§ Amendment made: No. 312, in Clause 25, page 24, line 18, after 'counter-notice' insert 'in the prescribed form'.—[Mr. John Silkin.]
§ Mr. Graham Page
I beg to move Amendment No. 360, page 24, line 25, leave out lines 25 to 28 and insert:'is in a disposal notification area'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
With that amendment, we shall take Amendment No. 178, in page 24, line 28, at end insert:'(9A) The provisions of section 192(4) of the Act of 1971 shall not apply to land which is included within section 192(1) of that Act by virtue of the provisions of subsection (9) above'.
§ Mr. Page
This is a simple amendment which I am sure the Minister will accept since it will simplify the Bill.
We are now dealing for the first time on Report with disposal notification areas. This provision has struck terror into the hearts of many people when they realise that, if they happen to be part of such an area, they will have to inform the local authority of the fact that, when in the bath one morning, they decided to dispose of their property. There is no point set out in the clause at which, if they happen to be in such an area, they should give that notification.
Unlike most of these areas which we have experienced in town and country planning and development matters, a disposal notification area may have nothing whatever to do with the redevelopment of an area. It is not a clearance area or a slum area. It may exist anywhere. It may be in the centre of a town, or in the country, or involve residential small houses or residential large houses. We are dealing with something which is to be 1176 a new factor in the ownership of property and in the conveyancing of property. The local authority can declare an area a disposal notification area and then follow all the matters set out in Clause 25. This obviously will affect the value of property.
We can assume from the fact that a disposal notification area has been created that the local authority has an eye on that area for some sort of development. It will be difficult to find a willing purchaser of property within an area so designated. That fact has been partially recognised in subsection (9) where we find reference to the blight procedure under the 1971 Act and the similar Scottish Act. The blight procedure applies when an owner, following some action by the local authority, is unable to find a purchaser at the price which he might reasonably have expected to obtain. In the circumstances set out in Section 192 of the 1972 Act, he may serve a notice on the local authority requiring it to purchase the property from him.
Section 192 sets out a fairly extensive list of occasions when the blight procedure takes effect—that is to say, occasions on which, by some incumbrance having been placed on property by the local authority or other public authority, the opportunities for selling that property have been substantially reduced.
When the blight procedure was first introduced it was fairly tightly limited, but over the years it has been extended. It has been recognised that it is a fair and reasonable procedure where the owner of property has been put in a difficult position by the action of the local authority. In terms of Clause 25(9), the blight procedure will come into effect only if the land in question is specified in a counter-notice asland which an authority intend to purchase…".The counter-notice is the notice given by a local authority in reply to a notice stating that the owner wishes to dispose of his land, and that counter-notice must be given within a certain period; or the blight procedure is brought into effect if it is landas respects which an authority have failed to serve a counter-notice.There is a time set out in the clause within which the local authority must 1177 serve the counter-notice if it intends to purchase. Only on those specific occasions will the blight procedure take effect, but by the very existence of the disposal notification area the property will have been blighted.
We have to distinguish in several other cases between actual blight and blight in law because Section 192 of the 1971 Act sets out the occasions on which the blight procedure in law will commence. There are many other occasions on which the value of property has been reduced by the action of local authorities—occasions not covered by Section 192. But it has been recognised in drafting the Bill that at a certain point the disposal notification area situation will blight property at the point where the owner has served notice that he wishes to dispose of the property and the local authority has served a counter-notice that it intends to purchase, but we must appreciate that, if this comes too late in the proceedings, the property will already have been blighted by the existence of the disposal notification area.
I know nothing in the Bill which has struck the layman with such force as has the device of the disposal notification area. Many parts of the Bill have struck the professions as being quite abominable, there are parts of the Bill which have struck those who know the financial side of matters as being unbearable, but the ordinary layman must realise that a local authority under the Bill will be given powers to say to him, "You shall not sell your house without telling us first. We shall then have the right to take it from you." Once he is within an area of that sort, the value of the house is bound to drop. It should be recognised that the house will be blighted at the point when it comes within a disposal notification area.
The purpose of my amendment is to remove the limits on the blight procedure now included in subsection (9), and to widen it to the extent that it can take place immediately the disposal notification area is declared in relation to any property.
Amendment No. 178 again refers to Section 192 of the 1971 Act and to the corresponding section of the Scottish Act. In that section, and in another subsection, 1178 there are limits on the property which can in law be blighted—or, to put it in another way, the property in respect of which the owner can serve a purchase notice if his property is blighted. It is limited to owner-occupier property and other property of a certain value, and with certain limits on agricultural property.
There should be no limit in the case of a disposal notification area. If this is to apply so as to blight a whole area, all those within that area should be entitled to take the blight procedure and serve a purchase notice. By giving notice of the disposal notification area, the local authority is giving notice that at some time or other it will develop this area and, if so, take over the property. The benefit of the blight procedure should apply to all property in that area and not be limited merely to certain Owner-occupied residential property, to certain property not exceeding a certain rateable value, and to agricultural property. It should apply to all the property within that area.
§ Mr. Michael Latham
Because of the enormous complexity of this measure, and in particular the very complicated drafting of many of the provisions of it, the difficulties of the public in understanding the problems which will arise can readily be appreciated.
I confessed with some reluctance in the Committee that, because of the jobs I have had in the past, I have had the very doubtful distinction of being involved in every single Committee stage in this House on housing since 1965. The boredom involved is indeed mind-boggling. But in all that time I do not think I have ever found a clause which gave me more concern than Clause 25. In saying that, I remember also the many sections of the Land Commission Act with which I was very unhappy at the same time.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) is one of the leading experts on the subject of blight and compensation. The public of this country owe him a great deal for his efforts in regard to the 1971 Act, which brought about great improvements in regard to rights of compensation when the State acquires people's homes. The amendment, which he described so ably, would go some way, but only some way, towards dealing with 1179 the really horrific problems which will arise for householders if disposal notification areas come into effect.
