HC Deb 23 October 1973 vol 861 cc1180-99

1.46 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Mills)

I beg to move, That the Land Acquisition and Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 25th July, be approved. The object of the order is to apply to Northern Ireland the provisions of the Land Compensation Act which became law in May, 1973. The Land Compensation Act gave effect to proposals contained in the White Paper "Development and Compensation—Putting People First", Cmnd. 5124, and provided a number of new entitlements and safeguards for those landowners and tenants finding their private interests affected by public developments.

When the White Paper was published the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland indicated in his statement issued on 18th October 1972 that, although not directly covered by the White Paper, the changes recommended would be adopted in Northern Ireland and that the aim would be to ensure that such changes would take effect in Northern Ireland at the same time as in Great Britain.

There were difficulties involved in trying to make what was then the Land Compensation Bill fit the differing circumstances of Northern Ireland law. It was therefore decided that the extension of the provisions contained in the then Bill to acquisitions under Northern Ireland legislation by Northern Ireland authorities should be done by an Order in Council.

In fact, this order matches the Land Compensation Act as closely as possible and differs significantly from it only in two respects. The first is that a number of the blight provisions in the Land Compensation Act had already been incorporated into Northern Ireland law in the Planning and Land Compensation Act (Northern Ireland) 1971 and the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1972. Only the additional changes contained in the Land Compensation Act needed to be included in Part VI of this order, for example, the provision enabling the personal representatives of deceased persons to serve blight notices.

The second difference, an important difference, is that the opportunity has been taken in Articles 65 and 66 of the order to obtain compulsory acquisition powers for the Northern Ireland Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Finance, through its works division, provides or acquires buildings and, where necessary, suitable sites, for all Northern Ireland Government Departments. This mirrors the function of the Department of the Environment here, except that the Department of the Environment has vesting powers under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, Section 113, and the Ministry of Finance in Northern Ireland does not. The Ministry of Finance does have power to purchase or to take on lease by agreement any land required for the purpose of any powers or duties of the Ministry for the administration of any public service in Northern Ireland, but in practice this is a procedure which can result, and does result at present, in considerable delays and difficulties in acquiring sites at reasonable prices.

That is a matter of some concern, and it explains why it is felt necessary to add Articles 65 and 66 to what is in other respects no more than legislation matching the Land Compensation Act.

The Government are committed to enhancing the quality of everyday life in Northern Ireland, as in other parts of the United Kingdom. In so doing, a balance must constantly be struck between the overriding duty of the State to ensure that essential developments are undertaken for the benefit of the whole community and the no less compelling need to protect the interests of those whose personal rights or private property may be injured in the process.

This is an important order. I believe that it will help to enhance the quality of life in Northern Ireland, and I commend it to the House.

1.52 a.m.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

As the Minister said, the order has as its prime purpose the application of the Land Compensation Act to Northern Ireland. The Act received the Royal Assent in May this year. We on this side did not oppose it then, though we tried to improve it, and, on that principle, we do not intend to oppose the order tonight.

Before coming to several points of concern to Northern Ireland, I wish to say that if there are any other aspects of the land problem in Northern Ireland not touched by the order, which mirrors completely—with one or two additions—the Act which went through this House earlier this year, I know that it would be the wish of the Opposition that they should be the subject of a measure in the new Assembly. That would be the appropriate place to discuss the problems of Northern Ireland. Given our procedures here, and given the problems in Northern Ireland, in my view adequate discussion cannot possibly be conducted in this House by English, Scottish and Welsh Members.

I come now to the questions arising on the order before us. It is important that there be a major publicity campaign making clear the provisions of the order and that the procedures for claiming compensation be kept as simple and cheap as possible. Even under our Land Compensation Act, only now is the publicity campaign beginning. Those of us with motorways in our constituencies, for example, know how important it is that people should know their rights. When any piece of legislation confers rights on people, it is necessary to communicate those rights to those who are liable to be able to exercise them.

Under the present order, the need for publicity is even greater, for two reasons. As I read it, some of its provisions apply with retrospective effect. First, the right to claim compensation will extend to damage from works brought into use since 17th October 1969. Secondly, the people of Northern Ireland have recently experienced the reorganisation of both their regional and their local government. In this situation many individuals are unclear as to their rights and how to claim them. Therefore, may we be reassured on the question of publicity and procedures?

