HL Deb 20 March 1973 vol 340 cc601-13

2.59 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill is designed to soften the impact of public works upon private property and private living. It is with these issues that the White Paper Development and Compensation: Putting People First and the Report of the Urban Motorways Committee New Roads in Towns, both published last October, have sought to grapple. In the White Paper the Government announced their complete support for the Committee's strategic approach and have lost no time in publishing this Bill. It is a Bill of 79 clauses and I think I may say to your Lordships that virtually all of them deal with completely new entitlements and safeguards for landowners and tenants which will, in one way or another, come into play when their private interests are affected by public developments.

Broadly speaking, the Bill does two things. First of all, it provides new powers to get new or altered public works to fit better into their surroundings and establishes new rights for people to physical protection from the effects of new public works upon them. Secondly, it aims to modernise the law on land compensation in certain particulars. The code has been developing steadily for well over a hundred years. Up to now it has been concerned with compensation for land which is taken away from someone for public works. But, as we all know only too well, the noise and other effects of cars and lorries and aircraft spread out far beyond the confines of the roads and the aerodromes that carry them, to mention only two particular classes of public work. So now a code is needed to cover the effects on private property and land values that have been depreciated by the carrying out of public works when the land itself is not taken away at all.

The policy on which the Bill is built rests upon three principles. The first is that in designing new roads and other works special attention should be paid, even if it costs more, to fitting the works physically into their surroundings with the least possible damage and detriment to the landscape and to individual private interests. This is quite simply a matter of good practice, of sensitive and expert design, and the only new powers necessary are those enabling land to be taken beyond the strict limits of the roads and other works that need to be acquired.

The second principle is to secure means for reducing the impact of public works so as to protect people who live and work near, say, a new motorway or an expanding aerodrome from the disturbance, particularly the disturbance from noise, that they might otherwise suffer. No matter how judiciously one may situate its line, some people, especially in urban areas, are almost certainly going to be affected by a new road. Its impact can be reduced by putting it in a cutting or by building baffle walls between it and neighbouring property. But this may not be sufficient—or, indeed, it may not be physically possible—and the next recourse must be to provide with sound insulation the buildings that remain affected. This is the concern of Part II of the Bill. The provisions for sound insulations are to be found in Clause 19; and in Clauses 20 to 26 are contained the powers needed for cushioning the impact of public works upon their surroundings: for example, by landscaping the intervening ground between the works and nearby property. In this part also we have provided powers for authorities to buy owner-occupied property seriously affected by a scheme either permanently or during the construction period. These provisions carry through a salient part of the recommendations of the Committee on Urban Motorways.

On sound insulation, I might just mention two points. Clause 19 will work through regulations to be made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, and because this is a completely new field it has been specially provided that the first set of regulations, which will deal with traffic noise (the main priority), is to be subject to an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses. I am sure that this guarantee of a further Parliamentary debate of regulations on such an important subject will be welcome to your Lordships' House. Then your Lordships will notice that the provisions do not apply to aerodrome noise. This is simply because sound insulation schemes in the case of aerodromes are already provided for in the Airports Authority Act 1965 and in local Acts.

In spite of the measures to which I have referred already, which are essentially physical measures, it can happen that people will find that the value of their property depreciates because of the actual use of public works through the physical effects of fumes, smoke, noise, artificial lighting and so on, even though none of their land itself has been taken for the works. In this situation the third principle of policy comes into play. Hitherto where authorities are statutorily protected from an action for nuisance no one has had a remedy to secure compensation for depreciation of the value of his property from the effect of new or altered public works in a situation, as I have already mentioned, where none of his land is taken for the works. The only compensation of the sort to which he is at present entitled is where all or part of his land is actually taken. The new right to compensation is the subject of Clause 1, and Clause 2 defines those who are entitled to make claims. The remaining clauses in this Part of the Bill contain provisions in support of those two clauses. The only one that I need mention is Clause 9, which deals with the case of the altered, as distinct from the new, works.

Clause 1 contains an important feature which has already been widely welcomed. We recognise that many people's properties have been affected by public works which have come into use in the recent past, and so the right to claim compensation has been backdated for three years to include schemes which came into use on or after October 17. 1969.