The purpose of Clause 25 is that, when a local authority declares a certain area to be a disposal notification area, it will then be in a position to require that anybody—not just householders but business people and industrialists as well—wanting to take part in any transactions affecting his property, selling, leasing, or whatever it may be, will have first to give prior notice to the local authority, which will then decide whether it wishes to acquire the property compulsorily.
That is a very Draconian power. Justice, the all-party body, described Clause 25 in its memorandum asone of the most oppressive provisions in the Bill.I am far from heartened by the guidance in one of the consultation papers issued by the Government when they first described this particular provision. It stated that:The Secretary of State may veto a disposal notification area and will give general guidance against which he will expect authorities to establish them. The purpose of a DNA is two-fold: to enable authorities to find out about impending private transactions in areas where they are considering acquisition; and to protect the interests of owners and prospective purchasers where acquisition by an authority is imminent.I do not know how my hon. Friends feel, but I do not regard it as a great protection of the interests of owners that they should have their property compulsorily purchased from them.
§ Mr. Rossi
Will my hon. Friend also confirm whether my recollection is correct that also in the notes on clauses which we received it was stated that one of the objectives was to depress the base values of property within disposal notification areas—in other words, deliberately to force down the value of people's houses, gardens and property in those areas in order to facilitate the public acquisition of those properties?
§ Mr. Latham
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I do not share with the Prime Minister his omnivorous memory of everything said at any stage, but even if my hon. Friend is not right and it is not in the documents, nevertheless that will be the practical 1180 effect, as he has said. Under the provisions of this clause the likelihood of blight is very grave indeed.
I should like to refer now to the Justice memorandum, which states thatIf the authority's counter-notice states that they do not intend to acquire the land, or if they fail to serve a counter-notice at all, the blight notice provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act (1971) apply—i.e. the authority may be required to purchase the interests of resident owner-occupier of dwellings, owner-occupied agricultural units and small business premises with net annual value not exceeding £2,250. The owner of land outside these provisions is without a remedy.It is a very serious matter indeed that there should be any citizens in this country, irrespective of the value of their property, who are left without a remedy in the circumstances described in Clause 25.
This was discussed at great length in Committee, so I will simply say that I entirely agree with Justice, not only when they describe this as one of the most depressing provisions in the Bill, but also when they question whether Clause 25 is necessary at all. I do not think it is necessary. The people of this country will not be pleased when they wake up to the very dangerous Draconian powers contained in this Clause. I support my right hon. Friend's amendment.
§ Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)
I support my two hon. Friends. I also feel that this is perhaps the most Draconian, if not the most sinister, part of the Bill. I have sat on a planning committee, and it will be much easier for planning committees, which are not in a hurry to make decisions, just to declare an area under this provision. It is easier to deal with it in that way and wait for a decision later. I know that in the notes it says that the Secretary of State can put down guidelines and over-rule, but if his purpose, which has been clearly stated throughout the Bill, is land nationalisation, he is not likely to resist any scheme which moves in that direction. Therefore I do not think that this is a very happy safeguard for the ordinary citizen.
I support the amendment, especially because it involves local authorities in having to pay compensation, and this might be a deterrent. Local authorities might think twice with the knowledge at the back of their minds that they would have to do this—and that is always a 1181 good deterrent. This whole matter is one of which the public should be made well aware in terms of the insidious danger of this measure. It is a matter which goes far wider than most of the rest of the Bill. It gives tremendous power to local authorities over the ordinary private citizen's home. It is a matter which we must expose again and again. For that reason, I support strongly what my colleagues have said.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I support the amendment, which is extremely desirable, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) on the clear way in which he introduced it.
Having myself served on a local authority, I know the delays which can occur when someone inquires whether the authority intends to purchase his property. Very often the local authority is short of money. It wishes to purchase, but it goes to all sorts of lengths to put it off. This is one of the greatest difficulties which will arise if we do not make an amendment of this kind. People will be subjected to innumerable delays and will not know whether they are to be paid for their properties. They will be subjected to financial instability and doubts about the future tenure of their properties, where they are to move, and so on.
I appreciate that the Government accepted an amendment of mine in Committee dealing with the searches situation when someone was buying property to ensure that matters of this kind would be revealed. But that does not cover the subject under discussion now. Anything which can be done to improve the situation must be supported.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)
I wish to add one small point to the remarks of my right hon. and hon. Friends. When the Minister dealt with this matter in Committee, he was at pains to point out that he was being fairer to the owner-occupier by introducing the disposal notification area provision rather than that the local authority should acquire property in an area surreptitiously.
Since then, bodies outside this House have been able to give far greater consideration to this matter than was possible when we discussed it in Committee. My right hon. and hon. Friends have mentioned 1182 already the powerful paper issued by Justice. The provision has also been criticised strongly in other quarters.
I believe it is right that the Minister should look again at his proposal for disposal notification areas. It has aroused tremendous opposition outside this House. In our view, it is the most objectionable part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Michael Morris
I wish to add one small but very important dimension to the debate.
This takes us back to the pre-1971 position. Those of us who served on local authorities prior to the 1971 Act know that in many local authorities, especially in urban areas the planning officer had a large map of the area. The parts coloured red were developed. An outer red line indicated areas which were to be taken in at some time. Possibly there were other areas which were not ringed but which the chairman of the housing committee had his eye on. The experience was unhappy for both parties. It did not just happen in Labour-controlled areas, although more often that was the case. But the person who suffered was the average citizen.
