§ Read 2a, and committed: The Committee to be proposed by the Committee of Selection.
§ VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME had given Notice that he would move after Second Reading, That it be an instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill shall be referred to leave out Clause 22. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, when this Bill was first introduced it contained a clause designed to free all land from restrictive covenants, both freehold and leasehold, already acquired or to be acquired by the West Ham Corporation. Luckily there was a Property Owners' Protection Society in West Ham and they so strongly objected to that clause that a compromise was reached, and the provisions of that compromise are now contained in the clause under discussion. Therefore there is no opposition any longer from that quarter, and therein lies the danger. I wish your Lordships to notice that there is no compensation payable under this clause. Surely such a clause is absolutely without precedent. I am going to submit to your Lordships that the proper course for the Corporation to have taken in order to get rid of the restrictive covenants was to take advantage of Section 84 of the Law of Property Act, 1925.
Subsection (1) of that section says:
The authority hereinafter defined shall (without prejudice to any concurrent jurisdiction of the Court) have power from time to time, on the application of any person interested in any freehold land affected by any restriction arising under covenant or otherwise as to the user thereof or the building thereon, by order wholly or partially to discharge or modify any such restriction (subject or not to the payment by the applicant of compensation to any person suffering loss in consequence of the order) on being satisfied—
(a) that by reason of changes in the character of the property or the neighbourhood or other circumstances of the case which the authority may deem
material, the restriction ought to be deemed obsolete or that the continued existence thereof would impede the reasonable user of the land for public or private purposes without securing practical benefits to other persons, or, as the case may be, would unless modified so impede such user.
Then subsection (10) defines the authority as follows:
In this section 'the authority' means such one or more of the official arbitrators appointed for the purposes of the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919, as may be selected by the Reference Committee under that Act.
That, I suggest, would have been the proper method for the West Ham Corporation to have pursued—going before one of the arbitrators to have the matter thoroughly thrashed out instead of trying to smuggle such an unprecedented clause into a Bill in the hope that it would slip through unnoticed. Your Lordships must remember that such a clause, having once slipped through in a Bill, will be quoted as a precedent in other Bills, and for the reasons which I have stated I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.
§ Moved, That it be an instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill shall be referred to leave out Clause 22.— (Viscount Bertie of Thame.)
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EAEL OF ONSLOW)
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Bertie has moved this instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill is referred. There are Petitions opposing the Bill so that in any case it will go to a Committee.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
Not the clause, but the Bill. I will come to that in a moment. This clause, as your Lordships have been told, relieved the Corporation from restrictive covenants or stipulations contained in any deed, lease or agreement to which the Corporation were not a party, and made, granted or entered into before the year 1920, as to the nature or character of the buildings to be erected or the purposes for which they may be used. That, I think, was the original provision, and, as the noble Viscount has told your Lordships, that is now very much restricted, and, in the Bill as it now stands, it only applies to buildings occupied by the Corporation 1276 for electricity transformer stations. It limits to some considerable extent the power, although, as the noble Viscount correctly stated, the principle is maintained of waiving restrictive covenants.
As I told your Lordships, this Bill is going to Committee. There are other Petitions, not against this particular point but against other points. I do not know exactly what they are, but the Bill must go before an Opposed Bill Committee, so I would not like to make any observations on this particular point, except one, and it is this. I think it should be left to the unfettered discretion of the Committee of your Lordships' House who are going to examine into the Bill, and who will hear the Petitions against it. Let them pronounce upon the desirability or the justice or otherwise of this particular clause. Under those circumstances, I would hesitate to recommend your Lordships to accept the advice of my noble friend Lord Bertie, but I do not in the least wish to suggest that I deprecate the action of the noble Viscount in bringing the matter before your Lordships' House. By doing so, he will secure that this particular question will receive full consideration by the Committee, and, doubtless, the Committee will take evidence upon it, for and against, and will arrive at a specific decision thereon.
The procedure is this. If this were an unopposed Bill, it could, under the Standing Order, be referred to a Committee by the Chairman of Committees specifically, but that is not necessary, as it is going to a Committee anyhow, and, therefore, if the Chairman of Committees intimates to the Committee that it is desirable this point which has been raised in your Lordships' House should be examined, the Committee will do so and the usual procedure will be followed. I understand that is the usual procedure in cases of this kind. At the same time, I hope your Lordships will leave the Committee a perfectly free hand to do as they think right and proper in the circumstances. If we were to accept the Motion as it stands, it would tie the hands of the Committee. I think your Lordships will agree that the Committees of your Lordships' House should be left as independent as possible and be able to come to a free and unfettered decision. I would further 1277 remind your Lordships that you are not binding yourselves in any way. If you disagree with the findings of the Committee, it will always be open to your Lordships to amend the Bill at a further stage. I rather hope, therefore, that my noble friend Lord Bertie will be content with the explanation I have given and will not press the instruction. So far as the instruction goes, I think everything he wishes will be met, and the matter will be considered and reported upon by the Select Committee of your Lordships' House to whom the Bill will stand referred.
§ VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME
My Lords, after the persuasive observations of my noble friend Lord Onslow I will not press my Motion to a Division. I think perhaps I may have attained my object in bringing the matter forward, for the Committee to whom it goes will have full cognisance of the iniquity of the clause.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.