HL Deb 12 May 1949 vol 162 cc597-600

3.28 p.m.

Amendments reported (according to Order).

Clause 9 [Minister's right to certain tenants' compensation on giving up requisitioned land]:

LORD CRANWORTH moved to add to the clause as a new subsection: ( ) Without prejudice to the right of the person to whom possession is or was given up to claim compensation for damage under Section 2 (1) (b) of the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939, the Minister shall be liable and shall be deemed always to have been liable in the circumstances hereinbefore referred to for the payment of compensation for dilapidation, deterioration or damage under Section 58 of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment deals with a matter which I raised on Second reading. Under Clause 9, when he gives up a farm, the Minister retains the tenant's right to compensation. It did not seem to me to contain anything which provided for the possibility of compensation to the owner. The noble Earl, Lord Huntington, said he thought that there was compensation right, and that he would look into the matter. He very kindly wrote to me, and explained this, I wrote back, and said that I thought perhaps I would introduce an Amendment at a later date so that he could make public his views. Since that time those on whose behalf I move this Amendment, the Central Landowners' Association, who have been rather worried about this point have taken counsel's opinion on it. I am afraid that counsel's opinion is not entirely in agreement with the noble Earl, because they say that a landlord's right to counterclaim is provided in the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939; but that does not give as full rights of claim to the landlord as are provided by Sections 58 and 59 of the Agricultural (Holdings) Act, 1948. It is from that Act, as I understand it, that the Ministry derive their claim for tenant right.

So far as I am concerned, while the present Minister of Agriculture and the noble Earl occupy their respective positions, I am entirely satisfied with the assurance that the noble Earl has given. But no one occupies those positions for ever; changes take place, sad though they are. It might even be that a wicked Tory Government will come back and, as is their custom, start grinding the faces of the poor land owner; and they might take advantage of this lapse in the Bill to grind them still deeper! Therefore it seems to me that if there is any doubt—and it appears that there may be—some advantage would be gained by the acceptance of this Amendment. I therefore beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 20, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Cranworth.)


My Lords, this is a small but complicated pant. I hope to be able to show the noble Lord who moved the Amendment that his worries are unfounded. The position under Clause 9 concerns only the Minister in connection with requisitioned land which the Minister is giving back to the land owner. It was decided that it would be only fair for the Minister to have tenant right when he gave up the land—in other words, to get back from the land owner the value of cultivations, and so on, which had been carried out. I think the noble Lord agrees that that is quite justified.

The doubt in the noble Lord's mind is whether the land owner can claim compensation for dilapidation or deterioration of the land while it was requisitioned and in the hands of the Minister. I suggest that that is covered by the wording of the clause. Clause 9, page 7, at line 36, says: … in all respects as if the appropriate Minister had, throughout the period of such possession, been in possession by virtue of a contract of tenancy … As the noble Lord knows, when tenant right is claimed, the custom is always to set off against the amount claimed for tenant right any deterioration of the land, whatever it may be. We consider that this will apply if the Minister is regarded as having had a contract of tenancy. Therefore, any deterioration of the land will be set off against the amount claimed for tenant right. To substantiate that even further, I may say that in every case where land has been given back and in which there has been a claim for deterioration of the land, we have automatically conceded that claim against tenant right. I can assure noble Lords opposite that my right honourable friend the Minister intends to adopt that procedure in any new case that arises.

There is a final point which I think is important. Even if it is argued that there is some doubt about this clause (we do not think that is so; I am advised that the situation is completely safeguarded), the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939, will still operate. This applies to all land, whether agricultural or not. If noble Lords will look at Section 2, (1), (b), of the Act they will see that compensation payable under that Act is to be 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. So even if there is any doubt under this clause—there should not be—the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939, still operates, and the landlord could apply for full damages of any kind under Section 2, (1), (b). I hope that will satisfy the noble Lord that this Amendment is really unnecessary.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his long and careful explanation. The only part of it with which I was not quite satisfied was that I understood him to say that in cases of this sort the Ministry were already paying for dilapidations. To my knowledge, the Ministry were already claiming tenant right, and getting it, long before this Bill came into being. But that is neither here nor there. I have heard the noble Earl's very kind explanation, and I shall have it to refer to in future should anything happen.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl very much for his answer, but there is one point which is not quite clear. He referred to Section 2 (1) (b), of the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939. I think we are all clear about the questions dealt with there; it deals with definite damage. But there is also the question of deterioration of the land, which really comes under Section 2 (1) (c), dealing with tenant right. I do not think the noble Earl in any part of his reply dealt with that matter. There is the question, for instance, of fouled land, and so on. I do not think that is covered by Section 2 (1) (b). Could the noble Earl give us a full assurance on that point?


My Lords, I can give noble Lords an assurance on that point. There is one matter I should like to clear up. The whole trouble has arisen here because when the land was requisitioned in the first place no provision was made for the Minister to get tenant right when the land was given up. One must confess that tenant right has been claimed by the Minister without the statutory safeguard. This Bill merely regularises the position. All this clause does is to say that the Minister has the right to collect tenant right, and it in no way nullifies any of the rights of the landlord for claiming back for dilapidations, or, as the noble Earl has just said, for deterioration of the land by fouling, damage to cropping, and so on. I hope that will satisfy noble Lords.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that explanation. In view of the fact that I shall shortly be in a position to procure a copy of Hansard containing his reply, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.