The 1971 Act went a little way to improve the situation. Now we are going back again, not just in the inner urban areas but across the whole country. Little do people realise what will hit them if this provision gets on the statute book. The Under-Secretary understands local government and has a wealth of experience of it. He cannot be too happy about this provision. I hope that he will take it back and perhaps bring forward a revised version of it in another place.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Gordon Oakes)
In the early hours of this morning, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you called the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) "Gordon" and me "Graham". On the blight notice provisions of the Bill I can understand how our reversal of rôles led you to do that. When we were considering the Land compensation Bill, I was arguing in favour of greater flexibility in widening the blight notice provisions. For the Government of the day, the right hon. Member for Crosby defended the position. We have now reversed rôles completely.
1183 This debate has gone wider than the strict wording of the amendment, to the disposal notification areas themselves. The right hon. Member for Crosby said that no part of the Bill had caused more dissension among ordinary people than this part. The hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) said that it was the most Draconian part of the Bill, whereas the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) said that it was the most objectionable part of the Bill. If remarks of that kind reflect the true feelings of the Opposition, it surprises me that they single out this provision for their criticisms, when I recall that they have been heard to refer to the measure as a whole as the "Communist Land Bill".
Let us be clear why some people outside the House are worried about disposal notification areas. It is because of the deliberate and misleading propaganda about them which has emanated not so much from the Opposition as from Conservative Central Office, both in its publications distributed to local councillors and in the course of the disgraceful and misleading party political broadcast on 1st October of this year.
Anyone who watched that television programme and had read some of the literature to which I have referred might be forgiven for imagining that with the passing of this Bill the whole of England, Wales and Scotland will become one vast disposal notification area, resulting in anyone wishing to sell a house having to tell his local town hall of his intention. The Opposition know that disposal notification areas will be limited and that the normal provisions of the Bill will be to take in areas of land to the benefit of the community where disposal notification areas will not be necessary at all. There will be limited occasions on which a local authority, in order to save itself money but without prejudice to the vendor—as I shall explain in a moment—will decide that a disposal notification area is necessary for the better planning of the area and for the better operation of this legislation. So let us be clear that we are dealing with a very, very limited area and let us dispel the idea put out by the Conservative Party that almost every Owner-occupied house in the country will be affected by these provisions.
§ Mr. Durant
I accept what the Minister says—I confess that I did not see the party political broadcast—but will the hon. Gentleman say where in the Bill we can find what he is saying?
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Lewes)
For the record, what that party political broadcast said—as opposed to what the Minister is saying—was that under the Bill a local council could declare that if a person lived in a certain area he would have to notify the council of his intention to sell his house. It said quite explicitly "a certain area".
§ Mr. Oakes
The way the matter was put across and the way Conservative Members are talking today—[Interruption.] Is the hon. Gentleman serious in saying that if a person lives in a certain area and may have to notify the local council that he is selling his house that is the most Draconian part of this Bill, and that is the reason why the Opposition are opposing it? I can hardly believe it.
§ Mr. Michael Morris
Is the Minister seriously suggesting that towns throughout the country will not implement disposal notification areas?
§ Mr. Oakes
Of course some of them will, in limited areas, where it is necessary. I am trying to point out that it will be in limited areas and in limited circumstances; it will not be a general provision throughout the country, as the Opposition are trying to suggest in order to frighten people.
Another thing said in that party political broadcast, and often repeated—although I did not detect it in any speech today—was that if a local authority acquires the property it does so at "rock-bottom prices". Patently it does no such thing. Local authorities cannot acquire at rock-bottom prices. Conservative Members know that perfectly well. The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham), for whose views on most matters I have great respect, may have misunderstood the note that was sent out. The point of that note is not that the base value will be depressed for the vendor. The owner who sells to an authority will get market 1185 value as determined under the compensation code. In view of the "net of tax" provisions which are to come in under the Development Land Tax Bill the net price to the authority may be less.
The benefit of a lower price might, therefore, be lost if there were an intermediate transaction. That may benefit the authority but it does not make the position any worse for the vendor. Before we deal with the provisions of these clauses, let us get this disposal notification area business into perspective. If this is the most Draconian part of the Bill, the most far-reaching Socialist measure, I feel somewhat ashamed that night and day we have been labouring on the Bill and yet produced such a little mouse. Of course this is not the most Draconian part of the Bill, it is the most glamorous part of the Bill for the purpose of misrepresentation by the Opposition.
Let me turn now to the amendments. This subject has been discussed in Committee. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) withdrew an amendment in Committee, in the hope that the matter would be looked at again, although my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland gave no undertaking. We have, however, looked at the question again, but the answer must be the same.
It is recognised that the effect of a counter-notice stating that the authority intends to acquire may cause hardship in certain cases where owner-occupiers find it difficult to sell their property except at a loss. This is why subsection (9) applies the blight provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 in such cases, so that some owner-occupiers can force the authority either to acquire their land or remove the blight by declaring that it does not intend to acquire.
The amendment would introduce an alternative procedure which would be available to any person who received a counter-notice stating that the authority proposed to acquire. It would not be limited to residential and agricultural owner-occupiers and owner-occupiers of property whose rateable value does not exceed £2,250, who are the only categories of persons entitled to serve blight notices at the moment. These categories are designed to protect those who suffer 1186 the greatest hardship from blight, for example, the residential owner-occupier who needs to sell his house because he has to move to another area. It has always been accepted hitherto that the protection of the blight provisions should not be extended to other categories, for example, the absentee landlord, who is not affected by blight to the same extent as is a person who has to dispose of his home. If the Opposition believe that the blight provisions ought to have been extended to cover such cases, I can only ask the right hon. Member for Crosby why he did not do it three years ago, in the Land Compensation Act. [Interruption.] I know. I feel a little hypocritical when I say that.
