§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before the Second Reading is moved, I have one or two observations to make. I have not selected the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved)—That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which fails to make provision for the adequate payment of compensation by the Greater London Council to householders who suffer loss as a result of policies initiated by the Greater London Council—or the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger)—That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which fails to bring to an end the practice whereby the Greater London Council uses its own employees to value private property which the Council acquires by its powers of compulsory purchase instead of using, as do the majority of other local authorities, the services of the independent District Valuer, who is employed by the Board of Inland Revenue and therefore not regarded by the victims of compulsory purchase as being judge in his own cause.This will in no way cramp the debate, which can be much wider than the previous debate because this is a general powers Bill.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is, I hope, an uncontroversial Bill which seeks to confer a miscellany of disconnected powers on the Greater London Council, the London borough councils, the Common Council of the 850 City of London and the Merton and Sutton Joint Cemetery Board.
The first power which it is sought to confer is contained in Part II of the Bill, which relates to what are called sludge mains. At the moment, local authorities have wide powers under the Public Health Acts to construct sewers without impediment provided that proper regard is had to the rights of the landowners and other people affected. A sludge main, which may be defined as a pipe or conduit used to convey the comparatively innocuous residues of treated sewage, is, for the purposes of those Acts, deemed to be part of a sewage disposal works and, therefore, is not legally a sewer. It is to facilitate the construction of these mains that the Bill seeks to have sludge mains treated in the same way as main sewers.
The Greater London Council has plans envisaging sludge main links between existing sewage disposal works, and the ultimate intention is to construct a sludge main either to discharge the G.L.C.'s treated sewage residues several miles out to sea or to take them to a point where they could be more conveniently transferred into ships for dumping at sea. This provision is to facilitate the making of those plans.
The third part of the Bill deals with what are called walkways. It has become increasingly common for pedestrian systems separate from road networks to be provided in urban developments. These routes run usually above ground level over private land or within buildings. Part III of the Bill, which very much follows the form of the City of London Corporation Act, enables the G.L.C. to make provision for walkways. In view of one of the Amendments on the Order Paper, I draw attention to Clause 21, which provides for compensation to be paid to people whose buildings, or even planning applications for new buildings, may be affected by conditions imposed by the G.L.C. in connection with walkways.
The fourth part of the Bill deals principally with matters of finance. Section 24 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act, 1966, empowers the council to make contributions to London borough councils in respect of certain expenditure defined in that Act which can be regarded as money spent 851 by the council benefiting Greater London as a whole.
§ Clause 29 seeks to extend those classes of cases, so that expenditure on walkways and additional expenditure incurred as the result of longer hauls in which refuse collection vehicles of boroughs will be involved owing to the Greater London Council's plans for the rationalisation of refuse disposal throughout Greater London, may be treated in the same way.
§ Clause 30 deals with certain superannuation benefits contained in the council's general powers Act of 1968. It is sought to extend the Council's superannuation fund to contributors who are not employed by the council or by a London borough, for example, probation officers and justices' clerks.
§ Clause 31 seeks to empower the council to establish a housing advances reserve fund, and to permit the investment of moneys held in the fund. This will assist in identifying borrowing for home loan purposes and in providing a cushion to meet possible future deficiencies.
§ Clause 32 extends the power of the council and the London borough councils to invest their superannuation funds beyond the limits imposed by the Trustee Investment Act 1961, and the council's general powers Acts of 1967 and 1968. These wider powers are necessary so that full opportunity may be taken of the state of the market from time to time.
§ Clause 33 gives a power to the Minister of Housing and Local Government to appoint one of the local authorities in Greater London which would then be authorised under the Clause to borrow money for the purpose of lending to any other local authority. In other words, it would act as a clearing bank for the authorities in the Greater London area, and the centralisation of borrowing in this way should confer considerable financial benefits on the London boroughs as a whole.
§ Part V deals with documents and equipment. As may well be imagined, the council and local authorities accummulate a great deal of paper over the years, and storage becomes increasingly difficult. Permission is sought by the authorities to destroy the majority of these documents after a lapse of six years from their submission. This is 852 closely related to the Statute of Limitations, since any claim more than six years old may not, generally, be pursued in common law. For this reason it is felt that there is no need to keep papers beyond six years. The council is also seeking authority to destroy papers less than six years old, provided that it first makes a microfilm copy of the document to be destroyed, so that a condensed and easily stored form of record is maintained.
§ In Part VI, Clause 38 extends the time for the acquisition of land for Waterloo Bridge and the Strand subways, and Clause 39 extends the time for the completion of works in connection with the improvement of Wandsworth Bridge, southern approach, and the Western Avenue extension. This is because financial and other restrictions have prevented the earlier completion of these improvements.
§ Clause 40 deals with powers relating to flood prevention. Clause 41 seeks to authorise the grant of an exclusive right of burial by a London borough council or the Merton and Sutton Joint Cemetery Board under the hand of the clerk of the issuing authority or his deputy, rather than under seal. This is to increase efficiency and expedition.
§ Clause 42 clears up doubts on the present legal position by specifically enabling London borough councils to permit elderly people, and such other classes of persons as they may decide, to use public baths and washhouses without charge, or upon the payment of a reduced fee. There is uncertainty in the law whether the authorities have power to do this. Clause 43 increases penalties for offences under the street trading bylaws.
§ Those, in outline, are the miscellaneous provisions which the Bill contains, all of an uncontroversial nature, which I hope will recommend themselves to the House.
§ As there are on the Order Paper matters on which there will be a general discussion by your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, may I be permitted to make a brief comment on each.
§ The first Amendment, in the name of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), contains an implied criticism of the attitude of the Greater London Council towards compensation for compulsory purchase. The hon. 853 Gentleman is doing the council less than justice. Ever since its inception it has continually pressed the Government to try to widen its powers for granting compensation. Representations have been made on such matters as planning blight, where a tradesman's business may have been affected over a period of years by clearance work around his shop. It has sought to increase compensation for injurious affection where business or residential premises may be badly affected by noise. It has made proposals that compulsory purchase compensation should be increased by 10 per cent. above market value, in recognition of the fact that the individual is having something taken away from him against his will.
§ These are all matters for the general law and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, over a year ago the Chartered Land Agents' Society produced an interesting report analysing the completely unsatisfactory state of the compensation laws, and making recommendations on how these might be improved so that greater justice might be done to the private citizen. Many of these recommendations are the very recommendations that the Greater London Council has been urging on the Minister. I recently asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government a Question on this report. He stated that the report was of such complexity, and raised such difficulties, that he was having to consider the matter most carefully, but there were continual consultations going on. He could not promise legislation immediately.
§ It is recognised that the compensation laws under compulsory purchase act most harshly and unfairly towards individuals. May I respectfully suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should join with me in pressing the Government as hard as possible to bring forward a national Act that would deal with all these problems. Such questions are not relevant to this Bill. Had the Greater London Council sought in the Bill to widen the general laws of compensation, the Bill would have been lost completely; the Government would have insisted that the Bill be rejected. It is not fair on the Greater London Council to seek to criticise it in a matter which is completely outside its control and depends upon the general body of legislation.854
§ If I may turn to the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), this is a hardy perennial. We all know the very deep and sincere views that he holds concerning valuers, negotiating on behalf of a local authority, trying to fix a price on property when at the same time they are the employees and servants of that authority. I should say—and this is relevant also to the general remarks I was making on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford—that this again is a matter of legislation. Valuation officers are bound by statute on the way they may compute and calculate compensation. What is wrong is not the valuer, but the regulations under which he has to work. This is where we must seek an alteration.
§ District valuers, like all experts, will vary in opinions on a given set of facts. Nevertheless, they are all members of honourable professional bodies, and I believe that, by whomever they may be employed, they conscientiously try to do their job in the best possible way, complying with the laws that this Parliament has imposed upon them. I wish to remove any suggestion of criticism that might be implied against district valuers or valuers employed by the Greater London Council that may be contained in the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North.
§ I hope, again, that he will join with me in the pressure which has to be brought upon the Government to try to have a change made in the laws on compulsory purchase compensation.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
I welcome the opportunity to debate this Bill. I make no apology to the House for having forced a Second Reading on this year's Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill. I believe that too many private Bills presented by local authorities, affecting the fundamental rights of large numbers of people, pass through the Parliament procedure, sometimes with the very minimum of public scrutiny. I understand that there are very careful procedures upstairs, but on the Floor of the House these Bills often do not get the scrutiny that they ought to have.
855 Parliament should, quite rightly, concern itself with the details of the Clauses contained within the Bill. It contains proposals which will affect the lives of people both inside the Greater London area and outside, from the provision of sludge mains to the microfilming of documents. I urge the House to ensure that these proposals and their spin-off effects receive firm and deep consideration by the House tonight.
It will be a relief to the promoters of the Bill to know that it is not my intention to attempt to force a Division at the end of the debate—but that may not hold for all general powers bills that come before this House promoted by the Greater London Council.
The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), in his normal, efficient manner, presented the Bill by dealing briefly with the Clauses contained therein. I wish to follow somewhat the pattern that he has set.
