HL Deb 23 July 1971 vol 322 cc1290-304

11.34 a.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Earl of Listowel.)

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.

LORD HENLEY moved, as an Amendment:

After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:

  1. (1) The Authority may pay to any person displaced from any land acquired by the Authority under the Act of 1963 for any purpose in connection with the performance of any of their new functions such reasonable allowances as they think fit towards any loss or in respect of any personal hardship which in their opinion he will sustain or be put to by reason of his having to quit the land.
  2. (2) In estimating any such loss or personal hardship the Authority shall have regard to the period for which the land occupied by that person might reasonably have been expected to be available for occupation by him and the availability of other land suitable for occupation by him.
  3. (3) The provisions of this section shall be in addition to and not in derogation of any enactment or any rule of law relating to compensation for disturbance.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Amendment before you, which I am moving, is a new clause. It is the same clause which was passed in the House of Commons but which was struck out in your Lordships' House by the Committee on unopposed Bills. This clause gives discretionary powers to the Trent River Authority to make better provisions for compensation than would otherwise be available for those who are displaced from their land by reason of the making of a reservoir. I do not propose to say very much about compensation, because I think it is agreed on all sides that there is something seriously wrong with our laws on compensation and that something should be done about them. Too many people are inadequately compensated for the loss of house, buildings, land and, indeed, even their living

Probably no one is more inadequately compensated than the small tenant farmer of land which is taken for a reservoir, whose compensation does not enable him to set himself up again in business. This has very serious repercussions of a personal nature. This sort of man is probably more seriously under-compensated than anybody else; and, as I say, there is no shade of opinion in your Lordships' House which does not accept the fact that we are seriously under-compensating a great many people. I shall not labour that point.

I think that the noble Lord who answers for the Government will tell your Lordships that a great deal of thinking has been going on about what can be done in order to improve our provisions of compensation in this, and other, fields and he will probably tell you that the Government will, sooner or later, have propositions to put before us. The provisions of this particular clause go some way towards mitigating the bad effects of the inadequacies of our law of compensation and its deficiencies, by allowing the acquiring authority, in certain circumstances, to make better provision for compensation. I do not see that a great many of your Lordships have before you this rather large sheet which almost looks as if it were a manuscript Amendment but in fact is not.

May I read out the first subsection of this clause, which is self-explanatory. It says: The Authority may pay to any person displaced from any land acquired by the Authority…such reasonable allowances as they think fit towards any loss or in respect of any personal hardship which in their opinion he will sustain or be put to by reason of his having to quit the land. This provision, which was the old Clause 6 in the Bill and which passed through the Commons, has the full support of the Association of River Authorities. I believe that the President of that Association, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, may join in this debate, and I understand it may well be that he is not in complete agreement with the Association of River Authorities. Nevertheless, the Association of River Authorities fully support this clause. They do not take the view that because the Trent River Authority may have these powers, it is unfair that other authorities should not have them. The Association of River Authorities take the view that, quite apart from natural justice, it would be a very good thing if this particular kind of power were made much more widespread. They have always felt that it expedites the course of their operations in making reservoirs and, hence, make it cheaper, and that instead of leaving broken and disgruntled men in its wake, it leaves satisfied people who feel that they have been reasonably compensated, not ruined in the public interest.

Also, I need hardly say, this provision has the full support of the agricultural community, who feel that some of their number are very ill done by. If adequate compensation cannot be paid for public works, then, surely, those public works should not be undertaken. It is no good crying in aid the public interest if you render that public interest nugatory by seriously damaging individuals when you need not do so. These provisions are not unprecedented. They exist in some measure in the Liverpool Corporation Act 1957; they exist in the Great Ouse Act 1961, and they exist in the Clywedog Joint Authority Act 1963. So far as I know, in all these cases they have worked very satisfactorily and the authority operating under these Acts has found them most useful. These were Acts for specific reservoirs and the only difference with regard to the Trent River Authority is that it is a general powers Bill asking for these powers for any reservoir that might be built.

This clause, with these more flexible powers to give compensation for people who are dispossessed of their land, has been thrown out and it seems to me that the reasons for having thrown it out are bad. It will be argued, my Lords, that it is unsuitable for the Trent River Authority to be able to pay better compensation than other river authorities. I have already said that this is not the view taken by the Association of River Authorities. Secondly, this argument is tantamount to saying that because justice has not been done in one part of the country, it should not be done in another part of the country. That argument is pretty poor, and speaks for itself.

