HC Deb 15 December 1977 vol 941 cc1115-24

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Bates.]

12.53 a.m.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)

I want to raise the case of a constituent of mine, Mr. Dudley Glanfield. It has been going on for about 22 years, which must be a record. A large number of Ministers, Members of Parliament and civil servants have been involved in it. It has been so complicated that about 5 cwt. of documents have been involved. Thus, from the very beginning it has been a cause célèbre. Mr. Glanfield has felt, over the years, so badly treated as a result of the various things that have happened that he labels his writing paper "Grand Central Junction" because "every ruddy thing passes through here." This is an indication of his feelings.

The case started in 1955 when the then electricity board sought to get a voluntary wayleave to put a super grid line of pylons across Mr. Glanfield's land. Mr. Glanfield had a good farm on a lot of land that had been reclaimed with his own money, and he was not prepared to give that voluntary wayleave.

The then wayleave officer said that it did not really matter whether Mr. Glanfield gave it or not, because compulsory wayleave could be obtained "as automatically as getting a ticket out of a slot machine". That was the first brush that Mr. Glanfield had with the arrogance of the bureaucracy. However, Mr. Glanfield was responsible and tried to find an alternative route. His surveyor looked at the land and proposed an alternative over some scrub land which it was felt would be perfectly possible as a route and not so damaging to farm land.

My predecessor, Sir Lionel Heald, was asked to try to help in mediating between Mr. Glanfield and the electricity authority. As a result, there was an inquiry held on 15th December 1955 by an inspector from the then Ministry of Fuel and Power, Mr. Grimmitt, and the alternative route was put forward by the professional adviser and considered. As a result of that inquiry the inspector found that that was a proper route and less damaging to farm land and perfectly adequate for the electricity authority. Indeed, I believe that Mr. Grimmitt walked over the route and hands were shaken on it and it was made perfectly clear that he was happy.

Mr. Glanfield then thought that that was the end of the matter and that the alternative route would be agreed. He was therefore extremely surprised when, a month later, he received a compulsory wayleave for the original route. On making inquiries he discovered that the general direction of the route originally proposed had been authorised by the Minister six months previously. He was not unjustified in thinking that the whole inquiry had been a farce, although, of course, I realise that the inquiry was basically a planning inquiry for the siting of the pylons.

However, having gone through the procedure of an inquiry into the alternative route only to discover that the Minister had approved the original route in principle six months previously was somewhat extraordinary. Mr. Glanfield described that at the time, with a good deal of justification, as a farce. I quote again from a letter that Mr. Glanfield wrote at that time: The fact that the compulsory wayleave was made on the original route, quite contrary to the weight of the evidence at the hearing, quite conclusively proves that such hearings are a theatrical farce, putting the householder to heavy legal expense, with the papers to be put in the wastepaper basket with little or no consideration. Mr. Glanfield once again asked his Member of Parliament to intervene and as a result of a meeting at the Department it was agreed that if the Ministry of Agriculture could look into it and put forward a report that said that if the alternative route over the scrub land was better from the agricultural point of view, the Ministry would be prepared to agree. A Ministry representative looked at the route and found, indeed, that it was much better from the agricultural point of view and much less damaging to the farm. So Mr. Glanfield thought again that everything had been put right and that the alternative route would be agreed.

Mr. Glanfield then discovered that the construction of the pylon bases had already started and the Ministry then said that it would cost £2,500 to alter the route. Even when Mr. Glanfield offered to pay that money the Ministry said that it would still be too expensive and would cost even more. It seemed that every way that Mr. Glanfield turned he was faced by what he described, with justification, as tyrannical bureaucracy of the worst degree. In desperation, having explored all legal channels and having used his Member of Parliament, who had been extremely helpful, he did something that none of us would ever suggest to our constituents. Mr. Glanfield turned his farm into an armed camp, and it seems odd, now that we are sitting quietly in the House, to think that this is what happened. Guns were brought in and mines were laid in the fields. Barbed wire was put up and wild dogs were brought in. They even brought in a number of wild bulls to keep contractors out of the area. I am glad to say that contractors were wise enough to stay away.

