HL Deb 08 May 1973 vol 342 cc375-88

Section (requirement to surrender croft etc.: right to opt for notice of entry compensation),as modified, in its application to statutory small tenants.

Resumption of holding of statutory small tenant; right to opt for notice of entry compensation.

(1) This section has effect where—

  1. (a) the person in occupation of an agricultural holding is a statutory small tenant and resumption of the holding is authorised by an order of the Scottish Land Court under section 32(15) of the Small Landholders (Scotland) Act 1911: and
  2. (b) the resumption is so authorized—
    1. (i) after an acquiring authority have served notice to treat on the landlord of the holding or, being an authority possessing compulsory purchase powers, have agreed to acquire his interest in the holding; and
    2. (ii) where the Court have been satisfied under the said section 32(15) that the landlord desires to resume the holding for a reasonable purpose which is a purpose other than an agricultural purpose.

(2) If the statutory small tenant, resumption of whose holding is authorised by such an order, elects that this subsection shall apply to the order and gives up possession of the holding to the acquiring authority on or before the date on which the holding is authorised to be resumed in accordance with the order—

  1. (a) section 114 of the Lands Clauses Consolidation (Scotland) Act 1845 (compensation for tenants from year to year, etc.) and section 12 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968 shall have effect as if resumption of the holding had not been so authorised and the acquiring authority had taken possession of the holding in pursuance of a notice of entry under paragraph 3 of Schedule 2 to the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) (Scotland) Act 1947 on the day before that on which the holding is authorised to be resumed in accordance with the order; and
  2. (b) any provision of the said section 32(15) relating to compensation to a statutory small tenant shall not have effect in relation to the resumption of the holding by reason of the order.

(3) No election under subsection (2) above shall be made or, if already made, continue to have effect in relation to any land to which such an order relates if, before the date on which the holding is authorised to be resumed in accordance with the order, an acquiring authority take possession of that land in pursuance of an enactment providing for the taking of possession of land compulsorily.

(4) Any election under subsection (2) above shall be made by notice in writing served on the acquiring authority not later than the date on which possession of the holding is given up.

(5) This section shall have effect in relation to an order authorising resumption of part of a holding as it has effect in relation to an order authorising resumption of an entire holding and references to a holding shall be construed accordingly.

(6) The reference in subsection (1)(b)(i) above to a notice to treat served by an acquiring authority includes a reference to a notice to treat deemed to have been so served under any of the provisions mentioned in section 52(5) above.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 47, which introduces a new Schedule which, in spite of its rather formidable appearance, does no more than substitute in the new clause inserted after Clause 58 references to statutory small tenants in Scotland for all references to crofters. I have already explained to your Lordships the position of these tenants, with their special statutory provisions. Part I of the Schedule makes the necessary applications to the tenants, and we thought it would be helpful to set out in Part II how the new clause would read as applied to them. So that is there for clarity; the clauso itself forms the second Part. I beg to move.

Schedule 1 [Application of Part V to Scotland]:

LORD POLWARTH moved Amendment No. 48: Page 90, line 9, after ("which") insert ("(a)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 48 I will at the same time speak to Amendment No. 49, with your Lordships' agreement. These Amendments extend the scope of the blight provisions in Scotland to include land surrounded by or adjoining a housing treatment area. While this will usually be an area in which buildings are to be demolished, it is possible that blight could in some circumstances arise as a result of an area being designated for improvement, and the Amendments cater for this possibility. I beg to move.


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 49.

Amendment moved—

Page 90, line 12, at end insert— ("or (b) is land surrounded by or adjoining an area declared as aforesaid to be a housing treatment area, whether or not the resolution provides that any of the buildings in that area are to be demolished.").—(Lord Polwarth.)

LORD POLWARTH moved Amendment No. 50: Page 91, leave out lines 31 to 51.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 50, and in so doing arrive at the finishing post some three lengths behind my noble friend. This Amendment is the other half of the transplanting operation which resulted in the new clause after Clause 63. I think that speaks for itself, and I accordingly beg to move.


My Lords, this might be an appropriate moment for me to say that I regret that, at a time when the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, was happily engaged in Scotland and under the belief that all these matters were being dealt with by Lord Sandford, he should have had to come down here today. However, he must accept that I have not given him a difficult passage.


My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales that they, having been informed of the purport of the Land Compensation Bill, have consented to place their interests so far as they are affected by the Bill at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

8.25 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass, but before this complex and intricate Bill leaves the House I should like to express the Government's appreciation for the helpful spirit in which the whole House has approached it. The legislation we have been dealing with is very complex. The whole Bill has been subject to a very large number of Amendments and to an excessive number at this late stage, for which I repeat my apologies. As I say, my noble friends and I are most grateful for the patience and the forbearance which the House has shown, and for the help it has given. I should particularly like to thank noble Lords opposite—the noble Lord, Lord Hughes; the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy; and the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill—for the co-operation they have accorded us at all stages. The Bill will undoubtedly confer many new but overdue benefits upon private individuals whose lives and property are affected adversely by public works, and I believe it does so in a manner which is both generous and equitable. For this reason, I am happy to be able to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Sandford.)


