HL Deb 17 February 1954 vol 185 cc967-1017

3.9 p.m.

LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE rose to move to resolve, That, in the opinion of this House, there is need for alteration of (1) the existing procedure and practice for release by the Government of lands acquired for Defence purposes; and (2) the procedure for compulsory acquisition of new lands by Government Departments and local authorities. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Resolution that I move to-day deals with two different matters—namely, the release and the acquisition of lands; and it deals with two different procedures covering several Government Departments. Therefore, I am grateful that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will reply later on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. The issues raised in this Resolution affect, first, all those who own land; secondly, the general body of taxpayers in the country; and thirdly, all those who regard with some misgivings the seemingly inevitable growth of the powers of the Executive over the rights and livelihood of citizens.

Since I put this Motion on the Order Paper, an Amendment has appeared in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who is to move that the word "alteration" in my Resolution be omitted in favour of the word "reconsideration." Let me say at once that I do not feel strongly about that Amendment, and if your Lordships consider that "reconsideration" is a better word, I shall be perfectly willing to accept it. I was not quite clear of the purpose of the Amendment, so I at once went to the Oxford English Dictionary to look for the definition of the word "reconsideration." I found that "reconsider" meant "to consider a second time with a view to changing or amending." It does not seem to me very different from "alteration." Then I pursued my researches still further, and as a result I think I understand better the reasons which actuated the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—who was, after all, Minister of Town and Country Planning from 1945 to 1950—because in the Oxford English Dictionary the second definition of "reconsider," is "to reflect on one's conduct, with a view to repentance or amendment."

I deal first in this Motion with the question of release, and this is in respect of lands taken under war-time legislation and regulations, mostly for Service Departments and much for aerodromes. Perhaps I can illustrate the extent of the problem by citing the land held by one Government Department alone, the Air Ministry, which at present holds some 200,000 acres of land. During the last three years its turnover in land has been considerable. It has acquired approximately 6,000 acres of fresh land, and it has released approximately 7,000 acres of land held on requisition. Misgivings and criticisms of the system and Departmental administration in respect of release of lands have been expressed on many occasions, in Parliament and in the Press, over various incidents. The matter has been brought to a head by the case of Crichel Down. If I refer to the Crichel Down case it is not to re-argue in detail what happened in that particular instance.


Will the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting him? I shall be put into a position of considerable embarrassment if the noble Lord deals with the facts, or what he assumes to be the facts, of the Crichel Down case, because that is at the moment, in a real sense, sub judice. As the noble Lord knows, my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture has appointed a Commissioner to inquire specifically into matter, so that it is really sub judice. Therefore, I am not in a position to give any answer to whatever the noble Lord says on this matter. I do not wish to embarrass him in any way.


I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. Let me assure him at once that he does not embarrass me in any way. The particular aspect of Crichel Down with which I wish to deal is that which the Minister of Agriculture has specifically excluded from consideration by the Commissioner. As I say, I do not wish to argue the case or touch upon it in any detail, but to illustrate the conflict of principle on which the Government argue as compared to the principle that I feel should be the governing one in release of lands. I feel at complete liberty to cite this Crichel Down case because, although an inquiry is to be held, and, as the noble and learned Lord said, the matter is sub judice, the terms of reference of that inquiry specifically exclude all questions of Government policy and, in particular, any question of preferential treatment in respect of an application on grounds of previous ownership or occupation of land. It is that issue of Governmental policy, which, I repeat, is specifically excluded from the inquiry, that I wish to bring to the attention of your Lordships this afternoon.

The broad facts are that some 700 acres of land were taken for a bombing range, and at the end of the war the purpose for which the land had been requisitioned lapsed. The land was not handed back to the previous owners, but after various inter-Governmental moves was handed over by the Air Ministry to the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Agriculture handed the land to the Commissioner of Crown Lands, who proceeded to find a tenant and let the land. I do not think I have in arty way gone into detail, but have confined myself to stating the broad terms of the events which took place. But on the question of major policy, the broad grounds of justification by the Ministry of Agriculture are that the Minister was acting on the principle of what would be the best agricultural purpose for the land. It is that principle which, with respect to the noble and learned Lord, I beg to dispute this afternoon.

The principle which I suggest should govern such a situation is this: that once the purpose of acquisition of the land has been fulfilled, and the land is no longer required, the previous owner should be enabled to re-purchase it at a fair price. If the previous owner is unable or unwilling to do this, then the land should be disposed of openly, at the best economic price. Let me say at once that I recognise that this right of pre-emption by the previous owner, of which I am in favour, would have to be waived in certain exceptional cases. I concede that at once. For example, in the case of an air-strip where there are six, ten or fifteen different owners, obviously it would be impractical to sell that air-strip back to those previous owners. Then there is the case where land has since been requisitioned and taken for a housing estate, or planned for a housing estate. In such a case the land could not be handed back. There is the case of Peacehaven in Sussex, where some 350 plots destined for housing were requisitioned. They were largely derelict during the war, and after the war the previous owners could not be traced. It would be impossible to expect the Government to break up that land and sell it back to 350 owners. In general, however, I submit to your Lordships that this principle of the previous owner's right of preemption should govern.

I believe it would be impracticable, and probably unnecessary, to try to define this right of pre-eruption in legislation. It would be far better, I believe, to recognise it by Ministerial directive in administration. It would be within the power of the Cabinet to direct the Minister concerned to give this right of pre-emption wherever practicable and possible, leaving the Minister to judge when a case must be dealt with as exceptional. Some such Ministerial directive as that would meet this question of the exceptional case, and would also avoid the need for legislation. The price at which land would be sold back would, I presume, be a matter for negotiation, or it could be settled by the district valuer. I would ask your Lordships to examine this question of principle which governs the Government action at the present time to see how it works. At present, the Government, having compulsorily acquired land for national purposes, are legally entitled to dispose of that land without any prior consultation with the previous owner. The Government are not obligated to offer the land for public sale, nor are they obligated to take the highest, or any, tender received in private. I would label such a position as tyrannical on the previous owner, and I believe it is a mockery of proper commercial practice in the general interests of the taxpayers that land should be capable of being sold in secret—not necessarily to the highest bidder but to anyone selected by the Government Department first.

My next objection to this principle of what is the "best agricultural purpose" is that this is to be judged by the Minister who is already an interested party. I do not believe the public will ever be satisfied if the application of this Government principle is left in the hands of interested officials. It appears to me that the Minister of Agriculture's justification of the principle that he alone can decide what is the best use for agricultural land, and that any right of the previous owner to first refusal endangers agricultural interests, falls to the ground on examination. Agricultural interests are, I believe, doubly safeguarded already if the alternative principle of the right of preemption which I advocate is accepted.

First, the owner of the land cannot change its use; change of use is prevented by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. Therefore no one could get that land, saying he wanted it for agricultural purposes, and then sell it for some other purpose. Secondly, if the owner receiving back his land does not farm it properly—if he shows inability to farm it properly—the Minister of Agriculture already possesses power under the Agriculture Act, 1947, to dispossess him. So I do not see the force behind this principle that the Minister should decide the best agricultural user. In this question of release I have endeavoured not to get bogged down in detail; but I ask the Government whether they can make a statement before further instances such as the Crichel Down instance occur in future land releases. In the interests of fair treatment of the owners and of the taxpayers of this country, I believe there should be given to a previous owner a right of first refusal to re-acquire land by administrative means: such land to come back to him at what is a fair price to both parties.

The second part of my Motion deals with the question of acquisition: and I would make this general statement, which do not think can be argued against. To-day the power of the Executive has been so developed that principal Ministers of the Crown possess powers which enable them in their sole discretion to acquire the property of any subject without that subject enjoying the right of appeal beyond the Executive itself. The courts cannot question the quasi-judicial position of Ministers, provided they act within the general powers granted them by Parliament. I wonder whether your Lordships will allow me to try, in a few sentences, to describe the procedure which governs the acquisition of land at the present time. Various Ministers can acquire land under several Acts but most action is in fact taken under the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946. A Minister, or local authority if it be an authorised local authority, prepares a draft order authorising the compulsory purchase. Objection to this order can be taken. An inquiry is then held. An official of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning is usually deputed to hold that inquiry. That inspector hears the statement of reasons for acquisition and he hears the objectors, but no examination is allowed of the Minister's representative at that inquiry. The inspector then packs his bag, returns to Whitehall and reports to his Minister with recommendations. What the inspector recommends is secret within the Ministry. The Minister is free to disregard entirely the inspector's report in coming to his decision as to whether or not to confirm the draft order.

At this stage the Minister can, and I understand does, receive comments and views of other Government Departments to whom the Minister is free to release the views and recommendations of his inspector. The people who object, however, have no means of knowing what the inspector has recommended and whether or not the Minister is disregarding such advice, or what further pressure has been put on him by interested Ministers of other Departments. There is also a widespread belief that in many cases the Minister, having received other departmental views, has in fact made up his mind before the inquiry is held; and that the inquiry takes place in order to fulfil the obligation put upon him by the Act of Parliament. There is at present a general uprising of public opinion on the increasing evidence of unfairness, and there is dislike and misgiving as regards the present procedure for inquiries, the opportunities which objectors have for the presentation of their objections, and about the judgment of their case. Those misgivings are accentuated by the fact that often the acquiring authority, if it he a Government Department or an authorised local authority, is in fact also the confirming authority.