My next point relates to the total cost of the package of measures. In the debate earlier this year on the Land Compensation Bill it was said that the new measures would cost about £65 million in a normal full year for England, Wales and Scotland. In practice, because of the grant arrangements, about £40 million will be carried by central Government, £12 million by local authorities and £3 million by other statutory undertakings. What are the comparable figures for Northern Ireland? If the Minister does not have them at his fingertips I shall he happy to receive them in written form. What is liable to be the total cost in a full year, and how will the cost be spread?

I want to turn to a particular development in Northern Ireland which will presumably involve the application of some of the major provisions of the order, namely, the question of compensation. I refer to the Belfast ring road. In the first place, this is the responsibility of the new Belfast District Council. However, final responsibility now rests with the Ministry of Development, although—I think I am right in saying—the order seems to be sponsored by the Ministry of Finance, and as this has a bearing, however tenuous, on the question whether this is an excepted or a reserve measure, I should like some clarity on that point. Final responsibility seems to rest with the Ministry of Development, and until power is devolved to the new Assembly that means that final responsibility rests here, at Westminster.

The Belfast ring road was launched in 1961. There are three phases. Phase 1 links the MI and the M2; phase 2 links the M2 and the Sydenham bypass; phase 3 completes the circle from Queen's Island to Shaftesbury Square. Last year the plan for phase 1 was finally approved by the Ministry of Development and tenders were put out for the construction of the highway.

The economic and social costs of the ring road are enormous, and there are serious doubts whether it will meet the real traffic needs of the city. Criticism of the plan crosses the sectarian divide, since the highway will pass 50 feet or so from some Divis Street flats and one of the proposed ancillary link roads would completely destroy the Sandy Row shopping centre.

At its first meeting, on 1st October of this year, the Belfast District Council voted by 27 votes to 8 for a motion asking the Government to reconsider their transportation policy for the city and to allow time for further discussion of alternatives to the urban motorway complex. The motion was tabled by David Cook of the Alliance Party and Harry Fletcher of Sandy Row. It had the support of the NILP and the SDLP and others—including, I have no doubt, the DUP. The fact that I can reel off such a list of bodies supporting a motion is quite something in Northern Ireland.

When the Government consider the ring road in the context of this order—and this brings my remarks into order —which implements legislation for the rest of the United Kingdom, they will see that it will give rise to sizeable compensation. It is important that we should take the opportunity of examining what the Government propose to pay compensation on. I believe that when they reconsider the question of the ring road they should bear in mind the views put forward on an all-party basis in Belfast. They should consider changing phase 1 so that the MI and the M2 are linked by a smaller highway at some point outside the city—perhaps from Moira to Templepatrick. They should scrap phases 2 and 3 as the destruction of homes and premises would be considerable and the new roads would only increase the traffic flow. They should consider developing a fast and modern rail service for the area linking Larne, Lisburn and Bangor, and they should create car parks on the outskirts of the city served by an efficient bus service.

I raise this matter because, if the present plans go forward, there will be considerable compensation arising out of this order. If the main road is put 50 ft. from some of the Divis Flats there will undoubtedly be a noise problem. As the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Austick) and I both know, considerably further than 50 ft. from a road can and does create a noise problem.

I think that some questions can be answered in this short debate. What additional cost is the implementation of the provisions of this order expected to put on the present plan for the Belfast ring road? If, under the order, there is to be compensation, then that should enter into any cost benefit analysis. Including this additional cost, what is the latest estimate for the cost of the plan as a whole? How far has the Ministry of Development proceeded with the allocation of orders on phase 1? What is to be the response of the Government to the motion passed by the Belfast District Council?

I have serious doubts about this major development, though it is very much a matter for the people of Northern Ireland. That is why I come back to the point that, when the Assembly gets under way in Northern Ireland, this will be one of the matters that the 78 Members, particularly those from the Greater Belfast Area and Belfast, will discuss at greater length and in a way that we are unable to do this evening.

I have raised serious doubts about a particular development in Northern Ireland, but I should like to repeat that we welcome the draft Land Acquisition and Compensation Order.

I should like to mention only one other point. The Minister referred to Part VII, Article 65, in which there is provision for the compulsory acquisition of land required for the public service. That is in addition to the Land Compensation Act passed for the rest of the United Kingdom. Presumably that is put in the order because of the particular problems in Northern Ireland. Whether I am right or wrong that that is in addition to the Act matters not. It is in the order and it is additional to the powers that we have here.

