HL Deb 05 April 1949 vol 161 cc1006-18

5.35 p.m.

Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to move that this Bill, which is purely a machinery Bill, shall be read a second time. It is a Bill which was welcomed by all political Parties in another place, and I believe it raises no controversial issues whatever. It is designed to strengthen and unify the statutory arrangements for settling disputes in regard to the valuation of land. Your Lordships will know that at the present time disputes of this kind are generally referred to one of the official arbitrators appointed under the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919. These arbitrators are whole-time surveyors of high professional standing, and they are appointed by a Reference Committee which consists, in England, of the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls and the President of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. In Scotland, the Reference Committee consists of the Lord President of the Court of Session, the Lord Justice Clerk and the Chairman of the Scottish Branch of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. At present, the arbiters in Scotland are on a part-time basis.

This system of arbitration was regarded as a striking innovation when it was introduced thirty years ago, and it has certainly served the country well. The Government propose in this Bill to bring the system to an end in its present form, but I think all of us who have had experience of its working would desire to pay tribute to the ability with which a succession of skilful arbitrators have discharged their difficult duties. I think we ought also to express our appreciation of the wise guidance which has been given by the Reference Committee, who have had the duty not only of appointing arbitrators but also of making the rules governing the procedure before them. I thought it right, therefore, before the Bill was introduced, to discuss the Government's proposals confidentially with the present members of the Reference Committee of England and Wales, just as the Secretary of State for Scotland has discussed these proposals with the members of the Reference Committee in Scotland. I am glad to be able to say that those high authorities are in general agreement with the proposals which we have in mind.

The reasons for a change are quite simple. The official arbitrators are specially qualified in matters of valuation, but they are not lawyers. Disputes on questions of law can be referred to the High Court by way of stated case, and this arrangement has hitherto been generally satisfactory, though it has sometimes been felt a disadvantage that there are no regular arrangements for providing the arbitrators with legal advice or assistance or for co-ordinating their decisions. But the whole basis of the code which they have to administer has been radically changed by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, which introduced the conception of existing use value, and with it a number of very complex provisions which may often, in particular cases, raise questions of the most acute legal difficulty.

These legal questions may arise in relation to compensation for compulsory acquisition of land and in adjustments of claims against the £300,000,000 provided under the Act for loss of development value, and a number of other matters. It is much better, and probably cheaper for both parties, if questions of this kind can be considered in the first instance by a legally qualified Tribunal, instead of by a surveyor, from whom an authoritative view of the law can hardly be expected. Much the same position arose in relation to valuations for war damage purposes, and in 1945 Parliament decided to set up a special tribunal for that purpose, known as the War Damage Valuation Appeals Panel—I forget whether I or the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, set it up. It was a Panel which consisted partly of lawyers and partly of surveyors. That arrangement has worked very well and the Bill follows it closely. The official arbitrators are not the only authorities who have to determine disputes on land valuation. There are the Referees appointed under the Finance Act of 1910 to consider valuations for estate duty purposes. As I have said, there is the War Damage Valuation Appeals Panel; and there are a number of others.

What the proposal amounts to, therefore, is this. We propose to set up a Lands Tribunal consisting both of surveyors and of lawyers, under a legal President of high standing. The members are to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor. The Tribunal will exercise the whole of the existing jurisdiction of the official arbitrators and of the Estate Duty Referees; and in Clause 4 there is power by Order in Council to transfer the jurisdiction of other authorities from time to time. Our aim is to ensure that in all these interrelated matters a single and consistent jurisdiction is provided. We should, I feel sure, attach the greatest importance to keeping the procedure as simple as possible. The jurisdiction of the official arbitrators arises under a large number of Statutes, and covers an extraordinarily wide range. Some of the matters are quite trivial, but some, of course, are important. We do not want to face claimants with the necessity of going before a formidable legal body with minor disputes of the kind which have hitherto been heard, quite informally and cheaply, by the arbitrators. The Bill, therefore, provides for complete elasticity in the constitution of the Tribunal. The President of the Tribunal will have to decide how each case is to be heard. If there should be an important legal question, he will probably sit himself, with one or more of his colleagues; but a minor valuation dispute, raising no legal points, will be assigned to a surveyor sitting alone, as at present. The present powers of the official arbitrators to tax costs and disallow the cost of counsel are preserved to the Tribunal.