My Lords, I now come to a further aspect of the Bill. For people who are in fact displaced from their property as a result of planning decisions and public works, the Bill provides a whole range of new benefits. Some of these comprise special payments as provided for in Part III—home loss and farm loss payments, and payments for disturbance. Some are improvements in the rights and entitlements of the individual, and these are to be found mainly in Parts IV and V. which deal respectively with compulsory purchase and planning blight. The payments in Part III are distinguished in kind from compensation for the interests that have been acquired. In the White Paper the Government reaffirmed their intention of retaining market value as the basis of the compensation code, supplemented where appropriate with disturbance compensation covering the claimant's out-of-pocket expenses. The new home loss payments, for which provision is made in Clauses 27 to 30, are quite different in kind. They are not related to or dependent upon acquisition of the claimant's interest. Distress caused through having to remove from one's own home is not a quantifiable financial loss and bears no relation to the market value of one's property: it is the business of the compensation code to attend to that. But the payments ought to be tied to some base, and the Government have decided that the most suitable one is rate-able value, coupled with a guaranteed minimum of £150 and subject to a qualifying residential period of five years. So much for home loss.

I now turn to the provisions in the Bill which concern farmers. The Bill introduces several improvements of benefit to them when their land is taken for public works. Possibly the most important of these is contained in Clause 43, in Part IV. This clause secures that in assessing compensation for landlords and tenants of agricultural holdings regard is to be had in both cases to the tenant's security of tenure afforded by the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948. The principle here is the same as that in Clause 42, which provides for the business tenant's security of tenure to be taken into account. The general effect of Clause 43 is that, to put it at its lowest, in future no agricultural tenant can be worse off than he is at present, and some will be better off, depending on the circumstances of each case.

Still talking of Part IV, I would mention that Clauses 47 to 54 effect various other improvements in the law. When farm land is taken in future, owners and tenants will have the right to require the authority concerned to acquire the whole of the unit or holding if the remaining land is not reasonably capable of being farmed as an agricultural unit or holding by itself or in conjunction with other land. This right will also apply in respect of blight notices by the owner-occupier. Clause 53 gives the tenant farmer a new right to an option, for compensation purposes, of requiring an acquiring authority which has become his landlord to proceed under compulsory purchase legislation rather than under agricultural holdings legislation. The effect is to give him compensation on the former terms, with a minimum equalling his entitlement under the latter. Clause 54, which is consequential on Clause 53, will enable a tenant farmer who opts for notice of entry procedure under that clause to enlarge the notice of entry from part to the whole of his holding, where the remainder is not reasonably capable of being farmed as a separate agricultural unit either by itself or in conjunction with other land.

Last, but by no means least, there is a completely new provision for an owner-occupier farmer—farm loss payments. This is shown in Clauses 31 to 33. Where an owner-occupier farmer has to give tip his farm for the sake of public works he really cannot be expected to get the same return from his new farm to begin with. Therefore, he should be compensated for temporary loss of profitability. It is impossible to quantify this loss accurately, of course, so a formula has to be adopted to secure an approximation. Clause 32 provides for the amount of payment to equal the average annual profit from the agricultural use of the old farm during the three years prior to the date of displacement. The provisions are subject to the condition that the occupant begin within three years from that date to farm another agricultural unit and is also then in occupation of the whole of that unit.

Finally, I should mention that some amendments to the Financial Memorandum of the Bill have been necessitated by the acceptance during the Report stage in another place of a Government Amendment to the home loss provisions of Part III. The charge on the Consolidated Fund has been increased from £50 million to £54 million and the non-recurring expenditure from £25 million to £28 million; also the cost to local authorities has been increased from £12 million to £13 million. There will be other Government Amendments reflecting the debates that have taken place in another place and the undertakings that have been given there. I hope your Lordships will agree that the contents of this Bill constitute a new and welcome attitude to the planning and design of public works and that the new legislation will be of benefit to the people who are affected by them. After the Bill is enacted, Her Majesty's Government will be publishing guidance notes in simple and straightforward terms, designed to help lay people to understand the rights and entitlements to which they may be eligible under the new legislation. My Lords, I commend this Bill as one that has been welcomed on all sides, I think, for its fresh approach and its practical down-to-earth recognition of the private needs and rights of people vis-àvis the needs of the public at large. I commend the Bill to your Lordships and beg to move that it be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Sandford.)

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, this is an important Bill and I am certain the House will be most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for his very clear explanation of what, because of the characteristics of the subject, must be very complex matters.

I should like to make two apologies. The first is on my own account, should I have to leave before the end of the debate. In the event, I shall do so not because I am leaving the service of your Lordships' House but because I have to attend a Committee dealing with European Instruments, in regard to which we are now at the stage of making decisions. Secondly, I speak at very short notice. This is a subject which, if it is to be dealt with adequately, needs a lifetime of experience of housing matters and local authority service. Unfortunately, my noble friend Lord Greenwood who was to have taken this Bill for us cannot be present this afternoon, and I have been pressed to take over at very short notice. I hope that my noble friend will be here to take part in the Committee stage, because in practice this Bill is more suitable for consideration in Committee than by means of a general debate of this nature.