An impasse had been reached. The sort of headline appearing at the time was "Electricity Authority and Hitlerism". Mr. Glanfield felt that the only way to defend his property was to put barbed wire around it to keep people out.

Obviously, there had to be agreement. The electricity board was claiming damages for delays in getting the route through and Mr. Glanfield was making counter claims. Sir Lionel Heald intervened again and another meeting was held. It was agreed that all financial claims would be withdrawn, that all work on the pylons would stop, and that the Minister would consider the matter again and decide finally what was to be done.

Sadly for Mr. Glanfield, the Minister decided on the original route, despite all that happened—the inquiry, the advice of the Ministry and the fact that 16,000 people had signed Mr. Glantield's petition. It seemed to him that every way he turned he was steamrollered and that the Minister was determined to go ahead with the line of the original route. The original pylons were put up and the only thing left for Mr. Glanfield to do was to try to get compensation. He was offered the derisory sum of 17s. 6d. per pylon per year. In Sussex, only a few miles from Surrey, land owners were being offered at that time £10 per pylon per year and Mr. Glanfield could not understand why he was offered so little. A legal wrangle then started over compensation and there was also a wrangle over tree cutting. Since 1955–56, the electricity board has paid for pruning of trees in some years, but not in others.

There seems to be a complete impasse on how the compensation should be sorted out and who should pay for all these things. We have the sad spectacle of a 74-year-old gentleman who has been bullied and bothered for 23 years by bureaucrats and everyone else. He wonders what he can do and is at the end of his tether in trying to get a legal settlement out of the board.

I hope that the Minister, who has been listening patiently and, I am sure, has studied the many papers in the case, will be able to open a window so that there is a possibility of giving Mr. Glanfield reasonable compensation so that the files can be closed on the case and he can live the rest of his life in peace.

I hope the Minister will note what the board said in a letter on 30th September 1977. It accepted that the line may have caused a loss in the value of Mr. Glanfield's property and suggested joint action.

It was proposed that his agents should make a claim for such loss and that if a settlement could not be reached by negotiation the matter could be referred to the Lands Tribunal for determination. The board would require a permanent easement covering the line in exchange for any agreed payment.

Very large figures have been involved in this case. Damage has been done by the erection of the pylons, and there is the damage that pylons do because they are on farming land. The sum of up to £200,00 has been quoted. I am in no position to make a judgment on that figure, and it would be wrong of me to do so, but clearly the board is prepared to enter into negotiations, and I hope that that Minister will use his authority—I am sure that he would want to give a fair wind to the negotiations—and will say to the board "get down to negotiations with Mr. Glanfield and arrange a reasonable sum so that justice can be seen to be done".

This man—he is a good, solid Englishman—really believes that justice has not been done and that he has been let down over these years. In a country like ours, known for its fairness, the way that this man has been treated for so long is a shame. Individual freedom is very important. It is my privilege to be able to speak in an Adjournment debate and raise the individual cases of constituents, and I do not believe that there is a stronger case that I could raise on behalf of one of my constituents. Mr. Glanfield's individual freedom has, I believe, been sadly attacked over these years and 25 years of his life have really been almost destroyed in trying to fight his case for his own property and his own farm.

The Minister is, I know, a man of humanity and understanding. I make a final appeal to him to do his best to ensure that justice is done to Mr. Glanfield and that negotiations are begun to draw to a close this very sad case history.

1.7 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Alex Eadie)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) for raising this issue. However, I must make it clear from the outset that Mr. Dudley Glanfield's claim for compensation from the Central Elec- tricity Generating Board in respect of pylons on his land is a matter between Mr Glanfield and the board which could only be resolved between them, if necessary by recourse to the appropriate tribunals, and that this is not a matter in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy would wish to intervene.

