HC Deb 30 June 1980 vol 987 cc1239-58

In section 17 of the Airports Authority Act 1975 (which deals with the acquisition by the British Airports Authority of land and rights over land), the following subsection shall be inserted after subsection (1)— (1A) Without prejudice to the power of the authority by virtue of section 2(3) of this Act to acquire by agreement any land required for any purpose connected with the discharge of its duties under this Act, the Authority may acquire by agreement any land which in the opinion of the Authority may be required for any such purpose notwithstanding that it is not immediately so required".'."—[Mr. Tebbit.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Tebbit

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

When the Government announced on 17 December their decision to invite the British Airports Authority to bring forward proposals for the development of Stansted airport my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that our aim would be that the owners of residential and agricultural property in the wider area which may in future be required for further development should have the opportunity of staying on or of selling their properties at an unblighted value to the BAA. The proposed clause will make that possible by giving the authority the necessary discretionary powers to acquire land from owners who wish to sell their property.

At present the authority's powers to purchase land are fairly limited. Under section 2(3) of the Airports Authority Act 1975 it has the power to do anything which is calculated to facilitate the discharge of its duties, which has been held to mean, in effect, that it can purchase property on a discretionary basis when it needs to do so for some specific purpose arising from its current airport operations.

The authority also has the power to acquire compulsorily property that is the subject of a compulsory purchase order confirmed by the Secretary of State. It is also possible for it to buy the same property by agreement before the time at which the compulsory purchase has to take place. In either case the owner-occupier receives the full unblighted value of his property in accordance with the statutory blight provisions. That would be the situation at Stansted in respect of the 1,500 acres or so for which a planning application and a compulsory purchase order are to be submitted and which would be required if planning permission is given for the construction of a new terminal operating at the airport. The statutory blight provisions will be triggered off as soon as the notice of compulsory purchase is published and owner-occupiers will therefore have an immediate remedy if they cannot sell their property at a reasonable price.

However, the BAA has also been invited to define and apply for the safeguarding of an additional area of 2,500 acres, sufficient to provide for a possible second runway and further terminal capacity should that be needed in the more distant future. This will not be the subject at this stage of a planning application or of compulsory purchase orders and will not therefore benefit from the blight provisions. The effect of the new clause will be to enable the BAA to provide relief by acquiring such land by agreement with the owners in advance of requirements. It will not extend the authority's existing compulsory purchase powers.

In essence, it means that for those living in the 2,500 acres, who might not otherwise be able to sell their property, because prospective buyers would have in mind that there could at some time be a further extension of the airport, there will be a relief under which the BAA will be empowered to buy the property from them, if they wish to sell.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Am I right in thinking that no consent by the Minister will be required for the undertaking of what is considerable public expenditure? Does not that contrast with the consents that he is required to give in relation to the previous new clause, which probably involves far less expenditure by the authority at any given time?

Mr. Tebbit

No, I would not say so. I think that the amounts involved would not be enormous compared with the possible contingent liabilities in which the authority might land itself in the event of a commercial venture overseas going wrong.

After all, 2,500 acres, even at £1,000 an acre, cost £2.5 million—if at this time of night I can manage to get the decimals in the right place. The amounts are not extraordinary. Moreover, it is very unlikely that anything like all the property owners in the area will ask the authority to acquire their property under this provision.

The clause will bring the authority's powers into line with those of other public authorities. It closely follows the wording of section 48 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1959, which contains a similar provision in relation to the acquisition by the Minister of Transport of land for highways. Comparable powers are also available to principal local councils under section 120(2) of the Local Government Act 1972, to water authorities under the Water Resources Act 1963, and to the British Railways Board under section 14(1)(c) of the Transport Act 1962.

This will be a general power available at all the authority's airports in the United Kingdom. It will be for the authority itself to decide whether any purchases that it is contemplating at the request of, or with the agreement of, the owners concerned are within the terms of the new powers.

I commend the clause to the House. Its purpose is to mitigate the effect of the inevitable uncertainty about possible further development of Stansted airport if demand continues to grow in the more distant future. It will enable the BAA to purchase property that owners wish to sell in that wider area around the airport in the event that they find difficulty in selling to buyers other than the authority.