I think it would be appropriate to start with Part II of the Bill which deals with sludge mains. The House will not be surprised to know that Erith and Crayford have a vested interest in the possibility of the provision of sludge mains, because I understand that we have the second largest sewerage works in Europe within our confines. Therefore, I can claim to understand some of the problems associated with the collection and disposal of sewage within the London area. I say, in passing, that it is unfortunate that sewerage works operated by the Greater London Council sometimes cause the most grave inconvience and nuisance to those citizens of London who happen to live nearby.
§ Clause 5 sets out the details for the provision and maintenance of sludge mains. It gives the council power to provide and maintain them, The hon. Member for Hornsey did not go into any great detail about what the Greater London Council had in mind concerning sludge mains.
What is meant by the term "sludge mains"? The hon. Gentleman touched on it very briefly. Yesterday I received a statement from the promoters of the Bill, and I was greatly interested to find on page 3:
A sludge main (which may be defined as a pipe or conduit used to convey the comparatively innocuous residues of treated sewage) …
That is not what the Bill says. Clause 4 states,
'sludge main' means a pipe or system of pipes (together with any apparatus and any pumping station, outfall or other works associated therewith) for the conveyance or disposal of the residue of sewage treated in any sewage disposal works vested in the Council …
§ I take that as meaning that when the G.L.C. comes to provide the sludge mains it will not be providing just an underground pipe or conduit; it could be undertaking extensive works and indulging in the extensive acquisition of land— works and acquisition not only in the area under its control as a county authority, but in the area of county authorities outside its control. If there are to be sludge mains carrying sludge from G.L.C. sewerage works for disposal in the sea, they must pass through the County of Kent or the County of Essex. There is no other way, unless they are taken North, and I cannot believe that.
§ Mr. Rossi
What the hon. Gentleman says is quite right. But I should like to draw his attention to Clause 6, which provides:Where the Council propose to lay or construct a sludge main outside the sewerage area of the Council …certain things have to be done. One of those things is that a notice has to be given to all interested parties. If they object, then there will be a public inquiry and the Minister will have to consider the matter and either accept or reject it, depending upon the merits of the case.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I am indebted to the hon. Gentleman. It is my intention in a few moments to turn to Clause 6 and say a few words about the procedures outlined for a public inquiry. Before doing so I wanted to explore a little more the difficulties and upheavals that Kent and Essex might expect if these powers are unwisely used by the Greater London Council.
The House may recall that there was an extensive public inquiry about the Thamesmead proposals. One of the matters discussed and explored at that inquiry was sewerage works and sewage disposal. It was established, respecting the Crossness southern outfall works, that it was necessary to maintain a reserve of land of 200 acres around the sewerage works so that, if there were difficulties in carrying out the operation of the sewerage works, the sludge could be 857 stored on that reserve land. I hope that the hon. Member for Hornsey, or one of his hon. Friends who may be speaking later in the debate, will be able to tell the House, before we give Second Reading to the Bill whether, in the works which will be carried out in providing sludge mains and any of the ancillary works—pumping stations etc. that go with them—it is their intention to have reserve land so that, if there is a breakdown in the sludge main, the sludge can be pumped on to that reserve land while the repairs and maintenance are undertaken.
If the G.L.C. is to impose upon the residents of Kent or Essex the same disabilities that it has imposed on my constituents at Erith and Crayford in respect of the nuisance and smells which emanate from the Crossness sewerage outfall when repairs and maintenance are in process during the summer months, those counties ought to be warned, and ought to have been warned so that their Members could have been here tonight to participate in this debate.
The hon. Member for Hornsey drew my attention to Clause 6. It is true that under this Clause here it will be necessary for a public notice to be displayed, and if necessary for the Minister to hold a public inquiry if he deems it necessary. As I understand it, under subsection (3), if the G.L.C. is able to do a deal with the other local authorities, there will be no right of objection by ordinary citizens, provided the sludge main runs along a highway maintained by the other local authority.
If my interpretation of the subsection is correct, it means that when, under the next Clause, the G.L.C. stops up streets temporarily for the purpose of laying, constructing, inspecting, repairing, renewing, or removing sludge mains, citizens of the other counties could be placed at a very serious disadvantage, because they would not have the right to invoke the public inquiry procedure, and the Minister would not be able to institute a public inquiry. The innocent residents would not even have known the route the sludge main was to take, let alone have a right to object to it.
They would suddenly be faced with their roads being stopped up for the use of traffic. They might even need to have scaffold boards from the street 858 across the pavement to their front doors. They would be faced with perhaps weeks, or even months, of inconvenience and distress. Their homes could be dislocated by the mud and mess which we have all come to associate with the laying of large pipes in built-up areas. Their carpets, their furniture, and the interior of their homes could be ruined. Shopkeepers who were unfortunate enough to have shops in a road which was stopped up could find their trade disrupted, and suffer considerable financial loss. Yet there is not one word in Part II of the Bill to show that the G.L.C. intends to pay compensation to people who may be affected when it comes to operate these powers.
We have all the fine words of the G.L.C. We have the fine words of the hon. Member for Hornsey, who I know speaks with sincerity on the subject of compensation. But when it comes to the injurious affection, perhaps even the blight, that will result from the operation of these powers, all the fine words of the G.L.C. fade away, and we are faced with the picture of the mighty G.L.C. not seeking power within that section to provide safeguards for the individual and for the loss he may suffer.
I recognise the need for sludge mains. If they are provided and connected to the outfall in my constituency, they will help considerably the people who I have the honour to represent in this House. By providing sludge mains, the G.L.C. may also help the people it is housing on the Thamesmead development. The G.L.C. intends to house human beings within a few hundred yards of the Crossness sewerage outfall works, and if these sludge mains are provided I can only hope, for the sake of these people who are to be condemned to live so close to the sewerage works, that this new development will take, not only some of the sludge, but also some of the odour which will otherwise invade their homes.
I hope that before Part II of the Bill is approved we shall be given the answer to two matters. First, where does the G.L.C. propose to run its sludge mains? I cannot believe that it has come to Parliament for powers without having prepared plans in considerable detail showing where these mains will be laid, and which treatment works within the council's control are to receive the benefits of these mains.
859 Secondly, the G.L.C. should give an undertaking to the House tonight that it accepts the moral responsibility to compensate innocent people who are faced with the havoc which these plans for sludge mains may cause.
If those two things can be done tonight, they will greatly assist the House in accepting the Bill in the spirit which I hope——
§ Mr. R. W. Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
Do I understand my hon. Friend to say that on the Thamesmead site, which the G.L.C. is to apportion, part to private developers and part for council development, it has chosen the part nearest the sewerage works for council development while allowing private people to develop on the other side?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
To the best of my understanding, stage one which is now in the process of construction, and stage two, which will be started within the foreseeable future, are to be wholly council tenanted property.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is disgraceful that the houses within a few hundred yards of the sewerage works are to be council tenanted, while the more remote areas on the estate will no doubt be used for private development. Discussing that is not the purpose of my intervention, but if the theme is developed it will have my support.
I turn, now, to Part V of the Bill which deals with documents and equipment, and the microfilming of documents. I give a general welcome to this part of the Bill, but I note that under Clause 35(4) the G.L.C. does not shy away from introducing a matter which hinges on public policy. I noted the remarks of the hon. Member for Hornsey about the six years' Statute of Limitation. I hope that reliance will not be placed on the incapacity to introduce public matters in a private Bill when we come to deal with the wider question of compensation.
I give a warm welcome to this part of the Bill. By microfilming documents a tremendous amount of space will be saved in local town halls. Perhaps in most town halls, where local authorities have to conform to the Offices, Shops, and Railway Premises Act, they will be 860 able to get rid of some documents, and by making space available conform to the regulations.
I also give a very warm welcome to Clause 40, under which the G.L.C. will have power to improve its responsibility for flood protection. After the long time that the London Government Bill spent in this House, and the great care which the then Government claimed to have taken in framing it, it has now been realised that they omitted to give their new child, the G.L.C., adequate powers to deal with flood protection. The area which I represent is subject to considerable flooding from the Thames and I can assure the council that I support it in anything it does to provide maximum protection for the people of my constituency and London as a whole.
About 40 square miles of London is subject to flooding in certain circumstances. When Clause 40 is implemented, I wonder whether the council would reread the Bondi Report on Thames Flooding and join me in calling for an experiment in the evacuation of London's Underground. If, because of the inadequacy of flood protection, the river flooded into London, Bondi makes it clear that it would be a catastrophic disaster for the Underground. The G.L.C., as the responsible local authority, should speak out loud and clear about the requirements for protecting people in this respect.
Part III is quite involved, with about 20 Clauses, and introduces powers for the council or a borough to provide and maintain walkways. Diligently searching through the Council's Press hand-outs and in the Library in The Times cutting section, I was surprised that I could not find much evidence that the council had made any attempt to inform the public what it means by its concept of walkways. One may be forgiven for thinking, because of the number of Clauses in this Part of the Bill, that the council contemplates some vast network of elevated or subterranean paths linking different parts of the metropolis. The House is entitled to know what the council has in mind before granting these powers.
