HL Deb 14 December 1943 vol 130 cc316-34

THE EARL OF ROSEBERY rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the compensation given to owners of agricultural land on the derequisitioning of their property; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have brought forward the Motion which stands in my name to-day for two reasons. The first is that there has been very little dis-requisitioning of land up to date, and I thought it better that the discussion should take place before much land has actually gone back to its owners. The second reason is that I have discovered that a large number of people who own land have not the slightest idea under what terms they are going to get their land back. The Act to which I am referring is the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939. That was an Act introduced by a previous Government the moment war broke out, no doubt with the laudable desire that no one should make money out of this war. Under the provisions of that Act an owner whose land is requisitioned cannot, when the land is restored to him, get as recompense more than the capital value of the land. If you break a jar it is obvious that the only recompense for the damage done is the capital value of the jar, but the position is very different when you come to deal with land. It is quite easy there to do damage far greater than the capital value.

Let me point out in passing that the capital value of agricultural land is very often, or nearly always, very much less than the capital value of urban land. In the instances I am going to put before your Lordships I shall confine myself entirely to land requisitioned by the Air Ministry, partly because it has been very difficult to find cases of disrequisitioned land as so little has been done yet, and also because very small examples will serve to drive home the point. It has come to my notice that in Scotland the Government have disrequisitioned a patch of land in the middle of a field on which a balloon was staked. The Air Ministry-put asphalt down, erected a Nissen hut, and put down all the paraphernalia to which balloons are attached. Then they came to the conclusion that the balloon could be better employed elsewhere. They took the balloon away and handed back the land to the farmer. The farmer went to the contractor who had been employed in the first instance by the Government and said: "Will you please put this land back into the state it was before, so that I can plough it?" This patch was in the middle of an arable field. The contractor sent in a bill for £177 and the farmer sent it on to the Air Ministry, who sent back a cheque for £50 in full settlement because that was the capital value of the land.

I went into the matter with the farmer and I found that what was stated by the Air Ministry was correct. The capital value of the land was £50 and under the Act of 1939 the Air Ministry were not empowered to pay more. Therefore the farmer has to find £127 out of his own pocket. Suppose that balloon had been anchored on urban land or land near a town. That land would have been worth very much more, and probably it would not have been damaged to the same extent, but because the land was worth more the owner would have been able to get £177 because that would be less than the capital value of the land. The farmer is very hard hit whereas a man holding up land for speculative purposes gets paid in full. That, I submit, is hardly a fair transaction.

There is another point I would like to make here. If damage is done by the enemy the landowner is paid in full. It is far better if you own land which is not very valuable for it to be "blitzed" by the enemy than to have it requisitioned by the Government. That surely is not a fair proposition. I can give your Lordships particulars of various cases in which farmers have had bombs dropped on their land. In one case the land was worth about £1 15s. and the War Damage Commission paid £12 3s. for filling in the crater. In another case where the value of the land was £1 the compensation paid for damage was £9, and in the third case where the capital value of the land was about £1 7s. the restoration was carried out at a cost of £87. Those three cases are cases of damage done by the Germans. If, as I have said, the damage had been done by our own Government the farmer would have have had to pay out of his own pocket to have his field put right. If he did not have it put right the county war agricultural executive committee would come along and say: "Look at this desert in the middle of this field, breeding weeds and growing no crops. You must put it right or we shall take it from you." Some members of your Lordships' House, I know, take the view that the only solution is that all should be taken from him, but that hardly seems a fair argument on this occasion at any rate.

Then we have the case of runways for aerodromes which cut right through the heart of farms. I know one case in England where the farmer has got practically nothing left of his farm except the farmhouse. A lot of farmers have had runways for aeroplanes cut right through the middle of their farms. It is inconceivable that damage done in that way could be put right except at a cost far exceeding the amount they can get back from the Government under the Act of 1939. As your Lordships know, a farmer has to pay 100 per cent. E.P.T. on any excess profits he makes at the present time. Yet he will be left to put this damage right out of his own capital. I submit that that is an injustice which was never contemplated in 1939 when the Act was passed. I can only think that whoever drafted it was under the impression that it was impossible to damage land to a greater extent than its capital value. Moreover these farmers will have their land valued on prices ruling in March, 1939. Since then I think it will be agreed the value of the pound has been reduced by nearly 50 per cent., while building costs—I think it was stated by the noble Lord, Lord Portal—have gone up by 105 per cent. The farmer will have his land valued at half what it was worth and will have to reinstate it at double the cost.

