HC Deb 16 May 1991 vol 191 cc480-93

`After section 5 of the Land Compensation Act 1961 there is inserted— 5A.(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, in addition to compensation in respect of the value of any interest in land assessed in accordance with section 5 of this Act, there shall be paid by the acquiring authority an additional sum. (2) Payment of an additional sum under this section shall be made only where:

  1. (a) the land or premises acquired are used for the purposes of a small firm, and
  2. (b) the claimant is the owner of the land, or is a tenant entitled to compensation under section 20 of the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965.
(3) Subject to subsection (4) the amount of the additional sum shall be calculated as 10 per cent. of the compensation referred to in subsection (1). (4) Where relevant the amount of the additional sum shall be adjusted as follows:
  1. (a) If the claimant is entitled to an additional sum under this section and a home loss payment under section 29 of the Land Compensation Act 1973, only the higher of the two amounts shall be payable and not both.
  2. (b) No payment of an additional sum under this section shall exceed £25,000.
(5) The Secretary of State may from time to time by order substitute another sum for the sum specified in subsection (4)(b) above; and the power to make orders under this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament. (6) In this section: `Small firm' means any person who, at the date of the notice to treat, is carrying on a business and the number of employees employed by him, added to the number of employees employed by any associated employer of his, does not exceed 20.".'. —[Mr. Monte.]

Brought up, and read the first time.

Mr. Moate

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

The new clause seeks to extend to small firms the treatment granted to home owners in the Bill. In my understanding at least, the term "small firms" includes small farms. Therefore, I believe that this proposal will certainly be warmly welcomed in the county of Kent because of the prospect of railway development there at some time in the future. Having said that, this is not a parochial matter—the clause will be welcomed by small businesses and farmers throughout the land, because it extends them justice which has so far been denied to them. I am also delighted that justice is now being offered to house owners in this Bill.

New clause 5 is a sensible proposal. It is limited in cost and is impeccably drafted—in case any of my hon. Friends seek to suggest that it is faulty on those grounds. Also, I believe that it is well-precedented. I hope that it will be acceptable in some form or other to my hon. Friends.

I should say how much I welcome the home loss payment which is incorporated in the Bill. That is an important measure and it has not yet received the welcome or the praise that it deserves from the country. There can be few hon. Members who have not had to face constituents whose homes are to be compulsorily purchased, especially as a result of road developments. We have had to defend the argument that they would get a district valuer's valuation of their home, plus the modest home loss payment that has been provided for.

Few of us would find it difficult to argue the case for compulsory purchase on the basis of public need. Equally, for a long time, most of us have conceded the principle that one would like more generous treatment of home owners and others who are compulsorily dispossessed of their property. Therefore, I warmly welcome the proposal that home owners whose property is compulsorily purchased will get 10 per cent. of the value—up to a maximum of £ 15,000—the fact that there is greater flexibility with blight notice acquisitions, and that the residential qualifications are reduced from five years to one year. Those proposals are warmly welcomed and it is right that Parliament should be doing that. The only people who will be unhappy are those whose property has been purchased compulsorily in recent years and who will not have received such a payment.

I congratulate my hon. Friends on that proposal and I hope that it will be seen as a step in the right direction towards restoring equity and speeding up development. If we are generous in the way that we deal with compulsory purchase, it must reflect upon individuals who are faced with such purchases. That will make them less resistant and more willing to deal—less inclined to object when development is proposed. It has often been observed how much better the French are at getting on with developments. Why should that be? It is often because the French are more generous in their dealings with individuals, companies and others who are compulsorily bought out. We have not been generous in the past and the Bill goes a great way to remedy that. It is a step in the right direction, but let us take it a little further. Unwilling sellers of small firms or small farms should be treated in the same way as we are proposing to deal with home owners in the Bill. New clause 5 sets that out.

As I have made clear, the clause is modest in its intent and limited in cost. We are not seeking to widen the clause to cover large businesses—it is specifically for small businesses. We are not seeking an open-ended commitment—it is limited to about £25,000 maximum payment. The clause has been well drafted—not by me, I hasten to add—because it follows clear precedents in other legislation defining small firms. I refer especially to the Coal Mining Subsidence Bill, where we clearly defined small firms and in clause 30 provide for compensation for consequential losses for small firms. If we could do it there, why should we not do it in this instance? I suppose that it will be argued that the Government are providing compensation for home owners because there are unknown costs if a person has to move home. If we apply that rule to home owners, why should we not apply it to small businesses?