§ Clause 11 is an attempt to define walkways, but it gives no clue as to their practical application. With the massive publicity machine which the G.L.C. has 861 created, at immense expense to the ratepayers, it is strange that they have remained silent in explaining this major Part of the Bill. Is "walkways" the term to be applied to footbridges or paths linking shopping centre developments like that at the Elephant and Castle to surrounding residential areas? If so, I can understand it. There is a need for people separated by major traffic routes to use that magnificent centre.
§ Or will the real need for walkways arise as a result of the monster motorway box which will slice its way through the Greater London area? Are they to deal with the problems which will result from the cutting off of shoppers from their shops, grandmothers from their grandchildren, schoolchildren from their schools, which will be the result of this proposal? That seems to be the social consequence. Perhaps the supporters of the Bill will say why walkways are needed and how they relate to the motorway box.
§ Clause 12 deals with the procedure for publication notification of the Council's intention to declare a walkway and I welcome this, as well as the opportunities for public objection. It is just as important for the promoting Council, contemplating the construction of a walkway, to be obliged to spell out its intentions, as it is that it should explain this Bill. But I do not believe that the provision in Clause 12(4)(e) is necessarily the best method.
§ The powers under Section 290 of the Local Government Act, 1933, are invoked, which make it possible for an innocent objector to receive a demand to meet part or all of the cost of an inquiry and the inspector's expenses purely because, as a citizen of London, he had the temerity to oppose a proposal of the G.L.C. This is quite wrong and I hope that the Council will find some other way to provide for a public inquiry. If the law will permit only inquiries under Section 290, I hope that we can be told that the Council will guarantee the cost of any such inquiry.
Clause 15 gives me considerable concern and I wish that the hon. Member for Hornsey had spent some time on this important provision. The G.L.C. is asking
for power to provide walkways, yet in this Clause it is trying to insert qualification of its liability in case of accident to a user. The Council will construct a walkway and invite people to use it, but then try to limit its own liability. Clause 15(4)(a) says:
In an action against a borough council in respect of damage resulting from their failure to maintain the surface of a walkway, it shall be a defence (without prejudice to any other defence for the application of the law relating to contributory negligence) to prove that the borough council had taken such care as in all the circumstances was reasonably required to secure that the part of the walkway to which the action relates was not dangerous to persons on foot.
Subsection (4)(b) says:
For the purposes of a defence under paragraph (a) of this subsection, the court shall in particular have regard to the following matters …
The G.L.C. then sets out in detail a number of defences, which it is trying to make legal in the Bill, against the failure of the council or one of the London boroughs to keep a walkway in adequate condition. These defences refer to
… the character of the walkway, and the persons who were reasonably to be expected to use it".
What does that mean? It goes on to refer to
… the standard of maintenance appropriate for a walkway of that character and used by such persons".
§ What does that mean?
It then refers to
… the state of repair in which a reasonable person would have expected to find the walkway".
What the devil does the Council mean by that? As a citizen of London, I join with other citizens in demanding that the standard of maintenance and repair of walkways provided by the G.L.C. should be of the highest calibre. I will not delay the House by quoting the other defences mentioned in the subsection.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
Is my hon. Friend aware of a recent court action involving a constituent of mine who fell over due to a 1½ inch gap in the pavement? Because of a High Court decision in a similar case my constituent, an elderly person, was not able to claim against the Council.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
That is shameful, and when the Bill is in Committee these 863 qualifying provisions will have to be removed.
It is surprising that on the day when we are discussing a Measure in which the G.L.C. is attempting to qualify its responsibilities to the citizens of London, I should read in tonight's Evening Standard a report about Mr. Leslie Freeman, chairman elect of the G.L.C., having been awarded damages amounting to £1,981 in the High Court for injuries received as a result of falling over a two-foot ledge during the hours of darkness after attending a housewarming party. The report states that Mr. Freeman was proceeding… along a path when it was very dark after the party at a block of flats and fell over a two-foot drop in the grounds.The report says that Mr. Justice James… considered that the defendants should have anticipated that a visitor to the premises might well have used this way in and out from the premises and should have provided in their duty of taking reasonable precautions a warning or a light to avoid a risk of a visitor walking off the edge and falling down on to the concrete paving.How fortunate that Mr. Freeman was not walking along one of the G.L.C.'s walkways because, under the provisions of this Measure, the Council would no doubt have found a defence had he sustained that sort of injury. These provisions must be limited, and I give notice of my intention that, if these powers remain in the Bill on Third Reading, I shall urge with all the strength I can command that the Bill be rejected.
§ In Clause 21 the G.L.C. graciously says in subsections (7) and (8) that, if there is a dispute in regard to the compensation terms of the Bill, the matter may be referred to the Lands Tribunal. However, no provision is made for the legal cost of such an appeal to be met. The council should make it clear that if a dispute should arise it will meet the costs involved and not place unnecessary expense on a possible innocent party.
§ Mr. Rossi
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that this is really a matter for legal aid? It would be hard for the G.L.C. to say, "You can ask us for whatever you like, however unreasonable, and you can then take us to the Lands Tribunal if we do not agree to your figures, and then we must pay your costs". The G.L.C. could be open to blackmail because it would have to add 864 the prospective costs of a Lands Tribunal case to the compensation. Surely it is far better to allow the citizen to have legal aid so that he is not deprived, by reason of the smallness of his pocket, from having justice done. Indeed, in leasehold reform and other related matters the Minister might consider the provision of legal aid.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The G.L.C. cannot hide behind excuses. If in my private life the State does not provide all the facilities which I consider my family requires, I must provide what is missing. If the State does not provide the G.L.C. with all the powers that it would like to use in respect of just compensation, it should provide them outside the State apparatus. The G.L.C. should not bring forward a Bill of this kind and lay down provisions enabling appeals to be made if it goes on to say, "But if you exercise these rights, Mr. Citizen, you will have to pay".
The G.L.C. is asking to provide walkways. I cannot recall a poll being conducted in London as there was in Luton in respect of the previous matter which was before the House. The G.L.C. cannot hide behind excuses and suggest that something like this is a national or Government responsibility.
While Clause 22 deals with compulsory purchase, I suggest that if the G.L.C. wants powers to acquire property compulsorily it should at the same time seek powers to give humane, adequate and fair compensation. What will be the plight of householders and traders who are dispossessed of their property by the council exercising these powers?
What will happen to the man in his 50's who thought that he had bought a home in which to spend the rest of his life when he finds that it is being taken from him? He may have paid out all his hard-earned money, laid out the garden, decorated the house and installed modern, perhaps luxurious, but necessary equipment. Because of the G.L.C.'s desire to establish walkways through London, such a citizen may have his dream home compulsorily taken from him.
The G.L.C. should not merely say that he will be compensated at the market value plus a small amount as a disturbance allowance. He is entitled to equivalent reinstatement by the authority 865 which is dispossessing him of his property. He is unlikely to find a similar property for the compensation he will get. He will be faced with a great deal of worry and upset and will probably find himself hundreds, if not thousands, of £s out of pocket—this as a result of powers which the G.L.C., not the Government, is asking hon. Members to give it.
Think of the plight of the occupier of a house in a quiet street who suddenly finds that the G.L.C. or one of the London boroughs—perhaps the borough of Bexley, in which I reside—wishes to provide a walkway which may run level with his bedroom windows. The amenities of that quiet street will be destroyed. Its peace will be shattered and there will be little privacy.
This compulsory purchase action may be taken to provide a walkway so that people have easier access to a railway station, perhaps to commute to and from Central London, or for children to go to and from school. The Bill does not make provision for the householders in that quiet street to be compensated for the noise, disruption and dislocation of amenities. The G.L.C. is making no provision for the payment of compensation for injurious affection arising out of policies initiated by itself or one of the London boroughs.
In a statement circulated to hon. Members who represent London constituencies, the G.L.C. listed all the items for which it considered that improvements in the compensation code were needed.
I will not quote this list, but it is not good enough for the G.L.C. to circulate this document in Parliament, paying lip service to the urgent need for reform, yet, when there is an opportunity for it to do something it attempts to hide behind the excuse that it has raised this matter with the Government and received no satisfaction. The present unsatisfactory state of the compensation laws flows primarily from the policy of previous governments. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friends for the excellent steps, albeit faltering, that they have already made in the four short years of this Government's life, in dealing with the reform of the compensation code.
We have done more to reform the compensation code than was done by previous 866 governments over 13 years. When I read such a statement as was circulated by the G.L.C. I feel that it is an audacity for it to present that sort of argument to Parliament in such circumstances. This is a G.L.C. Bill, and it could have asked in the Bill for powers to deal with inadequacies of the compensation code, about which it complains.
It is not sufficient for the hon. Member for Hornsey to say that if the G.L.C. had brought forward such provisions in the Bill the House may have rejected them on the Government's advice. The hon. Gentleman does not know whether that is right, because it has not been put to the test. I invite him and the G.L.C. to put it to the test by presenting such a Bill. In 1966 Liverpool presented a Bill containing measures which, if operated properly, can deal with many of the worst abuses in the compensation code. If the G.L.C. is serious in its desire for justice let it bring forward similar proposals.
