HL Deb 20 March 1973 vol 340 cc621-31

3.58 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, I hope those of your Lordships who are interested in the Land Compensation Bill will forgive me for giving way to the Statement. As Lord Shepherd said, it is a very complex Bill and is, in a way, more suited to comment in Committee than on Second Reading. That being so, it seemed to me better that we should not be arguing rather abstruse points about compensation before noble Lords who really were here to listen to the very important Statement about Northern Ireland.

The point that I left your Lordships with was this, that I feel, as indeed do the Opposition Benches, that this Bill does not get to the heart of the problem in so far as, although it sticks closely to market values, it does not really deal with the consequential losses; and consequential losses are those which inflict grievous injustice upon people who have land or houses or businesses taken from them. Until we devise methods, which are acceptable to the public, of meeting those consequential losses, we shall not have produced a good Bill.

My Lords, I do not know why this situation has come about, because if one looks at our compensation legislation one might say, if one were a foreigner, "Well, on the face of it this does not look too bad". But I think there has been a long tradition (shall we say?) of Treasury directives which have lessened the effect of what the compensation provisions might be meant to provide, and by that I mean the sort of thing that Mr. Justice Scott suggested that they should provide. Therefore, I welcome any tendency in this Bill towards liberalising payments, towards liberalising the way in which these payments are looked at, because I think it may well be that we can deal with these problems in the long term more effectively by liberalising the attitude which district valuers take than by laying it down in an Act of Parliament. Before 1919, for instance, there was the provision by which over and above the market value a man might receive he got an extra 10 per cent. because the property was taken compulsorily. It has been suggested that perhaps this 10 per cent. might come back again or that it might be 15 per cent. I am not sure whether this would help very much. In some cases it can well be that a man's consequential losses are not 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. of the market value of his property, of what he has had to give up—they may well in certain circumstances be 100 per cent. This is what we must learn to look at if we are going to produce a just Bill. I am arguing here that sometimes a man's consequential losses might be 100 per cent. of the market value of his land and I am saying that, as you cannot always reinstate a man for what he has lost, you must try and devise means for doing the next best thing, which is to make good his consequential loss. Well, there are some small comforts in the Bill towards this—home loss payments—but I do not think it goes very far of course as the maximum payment is going to be only £1,500. That does not go very far even if it is on top of the market value towards his reinstatement. So far as farm loss payments are concerned I feel that they too are derisory. Nevertheless, among those small comforts is also another comfort, that of the new thinking with regard to depreciation by public development where the land is not acquired.

There are two points I should like to follow up when we come to the Committee stage. The first one deals with Clause 43 which the noble Lord mentioned earlier. What worries me about this clause, which is meant to improve the compensation which a tenant should receive for dispossession, is that it looks as if some part of a tenant's very slightly improved compensation is going to be paid for not by the acquiring authority but by the landlord. In another place this was denied by the Minister, but let him show that his denial means something. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, made a revealing remark, a rather unfortunate one in this context, and I quote his words. He is talking about a tenant's compensation— None can be worse off and some may be better off That is a very remarkable statement for a Minister of the Government to make about his own Bill. We will see when we come to the Committee stage what can be done about Clause 43 because I think there is widespread feeling that an injustice is going to be cured at the expense of an injustice to someone else.

The second point is one which I feel should not have had to come up under this Bill at all because this Bill is about compensation. I think it is Clause 21 which deals with trying to make roads fit better into the landscape—visually that is. I know, and noble Lords know, that a good modern road can be a very beautiful engineering artifact, but if it is in the wrong place, and if it is using up some very beautiful country such as we were talking about the other night, then although it is itself a beautiful artifact it is damaging to that countryside visually, and there is very little countryside left to damage visually. We can ill afford it. The suggestions put forward by the Bill—and they were foreshadowed in the White Paper—were that it should be possible to acquire land outside the limits of the road itself. The noble Lord mentioned this in his speech. The White Paper looks more promising than the Bill and I am rather doubtful whether anything will come of that. Alternatively—and I hope to raise this under an Amendment—to argue the case even if we did not get anywhere, is to try to mitigate the effect of a road, by such activities as planting or smoothing out curves et cetera outside land not acquired. I do not know whether this could be done. I hope, in view of what the noble Lord said, that when we come to the Committee stage we may be able to try it out. I feel it is unfortunate that so important an issue as trying to make roads fit into the countryside should have had to come up in a Bill which is really dealing with compensation—and making roads visually better than they would otherwise be has nothing to do with compensation.