I want to make it clear that I am not speaking to-day as a Regional Commissioner, but I should like to tell your Lordships something about what is happening in the Highlands at the present time. As your Lordships all know, because it has been published in the newspapers, certain land in the Highlands is being cleared for war practice. The people living there have been taken away and the place is going to be shelled from the sea. There is no secret about it. I went to see those people and, first of all, I had to reassure them. They remembered the wicked evictions in the Highlands eighty or ninety years ago, and they were not at all sure that they would ever be allowed to go back. When they were fold that they would be allowed to go back they were content. When it was explained to them that the land was being taken solely because it was hoped that the result would be a very great diminution of casualties, they said not one single word of complaint at being turned out. I have seldom been so moved as I was when I saw these people leaving their homes knowing that possibly many of them would be razed to the ground, and not saying one word in protest simply because they were told that it was going to save lives.

But you must remember that when this derequisitioning comes on in great volume the war will be over. People will be in a much more critical state of mind. You will find farmers coming back from the war, or farmers' sons coming back, and saying: "Where is my farm? I hope that it has been well looked after during my absence by my relations." One can imagine a man after looking over his farm saying that it has been very well looked after except that there is a large concrete runway bang through the middle of it, in respect of which he will have to pay two thirds of his capital to put the land right. I do not think that, if you look at it in that way, it is in accordance with justice that the people of this country who have their land requisitioned by the Government should suffer loss while people who are "blitzed" are given adequate compensation. I beg to move.


My Lords, my noble friend was good enough to write to me, and to point out that in my county we are greatly affected by this matter, perhaps even more so than they are in most parts of Scotland where he is Regional Commissioner. I inquired how far it was so, and I ascertained that in the county there are a great many cases and that we shall have land being derequisitioned on a very large scale. Naturally, one does not wish to see farmers and landowners—and especially farmers—suffering the sort of losses described by the noble Earl. While the noble Earl was away from the House for a moment, I believe that the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack said something which may give him the answer he seeks. The first Order on the Paper related to a similar Bill to that which we passed in 1939. This was a measure amending it. The measure was really a landlord and tenant requisitioning Bill, and the Lord Chancellor explained to the House—which was a very thin House at that moment—that the Government of the day, in 1939, had made a series of three quite extraordinary errors—errors as extraordinary as those to which the noble Earl has drawn your Lordships' attention. The Lord Chancellor asked us to pass a Bill putting matters right. I hope that he will be able to say that this is a similar case, and that the kind of grievance which a man would certainly be likely to have in regard to his derequisitioned land will not, in fact, arise because the Government will introduce legislation to prevent it.

May I remind the House that it is not only in Scotland but in England also that there will be many of these cases where, if you limit the amount payable to the farmer to the capital value of the land, he will be a very heavy loser? All over the land, farmers will be losing hundreds of pounds on derequisitioning because it will cost ever so much more than the capital value of the agricultural land to get it back again into a cultivable condition. To add one more argument which seems to me to be conclusive. Suppose, instead of Lord Sherwood and his Air Ministry going and destroying the value of land by putting down arrangements for balloons or aerodromes, the Germans had done similar damage. The whole of the damage done, whatever it might be, £200, £300 or £400, would have been paid without demur. If you ask Lord Sherwood to pay he says: "On no, £30 an acre is the maximum; that is the value of the land." Which, as Euclid says, is absurd. I agree with the noble Earl that such a thing ought not to be allowed, but I am sure that the Government will not turn a deaf ear to our appeal, that they will put right what I think is a manifest injustice, and will set at rest the minds of a great many farmers throughout England and Scotland.