The old compensation legislation provided that no extra compensation should be given merely because the compulsory purchase involved an unwilling seller. But that same principle applied to homes, so why should it not apply to the fanner? In many cases, if a small farmer or a small company is going to lose land or a part of its land, it too is faced with the fact that tremendous uncertainty and unknown costs that might arise in the future. It is true that they might well already receive some compensation for severance or for other injurious effects of the development or compulsory purchase, but they do not know quite what the future holds in terms of relocation, or how long it will take to get alternative land, or even if that is possible.

The disruption that small firms and farms face in those circumstances is very serious indeed. Is it unreasonable that Parliament should say that an additional 10 per cent. of the land value should be paid to such companies or farmers because society has demanded their land for development? That seems an eminently reasonable proposition, and I should think that it will automatically gain acceptance.

Mr. Wolfson

Does my hon. Friend agree that a compulsory purchase order is often a feared instrument which has an appallingly disruptive effect on people's lives and on small businesses? However, being more generous, as new clause 5 proposes, will assist in achieving the development for which the compulsory purchase order has been made and will avoid some of the fears, difficulties and constraints of time that result from orders being opposed.

Mr. Moate

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The new high-speed rail link through Kent is generating tremendous fear and alarm in many parts of the county, but how many landowners or small businesses on the proposed line of development would more readily accept the proposition if they knew that they would be offered fair compensation? By "fair", I mean a small payment as compensation for their property being compulsorily purchased. How much more willing they would be to respond constructively if the system were fair.

Mr. Steen

I am grateful for the way in which my hon. Friend is introducing this subject, which is important to many people in this country. Does he agree that the problem is that the planning process has not been generous? People have dug their heels in, as a result of which planning new development has taken much longer than necessary. New clause 5 would speed things up, because it offers a more practical, positive and constructive approach. People would co-operate rather than dig their heels in.

Mr. Moate

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. The Government introduced the home loss payment because homes are often disrupted or acquired to allow road construction. Most hon. Members are aware of cases where we would have wished a home owner to be compensated more generously. My hon. Friend rightly said that we have not been generous with the dispossessed, but surely society should be generous in those circumstances. Being generous will help the process.

Mr. Steen

It will speed it up.

Mr. Moate

It will speed it up. Being cynical, one suspects that sometimes the Treasury has found delay to be an ally as it has had to spend less money. Speed has not always been its main concern, but the home loss payment is evidence that that has now changed.

The proposal to extend that to farmers and small businesses—limited in its effect along the lines precedented in the Coal Mining Subsidence Bill—is sound and will help tremendously in further development.

Even if we do not manage to persuade Ministers of the importance of the new clause, the problem will return time and again. It will certainly return when Kent is faced with major development.

Mr. Steen

I am told that the French build railways and motorways so quickly because they have a generous approach to compensation. Farmers, small businesses and home owners are happy to relinquish ownership because they are paid the market rate and more. Such development is appallingly slow in Britain. Under new clause 5, public money would be spent wisely and the process would be speeded up. Economically, it would be a much better way of proceeding.

Mr. Moate

I believe that the French principle is to pay 125 per cent. of value. I do not know whether that produces a queue of applicants enthusiastically wanting to sell their homes, but it makes for a happier and fairer society. I hope that we will move steadily in that direction.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

I intended to speak in support of new clause 5, but as my hon. Friend is putting his case so effectively, that will not be necessary. If my hon. Friends the Members for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) and for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) were here, they would support his points in respect of the north Devon link road, which has brought considerable benefits, although delayed, to north Devon. Will my hon. Friend consider a point that has been made to me and other colleagues by the National Farmers Union about a farmer who loses some land for development not only to a public authority but to a privatised company which enjoys compulsory acquisition powers, such as a privatised water authority? Will my hon. Friend draw out that example as evidence for his case?

6.45 pm
Mr. Moate

The cost to public funds need not necessarily be high, because privatised companies will often be the beneficiaries of compulsory purchase. If society is giving compulsory purchase powers to companies that will ultimately obtain profit from the land that is acquired, it is reasonable that we should insist that the vendor be treated generously and fairly. The cost to public funds might be low because it would be passed on to other organisations that will be carrying out the development.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

It does not work out like that. I have an interest in road safety. Land was compulsorily purchased in my constituency for road safety improvements. But if the public expenditure of the local authority is being hit by the Government, it is in immediate difficulty in making money available for compensation. That makes it difficult to progress with road safety. The local authority must make available the money to buy land, but it is then clobbered for overspending. I look to the hon. Gentleman to support Labour local authorities which are doing just that.