I believe all of us, whether or not we have any intimate knowledge of the problem, must be conscious that there are inequities and undoubted hardships imposed on a small section of our community who are affected by developments and by increasing needs of the community as a whole. One has only to drive down towards the M.4 motorway from Cromwell Road to see the quite appalling conditions that have been created for householders by the construction of that road. This is a subject about which the previous Administration was deeply concerned. In fact, this Bill is largely a consequence of the setting up of a special committee by my then right honourable friend Mr. Richard Marsh, with the object of looking into the matter. It is at least partly based on the findings of that committee that the Government have come forward with this Bill.

While we on this side of the House give general approval to the Bill, it came through in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that it still does not get to the heart of the problem. I believe the noble Lord used the phrase that it "softens the impact". So although we may pass this Bill we must realise that problems remain; and after having listened to recent debates in your Lordships' House on transportation and on the environment, one can see that, as a consequence, difficulties are bound to increase, and hardship too. I do not think there is any doubt, having listened to those debates, that Members of your Lordships' House will feel there is a great need to look at development as a whole and at how it affects those who live in the large conurbations of our country.

I welcome this Bill, but on the other hand, I cannot help but feel that it could have been a little more generous and that sometimes the restrictions it contains appear to be rather petty. For instance, redress can be obtained where a new motorway has been constructed, but if an existing road becomes a main feeder road—and we all know that in some parts of London this may have a serious effect on the environment and on the people who live in such roads—there is no compensation at all. I think that is something we shall need to look at in Committee.

It also seems to me strange that although there are provisions for airport development they are restricted to where there is an alteration to the runways. The construction of new terminal buildings and difficult day and night traffic loads, have an effect on families. Why is there art automatic deduction of £50 in compensation for loss of amenity? Why should you be required to live in a house for five years before qualifying for home loss payment? In these days of fitted carpets and fitted furniture there is possibly greater inconvenience and expense after five months than five years. The limit of £1,500 for home loss may be appropriate in most parts of the country; but recognising that some of our people who are displaced may be required by the nature of their employment to live in a particular locality—such as in London—one wonders whether this figure is right, bearing in mind the various hardships involved. I see in the Bill a phrase indicating that possibly as a consequence of regulations the Minister could uplift that figure. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will confirm that that is so.

Coming back to the question of the qualifying years, in another place we sought to reduce that period from five to three years. There may even be a case to reduce it further. This is a matter we wish to pursue on the Committee stage, bearing in mind the facts and figures that a Minister in another place gave about the average turnover of owner-occupiers and tenants in London, which I think is well below the three years. This is of particular importantce in relation to the proposals of Her Majesty's Government regarding the London motorway. Could the noble Lord explain when the Urban Motorways Committee suggested that the highway authorities should have a duty to pay for sound insulation? In the Bill it is clearly referred to as a duty. Why has the Bill provided only for a discussion and not for mandatory powers? Why does the date of compensation run only from the commencement of the use of a highway? Those of us who watched the building of M.4 will know that that took not months but years. Those who live within the area of that motorway will know of the very great hardships, loss and depreciation of value suffered. I would have thought that if there is justice in providing some compensation for those people who are affected by these developments, it should run from the commencement of the hardship and not from the actual date in which the motorway comes into use.

The provisions regarding noise are particularly welcome. There is a tendency to ignore noise as a problem of pollution; yet it is very important. It is impossible to assess the social ills, the mental illness, deafness, broken homes, and the problem of delinquent children which can be created by the incessant noise that one finds on the motorways, particularly those in close proximity to housing and flats. It may be easy to insulate a house from the noise; but people do not only live in houses, they need to go out into their gardens. I wonder whether local authorities do sufficient in those areas to provide green open spaces where children can play well away from the noise of heavy traffic. This is something we ought to look at when we consider the Bill in Committee.

This debate gives us an opportunity to look wider than the immediate implications of the Bill. In essence, the Bill is trying to soften the worst effects of development for families and shopkeepers. But can we go on merely dealing with this problem with palliatives? The basic problem is failure to face up to the transport needs and the problems arising from those needs. As this Bill is going through Parliament the Government have announced acceptance of plans for London motorways, yet they do not appear to have thought out the real transport needs, or the wishes of the community affected. If they had done so, I believe that they would have rejected the motorway proposals and adopted instead a policy of firmly restricting the use of the private car and heavy lorry in central London and the city centres, and would have introduced the cheap flat fare public transport system. The Government so far are not prepared to go into this question. Would it not be wise, if the Government have not yet been convinced, to have an experiment, such as is now being undertaken in Nottingham, to see whether there are ways and means of keeping heavy and unnecessary vehicles from the centres of our cities?