I had the pleasure of listening this week to a leading local authority valuer, who presented a paper at a meeting attended by myself and the hon. Member for Hornsey. We are both interested in this subject. On page 3 of the Paper, the valuer said:… some alleviation of hardship could be achieved at … additional public expenditure on a comparatively modest scale.That man is a very respected member of his profession, and closely associated with the Council promoting this Bill. If he evaluates the cost involved in dealing with these anomalies and injustices in the compensation code as being "comparatively modest", there is really no excuse for the G.L.C., on that sort of advice, not coming to the House and asking for the powers it requires.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The hon. Gentleman is praying in aid a paragraph which says:The Greater London Council, after a very full discussion, unanimously decided to make strong representations to the Government on these and other specific points …".It is no good the hon. Gentleman and his friends relying on that sort of excuse. The Government are not presenting the 867 Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill to the House; they are not defendants in the dock. It is the G.L.C. which has to justify these provisions, to the House and people of London, and give reasons why it has failed to ask this House for powers to deal with these injustices in the compensation code.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
Would my hon. Friend agree that the G.L.C. is full of these excuses? There was a time when those who are now in control at County Hall thought they could have the world for free. Now, they are blaming the Government for everything they can, including the fact that, by their own ineptness, they have had to put an extra 7d. on the rates.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I am tempted to agree with my hon. Friend with enthusiasm, but I want to minimise the amount of party differences. I want to persuade the G.L.C. to face up to its responsibilities and to do justice. At the moment the House could be forgiven if it came to the conclusion that the G.L.C. is making no serious attempt to remedy the injustices that these powers will cause. It is quite indefensible to make a statement that better facilities, whether new roads, hospitals, schools, housing estates or even the provision of walkways, are necessary, without being prepared to pay the costs of the social consequences flowing from such action.
If the community wants a better way of life, if the people of London want walkways, they cannot have them, and the House must say this clearly, if those advances are based on the hardship and suffering of individuals dispossessed of their homes and robbed of their peace of mind. The social costs must be paid by the community, and there must be proper compensation. The G.L.C. must face up to its responsibilities. Let it ask for powers, even if they are similar to those taken by Liverpool, in 1966. Why has the Council not done that? Why has it run away from its responsibilities?
There are traders who will suffer as a result of powers in the Bill. Has the Council considered giving those traders an opportunity of taking a shop at Thamesmead, in my constituency? I can assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this is highly unlikely, because the G.L.C. said, at the public inquiry a few months ago, that it is determined to extract the 868 highest possible rack rent from those properties it maintains. This is another example of the G.L.C. having within its power the means of administering justice to people suffering under the compensation code, and yet failing to exercise this power.
It could offer dispossessed traders very good conditions in terms of rent, and in other ways, through shops owned by the Council, but it will not do so. It is wrong that it will not do so, but should seek to put the responsibility for the suffering and the hardship on other people. The G.L.C. should take its courage in its hands and come to this House asking for powers. If it does not like the Liverpool-type powers, let it ask for discretionary powers, open to the authority to use in the light of circumstances, so that the responsibility for ensuring fair and humane compensation will rest squarely on the Council which initiates the policies resulting in that hardship. I have an idea that there would be a reasonable chance of it getting such powers.
This is provided that they were not hedged in with other undesirable features. In such a case the House might accede to the Bill. Until it has tried this we do not know. My purpose in forcing a Second Reading debate is threefold. First it is to probe the Bill, because it is in the public interest that Private Bills promoted by local authorities should be probed in this House, particularly when a local authority fails to give adequate publicity to its proposals outside Parliament. Secondly, it was to highlight the failure of the G.L.C. to take this opportunity of asking for powers to deal with the inadequate compensation code.
Thirdly, it was to invite the G.L.C. to face up to its responsibilities. Without doubt, it is the greatest local government unit in the world. It should step into the lead in the provision of proper compensation for the victims of its own policies. The resources of the Council are colossal. It should not seek to perpetuate the shameful results of unfair and inadequate compensation. It should not be seeking excuses, it should be seeking powers to end these abuses.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I wish to speak on a slightly different if complementary point from that of the 869 hon. Gentleman the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), but I should like to follow him by saying that I believe he is absolutely right about the desirability of bringing these Private Bills to debate in the House. I think that on both sides of the House we are united in feeling that if these Bills are brought to Second Reading we are given an opportunity for a searching examination which in many respects is often necessary.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) for having moved the Second Reading so expeditiously and for having kindly referred to the reasoned Amendment which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have not selected, having observed that it is a perennial.
Frankly, it is not quite perennial, not every year. I put down this reasoned Amendment to this or other appropriate Bills only when I have some new example to offer the House in support of the general theme which is explained in it. I would also say to my hon. Friend that I am grateful to him and to others, including my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk, South West (Mr. Hawkins), who have joined with me and put their names to the same reasoned Amendment in the past.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that the point which I wished to examine in following the general line of the reasoned Amendment which I tabled has nothing at all to do with individuals. This is not a matter of personalities or the personal fortune or reputation of private individuals in their professional capacity, so far as valuers are concerned.
I am their friend. I am expecting almost hourly to be invited to become a vice-president of the Local Authority Valuers' Association, and I am honoured to be a guest at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' Centenary dinner on 4th March, when I expect to be toasted. There will be not only the pleasure of the meal, but the agreeable ambience of friends and people I have supported.
But I differ from my hon. Friend, for I do not believe that it is only the law of compensation that needs reform, badly though that does need reform. Honestly, I thought the hon. Member for 870 Erith and Crayford was very unfair to try to put on the G.L.C. the onus of producing legislation, which is bound to be highly complex and of which, as we know perfectly well, the Government would have said, "This may be all right in theory, but we are trying to draft something better to meet the case"—as the hon. Gentleman on the Government Front Bench, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, knows perfectly well. No local authority could possibly attempt to formulate amending legislation on compulsory purchase compensation. If they did so it would have to be by a Public Bill, not a Private Bill, because a Private Bill is by definition confined to a limited number of people in the Kingdom; and any reform of such law must, of course, be general and public.
But it is not only the unsatisfactory state of the law with which we should be concerned. It is the system of compensation used by the council, and it would be the same system under any provisions for compensation. It is not because I think that the system works so very unfairly, least of all because of any lack of confidence in the professional men who have to work the system. It is because the system, rightly or wrongly, is mistrusted by the public that I am concerned that it should not continue.
The Bill envisages, specifically in Clause 10, the compulsory acquisition of land by the council and it therefore properly raises for the House the question of public confidence in the fairness of the system whereby the amount of compensation for the victim is assessed. There are, broadly, two systems of assessment or valuation of private property compulsorily acquired by local authorities. One puts the duty of valuation upon the district valuer, who is employed by the Board of Inland Revenue and is, therefore, independent of both the Treasury and the local authority. The other system puts the duty of valuation upon the employees of the local authority which has got to pay the compensation and which is acquiring the property compulsorily.
The Greater London Council, the promoter of the Bill, uses the latter method, as did its predecessor at County Hall, the London County Council. That method was described by the Chief Whip of the 871 majority party on the London County Council—the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet)—in these terms:There is a large staff of valuers who acquire land for the use of the council, who negotiate to get the best terms. It is very necessary to have experience in London in dealing with large firms whose terms may be very difficult to arrange in the Council's interests.''I ask the House to note especially the phrases—negotiate to get the best terms"—and—in the Council's interests.At that point, I intervened and said:Would the hon. Lady confirm that she is saying that it is one of the advantages of the administration of the L.C.C. that the valuers do get the very best terms?The hon. Lady replied very frankly:Yes. I would say that in the interests of the people the valuers should get the best terms they can, and that it is a good thing for the ratepayers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1962; Vol. 654, c. 283.]It appears—I will not say "from the horse's mouth", because that would be an inelegant way to describe the hon. Lady— but from one who spoke then advisedly, and from years of experience of the London County Council, that that is the philosophy. Owners of private property, therefore, unfortunately have been given the idea that valuers employed by the acquiring authority are somehow less inclined to be generous—fair, even—to them than the district valuer employed by the independent Inland Revenue. They have got the idea somehow that the local authority is judge in its own cause, and they see that local authority's employees as hired assassins.
I do not myself think that the public mistrust is justified. It is bitterly resented, incidentally, by the valuers themselves. They are professional men of, as we all know, the highest integrity and honour. But when one tries to persuade the disgruntled victim or constituent who has suffered from compulsory purchase of all that, he will say, in Emerson's phrase:The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoonsIt is intolerably unfair that these individuals should be placed in such an invidious position. It is very difficult for anyone to defend the system, and equally difficult for anyone to defend the honourable professional men who have to 872 administer it, in public. If anyone mentions public distrust of the system operated by the Greater London Council, all the thanks he or she will get will be a writ for libel by the entire valuation department staff for daring to suggest that there could possibly be any mistrust of the system operated by them.
But these distressing ambivalences do not touch the heart of the matter. They are embarrasing irrelevancies. The heart of the matter is that it is a bad thing for the House to support tacitly, through the Bill, a system of administration which does not command public confidence—and this system does not.