It is uncertain what the effect would be of that part of the amendment which provides that the authority is "deemed" to have abandoned its intention to acquire if it does not respond to the request to purchase within six months. Under the present blight provisions an authority may serve a counter-notice to the blight notice stating that it does not intend to acquire unless forced to do so through the blight provisions. The owner-occupier can contest the counter-notice and refer the matter to the Lands Tribunal for determination. If the Lands Tribunal determines that the counter-notice was correct the blight is effectively removed.
It may be doubted whether the procedure in the amendment would be so effective. Would the fact that the authority was merely "deemed" to have abandoned its intention to acquire satisfy prospective purchasers? The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) will realise that this is crucial for the conveyancing of a house. If it did not satisfy them, presumably the owner-occupier could still try the alternative procedure of serving a blight notice under subsection (9), but this is a very cumbersome way of dealing with the problem.
Amendments 178 and 179 are virtually identical with an Opposition amendment debated in Committee.It would be wrong of us to give any guarantees or false hopes that we shall be able to extend the blight provisions, but certainly we shall look at the categories as they presently exist and see whether they can be extended to help anyone who might be the victim of some unforeseen circumstance that 1187 even the right hon. Gentleman with his far-sighted wisdom might not have seen during the Committee Stage. "—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 2nd July 1975; c. 2064.]Those words were said not by me but by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. That review of the blight provisions to which my hon. Friend referred has resulted in a wide extension of the provisions to cover cases in which the planning permission has been suspended under Amendment No. 311. But we still do not accept that the blight categories themselves should be extended, as these amendments advocate.
Amendment No. 360 is both ineffective and unnecessary. It is unnecessary because the provision it seeks to replace already provides the owner-occupier with a clear route to the blight provisions of the 1971 Act. All he has to do is serve a disposal notification on the authority. If the authority replies that it does not intend to acquire, the blight is lifted. Otherwise the owner-occupier can serve a blight notice.
The amendment is also ineffective in that it would appear to enable an owner-occupier to serve a blight notice without the need to serve a disposal notification on the authority first. But it should be pointed out that one of the criteria which has to be satisfied before a blight notice can be served is that the owner-occupier has:made reasonable endeavours to sell that interestto quote Section 193(l)(c) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. So, in this respect, little is gained by the amendment, because by virtue of Clause 25(5) the owner-occupier would have had to serve notice on the authority anyway if he proposed to dispose of a material interest in land in a disposal notification area.
I am sorry for having taken longer than normal, but I believe that the substance of Clause 25 merited it. In the light of what I have said, I ask my hon. Friends to reject all three of the amendments that have been proposed by the Opposition.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Rossi
This has been an important debate because it has underlined what the Opposition regard as one of the 1188 most objectionable parts of the Bill. I do not go as far as to say that it is the most Draconian part of the Bill, but I give it equal honours with other parts of the Bill that we find objectionable.
We find objectionable the taking away of private citizens' rights in the amendments that are being made to compulsory purchase legislation. We find objectionable the confiscatory terms upon which private citizens' property is being taken from them. We find objectionable the fact that local authorities are to exercise both planning and developers' functions with the result that there will be serious breaches and inroads into planning criteria.
The importance of the clause is that it is the one part of the Bill that is easy for the layman outside the House to appreciate and understand, because it does not involve him in a consideration of all the complexities and technicalities of the other areas of law and legal procedure to which I have referred. It is easy for the layman to understand and see the effect that a declaration of a disposal notification area can have on the value of his home. He has experienced the effects which declarations of this kind in other areas of local authority activity have had upon the value of property.
The hon. Gentleman was wrong when he said that the party political broadcast to which he referred was misleading in the respects he underlined. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) quoted the exact words used. Those words stand up on a strict interpretation of this part of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman did not refer to my own party political broadcast, which went out the same day on Radio Four. I prepared the script, and I was even more pungent in my terms. I have heard no criticism of that, although I do know that the Minister had my script on his desk within a few days. He has not been able to fault any of the language that I used.
I turn to the reason why we find this so objectionable. The hon. Gentleman has said that it is absurd to say that the whole of the United Kingdom can be made a disposal notification area. He has said that this will not happen. Perhaps he is right, but no limitation, geographical or otherwise, is contained in the clause concerning the extent of any disposal notification area. Under the clause a local 1189 authority, if it so wishes, can declare the whole of its area a disposal notification area. There is nothing in the legislation to restrict it.
The only test that a local authority has to apply is that within the area it declares a disposal notification area there must be some development land. That is not defined in the Bill at all. We were told that by the right hon. Gentleman in Committee, because he said, when referring to the question of vetoing or giving his approval to disposal notification areas, he would wish to see that there was some development land in the area. How much development land? Within how big an area? Again, we are not told. We must be forgiven if we are suspicious of this concept. We know that the Government's ultimate objective is the total solution to the land problem—the most Socialist measure introduced by any Government.
§ Mr. Oakes
Can the hon. Gentleman conceive why a local authority would want to make the whole of a major part of its area a disposal notification area? First, it would have the difficulty of receiving and processing the notifications. Secondly, it would risk having to meet the blight provisions. What use will it be to the local authority?
§ Mr. Rossi
I can foresee a local authority imbued with a particular political philosophy, anxious to acquire and bring into its ownership as much land as possible.
The issue between us is the Government's determination to pursue what they consider the most Socialist measure that they have sought to enact, namely, the total solution to the land problem—the bringing of land into public ownership. Were we not told yesterday by several hon. Members that the land belongs to the people? What they mean is not that the land shall be owned by the people but that the land shall be taken from the people and owned by the State. That is their philosophy, and it is to that that we have the greatest objection.