I do not think I need trouble your Lordships with any technical details. We must, if necessary, go through them on the Committee stage. I will run briefly through the main Clauses. Clause 1 constitutes the Tribunal and transfers to it the jurisdiction of the official arbitrators and the Estate Duty Referees. Clause 2 deals with the appointment and remuneration of the members of the Tribunal and their officers. We mean to do our best to secure the services of first-class men, both from the legal and from the surveyors' profession, and we have taken power for the first time to pay pensions. I suspect that I am not the first Lord Chancellor, and shah by no means be the last, to be asked to provide first-rate practitioners of great experience and eminence, and yet to be told that I may pay them only a wholly inadequate salary. But, at any rate, this Bill sets a useful precedent.

Clause 3 deals with the procedure of the Tribunal, including its varying constitution for different cases, on the lines I have explained. It empowers the Lord Chancellor to make procedural rules, and it enables points of law to be taken, if necessary, right up to the House of Lords. This change was recommended by the Uthwatt Committee, and the legislation passed since then has strengthened the case for it. Under the present law the arbitrator states a case to the High Court, whose decision is final. When we drafted the Bill, we provided for appeals to go from the High Court to the Court of Appeal and thence to the House of Lords. On reflection, we thought that four stages would be unnecessary, and it was on the suggestion of the Lord Chief Justice that we amended the Bill so that stated cases will go from the Tribunal straight to the Court of Appeal and thence, by leave, to the House of Lords.

Clause 4 enables the functions of any other statutory tribunal dealing with the same sort of subject matter to be transferred by Order in Council to the Lands Tribunal, but it specifically forbids the transfer of any of the functions of a court of law. The remaining clauses deal with minor and procedural matters; and Clause 10, as your Lordships will see, provides for the Bill to come into operation on an appointed day. This is because it cannot begin to work until I have had time to appoint the Tribunal and make rules under the powers conferred by the Bill. We mean to make the necessary preparations in good time, however, and to bring the measure into force as soon as possible after the Royal Assent—and, in particular, in time for the Tribunal to be in the saddle when disputes about claims against the £300,000,000 begin to come forward. Your Lordships will remember that these claims have to be submitted to the Central Land Board not later than June 30 next.

I ought to say a special word about Scotland. There will be a separate Lands Tribunal for Scotland, where the Lord President of the Court of Session will be both the appointing authority and also the rule-making authority, and the Secretary of State will pay the salaries and expenses of the Tribunal. There is power in Clause 10 to appoint a different day for bringing the Bill into operation in Scotland. The Secretary of State, after consultation with the Lord President of the Court of Session, is not satisfied that there will be in the immediate future a sufficient volume of work to justify the establishment of the new Tribunal. Initially, therefore, it is proposed in Scotland to retain the present system of arbitration, under the Act of 1919, but to arrange for the appointment of a legal assessor to assist the arbiters in dealing with cases in which complicated legal issues arise. It is also in mind that at an early date it may become necessary to appoint a full-time arbiter in Scotland under the present law, in place of the panel of part-time arbiters and, in this way, even in advance of the coming into force of the new Bill, to secure the uniformity of practice which it is one of the aims of the Bill to bring about.

Your Lordships will see that this Bill in no way affects the code or codes which are to be administered by the Lands Tribunal; still less has it any effect on the Land Court. It confines itself entirely to machinery and procedure. Though not spectacular, I believe that it will be useful. I believe it will produce a more compact and tidy system than the present one, and will provide a more efficient way of settling difficult points of law arising from recent legislation without disturbing the well-tried procedure under which minor matters can be disposed of quickly and cheaply. We expect that the Tribunal will be able to build up an authoritative and co-ordinated case law in land valuation, which will tend, after the initial stages, to reduce the number of disputes. I am confident that the Bill will be generally welcome, not only to Government Departments, local authorities and statutory undertakers but also to individual claimants. I beg to move.