When I wrote a letter the other day to The Times—the rich man's Black Dwarf —describing the system, the President of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors wrote in great indignation to say that no such system existed. Local authorities nowhere, never, employed their own staff to value for compensation property compulsorily acquired. Oh no! The curious thing was that a few days later he wrote another letter saying that actually they did do this thing, and it was a very good system too. I do not know whether they have a small room in the Local Authority Valuers' Association where they take Presidents of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors who write letters to The Times like that.
I did not see the original of the second letter, but the signature underneath it must have looked uncommonly like Guy Fawkes' on his confession, because it was clear to me that in all honesty, ignorance and innocence, the President of the Royal Institution wrote that first letter and was then clobbered by the Local Authority Valuers' Association and asked to write another one in precisely contradictory terms.
That is my argument, and I have illustrated its validity again and again in the House by specific examples of what happens in practice.
I must now detain the House further while I give one further example of how compulsory purchase can be made to work against the interests of the private property owner by over-zealous use of administrative expertise. The case that I want to describe concerns the compulsory purchase of the Kingsway subway by the predecessor body to the Greater 873 London Council, which used the same system. It concerns the amount of compensation to be paid to the leaseholder of the Kingsway subway, who used it to display machinery for export, for prematurely terminating his lease on compulsorily acquiring it.
I say "lease". Technically, it was a licence, but for all practical purposes it was a lease. The lessor was the British Transport Commission, and the lessee was Mr S. G. Young. The amount of compensation naturally depended on the amount of time the lease had to run. It had nine years to run when the London County Council decided to acquire the subway to construct the Strand underpass. Under one clause in the lease it could be terminated in six months under certain conditions, one of which was if the subway should be required for traffic purposes. Therefore, it was highly convenient for the London County Council that that condition should be fulfilled, because it would have to pay only a fraction of the compensation due to the lessee if the lease had so much less than its full term to run.
Whether or not the subway was required for traffic purposes, and the lease could therefore be prematurely terminated, depended on the say-so of a body called the Traffic Advisory Committee and the Ministry of Transport. If the London County Council could manage to persuade those authorities to give that say-so, it would be saved, and the private owner would in effect be robbed of, the sum of about £25,000.
But the London County Council was a little squeamish about asking for the say-so for the reason that it wanted to save the money. It preferred to ask for it on the ground that it was in a hurry, that it wanted to get the Strand underpass constructed quickly.
I shall now quote to the House the words of Lord Justice Russell in the judgment in the case of Young v. The London County Council, when it finally came to the Court of Appeal on 13th July, 1967. I shall read from page 13 of the revised official transcript. It would be an impertinence to do anything other than to quote fully. If I may impose on the patience of the House, the quotation runs to about 400 words, this is Lord 874 Justice Russell's considered statement. He said:One feature of this case I do not find altogether satisfactory. It was clearly represented to the Advisory Committee by the Ministry document No. C. 367 on the 30th September 1960 that, unless the Committee made the recommendation, the underpass project would be held up. That document says:'The subway is the property of the British Transport Commission and is at present on long lease to Mr. S. G. Young for the storage, display and sale of machinery and non-inflammable goods and equipment, but included in the terms of the lease is a condition that the lease can be terminated at six months' notice in certain circumstances. One of the circumstances envisaged is the subway being required for traffic purposes on the recommendation of the Traffic Advisory Committee. The conversion of the subway for use as an underpass is scheduled to start during the current year 1960/61, and the London County Council desire accordingly'"—and the word "accordingly" is underlined in the transcript—'that Mr. Young should be given six months' notice of the termination of his lease. The Council therefore asked for a formal recommendation from the Traffic Advisory Committee that the subway is required for traffic purposes as soon as possible. The Minister would be glad if the Committee would now consider such a recommendation.'Lord Justice Russell continued:It is also quite plain that the Advisory Committee so understood the document; that their recommendation was the one way in which an obstacle in the carrying out of the project could be removed, because Minute No. 2202, based on document No. C. 367, and headed: 'London County Council. Kingsway Subway. Strand Underpass', is as follows:Lord Justice Russell then quoted the Minute, which said:'Mr. Edwards'"—the representative of the L.C.C. on the Committee—'stressed the need for the subway to be available as soon as possible to enable work to start on its conversion for use as an underpass. It was agreed that the subway was required for traffic purposes as previously recommended, the precise form of words for any report to be left to the secretary to determine after obtaining legal advice.'Lord Justice Russell went on:In truth, of course, this was not the need for the recommendation because a compulsory purchase order was in the mind of the London County Council which would override any tenancy, and the sole object of the exercise (not told to the Advisory Committee) was to affect 875 the incidence of compensation as between Mr. Young and the British Transport Commission; at least, no other object could be suggested by …counsel for the London County Council. Those are the words of Lord Justice Russell and the House should also be given the words of Lord Justice Willmer in the same judgment, which will be found on page 4 of the transcript. He said that there was… some ground for suspicion that the London County Council were taking sides with the British Transport Commission so as to keep the compensation payable to the appellant as low as possible.To indicate even more precisely the view of Lord Justice Russell, I quote from the transcript of the proceedings of the previous day, on page 6. He said:The elbows of this Advisory Committee were jogged by the Ministry of Transport, the L.C.C., … Uncle Tom Cobley and all to make quit; sure that the private citizen got the minimum of compensation.This is not an innocent, uninformed paranoid member of the public. These are two Lords Justices in the Court of Appeal. In these circumstances, who can blame the public if they see this as an example of legalistically legalised thieving by an official conspiracy? This happened under the system acquiesced in in the Bill and administered by the L.C.C.'s successor authority. If things like this can happen and invite such condemnation from such a source, how can we blame innocent people who suspect that there may be something wrong with a system which prima facie does seem to make a man judge in his own cause?
In the circumstances, if the House permits without protest the passing of the Bill, our constituents can have no confidence in us and we should be ashamed of ourselves. But I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey says about the compensation and I gladly accept and pay tribute to the fact that the G.L.C. has taken the initiative and been instrumental in forcefully presenting to the Department proposals, comments and criticisms designed to promote and facilitate a change in the law of compensation.
There has been a change of heart no doubt. One might wonder whether this is because; of a change in the political leadership of the G.L.C. or whether it has been caused by my friendly encouragement and guidance in this House, of which, no doubt, note has been taken, 876 although no newspaper ever dares to publish a word of it. [Laughter.] None the less, it is so. The newspapers tried once and they were warned by counsel that they had better not try to defend a writ for libel because juries were not friendly to newspapers and that it would be better to settle, although theirs was a classic case of fair comment in a matter of public interest.
The Press does not like to touch this topic. That is regrettable, because I am criticising the system and I am deploring the lack of public confidence in the system and I am saying that that lack of confidence may be understood. What I am not saying—I would not say it, and I truly do not believe it—is that individuals do not do their duty according to their lights in a spirit of honour. None the less, even if the law is improved as to the terms and basis of compensation, it will still be ill-served by this system.
I hope, therefore, that the House may soon address itself to the G.L.C.'s recommendations as to the reform of legislation, but that it will not, in doing so, neglect to address itself also to the need for a change in the system whereby any law is administered.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
In my view, that last speech of the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) was an abuse of the privileges of the House. I have told the hon. Member that I proposed to speak in this way. I also said to him that I would judge my speech by his and that I would not reveal what I believe to be the whole of the past sorry history of the hon. Member's activities on this issue if he refrained from repeating yet again before the House, covered by its rules of absolute privilege, words or quotations from a document which has been agreed in open court to be a libellous one. But the hon. Member has done so, and so I propose to use all the information at my disposal in this speech.
I am sorry to take up the time of the House. Frankly, I doubt whether the hon. Member is worth it, but I am caused to do so by the fact that a very large number of honest and competent men are injured in this way—"perennially", as the hon. Member himself said—by the hon. Member's activities on the Floor of 877 the House. It seems to me that those men, all of them basically honest and competent professional people, have a right to be defended here as well as attacked.
It is because of my contacts—not of any financial nature—with the Rating and Valuation Association that I am making this speech tonight. But, in addition to that organisation, on behalf of one of its members who is a senior member of the valuation department of the Greater London Council, I have been approached by officers, acting in their official capacity, of the Greater London Council and the representative of the London boroughs on the same issue, as well as by a member of the Greater London Council.
One might think that the true cause of the hon. Member for Ilford, North's speeches—they are not singular, but plural—was the fact that his wife was a defendant in a libel action which arose from an article written by her and published in December, 1961, in the Evening Standard. That article concerned the work of officers in the valuation department of what was then the L.C.C. and reflected upon their competence and integrity. I do not wish, naturally, to repeat its contents any more than has already been done, but it made imputations that they were partial in their negotiations with vendors not only as employees but also in breach of their professional code of conduct.
Mrs. Iremonger and the Evening Standard subsequently withdrew unreservedly in open court—not behind the scenes, not privately—the defamatory references to these officers and agreed to pay a substantial sum in respect of damage. The sum, by the way, was paid to charity and not to the persons who regarded themselves as having been libelled. I accept that the hon. Member has no financial motive in this connection. As I understand, those damages were paid by the Evening Standard and in no way relate to him personally.