Thirdly, it will be argued that it is unprecedented. I have shown that it is not unprecedented. Fourthly, it will be argued that it prevents, or disturbs, the uniformity of provisions of compensation. There is no uniformity, except with regard to local authorities and cognate bodies. In all other fields there is no uniformity. The old water companies were not at all restricted in the powers that they had for paying compensation. They could make what bargain they, as acquiring authority, chose to make with the people whom they were proposing to buy out. This also applies over the whole field of wayleaves for gas and oil.

My Lords, it will be argued that it is prejudicing the review, mentioned earlier, that the Government may be bringing out with regard to the whole field of compensation. Let me say first that the clause does not seek to alter the code. It merely seeks to be able, in certain circumstances, to offer additional payments. Moreover, the review which the Government have in mind, and about which I hope a White Paper dealing with the question of compensation is to be produced, has, to my knowledge, already occupied at least four years. I have sat on committees drawing up suggestions for Government Departments as to how this kind of thing should be accomplished. Even supposing that the work being done on the question of revising the law of compensation is ready to present to your Lordships in a White Paper tomorrow, I can see no possibility of legislation on this issue being passed for the next three or four years. Even if there were, it could not be retrospective, and what happens in the meantime will merely add to the injustices that are now occurring. Lastly, it may be argued that this clause would be inconsistent with any new proposals that the Government might bring in. If that is so, what is put forward in this clause with regard to methods of compensation can be repealed by any legislation introduced by the Government, implementing their own ideas.

The Commons presumably decided that the urgent need for enabling adequate compensation to be paid far outweighs the theoretical objections which I have adumbrated to your Lordships. Why, therefore, are we in this House proposing to throw out this clause which the Commons passed? They did not look at it lightly. They looked at it closely; they amended it, and they sent it forward in the amended form that is before your Lordships. Why are we throwing it out? All the arguments I can think of, and have mentioned so far, and that the Government may well argue, are inadequate.

There is a further argument that the Government will put before your Lordships—probably the most interesting of them all. If Her Majesty's Government can satisfy me that their arguments in respect of this further point are correct, I should be willing not to press my Amendment. The argument is this: that there is already on the Statute Book adequate provision for dealing with this proposition. There are three Acts that deal with the point, but only one with which I need bother your Lordships: the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1963, Section 22. No doubt the noble Lord has looked at it closely. This Act enables—again in certain circumstances—acquiring authorities to pay additional compensation where they think fit. This section of the 1963 Act is wider in some respects than the clause which I am asking your Lordships to put back into the Bill, allowing greater flexibility to an acquiring authority to be able to do what I am asking your Lordships that it be allowed to do.

In farming and agricultural circles, it is held (and I am hoping that the Government will put me right on this point) that the Act of 1963 does not operate very effectively. It is held that district valuers regard it as having been superseded by the 1968 Act, and that because the 1968 Act allowed district valuers to give up to six years' rent to a displaced tenant in compensation, as opposed to the one or two years allowed under the 1948 Act, that of itself rendered the 1963 Act superseded. There is nothing in any Act since 1963 which specifically, expressedly or impliedly—and I repeat, impliedly—repeals the 1963 Act. I shall want an assurance from the noble Lord that the 1963 Act, which, in certain circumstances, allows compensation to be paid by acquiring authorities in the way in which I am asking for it to be done, contains nothing which has in any way been superseded or mitigated.

On the other hand, the Government may say that Section 22 of the 1963 Act is no longer operative. If they say that, then they must admit that my Amendment asking for Clause 6 to be put back into the Bill is perfectly logical and reasonable. I agree that the argument may well be put that it was foolish on my part to move an Amendment to put into a private Bill something which already exists in a public Act.

This, as I have said, is the most interesting and significant part of the argument, and the one on which I am expecting a definitive answer from the Government. I want to know whether Section 22 of the 1963 Act is superseded—and I hope that the noble Lord has that Act before him. Alternatively, whether that section still is on the Statute Book, and operational? If he can satisfy me that it is still on the Statute Book, and operational, I may well feel that the provisions of the Amendment are no longer necessary. If, on the other hand, he intends to tell me that the 1963 Act is no longer operative, I should feel inclined to press my Amendment. My Lords, I beg to move.