The Times, the Daily Telegraph and other journals have drawn attention repeatedly to this matter. In addition, no doubt the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will have read Lord Justice Denning's recent very severe condemnation in his address before the Town Planning Institute. The Minister may well defend the present procedure by denying that the inquiry is in fact in respect of a dispute. He may say it is not an issue between A and B; that the Minister holds his powers to acquire land; that the draft order has already been made; and that the inquiry is merely to hear objections and to give the Minister an opportunity of weighing those objections against his plans. He may say that he is an administrator and not a judge—and that, I think, would probably be the case. But the fact is that, whatever the Minister says, the inquiry is indeed in respect of a dispute. I do not think it is any good for the Minister to do a "Nelson" act by walking the Whitehall quarterdeck, putting his glass to a blind eye and saying there is no such thing as a dispute. There is, in fact, a dispute between those who are planning and those who are to be planned.

I have tried to put, very briefly, the procedure as it exists at present and I should like finally to make one or two suggestions. I should like to see an early and complete overhaul of the present inquiry procedure. I suggest that officials of the Ministry should no longer conduct the inquiry but that an impartial and disinterested person should be appointed to do this. The duty of appointment might be placed in the hands of the Lord Chancellor; he already holds it in respect of inquiries on air accidents. I understand he has a panel of experts, and when there is a civil aviation accident that: demands a board of inquiry, it is to the Lord Chancellor that the Minister comes for some suitable, impartial person. My second suggestion is that the recommendations and findings of these inquiries should be made public unless there is some national, overriding interest, in which case they could be made known confidentially to both parties.

My third suggestion is that if the Minister chooses to override the recommendations of the inquiry, as he well may, he should have a duty to state in broad terms what are the main reasons that have led him to do so. At present, the Minister has the inspector's summary before him, and at that stage he can call for other Departments' views. I suggest that administrative inquiries should normally take place before, and not after, the inquiry, so that the views of other Departments could be given full weight at any inquiry. An alternative suggestion, that there should be an appeal to the courts on the Minister's decision, is sometimes made; but, personally, I reject this absolutely. I feel that ministerial responsibility must in the final event remain unimpaired. The Minister administers within the boundaries of laws passed by Parliament. His authority is derived from Parliament, he is answerable to Parliament, and only if he tries to jump outside the boundaries is he answerable in the courts.

The Minister is giving not a judicial decision but a policy decision, for which he is answerable only to Parliament. I am sure that these sentiments will find accord with the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack. I would not, for one moment, impair the final ministerial responsibility. All I would do would be to try to introduce the safeguards of an independent inquiry, the publishing of the findings, and the duty on the Minister to make known the broad reasons why he has thrown over the inquiry, if he has done so. Then Parliament will, in due course, decide whether or not the Minister has acted wisely and correctly.

There is one further suggestion I would make, and it is on costs. I should like to see permission given to the tribunal to award taxed costs to the successful objector. I cannot see why the award of taxed costs should not be left free to the judgment of the tribunal. There is one further direction in which the present procedure for acquisition of lands needs amendment. At present, a citizen can be harried by the Government or local authority who are trying to acquire his land, and he may be harried under various powers. In ordinary law—it is very bold of me to speak as a layman about these matters in front of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and so many other Lords who know so much about the law—a man, as I understand it, cannot be tried before the courts more than once on precisely the same issue. There is, I believe, a doctrine known as res judicata. That cannot apply in administrative law, I admit, but something should be done to prevent such incidents as occurred recently at Swindon. Here, the local authority wished to acquire good agricultural land for housing population brought to Swindon from London. In November, 1952, the Swindon Town Council made a compulsory order to acquire that land under the 1947 Act. After the usual inquiry, the Minister refused to confirm the compulsory purchase order of the Swindon council. Within six weeks of hearing of their failure to acquire the land, the local authority issued a second compulsory order for the same land on the same owner, but under a different Act—the Town Development Act, 1952. This is entirely wrong.

There is also the case of the West Byfleet golf course. Here, we had two different local authorities who wished to acquire the same piece of land, with the result that there would be two different inquiries. That is a position which cannot be defended by any administration. My suggestion is that the five-year planning development period should be tied to this question of compulsory land acquisition, so as to ensure, by administrative means again, that, save in exceptional cases, no property-owner should be served within the period of five years with more than one compulsory notice for the same piece of land. I suggest that that again might be done by administrative direction.

I summarise the remarks I have made with regard to disposal and acquisition. I have tried in broad terms briefly to expose some of the faults. I have made some suggestions which, no doubt, are full of flaws; I only hope that the Government themselves will be able to make better suggestions. The fact remains, however, that there is need for amendment and alteration in the present administrative procedure. My Resolution deals only with the issue of fault and improvement. If the Government decline this Resolution, it must mean that they are content with the present procedure and position. It can mean only that. I think that the rejection of the Resolution would gravely disappoint a large number of persons who are seriously concerned about the way in which the present Acts are working. I have not asked for the complete overhaul of the procedure for land acquisition—that would be too great a thing to ask. All I have asked for is some amendment by administrative means where glaring faults exist. Therefore, I hope that the Government will feel able to accept this Resolution and no doubt improve upon my suggestions, and, in so doing, correct those faults that I have exposed. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That, in the opinion of this House, there is need for alteration of (1) the existing procedure and practice for release by the Government of lands acquired for Defence purposes; and (2) the procedure for compulsory acquisition of new lands by Government Departments and local authorities.—(Lord Balfour of Inchrye.)

3.37 p.m.


had given notice of an Amendment to the Resolution, to substitute "reconsideration" for "alteration." The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for having raised this important question and for the moderate terms in which he has stated his case. I propose to follow very closely what he has said. He began by talking of the three parties who were concerned in this, and I was interested in the order in which he placed them—the taxpayer, the landowner and other people who are concerned with, or critical of, the present practice. It is interesting to find that he omitted what I regard as the most important source of interest in this matter—that is, the public interest. I do not know in which category he includes the public interest.


May I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment? I would include the public interest in the category that I spoke about those who regard with misgivings the seemingly inevitable growth of the power of the Executive over the lives rind livelihood of the citizens.


I should not have regarded the two categories as entirely similar. The public interest is a much wider one than the interest of those who are concerned about the question of procedure. I think it would be useful for the House to recognise and appreciate the background against which this subject ought to he considered and the purposes for which compulsory acquisitions are made. They are made, of course, not in order to provide the Executive with greater powers, or with more land, but because the public needs the land. It needs it for roads, for housing, for defence purposes, for educational purposes, and for a great variety of other purposes which this complex society of ours necessitates. Every time an application for compulsory acquisition is made, either by a Government Department or by a local authority, it is made on public grounds, on the grounds of public interest. I was surprised to find that that particular aspect of the matter was never once referred to or hinted at in the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye.

I am proposing to move an Amendment to the noble Lord's Resolution. The noble Lord gave two interpretations of the word "reconsideration," one of which implies that if you are prepared to reconsider a matter, you repent of what you have done in the past. I would ask him entirely to reject that interpretation. I am so confident that what has been done in the past is, on the whole, right (anyone who says that a procedure is not capable of improvement would be very foolish indeed) that I should have no objection at all to the procedure being looked at again, to see whether it can be improved and, if there are any legitimate criticisms of it, whether those criticisms can be met. It is in that spirit that I put down the Amendment, and certainly not in a spirit of repentance.

The noble Lord has divided his Resolution into two parts. I do not propose to say much about the first part. The question of pre-emption is not a matter on which I feel strongly, and I would say at once that, other things being equal—that is important—and in so far as it is practicable, I do not see any reason why a person from whom a Government Department has acquired land which is no longer required by that Government Department should not be given the first opportunity of buying it back at a fair price. But there are so many restrictions in this matter that, in practice, it may be rarely that the opportunity will come. There is first of all the time factor—for how long is this right of pre-emption to be valid? I do not know how long we shall require the land that was acquired for defence purposes—I hope not for long; but one never knows. But suppose that it was a matter of twenty, thirty, or forty years. At the end of that period it might be difficult to give people the right of preemption. I observe that the noble Lord recognises that the price would not necessarily be the price that was paid for the land; it would have to be the value of the land at the time when the Department contemplated disposal of it. I do not wish to labour the point because, generally, I can see no objection to the matter being looked into sympathetically on the lines suggested by the noble Lord; and if Her Majesty's Government were prepared to say that they are willing to look into this question of pre-emption, and see how far it can be met, as the noble Lord says, by administrative means, I should not quarrel with that decision. It is when we come to the second part of the Resolution that I find myself in much greater disagreement with the noble Lord. It seemed to me that he began by creating strong feeling about the enormous powers of the Minister, against whose decision there is no appeal. After building up for the House the picture of a dictator, of a monster who decides things, and who is an interested party in those decisions, the noble Lord then finished up meekly by saying that he accepted that position—to use his own words, that he rejected absolutely an appeal to the courts. He regarded the position of the Minister as administrative, pointing out that he was answerable to Parliament and could be dealt with by Parliament. I agree, of course, with the second part of the statement; I do not agree with the first part. But since the noble Lord himself makes no real point on the fact that there is no appeal against the Minister's decision, and accepts that position, it is not for me to make any further comment on it.

I feel that the account given by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, of a public inquiry was rather a travesty. He seemed to think that each party turned up at the inquiry, that a statement was made by or on behalf of the acquiring authority, that a statement was made on behalf of the objector, and that everybody then walked out. I can assure him that an inquiry is a much bigger and more formidable affair than that. One of the criticisms that is made against public inquiries is that they are too complicated; that the procedure is too involved and too difficult for the ordinary person, the layman, to deal with on his own account; that he is almost compelled to seek legal assistance, and that the atmosphere is much more that of a court in which there is examination and cross-examination of witnesses and so on, rather than the kind of occasion where all that happens is that statements are made on behalf of each party. Furthermore, the inspector invariably visits the site and discusses the matter on the spot, in the presence of representatives of each of the parties concerned, so attempting to make himself familiar with the relevant aspects of any application by Government Departments.