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

The purpose of the clause is essentially to enable the British Airports Authority to acquire land for the expansion of Stansted airport. I accept that it is entirely right that when property is blighted by proposals for such a huge expansion as is envisaged by those proposing the extension of Stansted those who live in and own property within the area should be enabled to sell it at a fair price.

That means that the developer must have the powers to acquire such properties, which would not be readily saleable at the normal market price to other would-be purchasers. I entirely accept that it would be grossly unfair to those living under the shadow of development at Stansted for a number of years to be deprived of the possibility of obtaining fair market value for their property for an indefinite period.

However, the powers granted by the clause are sweeping. They appear to suggest, to some people who are concerned, that the outcome of the public inquiry is virtually a fait accompli. The Minister shakes his head. I am anxious to give him the opportunity to make it clear that that is not so, and to assure the House on the matter. Can he tell us that in no way does the clause indicate any presumption of approval of the BAA's plans for the expansion of the airport, as suggested by the Government?

Mr. Tebbit

I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I give it to him in two parts. First, the making of the compulsory purchase order on the 1,500 acres does not presume the result of the public inquiry. Most certainly, the giving of power to acquire by agreement within the wider area does not assume anything about the basic public inquiry into the 1,500 acre proposition or to any further safeguarding for the future.

11.15 pm
Mr. Newens

I am grateful to the Minister for that clear statement. Many people in that area regard it as a travesty of democracy that, having gone through a long and involved fight ever a number of years a decade ago, they should again be required to take up the cudgels on this issue. It would make a mockery of the public inquiry if, as some people have been inclined to suggest, the decision had already been taken. For this reason, I welcome very much the Minister's statement.

Certain other questions arise. I should like the Minister to address his mind to them. If the British Airports Authority acquires land, who will meet any loss incurred if the proposal to expand Stansted is eventually rejected? If permission for the expansion is not regarded as a foregone conclusion, I would be grateful if the Minister could explain the situation should the expansion not go ahead.

I understand fully what the Minister says about the safeguard for people living in the area of the 1,500 acres. Will the Minister say whether the people living in the area of the further 2,500 acres, who find their property blighted, will be able to claim full market value for their property as would be the case, I understand, if the British Airports Authority sought planning permission for the area, as originally envisaged in the Secretary of State's statement on 17 December? Some of us understood that the British Airports Authority would apply for outline planning permission for the 2,500 acres in addition to the 1,500 acres. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain what has happened on the issue. If the people living in the area of the 2,500 acres feel that they will not receive full market value for their property, this area could suffer from some other effects of blight.

Many farmers and residents who experienced difficulty getting full market value for their land might also take the view that it was not desirable to invest in their property because they would not get back in full the money so invested. A state of affairs might develop in which the whole area declined and became dilapidated in a number of respects.

I must say frankly that the new clause has added considerably both to the disquiet and resentment felt in the area. As the Minister is no doubt aware, the NFU has already contacted a number of people, expressing concern. The whole sequence of events in Stansted gives rise to a great deal of cynicism on the part of many people living in the area. I should therefore, be grateful if the Minister would address himself, as he has already done to one of my questions, to the other points. His replies will be studied carefully by all those living in West Essex who are concerned about this important problem.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

I apologise for detaining the House at this hour, but it is not my fault that business has been so arranged that this extremely important item for my constituency—and indeed the nation—has come up as the last item in the business this evening and not the first item of business in a week's time. No hon. Member is more nearly affected by these particular proposals than myself and they are of great importance to my constituency.

The new clause was forecast in an answer given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on 31 March to a question I put down. I was grateful for the fact that the Government acknowledged that there was a case for helping those people whose properties lay in the extra 2,500-acre area which was being reserved for possible future airport development at Stansted should the first proposals pass the test of a public inquiry.