My Lords, may I say that I greatly admire the knowledgeable and clear speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henley. I was in this House some ten years ago when the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, piloted the Rivers Board Act through the House. Indeed, I took part in many debates from this side of the House. I was under the strongest impression that that Act satisfied the House, the agricultural and River Board people generally, and industry, that there was a compensation clause in it which covers the whole country. We were, in effect, nationalising water, and we made provision, where water was extracted or alterations were made to the detriment of farmers, industry or others, that compensation should be paid. If that was so, is this matter not covered by national legislation?


My Lords, may I put the noble Lord right in this respect? Water may indeed have been nationalised, but the land which is used for putting the water on was not.


My Lords, with regard to this new clause, this matter has been considered. I was not on the Unopposed Bills Committee, but they heard evidence from both sides, from the Petitioners and from the Promoters, and they came to the conclusion that it should not be included in the Bill, and I cannot see why it should.

11.52 a.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships have listened with very great interest to the important points that have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. Subject to what I shall say a little later about discretionary payments allowed by the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1963, to which the noble Lord has referred, there are, I think, two great objections to the new clause which the noble Lord wishes to insert in the Bill, and which is exactly the same as a clause that was disallowed by the Unopposed Bills Committee of your Lordships' House, as the noble Lord who has just spoken pointed out—and as a Chairman of Ways and Means he is a great authority on procedure on Private Bills—after they had heard the evidence submitted both by the Promoters and by Government Departments.

This clause, as I have said, is identical with a clause in the Bill which was disallowed. The Secretary of State for the Environment had objected to it in a written report submitted by him to the Committee on the Bill. His objection was on two grounds. In the first place, he considered that it would be wrong for the Trent River Authority to be empowered to pay more compensation than other authorities, of which some—for example, the local planning authorities—would be operating in the same area. This could lead to anomalies and injustices.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred to injustices, but I do not think they would have operated in one way only. There could easily be injustice if this were to happen because sums paid in compensation to tenant farmers incurring the same loss could vary according to the authority acquiring the land, whether it was a local authority or a river authority. In the second place, the Departmental representative told the Committee that the Government were engaged in a review of the compensation code, the result of which would be published shortly in a White Paper. It would clearly be undesirable to amend the existing code locally before the results of the review were known.

The requirement of compensation for disturbance is nation-wide. It affects tenant farmers all over the country, and is not peculiar to tenant farmers in the Trent Valley. It has therefore been dealt with by the provisions of a code of compensation for disturbance contained in the general law. If the code is defective and requires alteration, this should be done by amending the general law.

There is another important consideration rendering this Amendment undesirable. My attention has been drawn to Section 22 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1963. That section is confined to land used for agriculture by way of trade or business, whereas Lord Henley's Amendment is not so confined; it is rather wider. In other respects, Section 22 of this Act is similar to the clause proposed by the noble Lord. I am advised that the powers sought by the Trent River Authority under the proposed new clause are already available to the Authority, so far as they concern agricultural land, under Section 22 of the Agriculture Act 1963, and, so far as they concern land other than agricultural land, under Section 30 of the Land Compensation Act 1961, which relates to persons displaced from a house or other building.

I would therefore advise your Lordships to reject the Amendment on the following three grounds. First, it is unnecessary because discretionary compensation payments for disturbance can be made by acquiring authorities under the general law. Secondly, a local amendment of the law relating to compensation for disturbance is undesirable because if amendment is required it should be made in the general law. Thirdly, the clause proposed anticipates the result of the Government's review of the code of compensation for the compulsory acquisition of land, and of the policy in this matter that will be set out in the proposed White Paper.


My Lords, I have for some years been concerned with the Trent River Authority and with the possibility of flooding some of the loveliest hill farming districts in Britain. I have been concerned, too, with this big question of compensation. The noble Lord who moved the Amendment has a point. I apologise for being a little late this morning and I hope the House will bear with me for a minute or two, but no longer, for that is all I need. There are cases where tenant farmers, for example, have been on land for some 400-odd years. There may be a justifiable difference in the compensation that is paid because of discomfort caused to a whole family, or for other difficulties some of these hill farmers in the Upper Trent Valley have.