I personally have heard no criticism of the way in which inspectors conduct these inquiries. I know that there has been the suggestion that inquiries should be conducted by independent persons (I will say a word about that in a minute) but about the general procedure at inquiries, I have never heard a single word of objection. May I at this stage say that, generally speaking, in these matters in which I have been interested for a long time, I am convinced that every effort is made to arrive at a fair decision—fair to the acquiring authority, the Government Department or local authority, and fair to the subject; and I know from personal knowledge that a great deal of trouble is taken to arrive at a proper decision. I should like to assure the noble Lord who moved the Resolution that in these matters the Minister does not regard himself as an interested party; indeed, he has no interest except the public interest, and that of holding a proper balance. Nor do the officials of the Ministry regard themselves as interested parties; they are not. I understand that the objection is not so much to what happens as to the impression that might be made upon the individual: that his case was being heard by somebody who was a servant of the Ministry, and not by an independent person. So I turn to what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, suggests is the way of dealing with this.

The noble Lord suggests that these inquiries should be conducted not by an official of the Ministry but by independent persons, appointed either by the Minister or, perhaps, by the Lord Chancellor—but paid for by the Minister. I do not know in what respect such persons would be more independent than an inspector. I can assure the noble Lord that inspectors are perfectly free to recommend whatever they think right. No directions are given to inspectors; there are no instructions. All that they are asked to do is to hear the case—they are the eyes and ears of the Minister—and to report to him. What more would an independent person do than that? The inspectors have no views of their own; they are not in any way briefed.

The advantages of having these inspectors are twofold: in the first place, they are people who are experienced in the conduct of these inquiries, and it is important to have experienced persons who understand the problems involved, who have intimate knowledge of them, and who know exactly what are the relevant points to bring out at a public inquiry. It is useless to appoint one person to-day and another person to-morrow to conduct these matters, unless those persons, themselves, became so expert in presiding over public inquiries that they are virtually servants of the Ministry, in the same way that the inspectors are. So I think that the public gets better service, and the facts are better brought out, by having people who specialise in these matters and whose job it is to conduct public inquiries, than if the work were done by ad hoc persons. I do not wish to argue too closely by analogy, 'but what would the noble Lord think if it were suggested that instead of having judges, whose job it is, day in and day out, to try cases in the Law Courts, it were decided to abandon that system and to have people who were appointed ad hoc to sit on the Bench, persons appointed from time to time by the Lord Chancellor? Would the noble Lord think that an improvement? I do not think he would. And I am sure that the Lord Chancellor would not welcome the responsibility of having to find people to act as judges from time to time, as against the present practice of having people who have become accustomed to work as judges, and whose duty it is to act in that way.

A second point is that you cannot dissociate these inquiries relating to the acquisition of land from appeals against decisions of the local authorities. The procedure is exactly the same in bath cases. The inquiries are conducted by an inspector, and it would certainly be administratively wrong to have one type of case—the acquisition of land case—conducted by one type of person and another type of case—the appeals against decisions of the local authorities—by another tribunal. In both instances, there is essentially a need for an understanding of the kind of issues involved. In both types of cases the duty of the person conducting the inquiry is to report to the Minister. If, therefore, it is agreed that the same type of tribunal is essential in both types of cases, I would say that it is administratively impossible to have so- called independent persons to conduct not only inquiries relating to the acquisition of land but also appeals. For one thing the number of appeals is great—it runs into many thousands a year, and, incidentally, that is not a high proportion of the total number of applications.

It would be quite an unworkable idea to put upon the poor Lord Chancellor the duty of appointing people to preside over the hearings of some thousands of appeals against decisions of the local authorities. Nor would it be easy to find suitable persons who could do this and, at the same time, carry on their normal practice at the Bar. Apart from that, it would be a fairly costly matter. The fees of the gentlemen who could take these inquiries are, of necessity, fairly high. It would be placing a heavy burden on the taxpayer, or the ratepayer, as the case may be. I would base my argument not so much on the administrative difficulties, or even on the cost of appointing these so-called independent persons to conduct the inquiries, as on the fact that, on the whole, you will get a better hearing, and tile relevant facts will be brought out better, by having the work done by persons who are accustomed to conduct these inquiries and whose day-to-day job it is, rather than by appointing ad hoc persons.

The next point which the noble Lord made was that the decisions of the inspectors or other persons conducting these inquiries—that is to say their reports and recommendations—should be made public. That is, of course, a matter which from time to time has received a good deal of consideration, and I am far from saving that there is nothing to be said in its favour. I think there is a good deal to be said in its favour, and one starts off with a bias towards the making of these recommendations public. I have no very strong feelings against that being done. Linked with that would be the necessity for the Minister to give his reasons when he disagreed with the recommendations of the inspector. The problem is simply this. These are administrative decisions, and one does not want these matters—and, as I have indicated, there are thousands of them—to come into the arena of politics. It would lead to the asking of many questions, to Questions in the House and to debates in the House on individual decisions, and it would considerably tie the hands of the Minister. I do not know whether the noble Lord is impressed with that point or not.




The noble Lord is not impressed. I can assure him that from time to time when he was a Minister, and in the time of others, action has been taken in that spirit. After all, Parliamentary democracy would become impossible if every single administrative act of a Minister were to become a subject of debate, of delay and of controversy. One recognises that Parliament has every right to deal with policy, and no one wishes to stifle discussions on policy. But on the detailed day-to-day implementation of policy it can really become very burdensome, and the machine could be entirely clogged if every single decision were subject to the possibility of public debate in this House or another place. I think that is a point which should be carefully taken into consideration. But this is a matter which, I agree, is worthy of further consideration.

While I would give a good deal of weight to the administrative difficulties that would arise in consequence of opening the door widely to debates on individual decisions, I think—and it is for this reason I put down my Amendment indicating that I had no objection to reconsideration—that one of the points that should be considered is whether the recommendations of the inspectors should be made public and the Minister should be compelled to give his reasons in every case where he disagrees with the findings of the inspector. If the House accepts my view that the inspector is merely ascertaining the facts and advising the Minister, if my view is accepted that the best people to do that are the people in the employ of the Minister, your Lordships will follow what would happen if this conception of making public the advice which a Minister receives were greatly extended. If we relate it to inspectors, why not to other officials who are advising Ministers? Why should not Ministers be required to make public all advice they receive, where they disagree with that advice? If often happens that a Minister does not accept the advice given to him, and it would be a dangerous principle to require Ministers to make public the reasons every time he disagrees with the advice his officials tender to him. However, I should be perfectly willing to have this matter looked at again—not for the first time.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, dealt with the question of costs. Here I have some sympathy with what he says. The expense of going to a public inquiry is considerable. If it were merely a matter of a man going to a tribunal, stating his case and walking away, that would not be a costly affair; but it is much more complicated than that. Anyone who attended an inquiry in which a good deal was involved and tried to do it himself, would be foolish. He would be confronted by experts—expert lawyers, expert valuers and expert surveyors, acting for the local authority or Government Department, and the ordinary layman is not competent to handle that situation himself. He must appoint qualified people to act for him. That is expensive and may be burdensome. Let me give one illustration in support of that point. I understand that at the present time if a local authority acquires land compulsorily, it will pay the existing use value and the amount of admitted claim under the 1947 Act. The probability is that this total would be less than the market value. In other words, if a compulsory purchase order were made against an individual by a local authority, the chances are that he would get less in compensation than he would get if he sold his land on the open market. Therefore, there is every justification for his objecting to a compulsory purchase order. He is going to suffer financially. Even if he is successful in his objection, he does not get his costs, and he may well feel it is better to accept the lower figure and suffer the loss than to go to the expense of getting legal assistance and then possibly losing his case into the bargain.

I feel that in a great many cases there is justification for going even further than the noble Lord suggested. It should not necessarily be limited to cases where the objector is successful. There may be cases where he is unsuccessful but in which, nevertheless, in the opinion of the tribunal or of the Minister it was right for him to object. I would say that that was a good reason why he should receive his costs. I understand that it is within the competence of the Minister to award costs, but it is not normally done. Again, that is a matter which could be dealt with administratively. I suggest that Departments should use their discretion much more widely and award costs in all proper cases, even where the intervention has not been successful hut where they feel that nevertheless it was justified.

The noble Lord's last point was that a person should not be in danger of a compulsory purchase order at frequent intervals. He suggested that once a compulsory purchase order had been considered and rejected, there normally should not be another one for a period of five years. I think that is the usual practice. Having failed once, I do not think any authority or Department would normally apply again within a short period. The noble Lord does not suggest anything but administrative action, and I would support him to the extent that both local authorities and Government Departments, having made one order, should hesitate very much before making another within a period of five years.

What it all amounts to is this. I do not think the noble Lord has made a case for alteration, but in certain respects I think he has made a case for inquiry, though what would be the outcome of that inquiry I should not like to say. I assure the noble Lord that these are not matters which have not been inquired into in the past. As I know, they have been constantly under consideration with a view to making the procedure fair to all parties. He must remember that, while justice should be done to all parties, in the last resort the public interest should prevail. In that spirit I have put down this Amendment, in the hope it will commend itself to the House. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— In line 2, leave out ("alteration") and insert ("reconsideration").—(Lord Silkin)

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I intend to deal only with one aspect of the matter raised by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye—namely, the composition and powers of tribunals, using that word in its wider sense to include any form of inquiry which persons are appointed to hold and to which the public can make their objections when a question of the acquisition of land arises. I am afraid that to some extent, in order to make the argument consecutive, I shall have to cover the same ground as that already covered by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye and the noble Lord. Lord Silkin, but I will be as brief as I can.