The first point that the hon. Gentleman made was that it cannot or will not be a whole area. There is no limitation in the clause concerning the extent of any area. A local authority, if it were so minded, and were pursuing a particular political philosophy or objective, could deliberately 1190 use the powers which the Government are giving it in the ways I have designated.
§ Mr. Rossi
What is development land? It is any land which in the opinion of the local authority is suitable for development. Who is the judge and jury? The local authority determines what is development land. It says that an area contains some development land and declares it a disposal notification area.
What is the effect? It is simple. Let us assume that I decide to sell my house. It may happen to be in a disposal notification area. That area can be anywhere within the borough, because the authority may decide that there is some land in the borough that is suitable for development purposes. Let us assume that I go to the estate agent because I have formed the intention to sell my house. The clause requires any person intending to sell land to notify the local authority. Therefore, at the point that I form the intention to sell my house and go to the estate agent, I must send a notice to my town hall telling it of my intention. If I fail to do so, I shall be prosecuted and be subject to a heavy fine. That is the liberty of the subject in Socialist Britain, 1975.
The local authority has four weeks in which to make up its mind whether it will serve me with a counter-notice. What will happen to my estate agent in the meantime? Will he get on with putting the house on the market, or will he sit back and say, "I am extremely sorry, but I have to wait for the local authority to reach a decision before I spend any money on advertising. If he does, I have to sit back for four weeks before my house even goes up for sale. Where does that put me in the personal circumstances in which I may happen to find myself at the time I decided to sell my house? It is spelt out word for word in the clause. There is no exaggeration. Mine is a correct interpretation of the legal language used in the clause. The hon. Gentleman cannot deny that.
§ Mr. Oakes
The hon. Gentleman has challenged me. I repeat—the provision relates only to disposals of development land. Therefore, the example that he has given, even if there is development land somewhere within his borough and the local authority can declare the whole of the borough a disposal notification area, does not apply. All I can say is that his house would have to be on development land before the provision would apply.
§ Mr. Rossi
The hon. Gentleman is reading more into the clause than is actually there. All that we are required to have is the presence of some development land in an area which can therefore be called a disposal notification area. Subsection (5) provides:A person who—(a) proposes to enter into a binding contract to dispose of a material interest in land"—not development land, but "in land"—in a disposal notification area, or(b) proposes to dispose of a material interest in land in a disposal notification area,shall give notice to the authority in accordance with Part II of the said Schedule.That is quite clear. There is no reference to development land being the subject of a notice and counter-notice.
§ Mr. Rossi
Subsection (2) provides:An authority may pass a resolution declaring any land in their area to be a disposal notification area.Later it provides that anyone wishing or intending to sell land—unqualified—in that area must give notice.
I accept that there is no obligation on the local authority to buy my house, because the counter-notice that it serves upon me can state either that it wishes to buy it from me or that it does not wish to buy it from me. Presumably, if it decides that it is not on development land, at that time it will serve upon me a notice saying that it does not want my house. That is not my argument. The 1192 vital question is: what will this do to the value of my house?
Let us assume that the council does not want my house. Nevertheless, a buyer will be on notice that my house is in a disposal notification area. When he has made a search in the local land charges register he will find that it is in a disposal notification area and he will know from that that this is an area in which the local authority intends to operate a redevelopment scheme. I have not heard of any council redevelopment scheme which does not have an adverse effect upon nearby properties. That is a fact of life. That is what the people of this country understand, and that is why they are concerned.
If, after his searches and inquiries, my buyer finds that my house is in a disposal notification area, even though the counter-notice does not say that the council wants my property now, he will say: "The council may not be ready today, it may not be ready this month, in six months, in a year or even in two years, to acquire this property, but, blow it, I will not buy a house when it is possible that within a few years the local authority will start operating and may acquire the house, because it is then ready and I have been put on notice that it is in a disposal notification area."
§ Mr. Rossi
That is another consideration. The notes on clauses, which the Minister now claims that we misread, clearly stated that the intention of the declaration of a disposal notification area was to depress base values to enable the local authority to gobble them up the more easily, my dear. That is the concept and that is the effect that it will have. That is what we are unashamedly telling the people, because we think that they have a right to know. Every person with a house or land or garden has a right to be concerned about what the Government are doing.
We have all this nice talk about a Bill for the benefit of the people—to return to the people the value created by the community. Yet the right hon. Gentleman said that taxation can deal with that.
1193 Going back to my earlier remarks, we are concerned with the Socialist total solution to the land question. We know what that is. When one speaks of rock-bottom prices, one speaks of precisely what any owner of property in a disposal notification area will get if he is lucky to find someone who is prepared to buy his property in the first place. The Under-Secretary of State and his right hon.
§ Friend can try to persuade us as much as they wish, but we are not buying this one. We object to it, and I support my right hon. and hon. Friends in pressing the amendment.