Two points arise. It is always difficult for those of us who take an interest in Northern Ireland to have the detailed knowledge possessed by Ulster Members. That must be so, however hard one tries to get a detailed knowledge of the area, so it is left to those who represent that part of the United Kingdom and to Ministers who spend a great deal of time there. But, given the security position there and however much it is improved, I understand that a great deal of land is being bought up in the Belfast area.

I have had stories brought in my direction of people going there from this part of the United Kingdom because it is easy to buy land and property cheaply in Northern Ireland at present. Indeed, this week—how far this is true I have no way of finding out—I have been informed that German and Japanese businessmen are buying up land in Northern Ireland. It is understandable that this should happen. People are taking the long view. They are saying that there will come a time when normal circumstances will return to Northern Ireland —Belfast, in particular—and therefore it makes sense in the European set-up to buy land cheaply which will one day be a great deal more valuable than it is now. That is what it adds up to. If that is the case, would it not be sensible for the Government seriously to consider buying up land themselves in Northern Ireland under Article 65, and perhaps under other articles of this order. If it is true that Japanese and German businessmen are buying for the longer term although the private businessman here is not prepared to do so, the Government ought to be getting a land bank for the future development of Northern Ireland.

Another point which I want to make is that during the last year or two I have had a number of representations about the problem of areas such as Roden Street. Both Ministers will know of the problems there. The market value of areas such as Roden Street has deteriorated seriously as a result of their position in Belfast and the people feel that they are hardly done by, particularly when owner-occupied property is acquired. All I am asking is whether this order has any relevance to a situation of that sort. I know of the strong feelings of people on both sides of the community in Northern Ireland, and I am wondering whether the Government's powers would ease the situation in areas such as Roden Street.

We on this side welcome this order. We know that there are many other applications to Northern Ireland, and I hope that when the Assembly gets under way shortly there will be other measures and discussions on the particular problems of Northern Ireland, because it is the Assemblymen of Northern Ireland who know the real problems that face us and not the Members of this House.

2.7 a.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

As a Member representing a constituency in Northern Ireland, I should like to register my strongest possible protest at the way in which this very important Order in Council, which has 72 articles and some 54 pages, has been brought before this House at nearly 2 o'clock this morning. I suppose I should congratulate the Minister on his brevity, but there are many points concerning this order on which I should have liked to hear him expounding.

Before we began to debate this order, Members from other parts of the country were holding forth upon the rights of this House and upon the way that legislation should be brought before it. I wondered from time to time what would have been their attitude if an attempt had been made to foist legislation upon them in the way we are being asked to pass a very important Order in Council at this early hour of the morning. We are already limited by the fact that we cannot make any amendments to this order. The only opportunity we have of registering our protest is by voting against it, and no one wants to vote against an Order in Council which has very many good points, and we want to give our blessing to those measures which will help our country.

This debate tonight will be for Northern Ireland like a photograph of a debate which we had at the beginning of the Assembly between the Loyalist Members and those of the SDLP. There will be just two voices from Northern Ireland in this House tonight. But I am sure that in this debate, whatever the very deep differences between the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and myself, our speeches tonight—and I am not anticipating what he will say—will find a unity for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland.

If this order had been a Bill, it would have been a very substantial one with some 72 clauses. Instead we have these 72 articles. The order merits careful attention by the people of Northern Ireland. It repeals a number of important sections in various Acts, and I have been perusing some of those Acts. I must put most of my speech in the form of questions so that I can elicit information.

I should like to know why the Minister chose this order to repeal Section 91 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1907. That section deals with sky signs, and I want to know what sky signs have to do with this order. Would he also explain what Section 22 of that 1907 Act has to do with this order? That section enables a local authority to require the corner of any building intended to be erected at the corner of two streets to he rounded off … to the height of the first storey or to the full height of the building … What this has to do with this order I do not know. As for sky signs, which include balloons and such things, I should like to know what significance they have.

May I draw the Minister's attention to the repeal of Section 28 of the Housing Act (Northern Ireland) 1961? When the provisions relating to compensation were dealt with, why was reference made to Section 2 of that Act? Does not the Minister feel that a part of Section 2 could well have been repealed in this order?