I should like to deal first with one or two points raised by Lord Silkin. He said that the noble Lord who introduced the Resolution must realise that the public need the land. But that is what we are arguing about. What we want to make quite certain is that the public do, in fact, need it, and that it is not merely that a Ministry want it. These are not necessarily the same thing. It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, does not really appreciate the growing feeling there is amongst the public that things are being done behind ministerial doors, and that they do not get a fair hearing. I entirely agree with the noble Lord that the inspectors are absolutely fair. In nearly all cases, in 999 cases out of a thousand, I am sure that the Ministry are perfectly fair; that the whole thing is perfectly fair. But, unfortunately, to many members of the public, it does not appear to be fair. I am going to give various reasons why it does not appear to the public to be fair—and in order to get my print across I may slightly over-state my case. I will then suggest some ways, some of which have already been mentioned, as to how these inquiries could be made to appear fair, both to people who have objections and to other members of the public. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that the feeling that the present system is not fair is very strong in many parts of the country at the present time.

I should like to refer to the Act already mentioned by my noble friend, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946. That is the Act under which most acquisition orders are made, and I think the very wording of a certain paragraph in that Act leads to the beginning of the doubt in the public mind. I would refer your Lordships to Part I, Paragraph 4 (2) which says: If any objection duly made as aforesaid"— that is after the draft order has been made— is not withdrawn"— that is to say, if a man is so pig-headed as to have an objection, and goes on with it— the confirming authority shall, before confirming the order, either cause a public local inquiry to be held or afford to any person by whom any objection has been duly made as aforesaid and not withdrawn an opportunity of appearing before and being heard by a person appointed by the confirming authority for the purpose, and, after considering the objection and the report of the person who held the inquiry or the person appointed as aforesaid, may confirm the order either with or without modifications. To members of the public, who perhaps do not have much to do with these inquiries, what that provision means is this: that the Minister, who they say is an interested party—and who, I think, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said, is an interested party—appoints somebody to hold an inquiry, a person who may well be an official of his or of another Ministry; and at the end of the inquiry the Minister has the perfect right to take the man's land from him, and he, and other persons interested, have no legal right to prevent the Minister from so doing. I am not saying that that should not be the position, but to what I may call the aggrieved parties it appears biased. There is also a feeling that where inspectors are appointed to hold a legal inquiry they may, quite unconsciously, be biased purely through having a departmental view. That is the impression held by the public, though I do not think it carries much weight. There is always the fear that in his report the inspector may not put their views as strongly to the Minister as they, at any rate, think they should be put. It is perhaps a minor point but, as I say, that feeling exists.

The general points that create this suspicion, which exists in an increasing degree, are these—and some of them have already been mentioned. First, the inspectors are appointed by a Minister who is, to some extent, in the public view, implicated in the whole business—he has an interest in it, and they do not quite like that. Secondly, being used to courts of justice—and I appreciate that this is not a court of justice—they do not like the idea of the inspector not being able to tell them what his report is. They feel twat it is rather like going to the High Court; that nobody quite knows at the time what the result of the case is, but sud- denly, at some future date, they hear the sentence. That is not their idea of how these things should be conducted, and again there is this suspicion. Moreover, all material facts are not always disclosed at an inquiry, because, under the present arrangements, although reports made to the Minister are usually laid before the tribunal, there can be no cross-examination on them. As a result, there is the feeling that often these reports are, to some extent, a bald statement of facts. They are, presumably, based on evidence, but all the evidence is not always produced, and the aggrieved parties feel that with a little cross-examination they could "debunk" the report, if I may use that expression.

The next point is that all material witnesses are not always available; tribunals have not always the power to subpoena. Then there is the other question, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that after the inspector has made his report the Minister can receive, through other Ministers and other Departments, reports on this matter about which the aggrieved parties know nothing. In this particular case, they feel that they have to put all their cards on the table at the public inquiry—it is their only chance—but that the Ministers and departments can have another "whack" afterwards. I will not weary your Lordships by repeating other points raised by my noble friend, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, but I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that all these points, though probably untrue and not carrying great weight by themselves, have together caused this suspicion in the mind of the public. It is not, as the noble Lord suggested, something that my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye has tried to work up this afternoon. It already exists.

I should now like to suggest, quite briefly, for the consideration of Her Majesty's Government certain ways in which this suspicion can be allayed, and to stress some which have already been mentioned—in other words, to suggest how the machinery can be made to work (as I maintain, just as well) without causing the public to feel that they are not having a fair deal. The first, and I believe the most important, question is the question of setting up a system on a permanent basis. It has been suggested that a pool of people, competent and willing to work, should be kept by the Lord Chancellor, and that he should appoint the people to hold inquiries. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that that idea has certain disadvantages, one being that the inspectors who now hold these inquiries are holding them all the time. But, with respect, the members of this pool would also be holding them all the time. That is what they would be there for.


In order to clear my mind, may I ask whether it is suggested that they should be full-time people, doing nothing but holding inquiries?


That is my suggestion. There is a precedent for it in the road haulage tribunals, where there is a permanent tribunal in each of twelve areas. These tribunals hear thousands of cases a year, and theirs is a full-time job. The suggestion is that, where the acquisition of land is being dealt with, a similar sort of body should be set up under the Lord Chancellor, who would detail the people to hold the inquiries. I believe that that would prove just as efficient, and it would get over the feeling in the public mind that a departmental Minister can choose the person whom the public are rather inclined to think of as the judge. It would mean that somebody outside the whole question would be appointing, to conduct the inquiries, people who had nothing to do with the Ministries concerned. If the public confidence is to be maintained, I believe that to be the most important point of all.

The next point has already been mentioned, and it is the matter of the publication of findings. The noble Lord, Lord Silk in, asked, "Where are we going to? If a civil servant is holding an inquiry and reporting to his own Minister, is he to be allowed to say what advice he is giving his Minister? It is putting him in an awkward position." This point would be dealt with if we had a permanent pool or permanent tribunal, as it were, because they would not be reporting to their own Minister; and there would be no reason why their findings should not be published—at least, I can think of none. Both sides, the Minister—the Government if you like—and the aggrieved parties are implicated in the matter. Why should they not both know what has been recommended? If Her Majesty's Government thought that that was possible, it might be that either the Minister or the aggrieved party (I use that phrase merely to explain what I mean) would feel that a vital point had not been mentioned in the findings. I suggest that these findings must be published before the Minister gives his decision, and that if a vital point were left out, then within ten days of the publication of the findings either the Minister or the other side should write to the tribunal demanding supplementary findings dealing with that particular point. Of course, the supplementary findings might be, "There is no substance in this point"; but at any rate the parties would know that what they considered a vital point had been dealt with in the findings.

Another point, which I do not think has been mentioned and which I believe to be important, is the proper proof of all material facts. I should like to see the end of these "clearance certificates" from other Ministries who are not trying to acquire the land—a "clearance certificate" from the Minister of Agriculture, perhaps saying that the land is not required for agricultural purposes. I suggest that what ought to happen is that any report sent to the Minister should be produced in evidence that there should be sent along to the inquiry a man who is competent to answer questions on the report, who will produce the report in evidence and be subject to cross-examination on that report. The tribunal would then be absolutely clear that the matter had been threshed out, that it was not just the opinion of somebody in the Department that the land was no good for agriculture, but that that view was based on evidence which could be produced.

The next point is that Ministers should act only on evidence produced before the tribunal. By that, I mean that if there is inter-departmental conflict about what is to happen to a particular piece of land, once the reports, under the method I have suggested, have been produced before the tribunal, the tribunal's work is finished. The Minister concerned should not be allowed to receive further reports from other Ministries but if he does so receive them, and considers that they are of importance, he should ask the tribunal to sit again so that these further reports can be examined. I believe that this is important. Tribunals should have the automatic power to subpœna persons and to call for documents. Sometimes they do and sometimes they do not. There is, of course, one awkward point about documents and that is the question of the public interest. In every case the Minister must obviously have the power to say, "This is a matter of strategic secrecy," or whatever it may be, and must be able to refuse those documents. Even so, I suggest that there are certain documents which, while it may be against public interest to publish them, might nevertheless be produced to the tribunal, without being mentioned in open court, as it were, to assist the tribunal in coming to its decision—in other words, confidential, but not secret, papers. I do not know whether that would always be possible, but it might.

Finally, as has already been suggested, Ministers should give reasons if they disagree with the findings of the tribunal. I believe that a great deal of unnecessary suspicion has been aroused in the public mind by the fact that the Minister does not give the reasons for his decision. A great deal of suspicion might be allayed if, when a Minister gave an unpopular decision locally, he gave his reasons for it. Very often it can do no harm, and it would ease things as between the Government and the general public. The Minister, of course, can always limit himself to saying, "This is against Government policy." We shall have gone some distance even if that is all he says, because Government policy can be debated in Parliament.


Does the noble Lord know that it is a fact that the Minister normally does give the party concerned his reasons for his decision? He does not say what the inspector's recommendation is, but he gives his reasons.


I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. I was suggesting that he should give his reasons for disagreeing with the published findings. I have suggested far more than Her Majesty's Government will think fit to deal with, but I hope that they will consider some of these questions which have been brought forward by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, because there is no question but that a large number of the public—and an increasingly large number of the public—have a suspicion, a dislike, of these inquiries. They do not feel that they are all above board. I am not suggesting that they are not above board, because I believe they are; but there is that feeling and something ought to be done to do away with it.

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, most of the discussion on this Resolution has been on the subject of inquiries and the procedure connected with them. I wish to bring to your Lordships' attention quite a different case of acquisition of land which is continuing at the present time without any public or private inquiry or right of appeal or objection. I refer to the requisition of land for the working of opencast coal. It might be thought that this is a subject rather wider than that embraced in the terms of the Motion, and it may well be that I am going too far from the subject to expect an answer in the debate to-day. The Motion does, however, refer to: the…practice for release by the Government of lands acquired for Defence purposes; and (2) the procedure for compulsory acquisition… Under the procedure about which I am thinking, the land is requisitioned under the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939. It is acquired by the Government, although, of course, it is only temporary acquisition. I do not believe that the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939, is the right or a suitable means for taking land for this purpose. It was no doubt excusable to use it during the war when it was necessary to start these operations and the Act was found to be capable of extension for that purpose. At the present time, however, when several years have elapsed since the end of the war, it is surely not correct to continue in that way.