My Lords, I feel that Lord Rosebery has brought forward a Motion which at the moment is extremely timely, and which should, most certainly, be brought forward. Very little derequisitioning has occurred up to date, but we hope that the time is in sight when it will occur on a very large scale. My noble friend Lord Mottistone mentioned the introduction by the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack of a Bill which I understood concerned only questions of landlord and tenant. We are now talking of capital value of land. Capital value of land is a matter which does not affect the tenant, it affects the landlord. Although I hope for the best, I have not yet brought myself to believe that the Bill, the introduction of which has just taken place, is really going to affect this issue.


My Lords, if I may be allowed to interpose for a moment may I say that I did not make myself plain? I did not say that this was the same sort of grievance. Of course in one case, as Lord Hastings points out, it is a matter of landlord and tenant. Here it has nothing to do with that. I merely meant to point out how in 1939 absurdities were created by the Legislature and are now being remedied, and to suggest that this also was something which could be put right by the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Mottistone has made it clear that what he wishes to point out is that the Government are clearly in a frame of mind to understand that error was committed three or four years ago. There are certain aspects of this matter which are really of national importance. Lord Rosebery has selected, very wisely, a few small cases where grave hardship will attach to the occupier of the soil. There are, of course, much larger cases that can be quoted. I would, if I may, quote a case with which I am very familiar because the land in question happens to be my own property. I happen to be the owner of a detached property of about 1,000 acres the centre of which is being requisitioned for an aerodrome. If your Lordships imagine a soup plate you will have in mind more or less the area of land to which I refer. Now the business part of the plate has been taken for the airfield, and the rim only is left to me. It is very difficult to know what to do with rims agriculturally or otherwise. If compensation were to be paid only—as it could only be paid—for the land requisitioned, what account would be taken of this derelict rim? Clearly the state of this rim must be considered in relation to the state of the plate as a whole.

But there are other aspects of this matter even more important than that. Up and down this country, estates are controlled and owned by trustees. Let us suppose that a trustee estate has upon it an airfield or any such other large encampment and that the capital value was, as it might well be in East Anglia, not more than £20 per acre in 1939—and the light lands in East Anglia are very favourable for the establishment of these airfields and other such places. Let us say that some hundred acres have been taken for the purpose, and at the time of derequisitioning the compensating authority agrees a capital value of £20 an acre and says "We agree that the entire capital value has been destroyed, and here with one hand you have your land and here with the other you have £14,000." To the ordinary layman it would be almost inconceivable that a landowner should dare to ask for more than the capital value of the land, particularly when you give him the land back as well. What more can any man want than the capital value of his land and the land as well? It is almost unanswerable. I must say I should be very much puzzled to find the answer to it myself. What does the trustee do? He says to the land agent: "Go and get the cooperation of a surveyor. Present me with a reconstitution plan and an estimate of its cost." In due course in comes the plan together with the estimate of the cost. And the estimate of the cost is not £14,000, but £40,000. What, then, does the trustee do? Mind you, he is not a private individual. He cannot spend £40,000, which possibly he has not got, but at any rate he would not have the power to spend to recreate a property of the value of £14,000—because that is all we recreate. He could not make it more than it was before; that is beyond the power of man, but he would have to spend £40,000 to create a property worth £14,000. What does he do? What must he do? He takes the £14,000 and compensates the estate for which he is responsible by investing it. His estate is fully compensated, but the estate goes into dereliction, and there it remains.

Now we are up against the national aspect of the question. We hope that the ever-diminishing quantity of our agricultural land is not going to be permitted to diminish any more, and that what there is will be got into proper condition and made the best of. What is the State going to say to the trustee who invests the £14,000 and allows the 700 acres to go into dereliction? It cannot say, "You have to spend £40,000," which he has not got. It might say, "Very well, you shall not have the land back, for we will keep it." The State might say, "We will pay you £14,000, and you are satisfied." But then what will happen? Then the taxpayer has to spend the £40,000, plus the £14,000. So it is going to cost £14,000 more than it need. The £14,000 at least will come off the £40,000 if it is in the landowner's hands, but it is to be added to the £40,000 in the State's hands. That is logic, it is exactly what will happen. So when the ordinary layman gets up and says "What more could the landowner want than his land plus the capital value?" the answer is that he may not want any more, but the State must have a great deal more because the State has a greater interest in the land than it has in the money. The land is of a value which cannot be assessed exactly in terms of money now during the war, when food is so very much more important than its value in cash. And so it may be again. In fact, so it will be for a very large number of years in this country, with its small area of agricultural land and its immense population and its ever-diminishing area of agricultural land. For that is what must happen when the various schemes which have to be put into operation begin to take effect; our agricultural land must then still further diminish. That which is recoverable must be recovered, and unless an Act such as that which is now under discussion is amended appropriately we have to make up our minds to the permanent loss of many scores, and even hundreds of thousands, of acres more of agricultural land.