It would be a truism to say that when legislation of this kind comes before the House it should be scrutinised, but it deserves double scrutiny when the Government are given the right to acquire property forcibly. Therefore, this order should be given special attention. What worries me about the order is the fact that certain powers are to be vested in various Ministries. May I refer to Article 30 which states (7) The Ministry of Development may, subject to such conditions as it may determine…". That means that the Ministry is really a law unto itself. It may determine a certain course of procedure with regard to making a contribution to the Housing Executive.

Article 20 states: Compensation under this Part shall carry interest, at such rate as may for the time being be determined by the Ministry of Finance…". This places full authority on the Ministry of Finance. It is that Ministry which is to decide the rate of interest to be paid.

The same situation arises in Article 32(9): The Ministry of Development may, subject to such conditions as it may determine … I think the same thing is to be found in Articles 40 and 42. Why are not these matters spelt out and why do the Ministries reserve to themselves such great powers?

In Article 39 special power is given to the Housing Executive. The executive …may pay the reasonable expenses of the tenant in removing". who is to decide what those reasonable expenses are? The poor man who is shifted may feel that they are all the expenses incurred by him because he has to shift his home. But the executive may say that it is not responsible for all his expenses. The same applies where the tenant purchases the dwelling to which he moves. The executive: … where the tenant is purchasing the dwelling to which he is removing, may pay any other reasonable expenses incurred by the tenant …". Article 18 provides: Any question of disputed compensation under this Part shall be referred to and determined by the Lands Tribunal. Mention is also made of the Lands Tribunal in Article 38(4): Any dispute as to the amount of a disturbance payment shall be referred to and determined by the Lands Tribunal. Does this mean that the procedure carried out at present by the Lands Tribunal is to remain? If so, that is to the disadvantage of a person claiming compensation, because if he loses his case before the Lands Tribunal he has to pay all the costs of the hearing. It means that a person who is not happy with what he is offered by the Ministry, who appeals to the Lands Tribunal and loses his case, will find that he has to pay the costs of the hearing. I protest at that procedure.

The Minister knows that farmers are extremely reluctant to go before the Lands Tribunal. They know that there is no appeal from a decision of the tribunal. A farmer constituent of mine has had an unfortunate experience at the hands of the Lands Tribunal. The water board paid about £8,000 an acre for some land next to his own. His farm was taken over, and he was offered only £500 an acre. He thought that he should have been offered about the value given for the acreage next to his own. When he appealed to the Lands Tribunal he was refused what he felt to be the proper price. He had to pay the costs of his appeal, and he feels that he has been badly treated by the tribunal.

I bring the Minister's attention back to Part II. Article 4(2) deals with the physical factors caused by the use of public works resulting in depreciation. It says that they are noise, vibration, smell, fumes, smoke and artificial lighting and the discharge on to the land of any solid or liquid substance. Can the Minister say whether the physical factors include dust settling on land? In certain areas of Northern Ireland the dust from public works has become almost a scourge. I know of cases where dust has penetrated into homes, leading ultimately to their destruction.

In Ballymena, which is the largest town in my constituency, the local council installed a heat treatment plant at it sewage works. That plant gave out a tremendous stench. The stench was so great that the plant had to be closed down. The whole of Harryville, which is at the lower end of Ballymena, was overcome with the fumes and the smell of the heat treatment plant. The council is taking action against the people who installed the plant. Only recently one of the big factories in Ballymena put in the sewage pipes a by-product produced by its manufacturing process. That substance clogged up the sewerage system in Ballymena and caused another tremendous smell. Again, there was an uproar.

Does this measure cover a matter like that? The sewage disposal agency is now in the hands of the public and it is a public works. Is this the type of thing for which people can claim compensation? If so, how is a test to be made that a stench is of such a nature that compensation is payable? That will be a difficult problem. I am sure the Minister appreciates that.

There are many other matters which deserve careful scrutiny. I return to the matter of the ring road. I agree that it is a perplexing matter. The Democratic Unionists voted against the proposal way back when the matter was first mooted. The ring road comes into part of the area of the hon. Member for Belfast, West including the Donegal Road end. The top of Sandy Row will become completely destroyed if the plan goes through. The fact is that the ring road is there and there is a great mass of pilings holding it up. The shadow of it is upon the immediate districts. It almost blights the whole district. It will blight the dwellings of the people nearby and make it uncongenial for them to live in the area.