Before this question is brushed aside, I hope the House will give it some care. I know that later on we shall have an opportunity to deal in depth with the problem of the reservoirs, and so on, that are talked about in the valleys. I sincerely believe that this Amendment deserves some attention and consideration before it is brushed aside, despite some of the previous Acts. I myself sat on the Water Resources Board and on some of the Bills in another place that dealt with this problem. That is all I wish to say this morning. I owe the House an apology in so far as I was not here at the beginning. Consequently, I think it would be unjustifiable of me to take any more time of the House, except to draw attention to the fact that some of us do support the noble Lord's Amendment.

11.58 a.m.


My Lords, I think it would be right if I intervened at this point to explain rather more fully why my right honourable friend reported against Clause 6. First, as the House knows, the Government on coming into power instituted a thorough-going review of the law relating to land compensation. A review was already under way, but in my right honourable friend's view it was not nearly far-reaching enough. The Department of the Environment has been pressing ahead with the utmost speed with the review into what is a most complex subject. I confirm that as soon as it is finished the next step will be the publication of a White Paper as a prelude to legislation.

Compensation payments to farmers have been very much in my right honourable friend's mind and, although he respected the motives of the Trent River Authority in bringing forward their clause in their Bill, deposited last November, he felt that it would be quite wrong, as the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees has just explained, to prejudge the outcome of the review in this important respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, has already explained that the Authority attach importance to the provision, because they have in mind a number of reservoir schemes which will take farming land. But the Trent River Authority cannot seriously suggest that in this respect they are in a different position from other river authorities. Even if they were, the matter would still, in my right honourable friend's submission, be one which should be dealt with generally by means of general legislation. This clause would have had implications not only for other river authorities, but, perhaps more importantly, for the many local authorities exercising powers to acquire land for various purposes within the area of the Trent River Authority. The Secretary of State, therefore, thought it right to ask Parliament to say that the Promoters should wait for the Government to come up with their own proposals.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, mentioned precedents, three in number, in three separate Private Acts for the clause we are discussing this morning; but as he said, they are not really precedents because they relate to specific proposals for individual reservoirs and not to all the proposals of the authorities in question, as would Clause 6. Nor was it the case that when they were passed the Government were right in the middle of a review of the whole law relating to land compensation.

I have one further point. I cannot to-day indicate to the House what conclusions the Government will come to about this question of compensation to tenant farmers. It is, however, true, and noteworthy on this occasion, that when Parliament legislated as recently as 1968 in the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act to improve the position of tenant farmers, it did not then make provision on the lines of the proposed clause. Many representations have been made to us about the position of tenant farmers. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, has just drawn our attention to them. I confirm that we are giving most serious consideration to them. I also confirm, though I think the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has already done so, that Section 22 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1963, empowers authorities to make discretionary payments to persons displaced from agricultural land and is available for use by the Trent River Authority. This was the point that the noble Lord. Lord Henley, asked me to make, and I would not dispute it.

The policy of Her Majesty's Government in respect of discretionary powers is that they should be used only to provide compensation equivalent to the statutory compensation where no statutory entitlement exists. Section 22 provides for making payments to persons who have no statutory entitlement to compensation or to the additional payments under the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968. In view of all that, I, too, would say that it would be quite wrong to allow a change of this importance to come about as a result of a Private Bill promoted by one authority in respect of one part of the country. I urge the House to support the decision of its own Committee not to allow the proposed new clause.

12.3 p.m.


My Lords, before the House reaches a conclusion, may I thank my noble friend for the partial satisfaction which he has given me in his words about the reviews that are taking place. First, I should declare an interest in this matter, as President of the Association of River Authorities, and, contrary to the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, I have great sympathy with the Trent River Authority. It is in the same position as every other river authority to-day, facing enormous difficulties in promoting any water conservation scheme, opposed by almost everybody, although it is known that the authority is setting out to get the extra water which the nation badly needs. As soon as we have a dry summer and a dry year, we shall find ourselves seriously short of water in many parts of the country.