I suppose that one should be careful about being over-grateful for statements that come from Front Benches. I do not mean to be unkind to my hon. Friend, but when one looks at the proposal before us it is perhaps rather different from that which many of us expected.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade said in the House on 17 December that the Government's aim would be that the owners of residential and agricultural property in this wider area should have the opportunity either of continuing to live or farm there, pending any possible requirement for this additional land, or of selling their property at an unblighted value to the BAA"."—[Official Report, 17 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 38.] That raised certain expectations which might not have been completely explicit were it not for the fact that my right hon. Friend, in a letter to the president of the National Farmers Union, who happens to be a distinguished constituent of mine, said that he could only repeat that it remained his intention that this area should be safeguarded from incompatible development and that those with property within its boundary should have recourse to the remedy of the statutory blight provisions as soon as is practicable. But when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is to reply to the debate tonight, answered my question on 31 March he was slightly less specific than that. It then became apparent that the powers which would be conferred on the BAA when a proposal was brought before the House would only be to acquire by agreement land which may be required for airport development in future, but which is not immediately required for that purpose."—[Official Report, 31 March 1980; Vol. 982, c. 21.] We did not feel immediately alarmed that there was any deviation from the intention that had been more expressly stated by my right hon. Friend on those previous occasions. But it is now clear that the new clause leaves something to be desired, at least in relation to people's fears about how the BAA will employ its powers. It would be helpful if my hon. Friend could give some reassurance on that tonight.

The new clause goes very wide. Everything seems to be left to the good will of the BAA. It is for its decision whether one house as opposed to another is to be purchased. A case has already been re- ferred to me concerning contiguous properties where the BAA is prepared, apparently, to buy one but is not prepared to buy the other although the other lies a mere 85 yards outside the boundary of the designated 2,500 acres and in full view of the airport. One is worried about how the BAA will approach this matter.

Disturbing stories are coming through to me. I am getting first hand accounts, though, obviously, one allows for a degree of exaggeration because the people who are telling these stories are directly concerned with the imminent loss of their property. They face the loss of homes which are of great emotional and sentimental value to them and in the case of farmers they are people whose livelihood has depended upon the possession of the property.

Different stories are told, but they cast a worrying light on how the BAA will behave. One hears that the BAA offers tempting sums with the implication, not always too well hidden, that unless the property owner settles now it will be worse later if he has to take a chance when statutory blight provisions may apply. That is a threat. Other stories tell of the BAA offering a less than adequate sum and saying "If you do not accept the price suggested, you must take your chance in the future." If that is the way in which the BAA is behaving in respect of the inner 1,500 acres it is legitimate to have doubts about how it will handle the issue when it is given powers over the 2,500 acres areas.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Has the hon. Gentleman challenged the British Airports Authority? Is he relying on rumour or guesswork?

Mr. Haselhurst

I appreciate the question. I am in the process of checking some of the allegations with the chairman of the BAA. I have referred other cases to the Secretary of State. I have had direct, first hand accounts from constituents which I am investigating. I qualified my remarks by saying that I allowed for people who are emotionally involved exaggerating. I accept the word of my constituents, some of whom I know well. They are not the type of people who would mislead me about such an issue.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Would not it have been better to have checked today with the BAA before raising the matter in the House?

Mr. Haselhurst

I have not had replies from inquiries which I instigated several days ago with my right hon. Friend and the chairman of the BAA. Tonight we are conferring powers on the BAA and I am entitled to air the worries of my constituents on the Floor of the House. It would be deplorable if I were to be in any way curtailed in so doing. I have tried to do it in the most moderate way possible, allowing for the possibility of an element of exaggeration.

People are entitled to know what the future will hold. There appears to be no recourse for someone who disagrees with the BAA on an assessment of value. If, in 1983–84, unblighted values have to be assessed, the wisdom of Solomon will be needed to achieve a fair deal.

People in my constituency are asking what the BAA is up to, requiring 2,500 acres extra for possible airport development when an airport such as Heathrow is contained within much narrower confines. When they learn that the BAA's intention is to develop sites for car parks and hotels, by taking land now at a not yet determined value, and re-letting that land at a higher price to the people who will build the hotels and car parks, they raise pertinent questions about the confiscation value of their land. That is fair and justified.

We must know more about the level of compensation before we confer powers on the BAA. There should be a requirement in legislation to ensure some type of appeal or recourse to arbitration. Part V of the Land Compensation Act 1973, which deals with the extension of classes of blighted land, might be applied to the 2,500 acre provision to give access to the Land Tribunal.

There is also the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1963 which, in section 22, provides allowances for persons displaced from agricultural land, That would give people the right to full disturbance costs. At present, my constituents do not know whether they have any grounds to contest a value put on their property by the BAA and they do not know whether they can safeguard their interests if they once say "No".