Undoubtedly the money that could be saved from not going ahead with the motorway system around London could be used to very much better effect. I believe this point is now being discussed by those involved in the forthcoming elections in London. I would not underestimate the problem, but is it conceivable that our cities can continue to meet the needs of those who live within them and to provide reasonable amenities, and yet take the consequences of the increasing number of vehicles that are coming out of our factories to-day? I cannot believe that this is so. This is a matter that we debated some two weeks ago.

Not so long ago we also discussed the question of the Third London Airport. I have become more and more convinced that Maplin will be a most dreadful mistake. The quality of life of thousands of families will be disastrously affected as a consequence of the massive new road and rail links that will have to be provided. I do not believe that any Land Compensation Bill will be able to put that right. I believe that the time has come not only for a national strategy for transport and airports, but also for regions.

My Lords, as I have said, we on this side of the House give support to this Bill. There are certain aspects that we shall need to consider very carefully in Committee. We recognise that although it has its good points, it is only a short-term palliative and fails to deal with the basic problems of development and the way in which development makes its impact upon the life of our people.

3.29 p.m.


My Lords, there are aspects of this Bill which I welcome; they are aspects which show signs of new thinking and new attitudes on the part of the Government, such as payment for depreciation of property by public works. I also welcome a certain liberalising tendency regarding injurious affection payments and disturbance payments. But when all that is said and done, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who said that although it may soften the impact of the worst affects of development, it cannot put them right, and does not go to the root of the matter at all.

It has been generally recognised for a number of years that there has been something wrong with our provisions of compensation. Not only by valuers and surveyors acting for people who are dispossessed, but also those valuers and other professional men acting for acquiring authorities. Everybody has come to recognise that grave injustice has often been committed and still is being committed. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, used the words "undoubted hardships". We all recognise that and I think what we all have at the back of our minds when we think about compensation are the words which were used by Mr. Justice Scott. I will not quote his actual words I will paraphrase them. They are that no man should be enriched by being compensated for what has been taken from him for the public good, but no more should he be either impoverished or disadvantaged in so far as the disadvantages can be made good by a money payment. These words should be at the back of our minds when we think of compensation and how to tackle the problems of compensation, and they were at the back of the minds of all those professional bodies which have been thinking for many years that there is something wrong with our provisions of compensation.

During the years when the last Administration were in power the professional bodies, including the Law Society and others, produced evidence which was put before the Government as to these hardships and what had gone wrong and the various methods by which it could be put right. It took some years before the then Government looked at it, but in fact during the late 1960s, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, they went some way towards formulating a policy. Indeed, both during those years and when the present Government were in power when any difficulties arose in regard to compensation problems the answer always was, "The Government are considering this. Wait until our White Paper comes out and we will then deal with the problem". Well, the White Paper which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, mentioned came out not very long ago and I think we were all rather disappointed with it. It seemed to be a very small mouse to have been brought forth after so much labour.

I think that the Bill, which of course follows the White Paper—and indeed the noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench agrees with me—is disappointing. It follows the White Paper, and in some measure it produces new and altered powers. The basis it does not alter. The basis remains the market value for existing use. That is all very well, but what does the man do who is paid existing use market value who loses his home or his business or his farm—what does he do with the market value? I think some noble Lords would know exactly what he could do with that market value. The market value never can do more than form the bare bones of a man's claim. The real problem is, and always has been, that of consequential loss. It is no good giving a man the market value of what he has lost unless you make good, a great deal better than this Bill proposes to do, the consequential losses that he will suffer. I admit that disturbance payments and payments for injurious action are in some degree liberalised. I welcome that because I think it is probably along the lines of liberalising this sort of payment that we should try to approach the whole problem of compensation.

What about reinstatement? Take agricultural land: as noble Lords will know, something like 70,000 acres of agricultural land is taken up every year for various developments which are needed by society, and inevitably so. I think sometimes noble Lords do not realise exactly what 70,000 acres amounts to. The Isle of Wight is 100,000 acres, so in taking 70,000 acres we are taking every year nearly three quarters of the Isle of Wight. I quite agree that logically it is impossible in such a state of affairs that everybody who loses his agricultural land can have it wholly made good to him. As Mr. Justice Scott said, in certain respects money compensation cannot make good what has been taken from a man. Nevertheless, here we have a situation in which, instead of having a willing buyer and a willing seller, we have an unwilling seller who shortly will become a desperate buyers. This is inflationary, and that situation is aggravated of it by the fact that in the case of large new towns there are a great many men who are suddenly being turned into the position of being desperate buyers in order to get new land. The same situation applies to the man who loses his home and his house. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has drawn our attention to that, and I think the same applies to the small business. So far as consequential loss is concerned, the payments that will be possible under this new Bill are wholly inadequate.

My Lords, I do not know whether it would be for the convenienience of your Lordships if I were to stop for a moment and allow the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, to make a Statement on Northern Ireland, because what I want to say will probably take another ten minutes.