I do not know that the case really requires pressing any further. The noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, has done, I think, a great service not only to the landowner and the farming community, but to the State itself, in bringing to notice on this timely occasion an Act of Parliament which, however well intentioned it was, is going to have exactly the opposite effect to that which was intended, and is going to act as a very grave hindrance to the reconstitution of the land, when its intention really was to put it in order. I believe that there is in official minds the belief to-day that it is to be put into order, because I observed that on the 29th November last there appeared— obviously a release by the Ministry of Information—a general statement on the construction, the cost and the reconstitution of airfields, which contained this: A large proportion of the airfields constructed for war purposes cannot in any conceivable circumstances be used either for postwar military purposes or for civilian aviation. Therefore at the end of hostilities the British Government will be faced with considerable liability for the reinstatement of sites and the restoration of land to its former uses. Now that presupposes that at the Ministry of Information there is somebody who believes that that absolutely represents the facts; but it does nothing of the kind, and the general public, I have not a doubt, firmly believes that the State will be at the expense of restoring these camps to their original condition.

But let us not deceive ourselves. Whereas the intentions of the Ministry of Information, and indeed of the Government, may be admirable, nobody will be more ready to tell us than the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that when the compensation courts come to consider the cases they will not be governed by the expressions of the Ministry of Information but by the law of the land, which is interpreted by the Compensation (Defence) Act of 1939 mentioned by the noble Earl, and that Act limits the compensation which may be paid to the capital value of the land. The case has been made, and I am hoping that when the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack replies he will tell us that an error has been made— though it was a very wise and proper provision at the time—and that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to produce amending legislation which will ensure that the national interest will be served by paying such compensation as will enable this land to be brought back into its agricultural use.


My Lords, there was one point touched on by the noble Earl who introduced this Motion to which I should like to reply. He has seen the beginning of these battle training areas, and I have seen the middle, and although the beginning is grim and heroic, the middle is merely grim. These areas are places where Allied troops and our own can carry out exercises under conditions which approximate as closely as possible to those of war itself. Tanks and other vehicles can move without restriction, and live ammunition is used. Accordingly, the whole population have to be evicted. Like the noble Earl—and I should like to make it clear that I am not speaking in any way as a Deputy Commissioner and representing the Minister of Home Security—I saw the beginning when people moved out from my own part of the world. It was a very rural area. Most of the people had lived there all heir lives, and many of the families have been there for generations. But when it was explained to them that by moving they would be doing a great deal towards helping to win the war, they left their homes willingly, but fortified with the hope, and indeed with the undertaking given them by the military and civil authorities, that they would be able to return at the end of the war. The land has now been exercised over for more than a year. The arable land has been uncultivated, the grassland has been unmown and ungrazed. A good deal of it has been damaged by shell, mortar, and small arms fire, and tanks have gone over the fields, the hedges, and the ditches.

I should like to pay tribute to the soldiers who have done their utmost to prevent damage to the houses and buildings. Very strict orders were given that these were not to be indicated as targets and not to be fired on deliberately, but accidents must occasionally happen. A burst of machine gun fire goes through a roof, a shell lands near a house, damages a window, or dislodges a few tiles, or tracer bullets go through the thatch of a barn. The weather gets access, and your Lordships can imagine the result. You may have been unfortunate enough to see land left derelict for a year, and know how it grows weeds and rubbish, and when you add the inevitable damage caused by military operations, again you can imagine the result. I am not suggesting for a moment that this is anything like what many of your Lordships saw in France in the last war. It is not so bad as that, but I have seen it and consulted people who knew the land before, and who know it better than I do, and I am quite clear that while the position is not going to be as serious as Lord Hastings has suggested, at any rate the value of the land will not pay for the cost of reinstating it.