11.30 pm

There seems to be no reasonable compensation held out to them. In the earlier statements of my right hon. Friend I had assumed that there was to be parity of treatment for the people in the second stage development area as compared with the first stage development area. I believe that they should be given some kind of safeguard against arbitrary behaviour by the BAA. It may be difficult for people to understand that the BAA will be regarded as being other than kind and munificent. I am sure I love all of the senior executives I have met like brothers. But there is a long history in my constituency of battling away on the Stansted issue. It goes back 20 years.

There is a deep suspicion of civil servants, Ministers and now the BAA. There is the feeling that there has been a ganging up against them, that some people somewhere—it is hard to specify—have always intended that Stansted should be the designated site for a third London airport. Against this background of suspicion, can my hon. Friend wonder that people raise their eyebrows and start to peer at this legislation and say that it is not adequate because it does not give safeguards?

I hope my hon. Friend will understand why the feelings of people are outraged and will not seek to pile insult upon injury, the injury they feel that Stansted has again been chosen despite two previous public inquiries deciding against it. I hope my hon. Friend will do all that he can to ensure that, if people are to be dispossessed of their homes and livelihoods, they are dispossessed on the most honourable, equitable and fully compensated terms.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

I shall be brief and I shall be aided in that objective by the fact that many pertinent queries have been raised and relevant points made in the two excellent speeches to which we have just listened. I do not intend to repeat the arguments on the general question of the propriety of making Stansted a third London airport, which I was privileged to deploy in some detail in the debate in this House in February.

The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens), in the course of an informed and admirable speech, referred to the disquiet and resentment which this new clause arouses in the area which he and I and my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) represent. For myself, in the classical Churchillian phrase in another context, I find no difficulty in confining my enthusiasm for the new clause within the bounds of decorum. It is certainly a curious clause in its drafting and content. The new clause extends the powers for the acquisition of land conferred by the Airports Authority Act 1975. Those powers are already wide, and include powers of compulsory acquisition.

There is no objection to such powers if they are for a proper objective, having regard to the fact that the powers of compulsory acquisition are subject to the proper safeguards of the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act 1946 and the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965. In the case of compulsory acquisition there are statutory procedures concerning proper compensation and the judicial assessment thereof by the Lands Tribunal, to which my hon. Friend referred as not being available in the case of this clause.

The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but my recollection is that the reference to the Lands Tribunal is one of the provisions expressly excluded in the 1975 Act to which this new clause is an addition. As to the powers to acquire by agreement, there is nothing to object to in those if the acquisition is for the proper functions of the authority, as statutorily defined. But is it? That is where the doubt and the difficulty come in in respect of the clause. What it does is to empower the authority to acquire by agreement any land…which in the opinion of the Authority —not a good phrase to find in any statute— may be required for any such purpose notwithstanding that it is not immediately required". What purpose is there referred to? The purpose is any purpose connected with the discharge of the authority's duties under the Airports Authority Act 1975.

To see what those duties are one must go to section 2(1) of the 1975 Act. They are defined as: to provide at its aerodromes such services and facilities as are necessary". That is the exent of the duty. Therefore, that is the extent of the power of acquisition. Any attempt to go beyond that might be ultra vires and would be restrained by the courts in their jurisdiction of judicial review.

I ask my hon. Friend the question: how can such a duty exist when there is no aerodrome and may never be an aerodrome? If he looks at the language of the Act and considers it correctly, I think he will find himself ineluctably, and perhaps unwillingly, impelled to that conclusion. Therefore, I say reluctantly that this new clause is at best a dubious exercise of the draftsman's art and may well come unstuck in the courts if legislative effect is given to it.

Mr. Tebbit

I always listen most carefully to what my right hon. and learned Friend says, but do I understand him to be making his point in relation to Stansted? To the best of my belief there is one of the British Airports Authority's aerodromes at Stansted.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

There may be an airport existing there, but the section says to provide at its aerodromes such services and facilities as are … necessary to the aerodromes there existing, not to some putative, hypothetical, visionary airport of the future. That is where the difference lies. My hon. Friend must consider that aspect.