My main reason for saying this is that experience has shown that there is considerable doubt as to whether land taken for this purpose will ever again return to its original condition. No one knows exactly what will be the effect, but the opinion of those who are concerned with it is that the land suffers permanently a noticeable change and deterioration. There is also the other aspect—the planning and amenity aspect. Land treated in this way is very different indeed in appearance and in its amenity uses. In speaking on this subject, I should perhaps say that I myself have for some ten or twelve years been affected by this opencast coal procedure. Many other people, both owners and occupiers of land, are also affected. As I have suggested, the matter has a public importance as well from the amenity point of view and, indeed, from the point of view of the necessity of keeping in production good farm land. The present procedure is simply one of requisitioning without any reference to the owner or occupier and without any right of appeal or discussion. There is also the question of clearance by the Ministry of Agriculture in connection with the procedure for acquisition. That is what I believe is called inter-departmental procedure, and it is not, I think, one which gives any confidence to those who are affected by it. There is, it is true, a form of consultation with the Panning authority, but I can say, as a member of a county planning committee, that the comments and opinions expressed by such a committee—at least in the experience of my county—do not have any effect at all.

I should like, very briefly, to make a comparison between the situation of land which is required for the extraction of opencast coal and of land which is required for the extraction of iron ore. A clear procedure is laid down for iron ore working. Planning permission is required, and the occupier can refuse permission; and if the iron ore working interests are determined to go on, they have to go to the High Court to get the permission; and the matter therefore comes up for discussion and open debate. It is very similar to an appeal to a tribunal for the acquisition of land. Not only that, but in the case of ironstone there is the question of compensation and the restoration of the land. The owner gets some rental from the operators of the iron ore workings. In the case of opencast coal, however, there is no means whereby the owner can take any steps at all to see that the work is properly carried out. It is all left in the hands of Government Departments—there are three or four of them. The owner or occupier has no say in the matter. It needs something like a public inquiry or a procedure in court to see that conditions which are fair and reasonable can be laid down both for the working and the restoration of the land.

The present procedure is becoming more repugnant than it used to be—apparently because we have receded far from the time when it was clear to the public mind that it was necessary that the work should be carried out. The need was urgent in time of war; in the minds of the public it does not appear so urgent now. It is not, perhaps, realised that at present, although the requisitioning is done by the Ministry of Fuel and Power, the coal is worked by the National Coal Board as agents for the Ministry. We have been told in the Press, to our surprise, that this operation is a profitable one. It is felt, therefore, that the Coal Board are being enabled to make a full working profit at the expense of people whose land is not, in fact, being put back into the condition that it was in previously. Also, under the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939, or even the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945, the procedure—into which I will not go in detail—results in the end in the owner feeling himself to be substantially aggrieved.

Now, my Lords, if, in fact, I am right in saying that this operation is one which does affect the future of the land, then in a number of cases, such as those I have seen, it would be hard to believe that from the public point of view it should net be subject to some form of consideration. If I am right in saying that the occupiers of this farm land suffer severe hardships, they should have the same sort of right to make their objections as anyone else—certainly as those who are in the categories about which we have been talking earlier in this debate. These matters ought to be ventilated in public. I have heard recently of a case in which the Ministry of Fuel and Power took for opencast coal working a farm which they would not take during the war because it was said that the land was too good and should not be disturbed. But they are taking it now. That is a matter which should not be dealt with by administrative decision by one or more Ministers without anything being done, or said, or known about it, outside. I should like to argue quite strongly against the continuance of this method of getting coal. I look upon it as a palliative until such time as the Coal Board can get into their stride. I will not go into detail on the subject now, but I urge that consideration be given by the Government to methods of acquiring, restoring and generally dealing with land used in this way. These methods, together with the proposals made by my noble friend who moved this Resolution, should be gone into by the Government.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, not only this House but many outside will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for putting down this Motion. I think the opinion of the House is so overwhelmingly in favour of the noble Lord's first proposition in his Motion that no more time need be spent on arguing it. It is perfectly obvious that if land is taken for defence purposes from an owner and then is no longer required for those purposes, it is only just and fair that he shall be given the first option to regain at a fair market price what, after all, was his own. I am sure that no one in this House would take a different view.

As regards the second part of the Motion, it is perfectly clear that very considerable distress exists to-day in the minds of the public as to the procedure which we have been discussing in the matter of compulsory purchase, and also as to the procedure at public inquiries. There is no doubt at all about that, because it was overwhelmingly publicised in The Times newspaper for some time before Christmas. I will not weary your Lordships with quotations from letters or leading articles from The Times with which I have been supplied; it would take far too much time. Those of your Lordships who have read them will know that they come from the most weighty sources. These protests and criticisms of the existing system come from the Law Society; they come from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. It is no secret, I think, that a memorandum has been submitted to the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, by those two Societies on this very subject. Those weighty, professional criticisms cannot be lightly brushed aside. Furthermore, the Association of County Councils have endorsed, with certain reservations of a minor character, that memorandum. Therefore, there can be no doubt, I think, in the minds of experienced administrators, that all is not well in the procedure as at present carried out.

It is not well, for this reason: that, in the old days, before any Town and Country Planning Act, on the whole not a great number of compulsory purchases were made by Government Departments in any one year; but to-day the picture is entirely different. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has shown your Lordships that the increase in the power of the Ministers has been terrific. They now possess powers of acquisition and of dealing with property that in the old days were never thought of. It is for that reason that the public are now disquieted, because the powers of the Ministers have increased, and the Departments use them. It is much in the public eye because many more of the public are now affected. It is like a snowball. At this moment, when almost every county in England is submitting a development plan to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, it is becoming, a bigger snowball than ever before. There are hundreds of objections to these county development plans in each county. Of course it is becoming obvious to the public, because they are the people who are objecting. That is the cause of the flood of correspondence that one reads in most of the public Press and in many of the professional journals as well.

I should like briefly to refer to the procedure in these public inquiries, many of which I have had to attend. It would be an advantage, I am quite sure, if the public were to feel that the inspector (sometimes called the tribunal) was not employed by, or was not part of, the Ministry carrying out the inquiry. It does not run with the public's idea of public justice that the Minister should appoint his own official to inquire into these matters. Many Ministries would say that it is not a matter of dispute between two parties—that is a well-known and rather worn view. But, of course, it is a matter of dispute between the individual whose land or interests are affected and a Ministry or Minister who wishes to acquire it. Very often the point is made that the Minister wants further information only in order that he can carry out his ministerial duties. That is a point made by many of the highest members of the Ministries. The public, however, do not look upon it in that way: they look on it as a dispute, and they feel that an impartial inspector or tribunal should be appointed to hear this matter as between the subject and the Ministry or the Minister. I believe the public to be right on the point.

In my opinion, the difficulty could be easily solved by transferring many of these inspectors from the Ministries to which they now belong to an independent body which it is suggested, and rightly I think, should be under the ægis of the Lord Chancellor. The inspectors of the Ministries are admirable people—they could not be better; but it is just the fact that they do belong to a particular Ministry that causes their work to be criticised. They carry out an admirable work, and they produce excellent reports: they are absolutely fair to all parties. But the only sides heard are those that are allowed to be heard. That is the next point to which the public object, because there are certain people who do not appear at public inquiries—this is the second category to which I wish to refer. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that many people are present at public inquiries. Of course, that is perfectly true, but they are not the right people; the right people are refused permission to appear, since they are civil servants and belong to one Ministry or another.

The next point which gives rise to criticism is the fact that when the clearance certificate, which has to be obtained from the Ministry of Agriculture when dealing with agricultural land, is given, there is no evidence produced about it and no cross-examination upon it. The clearance certificate is handed over to a third party at the inquiry, and he says, "I have received a clearance certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture." That is the beginning and end of it. That cannot be right, because the occupier of the land, the agriculturist, should have a right of discussing with the official of the Ministry of Agriculture the question of how the food production from that farm will be affected by the withdrawal of certain land. At present he has not that right. The Land Commissioner can examine the land, make up his own mind, put in a clearance certificate and be matter is finished, I am quite certain that is not right. The occupier of the agri- cultural land feels that he is not being given a fair deal; and he certainly is not, because he has not been allowed to express his opinion before the clearance certificate is issued.

I should also like to refer shortly to another category who cannot appear at public inquiries—that is, the various members of Ministries who do not appear in person, and whose evidence may be put in but without opportunity for cross-examination on it. The objector feels that he is having a pretty poor deal if he cannot question so many of these statements which are put in and which affect the inspector's final report. So I think it is abundantly clear that there is a growing demand for an independent inspectorate, which of course will not please Ministries. One cannot expect Ministers to be delighted to lose their inspectors and to have instead independent jurisdiction, but such a change would increase the confidence of the public, and I believe that that is more important than the feelings of even the best Ministries.

Finally, I should like to refer to one aspect of the proposals of the Ministry of Transport on trunk roads, which today have to be included in the development plans of counties and on which no supporting evidence is given by the Ministry at the public inquiry. Nor, of course, can any evidence in support of these proposals be given by the local planning authority, because they are not professional road engineers. In the result, this bears extremely heavily on the ordinary landowners over whose ground the proposed roads are to run. The closest analogy is, that where land is designated under a development plan for public purposes, the Ministry concerned must either acquire the land within ten years or issue a notice to treat; and unless the Ministry purchase the land the designation lapses. But in the case of the proposed Ministry of Transport trunk roads there is no designation of land; so the proposals go on for ever, and at the public inquiry no evidence is given by the Ministry of Transport or by the local planning authority.