Moved that the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, I think I can safely assure the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that the House will give a Second Reading to this Bill. I will not myself do more than repeat in a sentence what is the nature of the Bill. As the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has explained to us, this is a Bill primarily concerned with creating a new Tribunal, but the principles upon which the Tribunal are to act and the rules which must be observed in reaching a figure of valuation are not in the least altered. There is only one regret which I feel, and it is that the Bill does not go further than its present text provides. This is in connection with the admittedly very complicated subjects dealt with in the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. In that Act there are two sections to which I would refer in a sentence or two. One is Section 60 and the other is Section 70.

Section 60 is the section which provides for dealing with the claims, which must be put forward very shortly now, for a share of this global sum of £300,000,000 which is to be scrambled for. The provision in the Act of 1947 was that the claims should be dealt with by the Central Land Board, and this Bill, I think very properly, says: "No, not the Central Land Board, but this new Lands Tribunal." That, your Lordships will find, is the provision in Clause 1, subsection (3), paragraph (d), at the middle of page 2: any dispute arising in relation to the determination of the development values of interests in land by the Central Land Board or other authority prescribed under section sixty of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. So far as that goes, I think it is very good. I think there is no appeal from the Central Land Board. They simply decide it and the decision is taken from them. But, if there is a matter as complicated as that to which the Lord Chancellor has just referred, it is plainly right that there should be a tribunal which contains the sort of assistance which a well selected, legally-trained mind can give when exercising a judicial function. I think that the Lord Chancellor has abundantly justified that change.

But what is a little surprising to me is that, when one turns to Section 70 of the Town and Country Planning Act, one finds there a provision which in some respects seems in the same line of country, but in which there is no transfer at all to this new and highly qualified Tribunal. Section 70 is concerned, not with the distribution of the £300,000,000, but with the determination of the development charge. Section 60 deals with the loss of development value; Section 70 deals with the determination of development charge. I do not profess to speak on this subject with anything like the close knowledge of it which some members of this House have, but I have a strong impression that, since this Act was passed, many people have been greatly surprised, and some of them quite horrified, at the development charge put upon them under Section 70. That is a decision which is made, and is to continue to be made, by this very Central Land Board which is disestablished as regards Section 60, but is to remain in full force and vigour in Section 70.

After all, what is the development charge? If I understand it rightly, it is measured by contrasting the benefit of ownership of land with planning permission, with the benefit of similar land in similar ownership without planning permission. The Lord Chancellor is abundantly justified in saying that the Town and Country Planning Act contains some very complicated conundrums. I should have thought there was hardly any conundrum more difficult than that, but I have no doubt everybody tries to answer it fairly. I should have thought that there were people who felt rather strongly that that also was a matter which could properly, without any change as to the proper way of doing it, be transferred to this highly qualified body which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack commends to us and which I am certain will be selected by him and by all concerned with the greatest skill and impartiality. But as things are, if I follow them rightly, you create this new Lands Tribunal in order to deal more efficiently and with greater wisdom and accuracy with the question, "How much of that £300,000,000 am I going to get?"; but you refuse to allow it to deal with at least as complicated and difficult a question—namely, the determination of development charge. I do not mention this point with any idea of opposing a Second Reading, but I hope I may be excused, even at this hour, for pointing to it as a consideration which some of us might reflect upon between now and Committee stage.

I am glad to think that that is all I have to say this afternoon. We started with the simple conundrum: What is a citizen of Eire? Passing from that very easy question, we moved on to the question: What are the privileges of consuls in international law? At last I have got as far as Section 70 of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. In my concluding sentence to your Lordships, I have to confess that I think that is the most difficult question of the three.

5.57 p.m.