After all, this curious power—it is a curious power, however one looks at it—is given for a fairly obvious reason—that is, to strengthen the British Airports Authority's hand in presenting Stansted and its land-take requirements res judicata, as a decision already taken in substance if not in form. It is that which arouses the disquiet and resentment which has been exhibited in the speeches which we have been privileged to hear so far. It is to assist the airports authority in getting the citizen to part with the land necessary for a third London airport which may never come into being and, of course, to spread the impression of its inevitability and, by the acquisition of large areas of land, to strengthen the case for the selection of Stansted as the third London airport on the grounds that there is the site all ready and waiting and equipped and that it should not be wasted.

Mr. Clinton Davis

My understanding was that a number of people who were opposed to Stansted were nevertheless in favour of the provision that the Minister has introduced. Is the right lion and learned Gentleman saying that, since there is to be an inquiry—and it is absurd to say that anyone can pre-empt the result of it—he would rather not have the provision?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

The hon. Gentleman must grow up, if that is not an infelicitous and disrespectful term to use to so experienced a parliamentarian as himself. Obviously if one is able to tell the inquiry that the whole of the land is already in the ownership and occupation of the BAA that will carry great influence. It would need counsel or a solicitor of much less forensic ability than the hon. Gentleman to make that case, to point to the 1,500 acres and the 2,500 acres and ask "If you turn this down, what will happen to all this? Where are the procedures for the authority to disembarrass itself of all this land if the judgment goes the other way?" There are no such procedures. Obviously, to have the larger part of the site in hand at the time of the inquiry would be an immensely persuasive and pre-emptive factor which ought to be avoided.

I fear that this new clause will be used by the BAA to smooth-talk my constituents and those of my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Harlow into parting with their land when there is no real duty or necessity for them to do so because the third London airport project may never come about. If they are wise they will refuse to part with their land until a full and formal permission for the third London airport exists after detailed scrutiny by the salutary processes of public inquiry and cross-examination. That may well not be until the Greek calends—it may be never. Meanwhile, there is this grave apprehension in the locality alike as to the motives behind the clause and to its likely effect. I, too, am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said by way of reassurance, and that, so far as words can go, is helpful. However, I remind my hon. Friend of the old legal principle that a man is presumed to intend the natural consequences of his acts, and if the natural consequence of the new clause is to assist the pre-emption and prejudgment of this decision, it will not have served the purpose that we would have wished.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

I intervene briefly to emphasise to the House that my opposition to Stansted began long before I became an East Anglian Member of Parliament. I was the author, in a previous incarnation, of a report of the Estimates Committee in 1962 which led to the establishment of the London Airports Authority. We investigated very carefully the prospect of Stansted and considered that the arguments for it did not justify it as the third London airport. Having been involved in the matter ever since I find that the doubts that we felt in 1962 have only been confirmed. I emphasise that I held these views long before I became an East Anglian Member of Parliament.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) emphasised the legal aspect of the new clause. The powers that are given to the BAA under the clause, and particularly the words notwithstanding that it is not immediately so required", seem to be a regrettable extension of the implication that Stansted will be the third London airport, and that those people who live in the area would be best advised to settle as soon as they can.

I take a much stronger view on this than does my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst). I am implacably opposed to the development of Stansted as the third London airport. I do not even accept the stage 1 proposals. I am strongly opposed to stage 2. Beyond that, the clause gives the authority a degree of power, before we reach the public inquiry, which I regard as regrettable. In those circumstances I propose to vote against the clause.

11.45 pm
Mr. Tebbit

I do not often feel hurt as a politician, but if it is not desired that people should have the right and the ability to sell to the BAA when they cannot sell to anybody else because of the proposition to build an airport at any place in the United Kingdom, whether it be Stansted, Severnside or Foulness, and if my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) is saying that he implacably opposes the ability of the authority to ease the problems of those suffering blight either in its layman terms or in its specific legal term, and that he will oppose their right to sell to the BAA, I could be tempted to seek leave to withdraw the clause. I wonder how happy those who live in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) would be if I sought leave to withdraw the clause, which I have tabled only at their specific request through their Member of Parliament.