I entirely accept that the hon. Member's motives can be said to be of the best. He is, as he said in a previous speech in this House on this subject, treating his wife's honour as his own. I appreciate that his motive is of that 878 character; nevertheless, he has carried this too far.
The hon. Member has referred to this on eight occasions in the House. On 31st July, 1963 he brought in a Bill to amend the Defamation Act under which the action had been brought by the 134 valuers of the London County Council. On 19th March, 1964 he used the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill, on which hon. Members are allowed to raise such matters as they wish, to quote from the Evening Standard article that I have mentioned. He quoted, for example, exactly the Emerson quotation——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
The hon. Member is pursuing the hon. Member rather than the Second Reading of the Bill. He must devote himself to the subject of the Amendment put down by the hon. Member, which would be in order.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
On a point of order. I have been sitting here restrained listening to the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) making an appalling attack. He tried to argue that it was not an attack, but anybody who has been listening to it must have come to the view that it was a personal vendetta against the valuers of the G.L.C. I put to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that my hon. Friend is attempting only to put into perspective the attack which the hon. Gentleman opposite has made.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I have allowed the hon. Gentleman to make clear what he believes to be the hon. Member's motives, but I think that he has gone far enough in that direction.
§ Mr. English
I was about to say that in that debate in 1964, the phrase "hired assassin" was used, as the hon. Gentleman again used it tonight, and this was another quotation from the article. That was not the only quotation from that article that was used by the hon. Member in his speech.
§ Mr. English
I accept that. I am not accusing the hon. Member of misquotation of his wife's article. I am saying that he is using the cloak of privilege to repeat several times a libel, and I will not press the point.
879 I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I could prove to the satisfaction of the House that this type of thing has been done on eight previous occasions by the hon. Member before the House. If, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with the greatest respect, you think that I am going too far, I think that eight times by the hon. Member is going too far in repeating something which has already been settled in open court.
On many of these occasions the hon. Member has adopted the same tactics as he did tonight, raising cases where he believes that the L.C.C., as it was, or the G.L.C. as it is now, is adopting improper practices. I must refer to this, because it may not be possible to answer immediately the case raised, although afterwards it is easy to find out if any of the references were wrong.
On four of the eight occasions which I have mentioned, the hon. Member referred to 22 L.C.C. cases which had been referred to the Lands Tribunal between 1951 and 1960. He claimed, among other things, that only four of these cases had been decided in favour of the L.C.C. and that there was a wide disparity between the L.C.C.'s final offers and the Tribunal's awards. In fact, seven cases went in favour of the L.C.C., not four, and the disparity between the final offers and the awards was not so great as the hon. Gentleman stated. Furthermore, the hon. Member did not quote the very much greater disparity between the vendors' claims and the Tribunal's awards.
As you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I must keep to the subject of the Bill. To take the argument raised in the hon. Member's Amendment, leaving aside his motive and what I believe to be the innuendos contained in his speech, a valuer's duty is to assess the compensation payable under the law.
This is not the place or the time to argue the virtues of the Land Compensation Act 1961, or its defects. The G.L.C. could have inserted provisions amending it in this Bill, if it wished to do so. It is certainly true that the G.L.C. has put forward proposals for ameliarating what it considers to be undesirable features of the compensation law. Some of the very people who have advised on those proposals and made such suggestions are those whom the hon. Member for Ilford, North has attacked. The 880 valuers of the G.L.C. are its advisers upon this issue, and they are amongst those who have put proposals to the G.L.C. relating to these matters.
The whole argument of the hon. Gentleman puts the matter completely on its head. The G.L.C. in this respect is not alone. About 100 local authorities, many of them the largest in the country, adopt the same practice as the G.L.C. on this issue. They employ their own valuation staff to conduct negotiations for the acquisition of property This is an entirely proper practice. Nobody suggests that when a person sells a piece of land to a local authority the local authority should not use its own solicitor to draft the conveyance. We expect a vendor to use his own solicitor to see that his legal rights are safeguarded, as is normal with all conveyances.
In the same way, we expect that property owners may use valuers under their control to negotiate with the valuers of the local authority.
§ Mr. English
I am coming to that point. I understand that the council goes beyond its legal duties, because it advises owners, before negotiations are commenced, to take professional advice of their own.
Let us consider the alternative suggestion put forward by the hon. Member for Ilford, North. I have served on a local authority where the district valuer, who is an employee of the Board of Inland Revenue, does the valuation and negotiates with the vendor.
A district valuer's duty is to vet negotiations of this character wherever a local authority is expending moneys which are grant aided. One of his prime functions is to see that the local authority does not use a Government grant to purchase land from private citizens corruptly or something of that character. But because he is there and because he is a Government official, he is instructed, as I understand all district valuers are instructed, to see that the price is fair to all parties and is in accordance with the law.
If the hon. Member for Ilford, North, had his way, the person negotiating and the person considering whether the negotiation was fair would be the district 881 valuer. This applies in some cases, and this would be the situation according to the hon. Member's proposal. To use the hon. Member's words, that is far more putting a man as a judge in his own cause than the alternative system adopted by the G.L.C.
For that reason, when I was a member of a local authority. I advocated the system used by the G.L.C. whereby there are two independent parties—the local authority with its valuers and the independent private party with such professional advice as he may have—negotiating with each other and arriving at a decision which, in all normal cases, because nearly all services are grant aided, will subsequently be looked at by a district valuer employed by the Government who has not himself conducted the negotiation or agreed the issue in the first place.
It seems to me that this is an incomparably fairer system than the procedure advocated by the hon. Member for Ilford, North. I accept that the alternative procedure exists. I accept, too, that the district valuer operating that system does it very well and fairly. After all, he is instructed by my right hon. Friends and others to operate in accordance with the legal requirements.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)
Whether one proceeds by way of the district valuer, or by the other method suggested, they both have to operate according to statute law, and remedies are available for both if they do not do so.
§ Mr. English
That is true, too, of the alternative system.
It is most unfair of the hon. Member for Ilford, North to say that a valuer of the G.L.C. is, in effect, acting as a judge in his own cause, merely because he is an employee of that local authority. He acts as an employee of that local authority under the law, under its instructions as my hon. Friend says, and negotiates quite fairly in accordance with certain specific instructions given by the council. One of those instructions is that valuers are to reach agreement with the owners on a basis that is fair to both parties, and then, under the system, it will in all normal cases when it is a 882 grant-aided service be vetted by the district valuer.
§ Mr. Iremonger
May I make it clear that what I am saying is not that it is so? I do not think that it is. What I am saying is that with the best will in the world the innocent public think that it is so, and that justice, though it may be done, is not seen to be done. That is my case. I might add——
§ Mr. Iremonger
Mr. Speaker, the hon. Gentleman referred to me and made comments about my having raised this matter before. I shall raise it again, and again, and again.
§ Mr. English
I still think that such repetition is an abuse of the privileges of the House. I accept that the hon. Member has motives of domestic bliss or domestic honour, as he sees it, which are not to be compared with other types of motive, but I still think that it is an abuse of the House to repeat, time and again, on nine occasions now—there were eight before his last speech—the contents of a libellous article.
§ Mr. English
I was doing so, but I allowed myself to stray once more, because of the intervention.
The hon. Member is using one local authority, and using the valuers of that authority because they happen to be employees of the corporation, to illustrate and bolster his case. His case is to say that instead of having a system where there are two parties, and someone employed by the Government vets the system afterwards—rather akin to the way in which one has two lawyers in court arguing with one another and the judge then decides the argument—one of the lawyers should also be the judge, although that is what he is complaining of in the present system.
It seems to me that this is wrong. It seems to me that the G.L.C.'s system is a better one. Above all, I think that its valuers, who are honest and competent men, have a right to be defended from these perpetual attacks made on them.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) on the clear and concise way in which he moved the Second Reading of the Bill. I intend to comment on parts of this Measure, but perhaps I might first say a few words about the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), and that of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English).
I feel that the public thinks that there is something in the argument put forward by my hon. Friend, that justice is not seen to be done, and therefore it may be that the regulations need changing. It may be that more publicity should be given to the way these things are done. But it should be put right.
§ Mr. English
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has in mind Dr. Goebbels' statement that one can make people believe anything if one repeats it often enough.
§ Sir R. Russell
That does not apply here.
The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford, in a genial way, castigated the G.L.C. for not seeking improvements in compensation. The G.L.C. started life under the control of the hon. Gentleman's party and it remained under its control for three years. For two-and-a-half of those three years his party was also in control of the Government at Westminster. Therefore, I wonder what steps the Labour-controlled G.L.C. took to put the matter right.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I am delighted to inform the hon. Gentleman that it originally made precisely the same representations as the present masters of the G.L.C., but they have no more excuse for asking for these powers.
§ Sir R. Russell
Perhaps they do not want to waste the time of the House if they know that the Government in power will not do it. I do not wish to pursue that point any further.