The hon. Member has received my letter of 1st December 1977, which fully sets out the history of this case as far as my Department is involved. However, I will go over the main points stated in that letter in response to the hon. Member's remarks on this oft-repeated claim, which goes back over 20 years.

In particular, I should like to comment on two points the hon. Gentleman has raised. The first is Mr. Glanfield's complaint that the Minister of Power had signed an irrevocable scheme line consent before the public inquiry was held. I should perhaps explain that before an electricity board can place an electric line above ground, it has to do two things. First, it must obtain the consent of the Secretary of State, under paragraph 10(b) of the schedule to the Electric Lighting (Clauses) Act 1899, to the general route of the line. Such consent is normally accompanied by directions under Section 40(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 giving the necessary "deemed" planning permission for the erection of the line. Neither of these, however, gives the board any right to place the line over land which it does not own. This right must be obtained by means of a way-leave. Wherever possible, the boards negotiate with the land owners and reach agreement with them voluntarily. Where, however, the board is unable to reach agreement with a land owner, there is a procedure under Section 22 of the Electricity (Supply) Act 1919 under which the board can apply to the Secretary of State for his consent to place the line across a particular piece of land. Such a consent is, in effect, a compulsory wayleave. Before giving his consent, the Secretary of State is required to give all parties concerned an opportunity of being heard.

It is understandable that a land owner should feel that, where the Minister has given consent under Section 10 (b) for a route crossing his land, this will prejudice his position in any subsequent hearing under Section 22 on the question whether the board should have a wayleave across his land. In practice, Ministers make every effort to see that the landowner is not prejudiced and to consider applications under Section 22 strictly on their merits, without regard to the existence of any previous consent to the route.

This position was, moreover, improved shortly after the occasion to which Mr. Glanfield refers by the inclusion in Section 32 of the Electricity Act 1957 of provisions giving the Minister power to refuse to take a decision on an application for approval of the route of a line until the board has either negotiated all the necessary wayleaves voluntarily or made the necessary applications under Section 22 of the 1919 Act so that the two applications can be considered together.

Mr. Grylls

I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the law and I know that Ministers make every effort to ensure that the land owner is not prejudiced. This inquiry found for the alternative route. Why was it that the Minister did not accept the alternative route? That is what has bugged Mr. Glanfield for all these years.

Mr. Eadie

The hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair, because it was another Minister who made the decision. As the hon. Gentleman has said, there are a great many documents and papers in this case. I hope that he will agree, since he raised the whole issue of principle, that it was necessary, in reply to what he regards as a very important charge, to explain the law as it is, so that there should be no enduring anxiety or misunderstanding on the part of other people.

I shall try to deal with some of the important points that have been raised. I may not be able to deal with them all, but I want to be as fair, accurate and as helpful as I can to the hon. Gentleman. It was very kind of him to say that I always try to consider any aspect raised by an hon. Member.

In this case, consent had been granted for the construction of this line to the British Electricity Authority, the predecessor of the CEGB, on 27th April 1955. The consent was granted subject to the line being erected between the points shown on the maps which accompanied the authority's application and along the route delineated on the maps as might be agreed with the owners of land across which the line might be placed, provided that the authority should not deviate laterally from the line of the route on the maps by more than 200 yards without the consent of the Minister.

The authority, having failed to negotiate a wayleave with Mr. Glanfield for the section of the line crossing his land, applied to the Minister under Section 22 of the 1919 Act. A hearing—not a public inquiry—was held by an engineering inspector of the then Ministry of Fuel and Power on 15th December 1955. After considering the inspector's report and recommendations on 28th January 1956 the Minister granted the further consent or compulsory wayleave for the placing of the line across Mr. Glanfield's land.

Under this consent, the authority erected a pylon on Mr. Glanfield's land. In December 1956, however, Mr. Glanfield instituted proceedings against the authority in the High Court, challenging its right to place the pylon or the line on his land and claimed an injunction, damages, and a declaration that the authority did not have the rights which it claimed. The authority delivered a defence to these proceedings. The matter did not, however, come to trial.