The line of a proposed trunk road covers hundreds of acres on the county development plan, and naturally gives rise to hundreds of objections. In my own county there is a proposed trunk road in regard to which there are over 300 objections. No evidence is going to be given on this matter, and the farming community, the occupiers of farm land, are much alarmed and disturbed because, as is inevitable in a small country like England, they see the trace of this great trunk road running across farms, through villages and so on, but they can find out nothing about this or any other trunk road in the country until the Minister of Transport issues an order under the Trunk Roads Act—which may not be for years. There is no obligation on the Minister to issue an order, and it is possible for him to say that until Parliament provides him with the money he will not do so. Yet these roads remain on the development plan, and farming and food production is severely curtailed, because nobody will cultivate land if it is contemplated that a big trunk road is to be run over it. One cannot carry on long-term farming under those conditions; nor can the land be sold or bought, because the position is unknown. Although this matter is perhaps not strictly within the terms of Lord Balfour's Resolution—it can, of course, be linked to the compulsory acquisition of land, because this land will be compulsorily acquired when the trunk road is built—it seems to me to represent a complete gap in the legislation which ought to be covered. That is why, with your Lordships' permission, I have raised it this afternoon.

Returning to the main sense of my noble friend's Resolution, I believe that the public are disturbed and that they do not see justice being done, although I am convinced that, as at present held, the public inquiries proceed in an excellent manner. But there are omissions: certain witnesses are not there; agricultural clearance certificates are given without consultation; the inspectors are the servants of the Ministries they represent—they are not independent; taxed costs are not given in favour of an objector when he wins his case. All these are items which I believe should be most carefully looked into. I am sure that everybody in your Lordships' House wishes to give the individual, when he has to appeal against a Ministry in this matter of compulsory purchase, the greatest possible feeling that justice is being done.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will not think I am making a serious breach of the traditions of this House by furnishing myself with a small table upon which I can put some of the many papers with which I have been supplied for the purpose of replying to this debate. To me, as to my predecessor, it has proved a singularly uncomfortable way of replying, to hold two or three papers in each hand only to find that the vital one has dropped upon the floor.

My Lords, the Resolution which is before your Lordships' House falls into two quite distinct and separable parts. I venture to think that a third and quite disparate part has been added by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and I am bound to say that I have not in any way prepared myself to answer the question that arises out of the requisitioning and the de-requisitioning of land which has been taken temporarily for the purpose of working coal. But let me assure the noble Viscount at once that, although I have not prepared myself to answer his question, it is a question which is very much under review, as indeed is every action taken, or to be taken, under the still existing Defence Regulations. These are matters which are under constant review, but I have not armed myself to answer his question to-day.

Of the other two parts—those which are raised by Lord Balfour of Inchrye's Resolution—the first is that there is need for alteration (or, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, would say, reconsideration) of the existing procedure and practice for re-lease by the Government of land acquired for defence purposes. In regard to that part of the noble Lord's Resolution, let me say at once that I, personally, and I think others, feel great sympathy with what he has said, and I am in a position on behalf of Her Majesty's Government to say that that matter is now under the consideration of a Committee. I have therefore no difficulty whatever in accepting the proposal that that is a matter which should be reconsidered. It is in fact being considered. I should like, in answer to what the noble Lord has said and to what other noble Lords, I think, have said and felt, to say a few words to put this matter into its proper perspective. When a man sells his property, whether under compulsion or not, I think one may generally assume that he gets full price for it. Often he gets something more; he gets compensation for what is called "injurious affection" to the lands which remain in his hands. That may take the form either of the loss which he suffers because the land taken over has, in fact, been severed from his land, or because his land will be affected icy what is going to be done on the land which has been taken from him. I think everyone would concede that, when the State has acquired land at its full price and paid full compensation to the owner, the State, if it disposes of that land, should get full price for it, whether from him or from another.

Starting from that, let me give your Lordships a little history. This system of pre-emption started a long time ago—a hundred years ago. A provision was made by the Lands Clauses Act, 1845, in effect providing for pre-emption. I would remind your Lordships that those were cases where a public utility company—a railway, or whatever it might be—was acquiring land compulsorily for its purposes, and it was required to get rid of its superfluous land within a certain time after its work had been, or ought to have been, completed. But it is a curious thing that more and more the sections of tae Lands Clauses Act giving the night of pre-emption have been excluded from Act after Act of Parliament. I will give your Lordships only modern examples, but it is true that over a long period of years the operation of these sections has been excluded, and excluded by Acts passed in the reigns of Governments of every complexion. These provisions were excluded by the Lands Settlement (Facilities) Act, 1919, by the Local Government Act, 1933, by the Housing Act, 1936, by the Civil Defence Act, 1939, by the Forestry Act, 1945, by the Prison Act, 1952, and by all Acts which incorporate the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation of Procedure) Act, 1946, which is now of almost universal application.

So that, to put this into the right perspective, your Lordships must see that continuously Parliament has decided against conceding a statutory right of preemption to previous owners. Now what is the State to do? Is it to recreate, I will not stay a statutory right, but something very like it—some kind of right based upon a moral obligation in the Government of the day or the Department concerned? Is it to recreate that right of pre-emption? I must say that gives one cause for thought. For the reason why the right of pre-emption has been so deliberately excluded is just the difficulty of stating the general principle of such a right with the necessary qualifications. So, although it is quite easy to say that the former owner ought to have the right of pre-emption, when you come to work it out you find that there are so many qualifications and limitations to be put upon it that it will, I think, defeat any draftsman.

Let me give your Lordships two or three quite simple examples. Land is taken from A, from B and from C, and it is converted into a single unit. Is it to be divided up again, and that which was taken from A offered back to him, that which was taken from B offered back to him, and that which was taken from C offered back to him, and so on? And it may not be three; it may be any number. I think there would be great difficulty in doing anything of that kind. Consider another aspect. Land has been taken from A. Time passes and he sells the land. Is the purchaser from him to have the right of pre-emption? Suppose he has sold it not to one person but to two or three: are they respectively to have rights of pre-emption? Or, he does not sell, but he dies: are his successors in title—those upon whom the land has devolved under his will or under his intestacy—to have the right? If so, and there are more than one of them, which of them? So it goes on. It becomes, as I know, for I have had experience in these matters, amazingly difficult to state the principle with the necessary qualifications.

Let me observe this, first. If you cannot formulate, either in a statutory code or in an administrative code, exactly what the principle is and subject to what limitations and restrictions it shall be applied, at once the administration becomes capricious and arbitrary, and that is, above all things, what you want to avoid. So, although, as I say, I am sympathetic to the proposal that the man who has lost his land should have the first opportunity of getting it back, when you come to work it out in practice, it is extraordinarily difficult. That is why, for my part, I could not accept the principle and, further, why I say it is a matter which can be, and is being, investigated.

Of course, there is not only the question of under what limitations the right of pre-emption shall be conceded; there is also the difficulty about price. At what price is it to be—at a price fixed by the valuer? Or, if the man who was given the right of pre-emption will not accept that, at a price to be fixed by arbitration? Is the fact to be taken into consideration that he has received an additional price for "injurious affection"; is he to pay something more than the market value to have it back because he has received something more than the market value for it? All these questions, which I venture to think are of great difficulty, perhaps do not always occur to those who say very freely: "It is hard luck on a man who has lost his property that he should not have the opportunity of getting it back again." I agree, but the whole problem is hedged round with such difficulty that I would invite your Lordships to pause before you give your assent to the broad proposition that the right of pre-emption can be simply conceded. All I am content to accept on behalf of Her Majesty's Government is that there is need for reconsideration of the existing procedure and practice for release by the Government of lands acquired for defence purposes.

I should like to add this, though it is perhaps not strictly germane. The same sort of suggestion is made not only in regard to land acquired for defence purposes, but in regard to land which has otherwise been acquired by the Minister of Agriculture, and one striking example will, at once, occur to one. Where under the relevant section of the Agriculture Act, 1947—Section 16, I think it is—land has been compulsorily taken by the Minister because it has not been farmed properly, and the Minister of Agriculture desires to dispose of it, it is obvious that the last person to whom he would wish to dispose of it is the man who had been previously dispossessed. Perhaps that is an extreme view. But one cannot say simpliciter, "Let the man who formerly had it have the land again." I should like to remind your Lordships that even when the Land Clauses (Consolidation) Act, 1845, is applied, and the right of pre-emption is given, that does not apply to land in a town or on which new buildings have been erected. Of course, the problem becomes very acute in the case of land taken where many units have passed into one individual undertaking.

I think that I have said enough on the first branch of the Motion, and I come now to the second branch. That is in extremely wide terms. Although I have heard many suggestions of remedies in regard to specific matters, I am still a little in the dark as to what is intended by the Motion. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, thinks that a Committee, or, indeed, having regard to the importance of this subject, a Royal Commission, should be set up to examine the whole procedure for the compulsory acquisition of land. If he means anything of that kind, it is quite beyond anything to which I could commit Her Majesty's Government. The noble Lord says there is need for alteration, or, as we now have it, for reconsideration, of the procedure for compulsory acquisition. If he means by that that we should have constantly under review the sort of questions which have been raised in your Lordships' House today, I can assure him that that is so, and I would ask him not to press the second part of his Motion. But we will come to that presently.

This is a vast subject. Your Lordships have shown your usual generosity in not referring to the Report of the Donoughmore Committee, of which I was a member, and to whose Report I duly subscribed my name, because, as some of your Lordships may be aware, this was a matter which I think caused us more trouble than any other matter in that very difficult inquiry, particularly in regard to one aspect which has been so much mentioned to-day—namely, the publication of the inspectors' reports. We went at great length and in great detail into that question. We weighed up the arguments on one side and the other, and on the whole we came down in favour of the publication of the inspectors' reports—but with certain riders. From that day to this it has continued to be a difficult question, and I think that now, if I had to go into the whole matter again, I should probably come down on the other side. I think the balance is in favour of not publishing the inspectors' reports, and I will tell your Lordships why.