My Lords, as a mere layman, I rise with great trepidation indeed to put two Scottish points. The first relates to the Land Court, and the second to the position of sheriffs in Scotland. I do not propose to follow them up at this stage, because the proper time to do so is in Committee. If I may mention them now, however, it will give the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor time to look into them, if he so wishes. The Lord Chancellor has stated that the position of the Scottish Land Court will not be affected, but I confess that I have some doubt about the wording of Clause 1. I propose, before the Committee stage, to put down an Amendment at the end of subsection (3) of Clause 1, in order to make it quite plain that the functions of the Land Court will not be interfered with. It may well be that that Amendment will be unnecessary, but I should like to have it further discussed at the appropriate time. As your Lordships are aware, in the crofting counties in the North of Scotland, the Scottish Land Court has a unique position, and questions between landowners and crofters are settled by this Court, with acceptance to both parties. Naturally, we are anxious that the work of the Land Court should not in any way be infringed.

My second point relates to the sheriffs. It is the practice in Scotland, in a large number of Private Acts, for the parties deliberately to select the sheriff to decide such disputes. It seems to me that under Clause 4 it would be possible for the sheriff to be set aside, or rather for the adoption of the new type of arbitration to be made compulsory. Here again, I would follow the matter up in Committee rather than now, but I would ask if it will still be possible to select the sheriff for the form of arbitration which arises under any Private Acts. Those are the only points I wish to raise, and I hope that the passage of the Bill will be facilitated.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, as representing the owners of agricultural land perhaps I may be allowed to offer a warm welcome to this Bill. I am a little inquisitive, bearing in mind the wide range of subjects that are likely to come under the consideration of the Tribunal, as to how many persons it is contemplated to appoint to the Tribunal, because it seems to me that the various appointees may have to be sitting in various parts of the country for quite a considerable time and in very considerable numbers. But upon that point no doubt the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has to some extent already made up his mind.

I could not help feeling a little amused when my noble and learned friend Lord Simon asked, rather significantly, "What is the development charge?" I may say that those who are interested in agricultural land are very anxious to have a reply to that question. I hope that at no distant date we may be given some clearer idea as to what the development charge is, and, having had it defined so far as possible, to obtain a rough idea as to the true value of land as a subject of negotiation between vendor and purchaser at the present time.

If I may venture to say so, we in this country are in a very nebulous mental condition as to what is the value of anything—more particularly in regard to the value of real property. It is quite obvious that until there is greater clarity of governmental view and decision upon this subject, the actual land transactions will be considerably held up for an indefinite time. For my part, I welcome especially the last words which fell from the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, when he said it was hoped to build up an authoritative case law on land valuation. That is very badly needed. What is disturbing some of us at the present time is the quite different bases of assessment adopted both by district valuers and others acting on behalf of county councils and other public bodies within a county and also as between different counties. It is extremely difficult for some of us who seek to sell land for public or other purposes to find, when we confess that we are prepared to leave the matter of valuation to the district valuer or other Government valuer, that the valuations made are difficult to justify and apparently lack any sound basis, at any rate for purposes of comparison.

Speaking, if I may, as one who has had to do with land and with the ownership of land for certainly more than half a century, I very much welcome Clause 4. It seems to adumbrate what is described as uniformity of decision in regard to the valuation of land and, further, the economic use of the services of those who have experience in the valuation of land. Those who have had to employ valuers in days gone by—many of them relatively poor people—have often found themselves having to pay what appears to them to be an unsatisfactory fee, considering the value of the land, to those who are expert in the matter of valuation. With those few words I am glad to give a warm welcome to the Second Reading of this Bill, reserving to myself the possibility of studying carefully any Amendments that may be proposed.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, I desire to intervene for only one moment, to say how very much I welcome the intervention of the two noble Lords opposite on the points which they have raised, and I look forward with great interest to hearing from the Lord Chancellor the reason why this Tribunal should not have jurisdiction in respect of Section 70, as well as Section 60, of the Town and Country Planning Act. At first sight it would appear to be a great advantage if that jurisdiction could be given to the Tribunal. I say that for this reason: that, since the Town and Country Planning Act began to come into operation there have come to my notice cases where a development charge has been fixed in respect of certain sites in London—I am thinking in particular of some very important bombed sites which are now available for redevelopment; and of course the whole question of redevelopment is bound up with what development charge is to be levied.