To return now from the two Committee stage points which I raised to the central point of the Bill, although one welcomes the small grains of comfort in it, and though I welcome still more the liberalising effect which the Government's suggestions will have on the payment of disturbance and injurious affection, and so on, I still feel that the Bill is a very poor answer to the misgivings in the minds of nearly everybody connected with the question of compensation over the last three or four years.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, may I first of all apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, because I was not here to hear the whole of his opening speech. I was unfortunately detained longer than I expected by another engagement. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Henley, have covered a fair amount of the ground, that I would wish to refer to, and I hope that noble Lords will bear with me if I address my brief remarks to the agricultural aspects of this Bill. Not that I am unaware of the very great importance and the great hardship that falls on many sections of the community as well as on the farming community, but rather because there are many people much more knowledgeable about those aspects than I am, and such knowledge as I have is largely related to agricultural problems with which for a good many years I have been connected on this land use side.

It has been a great problem for us in the agricultural community, certainly during the whole of the time since the last war, and constantly efforts have been made to get the terms of compensation made more adequate to the impact of these acquisitions of land on a very vast scale. It was referred to as 70,000 acres a year. We used to use the figure of 50,000 acres and were accused of exaggerating the position, but apparently now it is considerably more. This is of very great significance. I think the agricultural community recognise and have always approached this problem in a responsible spirit—that these losses of land, which is their raw material, are unavoidable; at least that the whole movement is unavoidable though many of the detailed acquisitions may have been, particularly more so in the past than they are to-day, rather carelessly carried out.

This Bill represents, I am sure, an honest attempt by the Government to move forward in this matter of compensating those who are injuriously affected by acquisitions for the public good. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, has referred to what Lord Justice Scott said a good many years ago on this matter, and this philosophy and principle have been repeated by successive spokesmen of successive Governments of different Parties; that those who are so affected should not be worse off in so far as financial arrangements can prevent it. This laudable philosophy has not been carried out in practice so far as the farming side of it, of which I speak with some knowledge, is concerned. This Bill moves somewhat, but extremely tentatively and inadequately, in that direction, but so far as I can see, the owner-occupier is still left with the market value.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, has referred to the inadequacy of market value, and in this Second Reading speech I do not propose to go into all the details of why market value is inadequate. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, knows the arguments perfectly well. But it is a fact that for years, if a farmer lost his farm to non-agricultural development, he has found that the price of another farm was way beyond the compensation he received, always assuming that he was able to find a suitable farm within the period during which he escaped capital gains tax; and if he was unable to escape that tax he would not have enough money to reinstate himself anyhow. In addition to losing the ownership of his land a farmer is also losing his business, and that is a side of the matter with which the Government have sought to deal in the tenants' compensation, which again I acknowledge is a movement in the right direction. The Bill is rather vague as to how the tenant is to be compensated, but for both the tenant and the owner-occupier the position is improved by the compensation for the loss of his home, to which all sections of the community are entitled. I think we can all welcome that.

In the main, therefore, I welcome the direction in which this Bill tries to move, but I am bound to say that it does not go far enough. One may say, "Of course, nothing will ever go far enough to satisfy people in these circumstances", but I do not think that that is really the attitude of those who speak with responsibility for the agricultural community. I certainly think that something more is needed than compensation with market value as the main element. I believe that prior to 1919 there was an additional element which was added on to market value. Suggestions have been made about percentages. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred to these and said, quite rightly, that in some instances they could be quite inadequate. We appreciate that market value undoubtedly represents a recognisable and comprehensible measuring stick for compensation, and therefore it has merit, but in itself and alone it is not adequate. That is really the point that I am trying to make, and I hope that during the Committee stage the Government will look sympathetically at this aspect of the problem and will try to move towards some mechanism for adding to and supplementing the market value assessment. In doing so, I hope that they will also recognise that, in addition to losing his land, a farmer is also losing his business.

I do not wish to take up time referring to the tremendous upset when people lose their homes and are uprooted, but there is perhaps more of an upset in the case of farming than in any other vocation of which I know. I remember the words of the miller of Dee: I live by the mill and she is to me As parent, wife and child. I do not know much about millers, but I certainly know that that attitude is abundantly true of many farmers, though not perhaps to the same extent, because they have some regard to their parents, wives and children. But the affection for, the affinity with, and the emotion for their farm is something which it is perhaps difficult for anybody other than a farmer to appreciate. Farmers suffer both a tremendous business upset and a tremendous psychological upset when they lose their farms. We know that these hardships cannot be helped and cannot be escaped from. We know that compensation can never be completely adequate and cannot make up for all that is involved, but let us at least try to make the financial provisions as reasonable as we can.