Mr. Moate

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not advance the proposition that we should not proceed on the grounds of equity because it might marginally increase development costs. If he follows that logic, he will vote against the Bill and the increased home loss payment. The home loss payment will be an expensive proposition, but we all warmly welcome it. I imagine that the hon. Gentleman is saying that, at little additional cost to the Government, we should extend the principle to small businesses that have fewer than 20 employees.

We shall have to face up to that proposition when we start building new rail links to the Channel. It is right that the proposed developer should have to bear the costs and pay a little extra compensation to the farmers, small business men and home owners of Kent, who will have to make some sacrifice in the national interest.

I hope that Ministers will accept the principle of new clause 5 and take us further on the road of justice, along which they have started to take us with the increased home loss payment.

Mr. Speed

I support new clause 5, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) gave an excellent exposition. My constituency is not only threatened—as some would put it—by a new high-speed rail link but faced with the building of the missing link in the M20, which will place a number of small businesses and farmers in severe difficulty. The whole point of the home loss payment, which I believe should be extended to small businesses, is that it involves not only the market value of the property but a recognition by society that compulsory purchase entails dissatisfaction, hardship and very real problems and that compensation should therefore be paid over and above the market value of the property taken.

I do not join my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham in welcoming wholeheartedly the setting of the home loss payment at 10 per cent. or a maximum of £15,000. On the Government's own figures in relation to the new council tax, 10 per cent. of residential properties in my constituency are worth £160,000 or more. Most of them are not mansions but comparatively modest, albeit most agreeable, dwellings in the countryside. In practice, the owners of such properties would receive not a 10 per cent. home loss payment but a payment of 7 or 8 per cent. The principle ought always to be the same. It should be recognised that whatever house one lives in, the state, or the new privatised companies, ought to be more generous than has been the case in the past. That is necessary to compensate the owner for the disturbance and problems that he suffers.

Let us be honest about it: at the moment, small businesses—and I accept the definition—farmers and others have problems with the new business rate. In my area, members of that group are not happy. Moreover, for various historical reasons they may be paying more in the south and the midlands than in the north. They may then be clobbered by new rail or road developments, developments by the plcs or whatever. I certainly accept the point that some companies—privatised or otherwise —have used compulsory powers and found that the land or buildings that they have purchased are redundant in terms of their immediate requirement, and that those companies have made a considerable profit on that land or those buildings. The modest proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham goes some way towards dealing with that question.

I would accept the home loss payment for which the Bill provides—10 per cent., and a maximum of £15,000—even though it is less than generous to London, the south-east and other parts of the country where comparable house prices are higher than in the north, Wales or Scotland. Half a loaf is better than no bread, but let us make it three quarters of a loaf by extending this important principle to small businesses, as suggested in the new clause.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

In view of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson), it seems almost churlish to rise in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) I do not, of course, disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton about the excellence of our hon. Friend's proposal. However, I come to these matters as something of a veteran. I represented the former constituency of Middleton and Prestwich. Having enjoyed the driving through that constituency of the M62, and having dealt with the spate of claims and difficulties to which it gave rise, I then had the good fortune to be chosen as the hon. Member for Saffron Walden and immediately found myself dealing with the aftermath of the construction of the M11 I found that, although the construction had been completed, the settlement of claims arising from it had by no means been dealt with; it dragged on for a number of years thereafter.

We then had the good fortune to have the decision by the Government to develop Stansted airport, which gave rise to a few more examples of the kind of difficulties that can occur when people are dispossessed. I feel passionately that there is an unjustice here that needs to be given further attention. It is entirely right that the principle that the Government, to their credit, are applying in respect of home loss payments should be extended as my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham suggests.

I can recall one example in particular. The owner of a caravan site in my constituency was dispossessed to make way for the expansion of the airport. The British Airports Authority subsequently developed a new caravan site and, after a few years, decided to sell it because the BAA was not in the business of running caravan sites. Had there been adequate compensation in the first place, however, the business man who ran that caravan site in my constituency could simply have carried on his business. That would have been the fair and equitable outcome. At the moment, it seems that our arrangements are not adequate to allow business men a fair crack of the whip.

