupier o£ the land … the Commission may execute a general vesting declaration before the end of that period of two months. The reason for executing a general vesting declaration earlier would, I presume, be for the Commission to take over the land, and possibly to pay compensation. But the occupier is not concerned in that. It is the owner who is concerned about the general vesting declaration and about compensation being paid, and so on. But he is omitted from the Clause. In Committee the Parliamentary Secretary said: Let us suppose that the land of one of the small owners"— and I stress the word "owners"— who are so dear to the heart of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) "— and they are, and I am not ashamed of it; these are the people who will be hurt by the Bill— has been compulsorily acquired. I ask the Committee to suppose that this small owner wants his compensation as quickly as possible, perhaps to move. If he can get agreement with the Commission, why should not the Commission and he agree to have a shorter period? It is because we have this consideration in our minds that my right hon. Friend is not minded at the moment to accept the Amendment. There would be cases where the owner would be disadvantaged if the Amendment were accepted "— that was the Amendment to remove the words "or shorter"— Therefore, I will give the undertaking that the Minister will look at this point again to see what the general effect might be and whether the balance of advantage would lie in accepting the Amendment"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 5th July, 1966; c. 309.] That was a very frank undertaking, given entirely from the point of view of the owner; yet only the occupier is required to agree that there should be a shorter period.

The occupier may be there under no tenancy at all. He may be a weekly tenant, or a person who has over-stayed his tenancy. He is just an occupier. What right has he to talk about a general vesting declaration, and the ownership of the land? This is nonsense. Why should a man who is there possibly under no tenancy agreement but merely as an occupier of the property, give the Commission the right to convey to itself someone else's property?

I entirely agree that if the owner is included the owner can permit a shorter period. There is some point in that. That is why we have put down an Amendment to the effect that the owner and the occupier should agree to the vesting declaration being made in a shorter period than two months. I am discussing the Amendment and understand that I do not move the Amendment until the Minister's Amendment has been voted upon.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) wish to divide on his Amendment to Amendment No. 17?

Mr. Graham Page

I wish to move the Amendment——

Mr. Willey

And it will be negatived.

Mr. Page

On a point of Order. I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity of speaking to my Amendment to his Amendment. I rose earlier only because I did not know whether we were discussing my Amendment. I hope that he will be given a chance to answer what I said about my Amendment.

Mr. Speaker

I would not prevent any hon. Gentleman from taking any legitimate opportunity which is required. I understood that three Amendments were being taken together, but apparently not.

Mr. Willey

My recollection is that, in Standing Committee, we were concerned about the owner-occupier, but it seems to me that the only people who may be disadvantaged are the occupiers. For this reason, I would resist the Amendment. I think that it is better to leave this and to rely upon the consent of those who might consider themselves adversely affected.

Mr. Eyre

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, in these circumstances, an occupier could be a trespasser, and that his answer is therefore inadequate in that respect?

Further Amendment made: In page 9, line 32, at end insert: Provided that, with the consent in writing of every occupier of any of the land specified in the declaration, the Commission may execute a general vesting declaration before the end of that period of two months, or of the longer period so prescribed, as the case may be.—[Mr. Willey.]

Mr. Allason

I beg to move Amendment No. 18, in page 10, line 4, to leave out 'conclusive'.

We had considerable discussion on this in Standing Committee, when the Minister said: Hon. Members have raised points particularly about the wording of the subsection, and particularly the word 'conclusive'. I am quite willing to look at the wording again if the purpose of the subsection is recognised—that we have to establish definitely the date of the operation, for the reasons I gave. If that is established, of course I am willing to see whether the fears of hon. Gentlemen are justified and if necessary to consider the wording again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 5th July. 1966; c. 314.] Thus, it is quite clear that the Minister is concerned only that the certificate shall be found to have been served, but it does not appear to be necessary to have "conclusive" evidence.

If the Amendment were accepted, the subsection should read: For the purposes of this Act, a certificate by the Commission that the service of notices required by the last preceding subsection was completed on a date specified in the certificate shall be evidence of the fact so stated. The background to this is that an official of the Commission is entitled to give a certificate to say that a notice has been served.

Obviously, it is necessary to have some provision like that, because there may be a dispute about whether a notice has been served. For the Commission to say "We sent it" is prima facie evidence that the notice was served, but I do not see why that should be conclusive evidence. If it is considered to be conclusive evidence, we have the position that even though the person to whom the notice was addressed conclusively proved that it was served on someone else, perhaps someone living in his street, it would be considered that it had been properly served and that could not be contraverted in any way.