I will not quarrel with anything that has been said on walkways. That is a neat name. I confess that I had not heard of it until I read it in the Bill. They are usually called pedestrian precincts. I am not so worried about 884 their effect if they are above or under ground. I am more worried if they are on the surface. I hope that when walkways are constructed, as presumably they will be or provision for them would not be in the Bill, adequate alternative routes for road traffic will be provided. A serious problem will arise if the creation of walkways increases traffic congestion.
There have been reports that Bond Street as we know it, which I take it means New Bond Street at one end and Old Bond Street at the other, is to be made a pedestrian precinct, possibly at certain times of the day. I am not sure whether this is the responsibility of the G.L.C. or of the Westminster City Council, but I hope that if it comes about steps will be taken to ensure that there are alternative routes for the south-bound traffic which will be displaced from Bond Street and that, in making this walkway or pedestrian precinct, we do not overlook the road traffic side.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. An example of a walkway is to be seen in the Barbican scheme in the City of London, adjacent to my constituency. It is an excellent example of developments which may take place in other parts.
§ Sir R. Russell
I know that example. I also know of a very successful pedestrian precinct in the City of Norwich which is of benefit to motorists and pedestrians.
A few years ago there was created in my constituency what is called Central Square, Wembley, for walkers only. The only difficuty was that it was built on what was nothing but air before, or perhaps I should say air plus steam from steam engines and diesel fumes from diesel engines. It is over Wembley Central station on the main line out of Euston. It is not yet very well known and no traffic goes through it. When local authorities create areas of that kind, they should take care to ensure that they are made known, because the shopkeepers in this area have to engage in publicity exhibitions like baby shows to attract people to the square. It is not a very good example of a walkway.
§ Clause 29(i)(e) on finance makes provision for a contribution towards the conveyance of refuse from the area of the local authority to the place where it 885 deposits it. How many of the London boroughs dump their refuse without having it processed first? The former Borough of Wembley processed its refuse and I know that the Wembley section of the present borough of Brent does the same. I am not sure whether the Willesden section follows suit.
§ A great deal of material, notably paper, rags and metals—can be obtained from household and trade refuse in this way. These products should not be wasted. I know of at least one borough which used to dump its refuse in a sandpit or quarry without making any attempt to process it. I hope that the Ministry will, if it has power to do so, insist on all local authorities processing their refuse and rescuing these valuable materials.
§ I agree with the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) that the provisions dealing with documents are sensible. I hope that much space which is now taken up by the storage of documents will be saved as a result of this matter being disposed of and microfilmed in the way provided in the Bill.
§ Clause 36 makes provision for the hiring of electronic and other equipment. Members of the public who wish to use this equipment when it is not being used by local authorities should be able to hire it. This provision will not only bring in revenue but will provide a valuable service to the public.
§ Clause 38 extends the time for the acquisition of land for the Northern approach to Waterloo Bridge, the southern approach to Wandsworth Bridge and for the Eastern Avenue extension. These developments are obviously needed and the longer they are not provided the greater will be the need. When will the land be acquired and the roadways and approach roads completed? These developments will help to relieve traffic congestion in London.
§ As Clause 45 deal with costs, can we be told what these extra powers will cost the G.L.C. each year and what additional burden will be placed on London ratepayers? This burden is growing annually and I trust that all means will be used to reduce it.886
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
A number of persuasive speeches have been made in this debate. Mine will not be long, but I hope that it will nevertheless be persuasive.
The G.L.C. is at present not properly using the powers which the Bill seeks to extend. When we are called on to extend such powers, it is reasonable for us to ask whether the authority is adequately using the powers it currently enjoys. It seems that the G.L.C., a body which covers an extremely wide area, has failed to capture the breadth of vision to equal the extent of its physical size. For example, we have had much discussion of the question of compensation. The proposed motorway box will bring this question very much to the fore. It is yet another assertion of the false proposition that the needs of men on the move must take precedence over the needs of mankind in his home. Transport by sea, air or road cannot be considered more important than the need of a family to live its life in its own house.
The G.L.C. need only announce an intention, whether in connection with walkways or a mammoth scheme like the Greater London motorway box, to deprive people who live in the shadow of an intention, and not of a fact, of perhaps one-tenth of the value of their homes. This shows that the G.L.C. exercises enormous power and influence. One wonders whether it appreciates the effects of speeches made by its leading members about its intentions.
I have constituents who have been placed in an impossible position because, being desirous of moving, they have found themselves with houses that are reduced to the value of the mortgages they hold on them, and sometimes even below that. Such families are not only impoverished but immobilised.
The old Labour L.C.C. used to get over this problem by being a great buyer of property. It was usually purchased by agreement and it was always able to find good uses for housing and space. The G.L.C. needs wider compensatory powers—I have listened with sympathy to the speeches which have been made on this subject by hon. Members on both sides—to a much greater extent 887 than the old L.C.C. because it does not possess as wide a range of need as the old L.C.C. The L.C.C. had a variety of reasons for acquiring houses—for example, in connection with children and old folk—but this variety of functions is not enjoyed by the G.L.C. Therefore, it needs compensatory powers, because it lacks that variety of powers which made the L.C.C. an omnivorous acquirer of buildings.
This is the fault of the Party opposite, which now controls the G.L.C. My constituents are paying dearly for the political victory which they acquired as a result of moving these powers from the L.C.C., giving them to the G.L.C. and spreading them over a wide area. The compensatory authority can no longer utilise the buildings for which it is responsible, so the action which is suggested in the Bill, the proposal which gives the G.L.C. borrowing powers in relation to the local authorities, is a line of thought which the G.L.C. should explore further. It should consider buying houses as an agent for the London boroughs which now have the duties which used to be the direct duties of the L.C.C. The boroughs still have the need and the requirement for large houses and could look to the G.L.C. to resume the acquisition policy on their behalf.
These houses can be put to good use in rehousing families on the waiting lists, which are still great in London, providing homes for people in care and in many other ways. The boroughs must simply refuse to allow the G.L.C. to drive huge wedges through areas in their responsibility, bulldozing all in their path and casting into misery hundreds of families on either side of the devastation. The Bill contains no such special powers of purchase or compensation.
I am not without sympathy for the point of view that this might be said to be a general argument, but the G.L.C. is a very special case. If it did take its courage in both hands and put forward some special compensatory powers on the lines that it was a special case, it is likely that my right hon. Friend would consider them sympathetically. But he has not been able to comment, because no such proposal has been put forward.
If the G.L.C. is not prepared to take any of these steps, one wonders whether it should be allowed to have its Bill or 888 its motorway box, because it is not entitled to either at the expense of individual householders who happen to have the misfortune to live, not right in the path of the monster, or perhaps far enough away to be out of trouble, but in a huge grey area which spreads out on either side of the proposed roadway, where the quality and value of living will be sadly and suddenly reduced. The House should not give the G.L.C. its Bill until it brings forward proposals to solve these problems or else gives an undertaking to abandon the motorway box idea.
I am particularly interested in Clause 39, which would extend the time for the acquisition of land for the Wandsworth southern approach area. I have the misfortune to have most of the Wandsworth Bridge southern approach area in my constituency. It is a place of terrible devastation. Year after year, people's quality and standard of living has been declining there. Now, the G.L.C. is asking for further time still. Instead of getting all the people out of this area, it has allowed to continue some wretched roads which look like Dante's Inferno.
I refer to Huntsmoor Road, Marl Street, Jews Row and Warple Road. In these places, people should not be asked to live in our time. I am ashamed that they exist in my constituency. I can conceive of no worse place in which to live. The houses are broken down, water comes in, the street outside is bulldozed with puddles—it is a dreadful place. Those who live in these areas and whom the G.L.C. refuses to move should, in my opinion, be got out.
In Huntsmoor Road, I refer to Mrs. Pearson, whose permission I have to say that, under the pressure of these events upon her family, had to go into hospital. She should not be asked to come out of hospital and go back to this terrible area. I am thinking also of Mr. and Mrs. Rumble higher up the same road, who are in similar case. A child of Mrs. Pearson's fell ill of bronchitis in a house full of damp.
This terrible place should be cleared up. The G.L.C. should not refer each case, as it now does, to the medical officer of health, relying on him to say that the house is uninhabitable in the strictly legal and technical sense. If the G.L.C. wants its Bill it is entitled to it 889 only if it is prepared to deal with these problems on a human basis and say that this whole area is uninhabitable and get the remaining families out. If it can give some assurances to this effect, I would be happy to see the Bill go through. I would wish to intervene at some later stage to prevent the Council getting the Bill if it does not give an assurance in relation to the area of the Wandsworth Bridge southern approach.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
It may seem strange that a Member from Norfolk should speak on a G.L.C. Bill. However, I spend more time in London than I spend in Norfolk. The only point I want to raise arises on the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger).
§ Mr. Hawkins
Thank you, Sir.
I know nothing of the background of this matter. In fact, I did not even know about it until it was mentioned. As a matter of principle I believe that it is far better for the district valuer to deal with all the claims of compensation on behalf of local authorities or public departments. I am a chartered surveyor. I am also a member of the Norfolk County Council. I am convinced that the Norfolk county valuer, and many other valuers in similar positions, would much prefer the district valuer to continue to deal with these claims.