My noble friend will find himself in closer contact with this situation in future. Since he has, so wisely, amended the 1963 Act, river authorities will proceed by Statutory Order instead of by Private Bill. Several river authority schemes have been frustrated by the process of the Private Bill being defeated, and it has appeared to be through a failure by the river authority. I suggest that this will come very much nearer home when river authorities proceed by an application to the Minister for a Statutory Order and they fail because of the weight of public opinion given at the public inquiry which the Minister then has to decide upon.

As noble Lords are aware, here we have an extremely difficult situation where conservationists will oppose almost every scheme to develop fresh sources of water. I suggest to my noble friend that it is highly desirable to try to remove at least one source of opposition—that is, the landowners and the tenants, who could be conciliated if they were given rather more generous terms of compensation. This is a matter of great national importance, and I hope that the few words that I have added will give greater urgency to my noble friend and his right honourable colleague to get on with this review and to publish the White Paper. It is most urgent that there should be national legislation on this matter.

12.6 p.m.


My Lords, first of all, may I thank those two noble Lords who supported me in my contention, which is one generally agreed, that compensation is most inadequate, particularly for tenant farmers. No one knows better than the noble Lord. Lord Davies of Leek, how very badly done by some of the poor (I use the word advisedly) Welsh tenants can be. I am also grateful for the kind words on the same subject from the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, who also recognises how the building of new reservoirs is held up because of the difficulty in persuading people that they will not be ruined, when they can see before their very eyes that they are being ruined.

I need not go into any of the arguments, except one. As this is not a Committee stage, it is extremely difficult to argue individual points, and in my opening speech I said what I thought was wrong with the argument which I knew the Government would put forward. That leaves me with the third point, which I said was the most interesting of all. First of all, I have the statement from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the Chairman of Committees, that my Amendment is unnecessary, because the provisions are available under Section 22 of the 1963 Act. He said categorically that the powers were available. That is a very important statement, coming from the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman of Committees, with all the legal advice available to him.

When I put this same point to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who answers for the Government. I received a rather equivocal answer. He admitted, as did the noble Earl, that the Act was still in force and had not been superseded; he admitted that it was available for use, and that it was available for use for all the points that I wanted it for. However, he qualified it by saying that it was only for making compensation, equivalent to statutory compensation, where compensation was otherwise not available. My Lords, I do not agree. The whole point of Section 22 of the 1963 Act was that it enabled discretionary payments to be made where they were not otherwise statutorily possible. That is what my Amendment is about—to do exactly the same thing. All noble Lords agree that compensation is inadequate and that something must be done about it. My Amendment is a small attempt to do something about it in the meanwhile, before the Government's suggestions bear fruit in five years' time. I am told that I need not move my Amendment, because these powers are already available, and this has been made absolutely clear, beyond possible doubt, by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.

I want to know—and possibly this is not the moment to argue it out—on what authority the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, says that it is only for giving compensation equivalent to what the statutory compensation would be where it was not otherwise available? On whose"say so "? On whose interpretation of the Act? Is it the interpretation of the district valuers? If so, this seems to me to be a most astonishing statement. Is it on the"say so"of the Department of the Environment? That would be an even more astonishing statement. Is it a direction from the Treasury? What is it?

I remember at an earlier stage in your Lordships' proceedings, on a question rather divorced from this, on the Compton Bassett issue, it annoyed me and my friends that Treasury directions were being passed to Departments to interpret the law in a certain way, without Parliament ever hearing about it. Here is an Act which states in terms exactly what discretionary powers are available and the noble Lord tells me that that is not what the Act says. I am quite certain that the noble Lord will need more advice on this point. It may well be that it had not occurred to him before. The court is now open, as it were, and no doubt we shall be able to raise this point again. But I am left in a difficult position. I think it would be foolish to press my Amendment, if the powers already exist as I am told by the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman of Committees, that they do. That being so, it would obviously be nugatory for me to press my Amendment, asking in a Private Bill for exactly the same powers.

So let us leave it that the Government will look very closely indeed into the meaning of Section 22 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1963. On the understanding that that will be looked into very closely, and that these powers are available to river authorities, and indeed to anybody else, I am prepared not to press the Amendment. This is not a Committee stage. I do not know whether the noble Lord wishes to give me that assurance, but I think that perhaps I do not need it, since I have had a categorical assurance from the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman of Committees. If that is so—and I see that the noble Lord nods his head—I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(The Earl of Listowel.)

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.