§ Question put. That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 255, Noes 270.1197
|Division No. 334.]||AYES||[6.18 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Fookes, Miss Janet||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Lloyd, Ian|
|Alison, Michael||Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Loveridge, John|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Freud, Clement||Luce, Richard|
|Arnold, Tom||Fry, Peter||McAdden, Sir Stephen|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||MacCormick, lain|
|Awdry, Daniel||Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||McCrindle, Robert|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)||McCusker, H.|
|Baker, Kenneth||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Macfarlane, Nell|
|Banks, Robert||Glyn, Dr Alan||MacGregor, John|
|Beith, A. J.||Godber, Rt Hon Joseph||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)|
|Bell, Ronald||Goodhart, Philip||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Goodhew, Victor||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Goodlad, Alastair||Madel, David|
|Benyon, W.||Gorst, John||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Marten, Neil|
|Biffen, John||Grant Anthony (Harrow C)||Mates, Michael|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Gray, Hamish||Maude, Angus|
|Blaker, Peter||Grieve, Percy||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Body, Richard||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Mawby, Ray|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Grist, Ian||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Bottomley, Peter||Grylls, Michael||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Hall, Sir John||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)|
|Brittan, Leon||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Mills, Peter|
|Brotherton, Michael||Hampson, Dr Keith||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Hannam, John||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)||Moate, Roger|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Molyneaux, James|
|Budgen, Nick||Havers, Sir Michael||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Hawkins, Paul||Moore, John (Croydon C)|
|Burden, F. A.||Hayhoe, Barney||More, Jasper (Ludlow)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Heath, Rt Hon Edward||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Henderson, Douglas||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)|
|Churchill, W. S.||Heseltine, Michael||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Hicks, Robert||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||Higgins, Terence L.||Mudd, David|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcllffe)||Hordern, Peter||Neave, Airey|
|Clegg, Walter||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Nelson, Anthony|
|Cockcroft, John||Howell, David (Guildford)||Neubert, Michael|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Newton, Tony|
|Cope, John||Hunt, John||Nott, John|
|Cordle, John H.||Hurd, Douglas||Onslow, Cranley|
|Costain, A. P.||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally|
|Crawford, Douglas||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Page, John (Harrow West)|
|Critchley, Julian||James, David||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Crouch, David||Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Jessel, Toby||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Penhaligon, David|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Percival, Ian|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Peyton, Rt Hon John|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Jopling, Michael||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Dunlop, John||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Durant, Tony||Kershaw, Anthony||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Kimball, Marcus||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Emery, Peter||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Raison, Timothy|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Kitson, Sir Timothy||Rathbone, Tim|
|Eyre, Reginald||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Knox, David||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Lamont, Norman||Reid, George|
|Farr, John||Lane, David||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Fell, Anthony||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Finsberg. Geoffrey||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Rifkind Malcolm|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Lawrence, Ivan||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||Lawson, Nigel||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Lester Jim (Beeston)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)||Wakeham, John|
|Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Royle, Sir Anthony||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)||Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)|
|Sainsbury, Tim||Stokes, John||Wall, Patrick|
|St. John-Stevas, Norman||Stradling Thomas, J.||Walters, Dennis|
|Scott, Nicholas||Tapsell, Peter||Warren, Kenneth|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)||Watt, Hamish|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Tebbit, Norman||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Shepherd, Colin||Temple-Morris, Peter||Wells, John|
|Shersby, Michael||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret||Welsh, Andrew|
|Sims, Roger||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Sinclair, Sir George||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Thompson, George||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Smith, Dudley (Warwick)||Townsend, Cyril D.||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Speed, Keith||T[...]otter, Neville||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Sproat, lain||van Straubenzee, W. R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Stainton, Keith||Vaughan, Dr Gerard||Mr. Michael Roberts and|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Viggers, Peter||Mr. Fred Silvester.|
|Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Abse, Leo||Doig, Peter||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Allaun, Frank||Dormand, J. D.||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford)|
|Anderson, Donald||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||John, Brynmor|
|Archer, Peter||Duffy, A. E. P.||Johnson, James (Hull West)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Dunn, James A.||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)|
|Ashley, Jack||Dunnett, Jack||Jones, Barry (East Flint)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Eadie, Aiex||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Edge, Geoff||Judd, Frank|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Bates, Alf||Ellis, John (Brigg & Soun)||Kelley, Richard|
|Bean, R. E.||English, Michael||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Ennals, David||Kinnock, Neil|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Lambie, David|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Lamborn, Harry|
|Bishop, E. S.||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Lamond, James|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)|
|Boardman, H.||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Booth, Albert||Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)||Lee, John|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Flannery, Martin||Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Fletcher, Raymond (llkeston)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Bradley, Tom||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Lipton, Marcus|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Litterick, Tom|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Ford, Ben||Lomas, Kenneth|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Forrester, John||Luard, Evan|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Lyon, Alexander (York)|
|Buchan, Norman||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Mabon, Dr J. Dickson|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)||George, Bruce||McCartney, Hugh|
|Campbell, Ian||Ginsburg, David||McElhone, Frank|
|Canavan, Dennis||Gould, Bryan||MacFarquhar, Roderick|
|Cant, R. B.||Gourlay, Harry||McGuire, Michael (Ince)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Graham, Ted||Mackenzie, Gregor|
|Carter, Ray||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Mackintosh, John P.|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Grant, John (Islington C)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Cartwright, John||Grocott, Bruce||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Hardy, Peter||Madden, Max|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Harper, Joseph||Magee, Bryan|
|Cohen, Stanley||Harrison, Walter (Wakefleld)||Mahon, Simon|
|Coleman, Donald||Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Mallalieu. J. P. W.|
|Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Marks, Kenneth|
|Conlan, Bernard||Hatton, Frank||Marquand, David|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole)|
|Corbett, Robin||Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Heffer, Eric S.||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Craigen. J. M. (Maryhill)||Hooley, Frank||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Horam, John||Meacher, Michael|
|Cronin, John||Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert|
|Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Cryer, Bob||Huckfield, Les||Millan, Bruce|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E. Kilbride)|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N)||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Molloy, William|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Hunter, Adam||Moonman, Eric|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Deakins, Eric||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Moyle, Roland|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Delargy, Hugh||Janner, Greville||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Newens, Stanley|
|Dempsey, James||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Noble, Mike|
|Oakes, Gordon||Ryman, John||Tuck, Raphael|
|Ogden, Eric||Sedgemore, Brian||Urwin, T W.|
|O'Halloran, Michael||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Orbach, Maurice||Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Ovenden, John||Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Owen, Dr David||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Padley, Walter||Sillars, James||Ward, Michael|
|Palmer, Arthur||Silverman, Julius||Watkins, David|
|Park, George||Skinner, Dennis||Watkinson, John|
|Parker, John||Small, William||Weetch, Ken|
|Parry, Robert||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)||Weitzman, David|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Snape, Peter||Wellbeloved, James|
|Perry, Ernest||Spearing, Nigel||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Phipps, Dr Colin||Spriggs, Leslie||White, James (Pollok)|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Stallard, A. W.||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Price, C. (Lewisham W)||Stonehouse, Rt Hon John||Whitlock, William|
|Price, William (Rugby)||Stott, Roger||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Radice, Giles||Strang, Gavin||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Richardson, Miss Jo||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Swain, Thomas||Wilson. Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Robertson, John (Paisley)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Wise, Mrs. Audrey|
|Roderick, Caerwyn||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)||Woof, Robert|
|Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Rodgers, William (Stockton)||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Rooker, J. W.||Tierney, Sydney|
|Roper, John||Tinn, James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Rose, Paul B.||Tomlinson, John||Mr. Tom Pendry and|
|Rose, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Torney, Tom||Mr. David Stoddart.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I understand that it will be convenient to discuss at the same time Government Amendment No. 314.