The area of Sandy Row, with its shopping centre running parallel with Great Victoria Street, is a vital issue. In what way will compensation be assessed for the people living in the area? Some people are not keen to leave the area. I do not suppose that the authorities would want the whole population to leave? How will the claims be assessed that they no doubt wish to make? It is important that a study should be made of an important rail link. That would ease the situation considerably. Those are important matters which need to be taken into consideration.

These are just some of the things that perturb me and, though I may not get an answer to them tonight, I shall be happy to wait for an answer. This is an intricate order and it would take a lawyer, after great study, to understand some of the clauses and their wording. Therefore, it takes a layman a considerable time to try to get the hang or sense of some of the articles. I have tried to study the order as best I can.

I suggest to the Minister that in future when he has such an intricate order he does not bring it on in the middle of the night. During this Session controversial issues seem to be discussed in the House in the daylight, whereas the real meat of the things that affect the people of Northern Ireland are left to discussion in night sittings. This does not give the people of Northern Ireland a good impression of this House. Surely these matters should be discussed at a better time in the parliamentary timetable. I hope that in future those hon. Members from Northern Ireland who take an interest in these matters will be given the opportunity to discuss them at a more reasonable hour.

2.31 a.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

Since the House met yesterday afternoon there has been considerable disappointment on both sides of the House at the fact that the Government are appearing to rush through legislation during this concluding part of the Session. I agree with all the protests which have been made, though most of them relate to constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales. The fact that I find myself at this hour in the early morning in company with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) trying to voice the same protest as he has voiced is some indication of the extreme dissatisfaction we feel at the techniques adopted by the Government in seeking to rush through major legislation at the end of this Session.

There are twelve Members from Northern Ireland who represent Northern Ireland constituencies in this House. I wish to put on record our disappointment at the way in which legislation is now being hurried through in this way. The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) took some comfort from the fact that the major part of this legislation has already been put before the House for other parts of the United Kingdom, but we are now talking about a major change in a major part of Northern Irish legislation.

Let me put on record what we are now discussing and we can see these headings on `the front page of the order. We are discussing the right to compensation; interests qualifying for compensation; claims; assessment of compensation and general provisions; assessment of compensation; assumptions as to planning permission; reduction of compensation where other land is benefited; exclusion of minimal compensation; other restrictions on compensation; alterations to public works and changes of use; mortgages, trusts for sale and settlements; interests acquired by inheritance; tenants entitled to enlargement or extension under the Leasehold (Enlargement and Extension) Act (Northern Ireland) 1971; special provision for claims arising before commencement date; information for ascertaining relevant date; disputes; action for nuisance following unsuccessful claim where responsible authority have disclaimed statutory immunity; interest on compensation; and the interpretation of all these matters. As a public representative, I believe that these issues, which will affect the everyday lives of people in Northern Ireland, are worth more than a 90-minute debate.

When the Northern Ireland Temporary Provisions Bill abolished the Northern Ireland Parliament and made way for direct rule, we all recognised, particularly those representing Northern Ireland constituencies, that that procedure, which meant discussing Northern Ireland issues after the normal business, at 10.30 or later, would be completely unsatisfactory. I did not oppose direct rule, because it was necessary at the time, but I had serious misgivings about how it would operate. In the interests of their constituents, hon. Members require adequate time to put down amendments. Now, an important piece of legislation, which in any democratic legislature would be seriously considered, has to be accepted or rejected—and cannot be amended.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North said that certain legislation is repealed under the order. Schedule 3 includes the repeal of Article 96(2) of the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, which was not debated in any elected Northern Ireland institution. The same applies to the repeal of two orders enacted in 1971 and 1972, which came before the House in the early hours of the morning, when I may or may not have been present. With the political situation in Northern Ireland, it is not possible for every elected representative to be in the House at those hours.

The order contains much important legislation, and since its publication five or six weeks ago, given the political dialogue now taking place in Northern Ireland, there should be opportunity for elected Members to give it the priority it should have had.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South mentioned the Belfast urban motorway proposals and the fact that in the new Belfast District Council, constituted under legislation enacted here, irrespective of party allegiance, members of the party led by the hon. Member for Antrim, North, members of my party, members of the Alliance Party, and even some members of the official Unionist Party have rejected those proposals as at present envisaged.