I am not concerned with the hardships to individuals. What I am concerned with is the hardship to whole communities. In these battle areas in my part of the world, several villages and hamlets were evacuated. If the landlord loses his land he gets compensation, but those people who left their work on it, and who are looking forward to returning to working there again, will not be able to do so unless the land is reinstated, and they will get no compensation. Before I sit down I should like to say once more that we are dealing not with a small number of individuals but with whole communities. These communities from the depths of the country are much more tied to their land by sentiment and tradition than are the more sophisticated urban population. I was struck, as was everyone else, by the magnificent spirit they displayed in going out. They went with the undertaking that they would be able to return, and I hope that the noble Viscount who is going to reply will be able to say that that undertaking will be implemented not only in the letter but in the spirit.


My Lords, nobody interested in the land could help agreeing with the reasonable case put forward by my noble friend Lord Rosebery. One point he might have put, and that is that in the circumstances, if a farm becomes vacant, it is very difficult to get a new tenant.


My Lords, the House I am sure feels indebted to my noble friend Lord Rosebery for having raised what is, beyond question, a very important matter. I agree with him that it is timely to have this discussion now, probably a preliminary discussion, because, as has been pointed out, the process of handing back requisitioned land—I am not sure whether it is rightly to be called "derequisitioning" or "disrequisitioning"; both words seem equally objectionable—has only just been entered upon. There has been a great deal more of giving up of works erected under the Defence Regulations upon land which has not actually been taken over than there has been of the actual return of land requisitioned. Therefore, it is very timely to raise the question now. What has been said by the speakers in this debate will show any fair-minded man that it is a very difficult question. We must not treat the authors of the Act of 1939, as Lord Mottistone was disposed to do, as some well-meaning but blundering people with whom we have no concern at all. I would remind your Lordships that that Act, like other Acts, passed through the scrutiny of both Houses of Parliament, including all those who are so well acquainted with questions relating to land in this House, and that not even in time of war but before the war actually broke out. No doubt there may be things to correct in it —I do not dispute that, because of the Bill I introduced earlier. We must all admit it is not a very easy subject, and it has to be looked at from all round.

What is this problem of reinstatement? It is a very wide problem, and I agree most warmly with my noble friend Lord Hastings that it is not entirely a question as between the Government and the owner. It is a national question. It has to do with post-war policy, and may form a very important branch of it. It is all very well to take a simple case of land with a fee simple worth £50 in the middle of a field and build from that, and it may be a very good illustration; but one must realize that the subject extends over all sorts of cases. It extends over cases in which large tracts of country have been requisitioned and used, as Lord Cranbrook said, for battle areas. It extends to cases where constructions have been put up on land, perhaps land of very little intrinsic value, which the public interest would not require to be removed because the expense of doing so would be out of proportion to the advantage gained. Therefore we have to look at a very important and rather varied problem. I say that not to excuse the limitations of, what I have to say. I shall do my best to be clear, and I have an observation to make which I hope will bring some degree of satisfaction and comfort.