The question that we should ask ourselves—the question that Ministers should address—is whether a need arises for the sort of payment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham. On the basis of my experience in different places, I believe that the answer is most emphatically yes.

I support the argument advanced by several of my hon. Friends about the help that the new clause would give not only to individuals but to the whole process of speeding development. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has said in reply to me that it is usually other people who stand in the way of development and that they would not be affected by the proposals. I invite my hon. Friend to consider that, in the case of roads, in particular, it is very much the landowner and the business man who are directly affected. I believe that the proposals would—help in the development of roads and railways—in cases in which, at present, landowners, seeing their business threatened and knowing that they will not be compensated adequately to allow them to continue with their business, dig in their heels and fight the developments rather harder than they might otherwise.

In the end, this is a matter of fairness, and a matter of balance between the need for development and the needs of those who are dispossessed. I do not think that we have matters right at the moment, and I think that the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham would go a substantial way to putting them right.

Mr. Steen

I could not have put it better than my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst), whose experience of compulsory purchase orders and the suffering that they cause to people living in the area must be second to none. A number of us feel that the Government have made an enormous stride forward. We should welcome and be grateful for that and recognise that the Government have done a first-rate job in introducing a compensation concept plus something more. That is great news, and the public will welcome it.

The problem is that the Government always say, "We cannot do more," because the Treasury let them go to 10 per cent. or £15,000 and then said, "No more." It is like the chap trying to sell a car who says, " I cannot sell it at that price, I am afraid, because it belongs to my brother-in-law." The Government say, "We cannot extend the concession because the Treasury says that it is not possible."

My concern is not so much about the figures—although I am concerned about the group of people who would benefit—but about the fact that Britain is lagging behind and because our planning system is part of the problem. It is antiquated, slow, bureaucratic and ungenerous. The result is that, instead of developments going through quickly and our getting things done, everything takes too long. By the time an application is granted, the developer may have moved. The building of a road may be slowed up for so long that, by the time it is built, it is the wrong road, or in the wrong place, or too small.

Mr. Vaz

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Local people in my area, too, are concerned because they simply do not know what the result of an inquiry may be, and they do not know because of the tremendous delay. If the element of delay were removed from the system, people would at least be in a position to know whether they would receive compensation and to know the outcome of the appeal. It is the delay that causes anxiety and hardship to so many local people.

7 pm

Mr. Steen

The hon. Member, who served with me on the Standing Committee and is experienced in matters of this kind, makes a valid point. It is uncertainty that leads to distrust, anxiety and, ultimately, a feeling of hostility towards the public authorities. In this country there is far too much hostility to central and local government, which is aggravated by our planning laws and the way we approach compensation when the public authority wants to do something. It is very much the big public body with a club saying to the members of a local community that it will take their land, their farms or their small businesses and pay them the market rate and nothing more. That is no incentive for anyone to co-operate with the public authorities.

The Government have made a very constructive and useful move in saying that they will pay compensation plus. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) has said, it is a fine idea, it is most welcome, but it is not quite enough, so can we please extend it a bit so that people whose farms or businesses are affected get something as well? That is an innocuous, sensible and practical suggestion.

I hope that the Ministers who are dealing with this matter will not use the Treasury argument and that they will not blame the Treasury for the lack of progress in this country. Here is an opportunity to get this country moving again. It is extremely sluggish, and one of the reasons is the planning regime. When a public authority wants to do things, it is too difficult and too slow. With rather more generous compensation, with a slight extension, we can get the country moving again, and I cannot believe that Ministers do not want that to happen.

Mr. Yeo

I am glad to have the chance to reply to this debate, which has been useful. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) for his support—which was stated in rather more unqualified terms than those used by my other hon. Friends who contributed to the debate—for our improvement to the home loss payment.

My hon. Friend's new clause, as he explained, would provide for an additional amount of compensation to be paid where a small business is acquired compulsorily. This would be a business loss payment broadly comparable to the revised home loss payment scheme for residential acquisitions, but would be subject to the considerably higher ceiling of £25,000. Its basis is slightly different from that for home loss payments in that the payment would be calculated on the total compensation payable for the business rather than the value of the property only. The new clause goes on—perhaps somewhat bravely—to define a small business as one run by someone who, in conjunction with his associates, employs up to 20 people.