The district valuer's office has built up a large amount of expertise. District valuers are free from the pressures which can exist in local authorities. I know that they do exist for officers paid by local authorities. It is a great pity that many more powers are being transferred from district valuers because of the immense duties put upon them by the Labour Government. More recently, the compulsory acquisition of pieces of road for road widening has been transferred from the district valuer to the county valuer in my county.
Nothing I say should be construed as being any criticism of any valuer, be he county, borough, or district valuer. I 890 merely say that district valuers have built up a large amount of expertise. They are used to all these cases. Many of these things merely burden county valuers with jobs they would rather be without. The main job of the county valuer in my county is to look after a large small-holdings case.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I congratulate the Greater London Council on bringing a useful Bill before the House. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) on introducing the Bill so clearly and explaining its several Clauses. To complete the congratulations, I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) on the service which he has done by drawing attention to the hardships caused by the law of compensation, not merely to the people of London, but to people throughout the country who are faced with the exercise of powers such as those set out in the Bill and who find that they must make sacrifices for the common good, or in the interests of progress, or whatever we like to call it. As the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) said, even a mere expression of intention to carry out some works may cause hardship for individual owners.
This debate on a Private Bill has drawn our attention once again to the inadequacies of the general law in that respect. We all sympathise with the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford that too many Private Bills get through the House without the general public's knowing what hits them, because only when they become law and these powers are exercised does a member of the general public realise what he may suffer as a result of what we have allowed to pass through the House.
On Private Bills precedent is everything. Once one Clause has got through in one Private Bill, it can get through in any Private Bill thereafter. This is particularly so in this Bill. It was only in 1967 that the City of London had the initial Clause on walkways. This has been and will be the precedent for future legislation in Private Bills on this subject. Each time, a little more is added to the powers acquired by the local authority in a previous Bill.
891 I sympathise with the points made by the hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford and with the examples he gave. I was particularly impressed by his point that under Clause 6 certain citizens can object and make their voices heard, but that those in some neighbouring county or district who find their streets blocked up through the activities of the council in laying conduits have no right to object at any stage. That is true, but it is also true in any sewerage matter. When a local authority is laying a sewer down ones street, one has no right to compensation for the disturbance it may cause to one's residence or business.
The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford said that the Greater London Council has not done much publicity about walkways. My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) said that he only found out about them when he read about them in the Bill. We cannot blame the Greater London Council for this. Walkways started in the City of London Bill two years ago, and I do not think that the G.L.C. is to blame for people not knowing what they are, or what rights may be taken away from them when the walkways are set up. This only reinforces the need, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey said, for national legislation on the subject of the removal of the individual's rights and amenities—without compensation in so many cases.
The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford said that here was an opportunity for the G.L.C. to put this right. In practice, he must know that it is not an opportunity at all. Had the G.L.C. tried to amend the general law, the Ministry would have put in memoranda in Committee, and those Clauses would never have come back to us on Report. Therefore, from a practical point of view this was not an opportunity for the Greater London Council to seek special treatment outside the general law. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) said, it is unfair to put on the G.L.C. the onus of producing amending legislation on compensation, which is such a complicated subject.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
In view of the statements made by the Greater London Council, does the hon. Gentleman think it 892 reasonable that it should put to the test the assertion he has just made on its behalf, and ask for powers? Then, if the Government turn them down in the way he suggests, its case would be much strengthened. But at present the responsibility must lie with the council.
§ Mr. Page
There is always a time-scale on Private Bills. To put in subjects one knows will be knocked out may lose one the Bill altogether. It is reasonable in those circumstances, when the Greater London Council has made its position well known by the protests it has made over the years, that it should try to get through this useful Bill without putting up its own obstruction to it by including too much.
The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford suggested that the Liverpool Bill precedent could have been adopted. I do not think that it would have fitted this Bill as regards walkways. It was a precedent for the power to purchase property that might be damaged alongside a motorway. I do not think that that would have been effective in this case.
We face an unusual complaint about the Bill. The usual complaint against Private Bills is that they seek to amend the general law geographically, that they seek special treatment for one area, with the argument that the law needs altering there. The counter-argument is that if the law needs altering it should be altered in a public Bill, and not merely in one geographical area.
The argument for speciad treatment of a local authority bringing forward its Private Bill is based on the allegations of fact set out in the Preamble. It is not for the House to examine the truth of the Preamble; that is for the Committee. We in the Chamber must consider whether the principle behind the Bill is so repugnant that we do not want to send it to the Committee, that we do not want to see it again in its process through the House. I do not think that we could say that about this Bill. It has some very useful proposals.
Therefore, we are in the unusual position tonight of meeting the argument of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford, who tells the G.L.C., "You should not have brought forward this Bill without 893 trying to amend the general law." However much one disagrees with the general law on compensation—and I go a long way with the hon. Gentleman—that argument would put local authorities in an extraordinary position. They would be told that they must not seek to improve the administration of an item of local government without amending the general law on some other subject. Perhaps that would be very satisfactory, for I think that under those circumstances we should not get any private Bills before the House. But we should not be serving the needs of local government if we put on such a bar.
However, some points in the Bill need very careful consideration, such as Clause 5, dealing with sludge. I should have thought that sludge is really sewage. Perhaps it is merely a technicality that it is not sewage in law, and therefore without a Clause of this sort the Greater London Council could not treat it as sewage and lay it in sewers. But a point against this is that as the law stands the council should put it in ordinary pipes, and seek powers through the Pipelines Act to convey treated sludge. In that case it would be subject to payment of certain compensation, which it does not have to pay when laying a sewer. The Committee will have to decide later whether it is merely the correction of a technicality or an evasion of payment of compensation.
Clause 12 deals with walkways. It follows the precedent of the City of London Act, 1967, but goes very much further. This, again, should be considered carefully in Committee. It goes further by saying that the council
… may carry out all such works and provide all such facilities as they may think fit the purpose of laying out or rendering suitable for a walkway any way or place.…
It follows from that that there are compulsory powers of purchase to carry out the duty.
§ I hope that the Committee will examine carefully the Clauses which go further than the City of London precedent. Clause 15 does, when it places on boroughs responsibility for maintenance of the walkways. Clause 22 goes wider in favour of the council on compensation matters. Clauses 25, 26 and 27 are all additional to the City of London precedent.894
§ But this does not justify us in saying that the Bill should not be given a Second Reading. I hope that the House will send it to a Committee, which can carefully consider all these details, important as they are. I do not feel that we can say that the principles embodied in the Bill are so repugnant that we should not give it a Second Reading.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)
On several occasions I have been in the position occupied tonight by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), and I congratulate him on the admirable clarity with which he introduced this complex Bill. I am sure that he did it very much better than I could have done.
The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) is right to say that, on these occasions, the House should find some time, although not at too great a length, to look at the principal provisions, because precedents have a peculiar way of recurring, although I do not think they go so far, usually, as the Section introduced into the Liverpool Corporation Act prior to the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1857.
Section 87 of the Liverpool Corporation Act went through the House at a late hour. It said, "The town clerk's marriage is hereby dissolved". Thus, the town clerk got his own private Act of Parliament and I gather that succeeding town clerks of Liverpool took advantage of the provision for some years until the matter was put right in the 1857 Act.
It is right to look at Bills presented by public authorities but it is not advisable, constitutionally or any other way, for me to criticise but only to comment on some things in a way which may be helpful to the House. My right hon. Friend and any other Ministers involved will be compounding a report upon the Bill as a whole and this will be available to the Committee for its assistance 14 days before it begins its consideration. All the points mentioned in the debate will be looked at by my right hon. Friend and the other Ministers concerned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) spoke with great sincerity about the problems of compensation. He is always most 895 anxious to help his constituents in any hardship he thinks they have. I want to say two things on this aspect. It is true, as the hon. Member for Hornsey said, that the G.L.C. has made some representations to the Department about the general law of compensation, but, in the major communication it sent—incorporated in a report presented to the G.L.C. on 21st June, 1966—it did not depart at all from the general principle that market value should be the basis of compensation. Neither, incidentally, have any of the other bodies which have submitted evidence or representations to the Department taken the view that there should be a general departure from that principle.
It is true, however, that, on 17th December last, a report of the G.L.C. brought forward the idea of ownership grants. This is being considered along with other ideas on the subject of compensation. I understand that the ownership grant proposal is not a general departure from what is considered the appropriate basis, but would operate in certain cases.
Secondly, there has been undertaken for some time an interdepartmental review on compensation, in which these representations and others are being considered. In due course, my right hon. Friend will be looking at the whole of that review.
§ Mr. Graham Page
May I press the hon. Gentleman again on what is meant by "in due course"? After this debate, it is obvious that the report should be early. I hope that he will convey to his right hon. Friend that it is now even more urgent.
§ Mr. Skeffington
I shall certainly convey to my right hon. Friend the observations made in the debate. Substantial progress has been made in the review. Indeed, I think that it is virtually completed, so I hope that there will be no undue delay in considering the matter further.
My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and the hon. Member for Crosby referred to the Liverpool Corporation Act. That was not a general departure from the basis of market valuation. In addition to what the hon. Member said about allowing 896 strips of land along the motorway to be purchased, it gave——
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.