The Government have not decided, and cannot at the moment decide, what is to be done in many of these cases. It is not possible for the Government at this moment to give sweeping assurances, for, as I have pointed out, this particular problem dovetails in with agricultural policy and general planning; and while it must not be left behind or forgotten, it really can hardly be dealt with by a specific statement from me now. At the same time I hope to be able to give a more limited assurance which may be thought of some value at once. First of all, I ought to say a word as to the Statute, though it was most accurately stated by noble Lords who have spoken. If your Lordships take Section 2, subsection (1) (b), of the Act of 1939, you find that the compensation payable in respect of taking possession of land, in addition to the payment of a rent, which we are not talking about now, during the period it is taken, includes also—here I am quoting the words— a sum equal to the cost of making good any damage to the land which may have occurred during the period for which possession thereof is so retained (except in so far as the damage has been made good during that period by a person acting on behalf of His Majesty), no account being taken of fair wear and tear or of damage caused by war operations. It is quite true, as Lord Rosebery first pointed out, and has been emphasized by Lord Hastings, that there is a proviso (ii) in the same section with this limitation: There shall not… be payable in respect of damage to any land a sum greater than the value of the land at the time when possession thereof was taken…. I do not propose to discuss whether the date on which you value is justifiable or not. That is not the main point of this debate. The main point is the limitation which is put by the Act of 1939 on the compensation for damage done to requisitioned land that the amount to be paid shall not in any event be more than the value of the land. In the particular instance which my noble friend Lord Rosebery gave for convenience at the opening of his speech he told us I think that £50 was the fee simple value of that small bit of land. I believe that in that particular case that was actually the figure which was put upon the fee simple value by the owner himself and there is no dispute therefore that that was an adequate figure. At the risk of provoking some protest, I must say that if one leaves out of account for the moment the consideration of rational interest, which cannot of course be left out in the end, and if you simply consider it as a bargain between the owner of the land on one hand and the Government on the other, there does not seem to me to be anything very monstrous in saying "I require that bit of land of yours. I will pay you a rent for it while I am holding it and I will pay you the full fee simple value of the land when I hand it back to you, but I will not pay you more than that under the head, of compensation for damage." As I think Lord Hastings very logically said, from the point of view of a bargain between the Government and the landlord you may say "Way give him the value of the land and the land too?" That is not a very unnatural observation to make. I think if the owner receives the full value of the land at the time possession is taken and compensation rental during the period of occupation of the land itself (even if damaged), that is not in principle an unreasonable scheme.

The ceiling, as I think it is called—that is to say, "do not pay more in damage than the value of the fee simple"—is the thing that has to be considered. It is very difficult to say that in all cases such a ceiling is not reasonable. There certainly are cases, and there will be cases, where the area that has been taken has during its occupation by Government been so used as to have been completely trans- formed, or skinned if you like, where for good or for ill you really could not replace it in its pristine character without the most appalling expense. Nobody argues, for example, that in the case of Richborough it would have been reasonable to find all the necessary money and offer to dig out at Richborough everything that was there and to move everything from there and restore the place to the position of agricultural land. There must be such cases therefore there is not anything fundamentally illogical or wrong in this provision of a ceiling. But I do agree with the observation that has been made both by Lord Rosebery and others that there may be cases in which further consideration has got to be given in the national interest as to what is the fair thing to do.

For this purpose it is useful to refer to parallel provisions. There are cases where, under Defence Regulation 50, the Government do not actually take over requisitioned land but where they exercise their right under the Defence Regulation to go on to the land and to erect on it or under it all sorts of structures, digging vast trenches and sometimes much more elaborate arrangements than that. In that class of case there already has been a good deal of handing back, much more so than in the case of requisitioned land. It has recently been found possible to abandon defence works erected under Defence Regulation 50. The compensation structure in that case is really Section 3 of the Act. That is because the land has never been requisitioned, but the procedure that is actually followed, as I am informed, is this. Where the national interest requires the land to be reinstated, the Crown does reinstate even though the cost exceeds the compensation otherwise payable. To be more precise, if the war agricultural executive committee considers that a particular piece of land should be reinstated for the purpose of food production or the like during the war, then that reinstatement is being made by the Crown.

I have to make plain to your Lordships that I am not speaking of the case of requisitioned land which is raised now, but of an analogous case which I think it is useful to refer to because of the practice which is being followed. I say again that there is a great deal of land in this country over which the War Office or other Department like the Air Ministry claims to enter-on and to erect structures upon or to dig or use for some other war purpose without actually taking over the land. In such cases the practice which is followed is this. Where the war agricultural committee represents that this piece of land ought to be restored to its predisposition for the purposes of agricultural production that is a course which is being followed. On the other hand where no adequate national interest requires it, or where the expense of doing such a thing is perfectly out of proportion to the injury, then in such cases the land is not normally reinstated but compensation is paid in accordance with She section to which I need not refer again. That is the practice that is going on and I think it is useful to know that that is happening. It shows in at least a parallel kind of case that there is a national interest to be considered and not merely the claim of the owner as such. It shows that in fact it is recognized as regards land that is not actually requisitioned.

