HL Deb 11 November 1918 vol 31 cc1148-54

My Lords, I beg to move that the Report of Amendments be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now received—(Lord Elphinstone.)


My Lords, I only desire to say that, so far as I and those with whom I was acting in the course of the deliberations on this subject in Committee are concerned we do not intend to weary your Lordships by going into any further details on the matter. But I should like to take the opportunity of giving notice to the Government and to your Lordships that on an early day next session I shall ask leave of the House to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the Agreement made with Messrs. Pearson in respect to the petroleum fields of this country.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


The Amendment standing in my name has been placed on the Paper in order to give the Government a chance of replying to a question raised by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, on the Committee stage of the Bill. His point was this. Under the Defence of the Realm Act no compensation for any loss of amenity is obtainable. Moreover, it appeared to him that, failing some such clause as this granting compensation for loss of amenity, no compensation for loss of amenity would be obtainable after the Defence of the Realm Act ceased to operate. That is to say, a licensee or the Government itself might enter on land and take control of that land, the Defence of the Realm Act would cease to operate, and even then the occupier of the land would have no claim for compensation for loss of amenity. It is quite true that is the case with regard to all land required for war purposes, and in view of the present military situation and the length of time it would take for producing petroleum it can hardly be pretended that petroleum production is a war necessity. I should be very glad if the Government could give us further information regarding this point.

Amendment moved—

After clause 3 insert as a new clause:


"Compensation shall be paid by any person acting on behalf of His Majesty or by a licensee under this Act to any persons owning or interested in any land, for any damage sustained by them through surface damage, subsidence, flooding, destruction of vegetation or loss of amenity caused by or arising out of the exercise by any such person or licensee of the powers conferred by this Act, and the proof of such damage and the amount of such compensation shall in default of agreement be determined by arbitration".—(The Duke of Northumberland.)


The noble Duke has intimated that he moved this Amendment for the purpose of enabling me to reply to the question put by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. That question, I understand, was of a more general nature than the noble Duke has intimated. I thought that the question was whether the compensation which was given by what is usually called the Duke Commission in regard to anything that was done—taking possession and so on under the Prerogative or otherwise—could be given if peace came and the Defence of the Realm Act ceased to operate. I answered at the time and said I thought that if any damage had been done while the war was going on by the exercise of the powers conferred under the Defence of the Realm Act the compensation might be assessed after the war had ended on the broad ground that injury had been sustained while the Act was in operation, and that the assessment of the claims by the Duke Commission might go on although the war had ceased. Your Lordships are, of course, aware that the assessment of claims made by that Commission was not an assessment of claims which were legally enforcible. The assessment of compensation was an assessment of compensation ex gratia. I understand that it never was the practice of the Duke Commission to give compensation for loss of amenity. As regards the powers of the Commission going on although peace has intervened, I have made inquiry into the subject, and I find that the answer I gave was quite correct, that the powers of the Commission would go on, it being, of course, clearly understood that the compensation is ex gratia not a matter of legal right.

With regard to compensation for loss of amenity, if it is the case that that Commission has, as I rather understand, not granted compensation for amenity, I do not know whether an exception can be made in the present case. The principles on which that Commission acted must be applied impartially to all the cases that fall within the purview of the constitution of that Commission. So that all I have to say with regard to the question which the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, asked is that I confirm the answer which I gave him. Compensation for loss of amenity certainly would require either a complete change of practice by the Commission, which I think is not very likely to be made, or an Act of Parliament to secure such compensation in this case. The noble Earl went on to refer to another Act, the Acquisition of Land Act, 1916. Under that Act where possession has been taker of land in anyway during the war, the possession may be retained after the war, under the terms of Section 1 of that Act. In that case a rent is to be paid to the owner.


That is for five years, is it not?


Two years, with a power to extend for three; that is five altogether. Then Section 3 of the Act goes on to provide for acquiring the fee of any such land. Provision is made for applying the Lands Clauses Act, with certain modifications, to all such cases of acquisition and assessing the compensation under the Lands Clauses Act as modified in the Acquisition of Land Act.


But that is only in the case of the acquisition of the fee. In the case of the first class, what compensation will there be?


In the case of the first class, the only provision in the Statute as far as I recollect is for the payment of rent, and the compensation would be the compensation granted under the advice of the Duke Commission, subject to the limitations which I have indicated. Of course if anything further is desired there would have to be legislation.