As a result of representations made to Lord Mills, then Minister of Fuel and Power, by, in particular, Sir Lionel Heald, Q.C., M.P., to whom the hon. Gentleman referred—whose constituent Mr. Glanfield then was—both parties agreed to withdraw their claims against each other on certain terms, set out in an exchange of correspondence between Messrs. Fladgate and Co., Mr. Glanfield's solicitors, and the solicitor to the authority.

One of the terms set out in this correspondence was that the Minister should be invited to give further impartial consideration to the question of the siting of the line, and that both parties would accept his decision on that consideration. The Minister's decision, which was set out in a letter from Lord Mills to Lord Citrine, the then Chairman of the authority, was that the authority should proceed without further delay to complete the line on the route for which consent had been given. But this decision was made subject to an undertaking by the authority to implement, at Mr. Glanfield's request, an offer which it had previously made to move the line if certain conditions were fulfilled. One of these was that Mr. Glanfield should build a farmhouse and farm buildings on the site of former buildings immediately underneath the route of the line.

Later correspondence shows that this time limit was subsequently extended by the authority until 31st March 1964, subject to certain additional conditions. According to the board, the conditions relating to the farm buildings were not fulfilled, and the undertaking accordingly lapsed.

In response to what the hon. Gentleman has said I suggest that for Mr. Glanfield to represent these arrangements as an undertaking by the authority to move the pylon after five years merely on payment by him of £2,000—one of the other conditions—is plainly mistaken. If Mr. Glanfield contends to the contrary, he has his remedy in the courts. I would finally suggest, however, that it would be in Mr. Glanfield's best interests to seek professional advice on his various claims and to enter into negotiations with the board with a view to reaching an amicable and final settlement of this matter on the basis of its recent letter of 30th September 1977. This offered to consider a claim for loss of value to the land from the presence of the line.

I have done my best to respond in the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman opened the debate. I hope he will agree that my response has been favourable and reasonable. He has voiced the grievances of his constituent, as he is entitled to do, and as it is his time-honoured right to do. I hope also that the action suggested in the latter part of my letter will be taken, and that, as a consequence, an amicable settlement will be reached.

Mr. Grylls

Will the Minister go a little further and ask the authority to open the negotiations rather than leave it to Mr. Glanfield to take the initiative? Can the Minister use his authority to back up the tentative offer made by the board in its letter? Will he ask the board to get started on these negotiations as quickly as possible? I realise that the hon. Gentleman, as the Minister, does not want to tell the board how or what to negotiate, but will he use his authority to get things started? After all, the board is responsible to him as the Minister and to the House. Will he ensure that the board gets cracking and does not wait for Mr. Glanfield, who is an elderly gentleman? It has the power and the authority to do so.

Why was it that the Minister refused to put a compulsory wayleave on the alternative route, which went through a neighbour's land? That was the preferred route, preferred by the Minister and by the inquiry. Mr. Glanfield has never had an answer to that. It has been made clear that the reason the Minister came to his decision was the reluctance of the neighbour to agree to its being over his land. I imagine that there could have been a compulsory way-leave on that land.

Mr. Eadie

The hon. Member is asking the same question he asked in an earlier intervention. I thought I had explained to him that there was another Minister at that time. I cannot, therefore, answer that question this evening. If it is possible later, I will.

On his first point, the hon. Member was less than fair in asking me to initiate action. At the outset I said that the Secretary of State would not wish to respond to that. If the hon. Member reads carefully what I have said, since his constituent feels so aggrieved, I suggest that I have opened up substantial grounds for his constituent to take the advice I have given.

I cannot go any further than I have, and I hope that on reflection the hon. Member will agree that I have been helpful in trying to assist him in having his constituent's grievance and complaint resolved.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-two minutes past One o'clock.