The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) asked who would meet any loss on the property were the inquiry to come down against the Stansted proposition and the property was required to be sold back. That question does not arise solely about the 2,500 acres to which the clause relates, but to the 1,500 acres, and to any other compulsory purchase order, whether it be for an airport or for some other purpose. It would be for the authority to decide whether it sold back, how it sold back and when it sold back. On its head would fall the loss, if there were any loss. I would be intrigued to find anybody who had lost money in buying and selling property over a period of years in that part of Essex. I do not think that the BAA or the Treasury need sleep uneasily over the prospect of losses arising. If they did, it would be a matter for the authority.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

Would not that point be powerfully deployed by counsel appearing for the authority at the inquiry? Would he not make a powerful submission that, unless the permission were granted, there may be a loss to public funds by reason of the inability to sell back at as high a price as that at which the authority bought?

Mr. Tebbit

Of course counsel might make the point powerfully, as counsel often do, but I doubt whether anyone would believe him.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Is it not equally right that counsel taking the other side would tell the inspector that he need not take account of that? Is not the inspector well equipped as a person of independent judgment to make a true assessment of the position?

Mr. Tebbit

The point that I was making to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) was not that it would not be said and not that it would not be true that, if there was a loss, it would fall on the BAA, but that nobody would believe that there would be a loss. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will not try to kid me into thinking that people are making massive losses on property that they bought five years ago either in East Hertfordshire or around the area of Stansted or Essex generally. He must be pulling my leg, and any inquiry would assume that any learned counsel, however powerful, who made that case would be pulling its leg.

Mr. Newens

I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point that one is unlikely to make a loss on land of that sort, but the point lying at the back of this—the Minister will recognise it—is that we wish to probe very deeply to find out whether there is a presumption that the British Airports Authority will be able to get its permission granted on that area.

Does the British Airports Authority intend to purchase merely properties which are offered for sale by people who wish to move out of the area on finding that it is blighted, or does it intend also to go around seeking to acquire as much property as it can and persuading people to go?

Mr. Tebbit

I assure the hon. Gentleman that with the sort of cash limits under which the BAA is working, it will not go out of its way to try to purchase anything that it does not have to purchase. I also assure him that there is no presumption whatever in this piece of legislation or anywhere else about the result of the inquiry none at all.

I am very sorry indeed that this has caused concern to people. My sole concern in bringing it forward has been to help residents of the area around Stansted. My life would have been much easier had I not brought this forward. The life of the BAA would be much easier if it did not have the power to purchase these properties and it could merely say to people who complained to it, "Sorry—no powers". It would make life much easier for it. It would make life much easier for me if I did not upset my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge by trying to assist the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden. It really would be much easier and I would not have to be up at this hour of the night.

Mr. Rhodes James

I am very sorry if I hurt my hon. Friend, but my point relates specifically to the words notwithstanding that it is not immediately so required". That is my objection to his proposal, not to the general efforts he has made on behalf of my constituents and those of my hon. Friend. the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst). Those are the words which worry me, and if the Minister can appease me on that aspect I shall be happy to support him.

Mr. Tebbit

I should like to appease my hon. Friend, but there is no way of getting round the fact that the area of land in the 2,500 acres is not immediately required. It may never be required. How can I get round the problem of making it possible for the BAA to purchase from people who cannot sell other than by the use of a phrase of this sort?

My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden was, as always, most proper and reasonable in everything he said about this matter. I can assure him that as soon as practicable the persons concerned within the 1,500 acres will have the protection of the statutory blight provisions.

As to those within the 2,500 acres, if it becomes practicable to give the protection to them, by all means it will be given. But it would not be practicable to do that at this stage, in advance of the inquiry; to do so would be to presume to too great an extent. It would, for example, require that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment would have to issue a direction, under article 10 of the Town and Country Planning (General Development) Order 1977, restricting the grant of planning permission in the area. That would attract the relevant statutory blight provisions, but the House might have some comment to make if I were to announce this evening that he was doing that in advance of the inquiry. People might suggest that perhaps we were running just a little fast at this stage in the proceedings.

Mr. Haselhurst

My hon. Friend acknowledges that I have not been challenging the spirit of the new clause. I am looking merely at the level of compensa- tion that is likely to flow from it and at the rights of my constituents in the event of non-agreement. That is not covered by the new clause. Will my hon. Friend say whether either of the statutes I mentioned could apply and might, therefore, help to assure my constituents on the level of compensation?