I take no satisfaction in saying to the hon. Member for Antrim, North that, as a member of the old Belfast Corporation, I objected in the 1960s to the urban motorway proposals, long before there was a Democratic Unionist Party. My attitude then has been vindicated in so far as we have had the support of the vast majority of members of the new Belfast District Council in our opposition to the motorway.

We can vote tonight on the order but would probably lose the vote. This is important legislation. It will be binding on future developments in questions of compensation—and I am thinking not of the great landowners but of the small person owning his own house in a little back street, whether it be in the Falls area or Shankill or any other part of Belfast. The proposals for the motorway give great priority to the combustion engine but no consideration to the people who own their own humble homes.

All these are matters which should be discussed in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Antrim, North and I may be at odds vehemently about whether there should be total integration of Northern Ireland with the rest of the United Kingdom or whether there should be a regional Assembly, but I believe that all these interests we are now discussing could be better discussed in a Northern Ireland Assembly because the elected representatives are much aware of what is happening there.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the smells and vibrations and stinks emanating from some places in Ballymena. I am sure he thinks, as I do, that it is not appropriate for us to be considering these things at this hour of the night and that he accepts that not too many people here are all that interested in what is happening in his constituency.

From the discussions taking place in Northern Ireland we hope an Executive and a worthwhile Assembly will emerge in a democratic institution which will reflect all the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland, irrespective of political party. This legislation is vitally important, and it is not the end of the road.

I hope to see the occasion arise when all these interests can be included in a Bill which would mirror this order but be brought before the Assembly in Northern Ireland. We could then discuss it, amend it and improve it in whichever way we thought to be in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. Although the order will be accepted in the House tonight, I hope that it will not be sacrosanct for all time. I hope that the Minister will indicate that when the new Assembly and Executive come into operation we shall have an opportunity, if necessary, to amend the order or to improve upon it and that that will not be resented by this House.

2.41 a.m.

Mr. Peter Mills

Even though the hour is late, we have had an interesting and worthwhile debate. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), who said that he was not opposed to the order. Indeed, he said that he welcomed it.

I shall try to answer some of the many questions that have been posed. The hon. Member for Leeds, South talked about publicity. How right he is. How important that is. It is crucial if we are to make this work and to help people. There will be general publicity in the form of newspaper advertisements, articles in professional magazines, leaflets in the question and answer formula and direct communication with bodies such as the Ulster Farmers' Union and various other organisations. Secondly—this is very important—there will be direct communication with known interested individuals. For example, the Roads Division of the Ministry of Development and the Housing Executive are at present identifying the persons who would benefit under the provisions of the Order in Council from their acquisition funds. I give the assurance that we shall do all that we can to make this widely known.

The hon. Member for Leeds, South then asked about costs. These are very difficult to estimate. For example, firstly the number of claimants for compensation for injurious affection is unknown at present. The number of claimants for home loss or farm loss payments is unknown. The best estimate that I can at present give is about £500,000 per annum for the next few years. About half of that, £250,000, could relate to roads and injurious affection by noise, and the remainder, another £250,000, would relate mainly to home loss payments arising from housing replacement, redevelopment or slum clearance. These are only estimates but they give some idea of what we are thinking of—about £500,000.

The matters that we are dealing with will be transferred subjects, so the Assembly and the Executive can deal with them later.

The problem of the Belfast motorway, or ring road, has interested several hon. Members tonight. Of course we appreciate the concern that has been expressed. But plans are very far advanced. They were originally approved by the Belfast Corporation. Now I understand that the Belfast City Council has expressed its concern. The Ministry is examining the project with the council and consulting it at present. The Government recognise the importance of allowing full discussion of major proposals like this, and of others which will be made, with district councils and the Assembly if they want them. But they believe that this is the correct project and the right way forward. They realise, however, that this belief must be reconciled with the views of local bodies and local needs.

We take on board the point raised by the hon. Member for Leeds, South about other things which should be done. I assure him that massive car parks and a greatly improved rail system are in the planning stage. The question of phases 2 and 3 is wide open. We are concerned, but matters have gone a long way. There is the problem of heavy trucks and traffic delays in the city centre, as I know only too well when I travel through it.