§ Mr. Oakes
This is a drafting amendment to remove any possible confusion between the use of the term "counter-notice" as it is used in the Planning Acts and its use here. The amendments make it clear that the counter-notice referred to in subsection (9)(b) is one served under the provisions of this clause and not under the Planning Acts in response to a blight notice.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Amendment made: No. 314, in page 24, line 28, at end insert 'in accordance with that paragraph'.—[Mr. Oakes.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I understand that it will be convenient to discuss also the following amendment, No. 181, in page 24, line 28, at end insert—'(9A) The service of a blight notice under subsection (9) above shall not operate so as to deprive the person serving the notice of his right to a home loan payment under the Land Compensation Act 1973'.
§ Mr. Rossi
On previous amendments we have been discussing the unfortunate effects of the declaration of a disposal notification area and the right of a local authority to serve a counter-notice stating that it wants the land. In those circumstances the owner of the property can then serve a blight notice if there are delays by the local authority. We have also considered the situation in which the local authority fails to serve a counter-notice, in which case the owner of the land can serve a blight notice, the effect of the blight notice under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1971 being to oblige the local authority to purchase that land.
In our amendments, what we are seeking to do is, first, to ensure that the local authority will not cause unnecessary hardship by delaying or spinning out the purchase of the property or delaying the payment of the owner affected by a disposal notification area resolution and procedures under it, to enable him to get his money as quickly as possible. We therefore propose in Amendment No. 180 that the compensation shall be agreed or, in 1199 default of agreement, assessed within six months of the owner serving the authority with the blight notice requiring the authority to take the property from him.
Hon. Members on both sides know from their constituency experience how some local authorities like to put off the day of reckoning, of payment, and that some owners often have to wait a long time for their compensation, in the process often losing alternative homes which have come on to the market but which they are not quick enough to buy because they have not been paid for their existing home which has been affected by the activity of the council. So the amendment seeks to put a strict time limit on the local authority to ensure that the wretched owner gets his money as soon as possible.
Co-extensive with that, we would introduce by the second amendment a concept by which we wish to ensure, so that there is no misunderstanding as to the legal position, the rights of the owner, so that, as well as getting the price for his property, his compensation under the blight notice, he will also get the home loss payment which was introduced in the Act brought forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), the Land Compensation Act of 1973.
I hope that the Minister will help us to mitigate some of the evils brought about by the clause by at least helping the private citizen to obtain his money quickly and on as generous a basis as possible.
§ Mr. Oakes
I am, of course, at one with the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) in his desire to see that a person affected gets his money quickly. I must ask the House to resist these amendments, but I hope that what I say will convince the hon. Member that he should withdraw them. I am advised that Amendment No. 180 is both unnecessary and impracticable.
Under the existing law the authority has two months in which to respond to a blight notice. If the notice then succeeds it becomes a deemed notice to treat, and the claimant may, if he chooses, refer his claim to the Lands Tribunal at any time after 28 days have elapsed from the date of the notice to treat.
I ask the Opposition to listen carefully, coming, as they do, hot foot from Blackpool, 1200 to my next words. The amendment would remove any element of choice. The owner-occupier may want longer than the time given—effectively, only four months if he has to wait two months before the local authority responds to his blight notice—to present and argue his claim. He may be content to allow the negotiations to continue till agreement is reached. The assessment of compensation is complex and time consuming, and even when both sides are willing to reach agreeement it may be impracticable to do so within the time limits imposed by the amendment.
However, if the claimant is genuinely anxious to avoid delay he can already resort to the Lands Tribunal. So the Opposition's point is already met in existing law. Given that explanation, and the fact that both sides want to avoid delay, I hope that the hon. Member will withdraw the amendment.
On Amendment No. 181, we are back to the question whether home loss payments should be payable to those who are also receiving compensation under the blight notice—something that we discussed for many hours under the Conservatives' Land Compensation Bill. Under that, on the whole, admirable Act, it was finally settled that he should not.
The difficulty in accepting the amendment is that it would put the person in a disposal notification area in a privileged position compared with the position of a person receiving compensation for blight from other conditions. We can see no reason for that differentiation. Had it been the Opposition's desire to extend the law they could have done so in 1973. It would create anomalies if we accepted the amendment.