From what the Minister said in Committee, it appeared that he accepted that a difficulty could arise. We are, therefore, disappointed that he has not tabled an Amendment. Perhaps he will accept our proposal, as we feel strongly that this matter should be put right.

Mr. Skeffington

We discussed this subject at some length in Committee on 5th July, when my right hon. Friend explained the need to have absolute certainty on this point to prevent any doubt being thrown on a title to land in a vesting declaration.

It will be generally agreed that the resting declaration procedure should be followed so that the interests of those who might subsequently purchase or come into possession of land from the Commission are not jeopardised. That is why the certificate procedure has, in this context, been thought for a long time to be necessary and conclusive. Although the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) expressed doubt about whether it is necessary, it is as well to remind the House that in Schedule Four of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, there is a specific model in this context—which it was thought fit by the then Conservative Administration to incorporate in the recodified Act—and it states: 3. For the purposes of section seventy-five of this Act, a certificate given by the acquiring authority stating that the service of notices on occupiers required by subsection (5) of that section was completed on a date specified in the certificate shall be conclusive evidence of the fact so stated". Although my right hon. Friend has looked carefully into this matter, we consider that it would be wrong, if one is using the vesting declaration procedure, to do anything which might throw doubt on the Commission's title to any specified land.

To take the matter further, we wanted to establish whether or not any person would be disadvantaged because the word "conclusive" is used. Only two possible cases might arise where an owner or occupier could possibly suffer from this provision. First, it is possible that an individual might have to leave his land without adequate notice if the wording of the Clause as now drafted is accepted, but if that were to happen, then under the normal provisions for compensation in respect of compulsory purchase, that could be taken into account and there would be no disadvantage caused to the individual.

The second possible case—and I assure hon. Members that we have made a thorough investigation—might arise in the event of a person not being able to serve a notice of objection to severance under Schedule 3 in time. In such a case we have the advantage that the Opposition have tabled Amendments to Schedule 3, which we will debate later. In this way the Opposition are putting right a possible gap in the defence of the individual and, for these reasons and because in the first case I cited no disadvantage would be suffered, I hope that the Amendment will not be pressed.

Amendment negatived.

12.45 a.m.

Mr. Baker

I beg to move Amendment No. 206, in page 10, line 4, to insert: (5) In the application of this section to Scotland a general vesting declaration shall contain a particular description of the lands affected, subject to the provisions of the Conveyancing (Scotland) Act 1874.

This Amendment links up with Amendments 207 and 208, which I hope to move later. Subsection (4) as it stands makes provision, which is very necessary in Scotland, for the recording of the general vesting declaration in the General Register of Sasines of Scotland. This is the method whereby title of land is obtained in Scotland. It is one of the essential requirements of Scottish conveyancing law and practice that the Register should contain a particular description of the land to which title is being obtained. That is subject to the provisions of Section 60 of the Conveyancing (Scotland) Act, 1874, as amended by the 1924 Act of the same nature.

The recording of the general vesting declaration as such is meaningless in Scotland unless at the same time there is recorded a notice under Clause 9(3). As the Bill stands, the only way is to specify the land. A better way would be to make it a statutory requirement that the general vesting declaration should contain, as a matter of course, the detailed description that is necessary for the General Register. Then, and only then, can this provision make sense. I am advised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) that the Clause is totally unworkable in Scotland as it stands, so I hope that the Government will accept this Amendment.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)

There is no disagreement between the intention of the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Baker) and his hon. Friends and the Government in this matter. It is only a question of how we proceed. The intention was by regulations to prescribe the form of the general vesting declaration, and to require the use of description by reference, as the hon. Member has suggested, or, failing that, a particular description so as to enable the description given in the general vesting declaration to be linked with earlier descriptions of the same land already on the Register.

I have expressed it in that way, if I may say so, because the advice given to me suggests that the Amendment as it stands could be misread, and I know that would not be the intention of the three sponsors of the Amendment. Therefore, if the hon. Gentleman feels very strongly that the point should be in the Bill as well as in the intention of Ministers and regulations, I am quite willing to advise my right hon. Friend that this should be so; with the provision that I think I should be able to consult the Lord Advocate about this so that we get exactly right the kind of insertion to be made, in view of the doubt expressed by him about the phraseology. I therefore accept the Amendment in principle, with that reservation.

Mr. Manuel

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his acceptance of the intention of the Amendment. I only point out the success that can be achieved by a lay Member, not a lawyer, talking common sense and achieving his object.

Mr. Rossi

That is probably due to the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Baker) comes from north of the Border, and is more acquainted with the matter than others.

Amendment agreed to.