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to welcome this Bill and to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on bringing it forward. I have always thought it very unfair, in the case of a motorway such as the M.4, that a person does not get compensation if he is not living actually on the line of the motorway. When one drives along the motorway and sees bedroom windows right up against it, one realises that there must be very great hardship. So I am glad that Her Majesty's Government have taken that aspect into consideration and that there will be compensation. That is all I want to say. I have felt very strongly about this matter for a long time, and if we are to build more ring roads in London and other cities people ought to be adequately compensated for the hardship involved.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, before we come to the Committee stage may I ask the Government three questions? I think that what I have in mind applies elsewhere, but these points have come to my attention through the recent compulsory purchase of land for a by-pass. Will the Bill enable an owner-occupier to get com pensation for the replacement value at the end of the public work, and not at the time of the contractors entering upon the job? Obviously, an owner-occupier cannot build locally while the disturbance is going on, and a farmhouse or a farm building such as a dairy must be sited strategically. If the nuisance lasts for five years, then the compensation should be the replacement value at the end of that time, not at the beginning. It seems to me that the period for exemption from capital gains tax should be extended to at least five years and that should also apply where a part, not the whole, of a man's farm is taken. If part of a man's land is taken, he can compensate himself by putting that money into farm buildings and other services. Is that possibility catered for in the Bill? Also, can the Bill be used to hasten more generous compensation for the repair of damage to buildings and amenities, while these nuisances or these jobs are going on?


My Lords, before my noble friend replies, may I follow those questions with a personal experience? I farm 350 acres and am about to lose 20 acres to the new M.20 Maidstone/Ashford by-pass. This will go through the best land on the farm and will take away 20 acres, instead of going by the poor, gault clay by the railway line which is also mine. I do not want financial compensation; I want 20 more acres to continue farming, or, as the last speaker said, money which I can put into the capitalisation of buildings straight away, in order to be more intensive as a result of having fewer acres. Also, I do not want to be liable to capital gains tax.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have joined in this debate, and for the welcome they have given to the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, said, it is doubtful whether anything we can do by way of legislation will fully compensate people for the loss and the disturbance they suffer, particularly farmers; and I am sure that that is so. Equally, I think it is unlikely that we shall ever be able to arrive at figures payable under any code of this kind which will satisfy everybody. What the Government have to do is to strike what they believe to be the right balance between those who are disturbed and affected and who suffer loss as a result of public works, on the one hand, and the taxpayers who have to foot the bill, on the other. In this particular case, as a result of all these measures taken together, we are adding another £70 million per annum to what is paid in compensation for public works that affect private rights and private living. I would claim, I think with justification, that that is a step forward, and a fairly substantial step forward; but I would agree with all noble Lords who have spoken that this certainly leaves room and scope for debate when we get to the Committee stage—and I think that, generally speaking, it is better to wait until that stage before we go into anything in much detail.

Dealing briefly with the speeches that noble Lords have made, I would gladly acknowledge the debt that we owe to the previous Administration for the preliminary work that they had already done in this field. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, asked me whether the maximum and minimum figures given in the Bill for home loss could be (I think this is the word he used) uplifted, and I would confirm that they can. That is Clause 28(2). The noble Lord asked about the obligations laid upon the authorities for sound insulation, and the distinction between the powers that will be conferred on high- way authorities to do things at their discretion, and the obligations they will have to make payment in cases where entitlement can be established. This will all be set out in the regulations provided for under Clause 19. The noble Lord made the point that there may be a case, and that in fact there often will be a case, in which compensation should start and be calculated from the beginning of the inconvenience that is caused by the construction itself; and that may often be so. On the other hand, there will be cases, I am sure he will agree, where the construction inconvenience may be minimal but the resulting traffic will be very heavy indeed. There may be other cases where the construction work will be very inconvenient and noisy but where the resulting change in the traffic may even lead to a slight reduction in noise. So you cannot tie the two closely together, as he was suggesting, but they both need to have provision made for them.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, queried market value, but neither of them suggested any other value which was as fair and as just as market value with various supplements.


My Lords, would the noble Lord give way? I did not so much query market value. I think I would accept that, broadly speaking, it must be the bare bones of any compensation that a man receives. What I said was that the grievous injustice always comes under the heading of "consequential loss", and it is in trying to get over the question of consequential loss and in trying to compensate that fairly, that we must look for any improvement.


My Lords, I think the Government agree with that, and that is why we have introduced three innovations here which will be of benefit to those concerned.


My Lords, may I also say this to the Minister, if I may intervene? I was not querying market value as a sound basis, but was saying, rather, that dealing with market values narrowly, as has been done up till now, is really inadequate, and that the supplementation ought to be much better.


Then, my Lords, we are in even more agreement than I thought, because we are all in agreement that market value is the right basis, and I would have the support of both noble Lords in resting on that and in seeking to deal with what is left by the innovations we are introducing by this Bill: namely, home loss, farm loss, disturbance payments and other payments of lesser significance. I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that all the problems here, as is the case with many other problems, are aggravated by inflation. That is why we are so much concerned to counter inflation and to beat it, because inasmuch as we succeed, the problems here, as everywhere else, will be alleviated. I would agree with both noble Lords that the Committee stage is the right moment at which to tackle Clause 43, but I can straight away confirm to (I think it is) the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that Clause 22 makes it possible to landscape on land which is not just an extension of the highway land but is detached from it—and this has been needed for a long time.

My Lords, I do not think I will go any further into any of the details at this stage. I will note the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, and the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton, and can assure them that we shall be able to return to these and go into them fully when we get to the Committee stage.

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