As yet relatively little derequisitioning has taken place, but I am authorized to say, and this is the assurance I wish to give to my noble friend, that consideration will be given to the application of analogous treatment corresponding to the one I have described where the national interest requires reinstatement in the case of land which is being derequisitioned. Of course regard has had to be had to the relativities of cost and value. Labour is extremely scarce and is very difficult to get for such a purpose, because it must be used for the first priorities. I am not offering a guarantee in the sense of offering the terms of a contract, but I am saying with full authority from those who are responsible that consideration will be given to the claim that provision should be made on similar lines for restoring in a proper case in the national interest land which is handed back after requisitioning. That is the assurance which I am authorized to give. I do not think with great respect my noble friend is right when he suggests there is for this purpose a distinction between agricultural land and urban land. My noble friend points out that if the particular site he was talking about was building land worth £200 then the £200 would be enough to pay this £177 necessary to restore it back to its own condition. That is quite true but that is merely because building land is more valuable than agricultural land, and when you are valuing the one or the other you must have regard to the true value. The ceiling is as much as £200 in the case of building land, but it is only higher because the land is more valuable, and if the land is worth £200 an acre and it is made unusable by the action of the Crown then it is right that £200 should be paid because that is the measure of the loss. I do not think really that there is a distinction in principle between the treatment in the agricultural case and the treatment in the urban case.

Let me say a word about the speech made by my noble friend Lord Cranbrook. He referred to those large battle training areas in which the cost of reinstatement may in some cases at any rate exceed the pre-war value and, as he points out, may be beyond the power of individual farmers to meet. That is undoubtedly a very serious consideration. My conception of the national policy which is likely to be developed is that we have to look at this whole subject of getting the land of the country back after the war into future use not by reference solely to the measure of the rights of individuals or the measure of the value of the piece of land. We have also to bring into account national considerations connected with planning and with agricultural policy. I am asked to say to Lord Cranbrook how much the Government are indebted to him for his helpful interest in some of these areas, and how much we are indebted also to Lord Rosebery whose story about the Highlands was, I thought, particularly moving.

I conclude, therefore, by repeating that the Government do appreciate that this is a problem—ultimately a post-war problem—of the greatest importance, as has been illustrated by the speeches of your Lordships to-day. It will come under consideration not merely as a matter of compensation but in relation to national policy and especially, of course, in relation to policy with regard to agriculture. It is clearly impossible for me to-day to go into details. I would like to leave the debate to-day on the note that the Government do recognize that as in the case of the abandonment of works which are erected on land not requisitioned so also in the case of return of requisitioned land, there is a public interest which has to be provided for. As it is being provided for in the case of land not requisitioned on the representation of the county war agricultural committees so the Government are prepared to consider taking a corresponding course in the case of land either derequisitioned or disrequisitioned, whichever may be the proper word.


My Lords, may I have the leave of the House to ask the noble and learned Viscount whether he would add to his assurance some words like these: "But in no case will such compensation payable be less than that which would be paid if the damage were caused by enemy action"? It seems to me that that would be eminently reasonable.


My Lords, I am afraid I cannot do that. I do not carry in my mind, and I doubt whether my noble friend knows, exactly what the formula is. I have gone as far as I can go.


My Lords, I am most grateful, and so I am sure are my supporters, for the very full and sympathetic speech to which we have listened from the noble and learned Viscount I think he has shown that the Government are prepared to deal with the matter. There are one or two points which he made which I do not propose to traverse now, although I should like on another occasion to deal with what he said about the difference in agricultural and urban values to the individual and the State. I only took that illustration as a concrete one on which to found an argument. I was aware of the method of compensation when land was not requisitioned and it was largely for that reason that I brought forward my Motion in order to try to get everything on all fours. The matter, as your Lordships will realize, is very difficult to deal with when different sections of the Act have to be applied. I am dealing for the Navy in regard to a large tract in the Highlands under Section 51 and for the Army in regard to land ten miles away under Section 52. There are different rights of compensation and different values. It was because of that and in order to ascertain the views of the Government before the land is handed back that I brought forward this Motion. I ask leave to withdraw my Motion, but before doing so I should like to express great regret that we have not had a legal opinion whether the right word is derequisitioning or disrequisitioning.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.