In the cases I have in mind, the development charge has been fixed, as my noble friend Lord Bledisloe has said, by the district valuer—and I believe there is no appeal from the decision of the district valuer. The district valuer has refused to explain the basis on which he arrived at his charge. That seems to me to be a very unsatisfactory position, and if the suggestion of the noble and learned Viscount opposite could be adopted—namely, that jurisdiction over development charges should also be transferred to this new Tribunal—it would seem an admirable proposal. Of course, it also fits in extremely well with the point made by my noble friend Lord Bledisloe on the question of uniformity of decision. There can be no more important field in which uniformity of decision is desirable than in fixing these development charges, particularly on these tremendously valuable sites that are now available for redevelopment in the City of London and elsewhere.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to your Lordships for the cordial welcome which you have given to this Bill. With regard to certain of the points, and particularly those relating to Scotland, I will, if I may, look into them and be prepared to discuss them with the noble Lord before we get to the Committee stage and, of course, if necessary, on Committee stage. As to the Scottish point about the valuation of land, ordinarily I like notice of such questions, and I am glad that the noble Lord has given it to me. With regard to the point raised about Sections 60 and 70, I will of course convey to my colleagues the opinions expressed by your Lordships, but I am bound to make it plain that I have little doubt as to what the answer I shall get will be.

This Bill is not designed to give the right to an appeal where there is no appeal to-day. Your Lordships will remember that when we discussed the Town and Country Planning Bill (upon which I am afraid I had a good deal to say), one of the topics upon which we had a keen controversy was whether there should be a right of appeal in regard to the fixation of the development charge. You will remember that this House divided on that question, and your Lordships inserted an Amendment granting such an appeal. You will also remember that in another place they did not like our Amendment and they struck it out, and restored the position to one where there was no appeal, and that this House then assented to that alteration. That was one of the great political battles on the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 which stand out in my memory. It would, indeed, be rash of me to introduce this little Bill to your Lordships if it were going to rip up all that controversy and re-open again the whole question as to whether or not there should be an appeal from the fixation of the development charge. So, as I have said, I will convey to my colleagues the opinions which your Lordships have expressed, but I am bound to say that I do not think it is in the least likely that the battle which we fought in 1947 will be conceded at this stage.

I am afraid I have not looked at the Act but I have a pretty fair memory of it, and Section 60, if I remember rightly, dealt with the Fund of £300,000,000. So far as Section 60 is concerned, I think I am correct in saying that the assessment was made by the Central Land Board, and if there were a dispute with regard to the assessment, it went, under Section 60, to the Official Arbitrator. Under this Bill, the Central Land Board will still assess, but a dispute, if dispute there be, instead of going to the Official Arbitrator goes to this Tribunal. That is the only difference which is made there, and that, I think, is right and usual.

I am grateful to your Lordships for what you have said, and I wish I could say something definite regarding the personnel of these Tribunals. I was considering this very morning what I could say about the number of people whom I shall have to appoint. But I would rather not say anything on that subject at the present moment. If I did so, I think it would be a mere guess. I remember this trouble arising with regard to War Damage appeals. Finally, I managed to keep to a very small number of people. I had thought at one time that I should have to appoint a vast army of people up and down the country to deal with it, but, lo and behold! all the cases seemed to get settled, there was very little to do, and so no great number of people was required. I hope I shall have the same sort of experience in this connection, but I think that solvitur ambulando is the answer which I must give at the present time. I shall certainly keep the numbers down so far as I possibly can, so that I may secure homogeneity and uniformity of decision. But, of course, I cannot have the lieges kept waiting interminably to have their rights adjusted, just because have not enough eminent people to do the work. I am afraid that, at the present moment, I cannot further answer this question, or, shall I say, "rise to the fly" which the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, threw over me. As I have said, I am grateful for the assistance which your Lordships have given me. And may I hope that we shall come fairly soon to the Committee stage of this Bill?

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.