Before I come to that, however, I feel that I ought to remind your Lordships, although something has been said about it, of what is the practice in the ordinary case (there are many exceptions) in regard to compulsory acquisition procedure. In the case of purchases by local authorities, the local authority makes a compulsory purchase order and submits it for confirmation to the confirming authority, under the First Schedule of the 1946 Act. The order must he in the prescribed form, and before submitting it for confirmation the acquiring authority has to advertise locally in the prescribed form, giving notice of the order and serving copies on the owners, lessees and occupiers of the land affected. Before confirming the order, the confirming authority has to be satisfied that the provisions as to publication and service of notice have been duly complied with. If the objections are duly made, then the confirming authority—and I think this has been forgotten—must either cause a public local inquiry to be held or afford any objector an opportunity of appearing before, and of being heard by, a person appointed by the confirming authority.

As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, there are literally thousands of cases where objection is taken to compulsory orders. Sometimes the inquiries are directed to be held in public. In many cases, the objector comes and puts his case, it may be before an official of the Ministry appointed for that purpose, in a room of the Ministry, or in the local town hall or somewhere of that sort. It is quite impossible to say that in every case where an objection is taken there should be a public inquiry held before some independent tribunal. For one thing, it is like using a sledge hammer to kill a fly. In a great many cases a man makes his objections before an official, and is well satisfied to have had his objection heard.

That is the procedure, and I would ask your Lordships for a moment to consider what is the background. Compulsory powers of acquisition have been conferred upon local authorities to enable them to discharge their statutory duties. They have to administer various public services. I agree fully with what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, says: we must not regard this as some sort of play performed for the benefit of the Ministry. As local authorities, they are bound to perform their statutory duties, and ever since, the middle of last century Parliament has recognised that the proper development of public services must sometimes necessitate the acquisition of land from an unwilling seller. Of course, that is so. I quite understand that anybody whose land is purchased compulsorily has a grievance but, equally, I must recognise that it is the duty of statutory authorities, in order to perform their statutory duties in regard to public services, to acquire lands compulsorily where that may be necessary. Any compulsory purchase order by a local authority must he confirmed by a responsible Minister—which means a Minister responsible to Parliament. Even though there may be no objection to justify the holding of an inquiry (and often there is no objection), there are many cases where, nevertheless, the Minister has exercised his discretion and has refused to confirm an order. He takes that responsibility. He may reject a compulsory order, whether objected to or not, on policy grounds, which may be financial grounds. In such cases there may be a grievance on the part of the local authority whose order is not confirmed, just as there is an objection on the part of those whose land is compulsorily taken.

As your Lordships have been told, the procedure for compulsory acquisition of land by local authorities is laid down by the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946, and your Lordships have been informed of what that Act provides. With regard to the conduct of the public inquiries, as distinguished front the private inquiries, which may equally well be held, the objection which has been raised by several noble Lords who have spoken is that it is wrong for the inspector to be an officer or official in the Ministry of the Minister who has to make the order, or in some other Government Department. I venture to think that that: is the wrong view. After all, the inquiry is simply part of the administrative process by which the Minister makes up his own mind. I wonder what noble Lords would think, supposing that the Minister himself sat and held the inquiry —it is inconceivable, because his time does not admit: but it is his duty to make the order, if he thinks fit. Would it be suggested that that would be wrong? He is performing his duty, and ascertaining the facts which are part of the material upon which he must come to a decision. That would clearly be right, although nobody could say that it was an independent tribunal.

Is it wrong then that the Minister should instruct an official of his Ministry, somebody who is in his mind and knows his policy, to find the facts and report? It may be that there is some distrust in the public mind but if that be so, then I say that it is utterly ill-founded. The very man who ought to be on the spot, to see the land under consideration, to hear the witnesses and form an estimate on all the circumstances of the case, is just the man who is in the Ministry, who knows the policy and can duly report. I will not accept for a moment the suggestion that there should be an independent panel of persons whose duty it would be to deal with matters such as this. For one thing, when you consider the number of inquiries held, you would soon have grow up a kind of professional body of inspectors without the previous experience necessary. Your Lordships have been good enough to suggest that it should be my duty to find and appoint these persons. I can only say that I should have great difficulty in finding people who would command the public confidence. As to that, I am happy to hear repeated what I heard twenty years ago, or more, when the Donoughmore Committee were sitting: that is to say, nothing but praise for the efficiency, ability, integrity and courtesy of the inspectors who take charge of these inquiries. As I say, while I feel, and always have felt, that some other issues lie in the balance, yet as to the appointment of the so-called tribunal I feel no doubt whatever. I think the use of the word "tribunal" is a little unfortunate in this connection. This is not really a tribunal. The use of that word suggests too judicial an atmosphere. The inspector is inquiring, and although in holding that inquiry he has, in one sense, to behave judicially, yet in no strict sense is it a judicial proceeding.

I come now to the next point, on which I have already said a word—namely, the publication of the reports. There the great difficulty is this. The making of the report is part of the administrative process by which the Minister has to make up his mind. I think there is no doubt about this—though not sufficient weight has been given to it by noble Lords who have spoken: that administration demands the utmost confidence between the Minister and his officials. If that is so, there is a grave danger that there will not be that full and frank communication between the inspector and the Minister which there ought to be. I should like to read to your Lordships a few words from the Report of the Donoughmore Committee which was published in 1932. After much hesitation, we came down in favour of the publication of confidential reports, having already decided that we were in favour of reports. What we said then was this: We have considered the question whether the inspector or other person who holds the public inquiry should be entitled to make a confidential report to the Minister in addition to the report for publication. In our opinion this should never be done in the case of an inquiry preliminary to a judicial decision. That, of course, is a different matter. We then went on: If judicial decisions are to be given by Ministers at all, it is essential that they should be given as far as possible in accordance with the forms of justice and that nothing should reach the cars of the judge behind the backs of the parties. Nobody will disagree with that. Most inquiries however are held in connection with quasi-judicial decisions, and in the case of such inquiries we do not take so strict a view. Whilst we think that there should be no confidential reports on those matters of fact or law which come strictly within the scope of the report of the inquiry, we see no objection to the tendering by separate report or otherwise of such advice as the Minister may call for on any questions of Ministerial policy which may be involved. I would ask those of your Lordships who have occupied ministerial positions to consider this. As a matter of administration, is it not certain that the inspector, who is the official of the Ministry, if his report has to be published, will very likely think it proper to add something in the nature of a confidential report? I know well of one case—it is going back so many years that it does not matter—where an inspector, upon the facts as disclosed, necessarily reported in favour of a compulsory order being made but yet, as a result of what he had heard in the locality which he visited, came to the conclusion that the particular local authority should not be entrusted with the duty which they sought to discharge. That he could not put in the report that was published; it was a confidential matter. I do not put it too high, but when your Lordships say, as if it were an almost indisputable proposition, that justice demands that a report should be published, I would ask you to remember that this is a matter of administration in which a fact-finding report forms only part of the process of the making up of the Minister's mind. This is a question which is constantly under review, and it may be that the atmosphere will change; and certainly if it were thought, as a result of what your Lordships have said, that there was widespread distrust of this procedure as a result of the inspectors' reports not being published, then we should certainly take those observations into consideration, as we naturally take into consideration everything which your Lordships say.

I wonder whether I may, in this connection, remind your Lordships of what an old story this is. Nearly thirty-five years ago, there was a then famous case of Rex v. Local Government Board ex parte Arlidge, which took its weary way through the King's Bench Court and Court of Appeal and finally up to this House. The question there was whether it was contrary, as was said, to natural justice that the person whose land had been taken should not have an opportunity of seeing the report. What is interesting, I think, is the diversity of judicial opinion which was expressed upon that point. For instance, in the King's Bench Division, Mr. Justice Bankes, as he then was, expressed the opinion that it would perhaps add to the public confidence in these inquiries if the reports of the inspectors were not always treated as confidential documents. In the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Vaughan Williams and Lord Justice Buckley, who afterwards became a Member of your Lordships' House, held that the non-production of these reports was contrary to the principles of English justice on which English Law is based. Lord Justice Hamilton, one of the greatest judges, who distinguished this House as Lord Sumner, while saying that if it was the function of the Court of Appeal to advise the Local Government Board as to its procedure, or to criticise the procedure actually adopted, he should, for his part, suggest that the Board should let the parties see the inspector's report, declared that he could not but feel that all that could be urged against the Local Government Board might be still more forcibly urged against the Court of Criminal Appeal, which by no means always publishes its reasons.

In the House of Lords, the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Haldane, said that it might or might not he useful to disclose the report. Lord Shaw of Dunfermline inclined to hold that the disadvantage in very many cases would exceed the advantage of such disclosure. Lord Parmoor held that non-disclosure was not inconsistent with substantial justice. Lord Moulton, who was certainly an individualist, was unable to see any reason why the reports should be made public, and he expressed the opinion that their publication would cripple the usefulness of the inquiries and that the practice would be decidedly mischievous. We get a remarkable division of judicial opinion, for what it is worth.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, referred to certain other judicial statements—I am wrong, it was not a judicial statement, but an extra-judicial statement. In those circumstances, although it might tie my duty to consider judicially a judicial statement of the learned judge, I do not think that I will enter into a public controversy with him on a matter which was extra-judicial and somewhat beyond the scope of his judicial duties. As to publication of the reports, therefore, I can only say that it is a matter which is under constant consideration, but, on the whole, I should not recommend that that course should be taken.

