§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD AMULREE)
My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill. It seeks to amend the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919, in one small particular in its application to Scotland. The Act of 1919 applies to the United Kingdom. It provides machinery for settling questions of disputed compensation and kindred matters in connection with the compulsory acquisition of land by any public authority, local authority, or any Government Department. When the amount of compensation is in dispute it may be referred to be settled by an official arbitrator appointed under the Act of 1919 or, at the option of the parties, by an arbitrator appointed by them under an agreed reference.
Under the Act a panel of official arbitrators is appointed by a body known as a Reference Committee, separate Reference Committees being set up for England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland. In Scotland the Reference Committee consists of the Lord President of the Court of Session, the Lord Justice Clerk and the Chairman of the Committee of the Scottish branch of the Surveyors' Institution. The arbitrators appointed by the Reference Committee in each country are to be persons having special knowledge in the valuation of land. The members of the panel are known as official arbitrators. An official arbitrator holds office for such term as may be determined by the Treasury and is paid such salary or remuneration as may be fixed by the Treasury. The office is a full-time appointment. Section 1 (3) of the Act of 1919 provides that "whilst holding office" the arbitrator "shall not himself 992 engage or be a partner of any other person who engages in private practice or business." It is this provision in the Act of 1919 that the present Bill seeks to remove so far as it applies to Scotland.
When the Act of 1919 was under discussion a somewhat optimistic view was taken of the amount of work which would be referred to these official arbitrators and it was expected that their salaries would be covered, or nearly so, by the fees that were to be charged to the parties who came before them. In England it was assumed that there would be enough work for perhaps five whole-time arbitrators. Two, in fact, have been found sufficient and they are kept fully occupied. In Scotland it was assumed that two full-time arbitrators would be required. There has not in fact been enough work for one full-time arbitrator. During the five years ending December last there were only sixty-nine awards issued by the official arbitrator in Scotland. That is about thirteen or fourteen, on an average, in the course of a year. No fewer than fifty-six, or 81 per cent., were for compensation sums less than £1,000. More than half were for less than £200, and only nine were for amounts over £3,000.
Fees in respect of the arbitrator are charged to the parties on a scale fixed by the Treasury. The average receipt from fees per award is twenty guineas; the gross cost per award is £94. The exact figure of net cost to the State Under the present arrangement is £73 per award, or a net cost on an average of £1,000 a year—fthat is to say, £1,000 a year outside the fees received. It was not found possible to reduce the cost of the service under a whole-time appointment. The authorities have been fortunate hitherto in securing the services of a whole-time arbitrator with the requisite qualifications at the comparatively moderate salary of £1,000 a year, plus clerical assistance, etc., amounting to £1,300 in all. I am advised further that the fees charged to the parties are as high as can reasonably be imposed. In these circumstances, and having regard to the need for economy in public administration, the Government, while fully realising the force of the arguments in principle 'for a whole-time arbitrator, have come to the conclusion that the 993 whole-time requirement should, so far as Scotland is concerned, be abandoned.
In addition to the subject of economy, we have in Scotland only one arbiter, and the machinery comes to a standstill if the arbiter falls ill, and nothing can he done unless the parties themselves agree to some other form of reference. Awards have been held up because of the illness of the arbiter. This also happened recently when the official arbitrator, Mr. Gordon, I am sorry to say, contracted an illness of which he died last month. I wish to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the excellent work of Mr. Gordon. When the Bill was prepared this early vacancy was not anticipated, but it was hoped that the Bill might be passed before June next, when Mr. Gordon's terms of appointment was to due to expire. I need not: say that the vacancy caused by his death considerably increases the urgency of the matter. I understand that three or four cases were in his hands when he was taken ill. If, as the Government hope, Parliament accepts the proposals contained in this Bill, it is desirable that fresh appointments should be made as soon as possible. I may add that the Lord President of the Court of Session is in entire agreement with the proposals of the Bill. The Treasury also approve. If the Bill goes through, a panel of part-time arbiters will be appointed by the Reference Committee, and an arbiter will be selected from the panel for each claim as it arises. The requirement to appoint whole-time arbitrators in England will remain unaffected. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Amulree.)
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, the fact that this. Government should bring before your Lordships' House a measure that is designed to effect an economy in the public service is so remarkable and so encouraging a feature that I am quite sure that your Lordships would hesitate a long time before throwing out any such proposal. It is true that the economy is, to say the least of it, on very modest lines. It is not quite clear front the noble Lord's statement how much it will be, but even the smallest drop subtracted from the ocean of public expenditure is welcome. Perhaps the noble Lord will 994 tell us whether under his new proposals it is intended that all these part-time arbitrators shall have a salary, or whether they shall be paid exclusively by the fees for the particular arbitration upon which they are employed. I presume it will be the latter, and in that event it would seem that there would be a saving to the State of about £1,300 a year.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
We are very glad to hear that £1,000 is going to be saved, and we only hope that the Government will not be in too much of a hurry to find the means of getting rid of it.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, it is to be hoped that they will bring in some more Bills with the same object.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.