I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend's evident concern about small businesses affected by compulsory purchase. Clearly, he struck a chord with quite a number of my hon. Friends. The encouragement and protection of small businesses are causes which remain very close to the Government's heart, as the House will, I am sure, recognise from the report entitled "Small Firms in Britain 1991" recently published by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

It goes without saying that compulsory purchase of any property will almost invariably come as an unwelcome shock to those affected. However, on principle, I do not think that I can accept the sort of proposal advocated by my hon. Friend. As we have pointed out many times at earlier stages of the debates on the Bill, home loss payments are made in recognition of the intense personal distress and upheaval which are bound to affect almost anyone who is compulsorily displaced from his home.

Although I would not dispute the possibility that the compulsory purchase of a property occupied by a small business could well give rise to a measure of distress for the owner—or, indeed, for his employees—I find it hard to accept that such distress could match that felt by someone who was forced to leave his home. Indeed, from time to time, small businesses may even gain by moving as a result of a compulsory purchase from a rundown area being redeveloped to, perhaps, a new commercial unit provided on advantageous terms by the local authority.

From the debate, to which I listened carefully, it seemed that a number of my hon. Friends may not be clear about the extent of existing compensation to small businesses. That compensation is by no means to the value of any property involved.

I should point out that, when a business is compulsorily acquired, the owner is already entitled to receive, in addition to the market value of his interest in the land on which it is situated, full compensation for the disturbance of his business. This will cover all reasonable expenses that are likely to be incurred by the owner in relocating his business to similar replacement premises, including legal costs and compensation for the diminution or loss of goodwill.

It takes into account how the business was run and how it would have fared if there had been no compulsory purchase. It also takes into account the temporary or permanent loss of profits, although, of course, that does not include profits which could arise from a future expansion of the business, but that may, in any case, be within the grasp of the owner. As the new clause acknowledges, someone displaced from the home from which he is running a business would normally be entitled to a home loss payment as well as a disturbing payment. We believe that to be a fair and satisfactory system of compensation.

As I said, my hon. Friend had a stab at defining a small business for the purpose of his provision. I am not sure that his definition is one that would suit everybody. The level of 20 employees seems to me to be an arbitrary one and would be seen as unfair by those businesses with marginally more people working in them.

My hon. Friend referred in particular to the position of farmers, and I know that that is a matter of great concern to him. Generally speaking, an owner-occupier or tenant farmer will receive, besides the market value of his interest in the land acquired, including the value of any potential it may have for future development, a home loss payment, where he has to leave his farmhouse, and also a farm loss payment.

The farm loss payment is based on the average annual profit from the land taken. It is designed to help the farmer take up farming on replacement land, which is probably unfamiliar, and to cover the temporary loss of crop yields during the transition. Paragraph 6 of schedule 13 makes significant improvements to the farm loss payment scheme. I dare say that, as it appears on page 171 of the Bill, my hon. Friend may not have reached it in his study of the document. Nevertheless, those improvements are provided and they extend farm loss payments to tenants for a year, or from year to year, and to cases where only part of a holding is taken.

My other hon. Friends who contributed to the debate were, I think, only reinforcing the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham. I have noted the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) for an even higher ceiling on home loss payments. The Bill does, of course, raise the old ceiling very substantially indeed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) is, as he says, something of an expert on these matters, and I would not deny that from time to time landowners feature among the objectors to proposals for new roads and other such things. But I believe that the evidence of the powers that are held justifies my contention that often the greatest delay is caused by people who do not have a direct financial interest in the matter but have other reasons for advancing their objections.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) will be glad that I have not mentioned the Treasury so far, and I do not intend to do so. However, I should like to deal with the French system, which seems to be so much admired by many of my hon. Friends. Let us take a small farm, one of a size that is not untypical in France but perhaps not quite so typical in some of the constituencies represented by my hon. Friends—a 30-acre farm, the land value of which is, say, about £48,000. The French system provides for a general percentage supplement on top of market value on all claims. In some cases, that supplement can be as high as 25 per cent., but it is confined to the first 100,000 francs—in other words, approximately £10,000. Otherwise the percentage varies from case to case, but the normal percentage is about 10 per cent.

The French system does not reimburse many of the incidental costs which are specificially covered by our provisions—for example, legal and surveying fees. There is no provision for separate home loss or farm loss payments. It is not clear to me that claimants do as well under the French system as my hon. Friends have suggested. However, on the evidence of what they say, it is clear that if we had a system which was much more generous than the French system they would not wish to press their new clause.