Now I come to the next point of discussion, which was the publication by the Minister of his reasons. As your Lordships know, there are many cases in which the Minister does publish his reasons. The noble Lord, Lord Silkia, has already referred to the point, and, although no doubt the publication in every case of the Minister's decision would be quite superfluous, I should certainly be prepared to bring to the notice of the Minister of Housing and Local Government that suggestion. Your Lordships will appreciate that I cannot possibly commit my right honourable friend, but it may well be that he will find it possible to extend the scope of those cases in which he can give reasons for a decision. That would probably go a long way—perhaps almost the whole way—to allaying any doubt that is felt about it.

The next point which was made was in regard to costs. I did not hear it suggested that in any case where the objection was obstructive, the tribunal should always award costs against the objector, and require him to pay any costs that were thrown away. As the position is now, the Minister has power to award costs in certain cases. While I am willing to concede that that is a matter which should be looked into by the Department to see whether it works satisfactorily, I cannot for a moment pretend that I think any substantial alteration of the present system is required or, indeed, that any more consideration of it is needed than goes on from day to day. I think it would be wrong to contemplate awarding costs against an objector who comes to object to the taking of his land, unless there is something substantially objectionable and unreasonable about the course that he has taken.

There was another point which was taken, and that was in regard to the making of more than one compulsory purchase order against a landowner in respect of the same land. In regard to that, I am wholly sympathetic with what the noble Lord has said. It certainly is a kind of harrying, which appears in every way objectionable. But, once more, I cannot possibly assent to the view that it could never be right. For instance, a compulsory purchase order might be made to acquire land for the purpose of a slaughterhouse, and be objected to, and the objection sustained. Is there any reason why the local authority should not then seek to obtain that land for some other less objectionable purpose—it may be for a public garden? I could not possibly assent to the view that it should be impossible for this to be done. But, as a general administrative practice, I quite agree that it is undesirable. If I followed the noble Lord correctly, he was able to mention only two eases, and I have not myself heard of any other cases where such a procedure has been followed. If there are any such cases, I hope they will be brought to the notice of the appropriate authority. I should imagine that where one compulsory purchase order had been successfully objected to, it would be unlikely that the Ministry would confirm the next one. It would rather warrant discouragement, I think.

Those are the broad issues which have been raised. Your Lordships have taken a number of other points and I have done my best to deal with them. I concur entirely with everything that your Lordships say with regard to the importance of public confidence. I have spent nearly fifty years in the law, and I know that it is, to use the trite old phrase, as important that justice should seem to be done, as that it should be done. Therefore, I realise how important it is that public confidence in this procedure should be created, or recreated if it has in any way been lost. I can assure your Lordships that it is a matter which is necessarily under our constant consideration. In regard to the specific matters which have been mentioned, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and others, they will all be brought to the notice of the appropriate Minister and will be considered. Now I see that I have already occupied your Lordships for a very long time—much longer than I intended or wished—but this is a vast subject, and therefore I am conscious that I have but touched on the fringe of it. But I have done my best to answer some of the many questions which have been put to me.

5.41 p.m.


My Lords, I think this is a somewhat unusual procedure, but I am advised that it is proper for me to say a few words before we decide about the Amendment. They will be very few, because it is not often that the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack voices exactly my own views about a matter. On this occasion he has said exactly what I should have liked to say; but he has said it very much better. Therefore, there is little that I need add to this debate. The main issue, which, I think, was the one that was pressed hardest, was the publication of the inspector's recommendation. I have admitted, in the course of my remarks, that it was an exceedingly difficult problem. I have come to the conclusion—and I hope that your Lordships will believe this, for I say it in all sincerity—that the case against publication of the inspector's recommendation is stronger than the case for it. But I have no objection to the matter being looked at again.

The extraordinary thing is that, as the Lord Chancellor has pointed out, even among the higher authorities there is a complete conflict on the matter. There is even a conflict in the minds of the same authority at different periods of his life, as a result of different experiences. This is a difficult matter, and it is for that reason that I felt it would be wiser (as I think it always is) to think first and act afterwards, rather than act first, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchyre, has recommended. His Motion asks that action should be taken, and my Amendment is that we should "reconsider" the matter. The Lord Chancellor has demonstrated beyond all argument the wisdom of the first part of the Motion. It is something that at first sight sounds perfectly plausible, reasonable, and workable, but which turns out, in the light of the explanations which the noble and learned Lord has given us, to be much more difficult than at first sight appears. All I want to say is that I think your Lordships will agree that all the matters that have been raised should be looked at. I think that that is all Lord Balfour of Inchrye would wish: that they should be looked at by the Government. I have no illusions but that, when they do that, they will find there is much scope for reconsideration of the existing procedure. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, I was wondering which way we could best treat this matter. I was going to make a suggestion, though perhaps the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, has done so already. However, I ought first to say that I owe a sincere apology to your Lordships for not having been here for the debate. I was engaged on very important business elsewhere and could not manage it. But before leaving the House for that engagement, I did consider a form of action, and there is this suggestion that I have to make, which might be acceptable to Lord Silkin, who has moved the Amendment we are now considering, and it might also be acceptable to Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who moved the original Resolution—but I am not sure: he would have to consider that.

This is how the matter struck me. Lord Balfour of Inchrye, in his original proposal for raising this subject—a very proper one, of course—chose to debate it in a slightly unusual form. Instead of putting down a Motion, as we so often do in this House, he put down a positive Resolution of a firm and unequivocal character: That, in the opinion of this House, there is need for alteration of (1) the existing procedure.… That represents the noble Lord's view, no doubt, but it is asking a great deal of the Government, because if we were to accept the Resolution as it stands we should be appearing immediately in answer to this debate to agree that there was need for alteration of the whole existing procedure and practice over this wide field of public policy. I do not think any Government would be willing to take such a step in answer to a debate of this kind, however distinguished the debate might be in either place. I have no doubt that earnest consideration, which was in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in suggesting the word "reconsideration," will be given. But I was not happy about the word "reconsideration" either, because, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, himself, it is one of those words which has a good many meanings in the English language. One of its meanings (and he quoted a much higher authority than myself) is to the effect that a matter should be "reconsidered" in order that it might lead to alteration: for example, "I hope you will reconsider your view"—meaning that, if you do, you will come to a different conclusion. If Lord Silkin and Lord Balfour of Inchrye were agreeable to the substitution in the Resolution of the words "further consideration" for the word "reconsideration." the Government would be glad. The first half of the Resolution would then read: That, in the opinion of this House, there is need for further consideration of the existing procedure and practice for release by the Government of lands acquired for Defence purposes; Then I come to the second part of the Resolution. I think the second part is more difficult because it covers a vast field of public policy. The whole question of compulsory acquisition of new land by Government Departments is a field which has been covered by a mass of various regulations in recent years. The number of Departments concerned in it would mean an enormous re-examination. Therefore, I suggest that the House would be unwise to agree to such a wide wording as that. I suggest to noble Lords that they would be quite safe—Lord Balfour of Inchrye would be quite safe—in agreeing not to include that portion in the Resolution. We cannot undertake to reconsider the whole policy in this field. But Ministers will be very ready to give full and further study to the debate to-day. I suggest that the two noble Lords should perhaps accept the Amendment I have suggested and drop the second half of the Resolution. I do not know how far that would be acceptable to the two noble Lords. Perhaps they will say.


My Lords, the suggestion is perfectly acceptable to me. I am quite prepared for this matter to be dealt with in the way the noble Marquess has suggested. May I say, in passing, that I am interested in what the noble Marquess says about the meanings of the word "reconsideration"? From time to time we put forward Amendments, and an undertaking is sometimes given that the matter will be "reconsidered"; but I have never treated that, and certainly the noble Marquess has not treated it, as an undertaking, that the "reconsideration" would result in a different view. Generally, it has not been so. However, I accept "further consideration"; I think it is better. I was not happy about "reconsideration." but I am quite happy to accept "further consideration." I now leave the matter in the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I beg leave to substitute the new Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment moved— In line 2, leave out ("alteration") and insert ("further consideration").—(Lord Silkin.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, at the outset of my few closing remarks, may I express my grateful thanks to the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack for the great trouble he has taken and the time he has devoted to the study of this most complicated question? I should also like to give thanks to the various noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I feel it is due to the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, and to your Lordships also, after what the Leader of the House has said about my putting down a Resolution rather than a Motion, that I should state that my reasons for putting down a Resolution were that I wanted to stimulate some action, if possible, and that sometimes if one puts down a positive proposal one is more likely to get an advance in views and a possible chance of action from Her Majesty's Government, of whatever complexion that Government may be, than by putting down a Motion and then gently withdrawing it at the end. May I say at once that I have learnt that half a cake is better than none. I am perfectly agreeable to accepting the Resolution as the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has suggested: that in place of the word "alteration" should be substituted the words "further consideration" and that the Resolution should stop after the word "purposes" in line 3. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack argued powerfully against me on the first part of the Resolution but then, having destroyed all the arguments I had tried to put up, he did say that the matter would have further consideration.

As regards the second part, I think I have achieved my purpose in that the speeches which have been made from various quarters of the House have shown that there is considerable public misgiving on the various aspects of the subject mentioned in the second part of the Resolution. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said—these were his words—that the public mistrust is utterly misplaced. It is quite true, though, that there is a public mistrust, and events will show, as they unfold, whether the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack is right that this public mistrust is utterly misplaced, or whether, indeed, there is need for an alteration as regards the acquisition of lands by whatever Government may be in office. In asking leave to amend the Resolution by the omission of the second part, I comfort myself with the knowledge that unjust rule never endures perpetually. I beg leave to withdraw my Resolution and move it again in its amended form.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Moved to resolve, That, in the opinion of this House, there is need for further consideration of the existing procedure and practice for release by the Government of lands acquired for Defence parposes.—(Lord Balfour of Inchrye.)

On Question, Resolution agreed to.