With regard to the Amendment, the noble Duke's proposal is that "compensation shall be paid by any person acting on behalf of His Majesty or by a licensee under this Act to any persons owning or interested in any land, for any damage sustained by them through surface damage, subsidence, flooding, destruction of vegetation or loss of amenity caused by or arising out of the exercise by any such person or licensee of the powers conferred by this Act." But this Bill confers no powers. On the contrary, the second clause in its second paragraph makes this provision— Provided that nothing in this Act shall be construed as conferring on any person any right to enter on or interfere with land for the purpose of searching or boring for or getting petroleum which he does not enjoy apart from this Act, or shall prejudice or affect the rights, if any, of any person interested in any land in respect of petroleum gotten through or from the land in which he is so interested. So that the Amendment would not be applicable; it would not fit in with the scheme of the Bill. I have covered all the matters dealt with by the noble Duke, and I do not know that I can add anything to what I have stated.


I think the statement made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack is perfectly clear, but I am bound to say that I do not think it leads to a satisfactory result. I quite agree that the compensation given by the Duke Commission was merely compensation given ex gratia, and therefore there was no guarantee that any compensation would be given in respect of the particular subject-matter at all, and I believe it is right to say—I see the Chairman of that Committee is present—that as a matter of fact compensation was not granted ex gratia merely where the amenities were interfered with. So the result is that under what the noble Lord referred to as the Duke Commission no compensation would be obtained for what the Duke of Northumberland desires compensation should be given. Then I think that what the Lord Chancellor has pointed out is quite accurate, that compensation could not be obtained under the 1916 Act—that is, the Acquisition of Land Act; the result being that you allow interference with property which may be of a very serious kind indeed, and the owner would have no claim to compensation and would not get it ex gratia.

This appears to me to be extremely unjust, because the principles of our law are very wide principles—namely, that where property is interfered with in the public interest compensation adequate to the damage should be given. It you once depart from a principle of that kind you get very near indeed to the principle of confiscation as regards property. The learned Lord Chancellor also pointed out that the terms of the Amendment as proposed would not meet the difficulty, and I think that is clear, but I should like to make a suggestion to the noble Duke—namely, that he should leave out the words from "amenity" down to the word "Act"; that is, leave out the words "caused by or arising out of the exercise by any such person or licensee of the powers conferred by this Act."

Then, I think, although I have not had much time to consider the matter in detail, that he would obtain the compensation which he seeks; and although the noble Lord on the Woolsack has said that in order to get compensation you would want some other statutory authority, I think the right principle is that you should give statutory authority for compensation in the same Act as you give the right to inter- fere with private property. You do not give the right to interfere with private property and chance subsequent legislation. That is not the principle of the Acquisition of Land Act, 1916, and therefore I hope that the noble Duke will persevere with his Amendment, leaving out what I call the obnoxious words. I feel sure that if the power is given to licensees to interfere with private property, there should be corresponding compensation under the Statute which gives the right of interference.


The noble Lord having alluded to the Duke Commission, perhaps I may be allowed, as Chairman of that Commission, to state that there is a little misapprehension about the question of giving compensation for loss of amenities. The Commission do take into consideration and give compensation for loss of amenities, where it is directly connected with the subject matter of the property interfered with. Where the Commission do not give compensation is in respect of property not taken under the Statute and therefore not within the terms of the reference to the Commission. For instance, if the claimant is the owner of a field or house adjoining land taken by the Crown for the purpose of erecting huts or camps, or for any other purpose connected with the war, then if the only loss or damage sustained is that his land is situate in close contiguity to that taken by the Crown, it is regarded that there has been no interference within the terms of the reference to the Commission, and therefore the only claim being one for loss of amenities it did not come within the sphere of the reference. Where the loss of amenities does arise in respect of property actually taken by the Crown under the terms of the Statute, then the loss of the amenity is part and parcel of the general damage and is taken into consideration and compensation is allowed.


I am very much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Terrington, who speaks with great authority, for the statement he has made, which I think will operate to a great extent to relieve the minds of many noble Lords who are interested in this matter. The distinction that he has pointed out is one which is on the same lines as that acted on in a good many cases in regard to compensation, and it is with some satisfaction that I welcome the statement which the noble Lord has been good enough to make.


In view of the explanation of the noble Lord opposite, and of the Lord Chancellor, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.