Let us return to the example of the 30-acre farm worth £48,000. On the most generous assumption, even if the 25 per cent. figure in the French system were applied to the total value of that farm—I do not think that it would be —there would be an additional £12,000 on top of the £48,000, giving a value of £60,000.

When a 30-acre farm was acquired as a result of the construction of the M25 in 1981, the value of the land taken, including the woodland, was £48,000, but under our system of farm loss payments, an additional £95,000 was paid for injurious affection, severance and loss of sporting rights. A further £18,000 was paid for disturbance, including new signposts, loss of timber, temporary loss of profits, damage to farm buildings, the cost of manure and land drains, reorganisation costs and surveyors' fees. In addition, £15,000 was paid for the value of accommodation works provided by the Department of Transport.

In other words, under the system which is so much admired by some of my hon. Friends, the farmer concerned would have received £48,000 plus £12,000—a total of £60,000. Under the system already in operation in this country, the farmer concerned received a total of £176,000—[Interruption.]Are the noises that I hear coming from some of my hon. Friends indicative of their concern about control of public expenditure?

I am beginning to be persuaded that I should table an amendment to make our system less, rather than more, generous. The point is clearly established that, were we to adopt the type of system that my hon. Friends have cited in support of their argument, we should be treating our farmers and small business men less generously than is the case at present.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Is the example that the Minister is recounting fairly typical, or is it the best of the last decade?

Mr. Yeo

It is the only one of the last decade for which I have details tonight. It seems clear that we have in place a system that is probably much more generous and more far-reaching in its scope than many hon. Members appreciate. For the reasons that I have given, it does not seem to us that there is a strong case for giving additional compensation for small businesses or small farmers, and I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw the motion.

Mr. Moate

Hon. Members will have been intrigued by the farm to which the Minister referred and will be wondering whether it is typical. I suspect that my hon. Friend might now be deluged with claims from farmers who feel that they have been treated less favourably by the taxpayer in recent years. He may also find a flood of farmers expecting similarly generous treatment should they lose part of their land to road building or to the proposed high-speed rail link through Kent.

If the Minister is right, perhaps he should welcome the new clause enthusiastically, for he suggested that there would be no cost—indeed, that there would be a profit —to the Treasury. If he does not accept that logic—and he may not—he will perhaps at least accept that the matter should be investigated to see what is the right and fair treatment for farmers. After all, he is suggesting that the French system does not live up to what many of us widely believe it to be. I should be interested to know if what he says is so. Would he be willing to consider carefully figures submitted to him by, say, the NFU, which can no doubt research the matter to discover the correct position?

When referring to the additional sums available to farmers, the Minister suggested that the compensation related in part to profits derived from the farm. That could produce hollow laughter from some farmers right now. They might find it difficult to give evidence of farming profits. It may be that the case that the Minister cited was a one-off instance and that we shall not witness that type of compensation arising again. He should at least respond to an invitation to examine the figures to see whether he is wrong. Is a 110 per cent. payment, with maximum compensation of £25,000, for small farmers more generous? He has really agreed to examine that, because he has conceded the principle.

The Minister congratulated me on my courage in defining small firms. I give credit to the Coal Mining Subsidence Bill, clause 30 of which defines it in the way I have used. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will agree that there is a legitimate precedent for determining what is and what is not a small firm. Relating that to farming, a farm with 20 employees is reasonably large these days, so it seems that that is not a difficult or unreasonable line to draw.

7.15 pm

My hon. Friend justified his argument that there should be an extra payment to home owners on the grounds of the personal distress that is caused. It is legitimate to argue that, in such cases, there should be generous and fair home loss payments. But he did not argue forcefully that there was a major distinction between the personal distress caused to a home owner and the personal distress caused to a small business man or farmer who loses part or all of his land. The distress must be equally as great.

Hon. Members are right to say that, basically, when society compulsorily acquires land, there should be a generous additional payment to recognise that factor. Whether it is mentioned in terms of distress, disruption or severance in connection with business, an additional payment should be made. That is the principle that we have conceded by the home loss payment. That is why hon. Members have welcomed the principle of extending that payment. We may say that it does not go far enough, but broadly, the extra £15,000 is warmly welcomed. Exactly the same principle should be applied to small businesses and farmers.