The question of Articles 65 and 66 has been raised. This is a matter of bringing the legislation in Northern Ireland up to the standard of Section 113 of the English Town and Country Planning Act. I have a disappointing answer about Roden Street: no, it does not help apparently.

I note the protest of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Reverend Ian Paisley). I have sympathy with hon. Members over the difficulty that they are in. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will assist speedily and helpfully in the establishment of the Assembly and Executive in Northern Ireland because then these matters can be dealt with there. That is surely what we want. That must be the answer rather than have people kept up late at night in this Chamber, with all the other problems.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North referred to various repeals. He had me worried for a moment. Section 22 of the amending legislation of the Public Health Acts enables local authorities to acquire buildings at the corners of streets to be rounded off to secure better site lines. It is superseded by the planning order. It is unnecessary because these matters are taken into account in planning permissions, which did not happen in the past. That is true of Section 91.

Section 28 of the Housing Act (Northern Ireland) 1963 specifies a duty to pay disturbance compensation. It is being replaced by Article 37, which is better. Perhaps the hon. Member for Antrim, North would look at it when he has time.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I drew attention to Section 2 of the 1961 Act and asked whether part of it should be repealed as it is replaced by the legislation we are considering, but it is not shown as being repealed.

Mr. Mills

I am grateful. Perhaps I had better look at the matter more carefully. I mentioned that a written reply would be sent. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will accept that.

The Lands Tribunal, about which the hon. Member was concerned, is a court of law, and the court reserves the right to apportion costs according to the reasonableness of the claim. A just reference, even if unsuccessful, does not attract severe costs. The commissioner can deal with complaints of mal-administration.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Surely the Minister is not suggesting that if someone thinks he has been dealt with unfairly by the Lands Tribunal he can take the matter to the Commissioner for Complaints. Is it not a fact that in all the cases before the Lands Tribunal in Northern Ireland costs have been awarded against those who have lost their case?

Mr. Mills

The hon. Gentleman is right. I mentioned the Commissioner for Complaints in the whole context of complaints. I believe that if the case before the Lands Tribunal is a reasonable one, losing the case would not attract the payment of heavy costs.

The other point was about smells, noises, and so on. That valuation officer, in consultation with the valuer for the claimant, would consider whether it was a suitable claim. I should have thought—and I shall check on this—that that was so for both dust and smells.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) spoke about legislation being rushed through. I understand his view, and I have stated my opinion on the matter. The order will bring real benefit to many people. It will help those who have been subjected to problems and difficulties and have suffered blight without getting any compensation. It is important that the order should come into effect so that people can take advantage of it.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I am informed that legal aid can be obtained for Lands Tribunal actions in this country. May we assume that that applies in Northern Ireland? If it does, it will go some way to meet the point made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley).

Mr. Mills

The hon. Gentleman is right, and I thank him for reminding the House of the position. I hope that the hon. Member for Belfast, West has taken the point on board.

Mr. Fitt

There could be disadvantages.

Mr. Mills

Yes, there could be, but if the hon. Gentleman reads the order carefully he will realise that it will provide considerable help for many people.

That brings me to the point that was made about the small householder in a back street. The order will help him, too. Much of the order is designed to cater for such a person in various ways. It will provide compensation for people over the age of 60, for those who are crippled, and so on. It will also provide compensation for rehousing the homeless. I ask the hon. Member for Belfast, West to realise that the order is designed to help people in those circumstances, as well as the large landowner.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West said that we did not understand the problems of Northern Ireland. I do not think that he is right in taking that view. There is nothing to stop the new Assembly from bringing in new measures or amending the order. Once the Assembly and the Executive are under way, these things can be dealt with.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I referred to land acquisition by the Japanese and the Germans, which seems to be a common story. I do not know the full force of it, but I hope that the Minister will consider all its aspects. It may be that Articles 65 and 66 apply here. I hear the story too often for my comfort.

Mr. Mills

I am sorry that I did not cover this point. I have heard this story as well, as I believe my colleagues have. I believe that it is exaggerated. I have heard of only one case. I will look into the matter and write to the hon. Gentleman.

This is an important order. I accept the point about the timing. I believe that it helps in the tremendous dilemma that there always is of the Government wanting to have roads, redevelopment, and so on, and a private owner who has his rights and difficulties. The order goes a long way to grapple with these problems of compensation. This is why I hope that the House will accept it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Land Acquisition and Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 25th July, be approved.