In the light of that explanation, I would ask the hon. Member not to press either of the amendments.
§ Mr. Rossi
With leave of the House. I was encouraged by the Minister's saying that both sides wished the owner to receive his compensation as quickly as possible, but he then proceeded to put in our paths every possible obstacle to deny us that objective.
The hon. Gentleman said, first, that our amendment as it stands would deny the choice of an owner to go to the Lands Tribunal. If that is so, I would 1201 be prepared to accept an alteration to the wording to retain that element of choice. The last thing I would want to do is remove it. As we have seen throughout the debates on the Bill, it is not only Opposition amendments which are defective but also clauses which, already in the Bill, have had to be altered as we have gone along. Neither side has a monopoly of drafting defective provisions. So we may not have been as clever as we might have been, or thought the thing through sufficiently, and I would be prepared for the Minister to accept our principle and, in another place, to have put in that element of choice that he rightly says should remain.
My preoccupation at the moment is with the small man, the small householder, the owner of a limited amount of property, because my experience in these matters, which is similar to that of the Minister, both professionally and in public life, is that ordinary citizens are extremely shy of going to the Lands Tribunal. It is normally the big property owners who exercise that right.
The ordinary individual is deterred from going to the Lands Tribunal because of the expense involved. The Lands Tribunal is not a body to which legal aid applies, and therefore a person who wishes to go before it has to face the whole of the expense himself. Appearing before the Lands Tribunal is an expensive procedure. The person concerned has to employ experts in this field who, because of their expertise and the limited market within which they operate, are able to demand fairly high fees.
I have come across this problem both professionally and as a Member of Parliament. When a constituent says to me "I am not satisfied with the amount of compensation that the local valuer is offering on behalf of the local authority, what shall I do, how can I get more?", I tell him that he has the right to appeal to the Lands Tribunal, and he immediately asks "How much will that cost? I had better take what the local authority is offering me rather than risk losing a great deal of money in legal and professional fees".
This element of choice is not a real one for the average citizen, and to that extent I am not very concerned that it did not appear in our amendment in the first 1202 place, although I agree that when we consider matters of this kind we must not apply our minds simply to helping a particular section of the community but should try to assist all land owners and not deprive a particular type of land owner of the right to go to the Lands Tribunal if he wishes.
Coming now to the other amendment dealing with the home loss payment, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can put the argument to us that we had the opportunity in 1973 of extending home loss payment to compensation for blight in respect of disposal notification areas. These areas are only just being introduced by this Bill, and what we are saying is that the compensation terms should be extended in a particular way presented with the piece of legislation now before us.
We feel that it would not be a question of giving a privilege, to use the hon. Gentleman's word, to these people to give them this additional compensation. We consider those who find themselves within disposal notification areas and subject to all the procedures which the Minister is now bringing upon their heads to be extremely oppressed and disadvantaged. Therefore, we feel that if we can help them in the slightest way we should do so.
In view of the encouraging manner in which the Under-Secretary of State greeted these amendments in the first place, although he feels that he must reject them now, for the technicalities that he mentioned, I hope that between now and Committee in the other place the Government will give further thought to these matters and that, without giving any undertaking, the hon. Gentleman will consider whether he can meet us in this respect. On that basis, I should be happy to withdraw the amendment.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) will forgive me if, before he asks leave to withdraw the amendment, I come to the aid of the Minister on this matter, because the hon. Gentleman quite rightly said that when we were dealing with the Land Compensation Bill in 1973 we decided that a home loss payment should not be payable in a case in which the owner initiates the blight procedure 1203 After all, the whole point of the blight procedure is that the owner wishes to sell. The whole point of a home loss payment is that the owner does not wish to sell. My name is to the amendment because I thought that this matter ought to be discussed, but I believe that the Minister is right in saying that as the blight procedure is started because someone wants to sell his property and cannot sell it at the proper value, and the home loss payment is made to someone who is being forced out of his home, it is not appropriate to make the change proposed unless that argument is set aside altogether and one applies home loss payment whether or not the owner has initiated (he business of selling.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey will forgive me for coming to the aid of the Minister in this case.
§ Mr. Oakes
I hope that I may have the leave of the House to speak again. What the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) said is true. There is a different philosophical concept between the man who wishes to sell and the man who is forced to leave his home and does does not wish to sell. I was trying to say that there is an added difficulty. I agree with the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) that disposal notification areas were not in existence when the Land Compensation Bill was being discussed, but we would create an anomaly if we were to accept his suggestion, in that compensation provisions would apply to a DNA different from those which apply in respect of blight not resulting from the operation of this measure. Outside a DNA people would not receive the home loss payment, whereas within it they would.
I do argue against the amendment not purely on the technical ground of defective wording but because, within the existing law, there is an element of choice which the amendment would deny. The law exists via the Lands Tribunal, and I tell the hon. Member for Hornsey that legal aid is available to anyone wishing to appear before that tribunal.
Having said all that, I, as a practising solicitor, take note of the point made by the hon. Member for Hornsey that a person may be frightened and reluctant to appear before the Lands Tribunal 1204 because of its very name, even though he can get legal aid to put his case there. I still think that the provisions of the existing law are infinitely better than the amendment proposed by the Opposition. I do not want to mislead the House, but I tell the hon. Gentleman that without any commitment I undertake to consider the amendment, to see whether, in another place, we can meet some of the points that he has made. I do not think that we can. I regard the existing law as better than what is proposed in the amendment, but I undertake to consider it further.
§ Mr. Rossi
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said. It is obvious that I have been out of private practice for too long, because I missed the point about legal aid being available to appear before the Lands Tribunal. In view of what the Minister said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.