I suspect that this is not one of those evenings when my hon. Friends would wish to press this matter to a Division —[Interruption.]I hear noises coming from Opposition Members. Did we hear from the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) an interesting speech from the Labour Front Bench, supporting our case? He has not said a word in the debate. There has been no support from him tonight for small businesses and farmers, yet he is now encouraging us to press the matter to a Division. Where are his troops?

Mr. Soley

I have been so impressed by the compelling case that the hon. Gentleman has been making that my hon. Friends and I have been waiting anxiously to get into the Lobby to vote. The example from France that he gave was excellent, and he is right. They got the French side of the line through quickly because of their compensation system, whereas in this country we do not have such a link. When people come across Europe on the high-speed train, they will transfer at Dover into something resembling Thomas the Tank Engine. That says everything about the kind of system that we have. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, if he leads us into the Lobby, we shall be with him.

Mr. Moate

I wish that the hon. Gentleman had not made those comments about the contrast between what the traveller will see when he reaches the British Rail side, because, like many others, he is totally underestimating the amount of investment that has gone into providing a high-speed link which, from 1993, will take travellers from Waterloo terminal through to Paris in three hours—[Interruption.] That construction is under way. It is not the high-speed link, but there will be a first-class rail service and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that much has been achieved.

Is the hon. Member for Hammersmith saying that he has more Labour Members ready to vote than the four or five currently in the chamber? If he claims that hordes of Labour supporters will be joining us in the Lobby, he tempts me, and if my hon. Friends feel the same way, I shall be delighted to press the matter to a Division—not because I believe that we can win, but because the message will have got through to the Government that we should be more generous in the compensation we give. By forcing the matter to a vote, we may be starting something, so that sooner rather than later we shall get more generous compensation arrangements in our legislation.

Mr. Soley

I move that the Question be put, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I think that the debate is coming to a natural conclusion, and I will now put the Question.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 47, Noes 107.

Division No. 146] [7.18 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Beggs, Roy
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Bellotti, David
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Battle, John Benyon, W.
Boateng, Paul Nellist, Dave
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Paisley, Rev Ian
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Pike, Peter L.
Cox, Tom Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Cryer, Bob Rathbone, Tim
Dixon, Don Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Ruddock, Joan
Golding, Mrs Llin Sillars, Jim
Gordon, Mildred Skinner, Dennis
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Soley, Clive
Grylls, Michael Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Haselhurst, Alan Steen, Anthony
Haynes, Frank Trimble, David
Kirkwood, Archy Wallace, James
McCrea, Rev William Wareing, Robert N.
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Maginnis, Ken Wolfson, Mark
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Meale, Alan Tellers for the Ayes:
Moate, Roger Mr. Keith Vaz and Mr. Thomas McAvoy.
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Mullin, Chris
Alexander, Richard King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Kirkhope, Timothy
Amos, Alan Knowles, Michael
Arbuthnot, James Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Lightbown, David
Ashby, David Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Baldry, Tony MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Bellingham, Henry Maclean, David
Bevan, David Gilroy Mans, Keith
Blackburn, Dr John G. Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Boswell, Tim Maude, Hon Francis
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Bowis, John Mills, Iain
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Moss, Malcolm
Brazier, Julian Moynihan, Hon Colin
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Needham, Richard
Browne, John (Winchester) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Budgen, Nicholas Nicholls, Patrick
Burt, Alistair Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Page, Richard
Carrington, Matthew Paice, James
Chapman, Sydney Patnick, Irvine
Chope, Christopher Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Porter, David (Waveney)
Couchman, James Powell, William (Corby)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Rhodes James, Robert
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Dunn, Bob Sackville, Hon Tom
Durant, Sir Anthony Shaw, David (Dover)
Eggar, Tim Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Shersby, Michael
Fox, Sir Marcus Sims, Roger
French, Douglas Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Fry, Peter Speller, Tony
Garel-Jones, Tristan Stanbrook, Ivor
Goodlad, Alastair Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Hague, William Twinn, Dr Ian
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Waller, Gary
Hawkins, Christopher Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Warren, Kenneth
Hayward, Robert Watts, John
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Wells, Bowen
Hind, Kenneth Wilshire, David
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Wood, Timothy
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Yeo, Tim
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Hunter, Andrew
Irvine, Michael Tellers for the Noes:
Jack, Michael Mr. Greg Knight and Mr. Neil Hamilton.
Janman, Tim
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)

Question accordingly negatived.

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