Mr. Tebbit

I do not think that I could do that at this stage in relation to the 2,500 acres. In the 1,500 acres, as my hon. Friend knows, once the compulsory purchase orders are made, if there is a difference over the question of compensation the matter might be taken to the Lands Tribunal. But that would not be the position in relation to the 2,500 acres. As the sales would be by agreement, the price would be a matter for negotiation between the parties. I understand that the BAA would expect to pay a price that would be the market value of the property based on its current use and excluding any possible adverse effects of the proposed airport development. But I do not think that it would be possible without presuming too much in other areas to initiate statutory blight provisions at this stage.

I think that the best thing that my hon. Friend's constituents can hope for—indeed, that we can all hope for—is that the procedures of the inquiry will not be unduly prolonged, and therefore, one way or another, an answer will come which will give them some relief—either the relief of being able to resort to the statutory blight provisions, or, alternatively, the relief of knowing that their land will not be taken for the airport development.

My hon. Friend was very fair in what he said about the difficulties of which he had heard. He pointed out that some of the stories were of themselves contradictory. They suggested that the authority was either offering high prices to bludgeon people into doing things that they did not want to do or offering low prices to bludgeon people into doing things they did not want to do, and that both stories were unlikely to be correct. I take the view, however—and I think that this is my hon. Friend's view—that it is not surprising that people who see the countryside in which they have lived for a very long time threatened with change, change which might completely obliterate their homes under an airport, are liable to be emotional. It would be very surprising if they were not emotional about these matters. Therefore, they are almost bound to see most moves by the BAA and by the Government, and myself and the Secretary of State in particular, as having some dreadful, devious intent, even when all of us are doing our best to assist.

There is no proposition from the BAA to acquire more land than is needed. I do not believe that the BAA is in any way attempting to prejudge the results of the inquiry. Certainly the Government are not doing so.

I turn to the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East. As I have said, I am very careful before I tangle with lawyers of his distinction. I am sorry that he does not like the drafting of this clause. I have not checked on the veracity of this, but my advisers tell me that it was modelled upon the Town and Country Planning Act 1959, the Local Government Act 1972, the Water Resources Act 1971 and the Transport Act 1962—all of which, I believe, are the very bread of life to my right hon. and learned Friend; the Town and Country Planning Act being almost literally so. I hope that I have not been wrongly informed.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

Any modest competence which I am able to earn in my professional activities derives in no small measure from the imprecision and ambiguity of legislation.

Mr. Tebbit

My right hon. and learned Friend is right. But we mere laymen who attempt to legislate frame our legislation very carefully on words which are suggested to us and in a form which is suggested to us by lawyers in our Departments.

I do not know whether there is some unholy alliance between the lawyers in our Departments and those outside who subsequently make their living by disputing the meaning of the words which our lawyers help us to put into legislation. I hope not.

12 midnight

It is not true to say that this is being done to strengthen the BAA's hand. The purchase of this land is necessary not for the BAA's purpose but for the purpose of those who are at present unable to sell.

My right hon. and learned Friend may take the view that for people to sell their land at this stage to the BAA is collaboration with the enemy. He is free to take that view and to advise people not to sell. But it is right that I and the House should make it possible for people to sell to the BAA should they wish to do so. At present the BAA does not have those powers.

One criticism is that the powers are widely drawn. They have to be, or they would be useless. Another is that they do not go far enough. If they went any further we should be in danger of being held to prejudge the inquiry. I believe that we have struck the right balance in doing something to assist particularly the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden.

I am sure that there will be disputes because people may rightly feel that they do not want to move; they have a great attachment to their homes. They may feel that its value to them is greater than the price that the authority is willing to offer. That is almost inevitable on occasions of this sort. I hope that the authority will not be mean in its view of the market value of a home. That would not be right. But equally we could not press the BAA to buy properties for more than they were genuinely worth, had the airport not been proposed.

We know that this provision is not perfect. We know that much pain is involved for those in that area, but there would have been much pain for those involved in the area of a new airport wherever it had been put. We should have had to bring forward something of this sort to deal with that problem for the people of Foulness, Stansted or Severnside. I commend this modest assistance to those people at Stansted and any other site which might ever be selected.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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