My Lords, we on this side appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has just said, and we thank him for it. The Bill leaves this House very different from the measure it was when it was introduced here, and I should like to say that dealing with it has not been easy. We have had to take considerable spates of Amendments with very little warning. I never thought that I should have to take this Bill through its Committee stage to the extent that I had to, and I approached it with some trepidation. I wish to say how appreciative I have been of the courteous manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and his noble friends have dealt with the Amendments that we have advanced from this side of the House. I have said that the noble Lord and his noble friends have always been courteous. I think they have been too seldom willing to make concessions that we on this side would have appreciated. I am grateful for the acceptance of such Amendments as the Government have accepted from us. I feel, I suppose not surprisingly, that the Bill would have been the better had more of them been accepted.

My Lords, I have a feeling that following me there will be one or two of your Lordships who will still be not satisfied that we have on the Record in regard to certain aspects of this Bill as much information as could be desired. Because I know that those noble Lords are going to follow me, I certainly do not wish to take up your Lordships' time any more. I repeat that those of us on this side who have played any part in the passage of this Bill have been appreciative of the courtesy that has always been shown; and for our part we have endeavoured, in our approach, to be constructive throughout.

8.28 p.m.


My Lords, I should like at the outset to associate myself very sincerely with what my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy has just said about the Government Front Bench. They are very difficult to deal with. They put us in a good humour and they advance arguments in a most admirable form, and it is difficult to make certain that one is not over-persuaded by them. I always do my best.

My Lords, I have been asked, at this, the last stage of the Bill, to raise three separate points as they affect different sectors of our community. Two of them have already been extensively argued and one of them has been dealt with, though far from as fully as the other two. Two of them deal with that Part of the Bill, Clauses 64 to 79, which deals with blight notices, and one of them deals with Clause 29, which is the clause which deals with home loss payments. To keep my argument in order, obviously I should start with that point which relates to Clause 29. Tenants of licensed premises, in the circumstances which I shall seek to describe in a moment, are put in a very difficult position indeed. We are apt to call the tenant of licensed premises a landlord, but are quite wrong in so doing; he is a tenant. In most cases he has a tenancy agreement for the public house or licensed premises concerned, but a number of tenancy agreements in existence between the publican and the brewer (who is the owner of the premises) contain a provision which is, broadly speaking, in similar form. I have specimens in my hand and I should like to read out the relevant part of one specimen which comes from the normal tenancy agreement between a very well known brewery company and its tenants.

It is provided in that agreement as follows: Immediately upon the service of a notice to treat with a view to the compulsory acquisition of the interest of the landlord therein the tenant will continue to trade in and upon the same premises only with the consent of the landlords. The effect of the law on that is that when a notice to treat is served, the licensee, who theretofore has been an ordinary tenant in law of the licensed premises, is converted into tenant at will or a licensee—a licensee in the strict legal sense. He ceases to be a tenant and has no further interest as such. That puts him in an extremely vulnerable position in relation to the provisions of this Bill and of other Acts which affect this provision.

In the first place, it has the result that he no longer has any right or expectation of acquiring a new licence under Part II of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1964. Secondly, inasmuch as he has become a licensee or a tenant at will and no longer a tenant with an interest, he is disqualified from obtaining a home loss payment under Clause 29 of this Bill. Thirdly, I am told—and I was given an example today—that some housing authorities of local authorities decline to accept on their housing lists persons who were licensees of licensed premises. How often that happens I do not know, but I am told that it does from time to time happen. Therefore, if this provision remains in the contracts between the owner of licensed premises and the licensee, the licensee's position becomes very weak and vulnerable. He may have to leave the licensed premises; he gets no home loss payment; he has no hope of a further tenancy and he may find it difficult to get accepted on to the housing lists of a local authority.

That matter was raised. It has been considered by Ministers and it has been put to the Government that it would be a fair thing to provide in effect that a provision of that sort should be ineffective to prevent, in so far as the licensee's right is concerned, home loss payments under Clause 29 of the Bill. Ministers have indicated that they feel there is a difficulty in acceding to that view, although I think that they have made it clear that they feel some considerable sympathy for the position of the licensee who is held upon an agreement in that form.

I do not seek now to re-argue the whole problem. I have stated it. I am told that there are now negotiations in progress between the Brewers' Society and organisations representing licensed victuallers, with a view to the removal from the tenancy agreements of licensees of the type of provision which I have read out to your Lordships a few moments ago. If that can be done and if, by removal of those words, the licensee can remain an ordinary tenant, whether from year to year or whatever may be the period of the tenancy, his right to a home loss payment under Clause 29 is preserved and his position will be improved.

In addressing your Lordships at this late stage of the Bill I can in the circumstances do no more than ask the Government Ministers to indicate, if they feel able to do so, that it would be their view that fair treatment of the licensees should result in the elimination from their tenancy agreements of the type of wording that I read out. It would have the effect of putting them in the same position as other tenants. At the moment they are not in the same position; they are in a very much weaker position, and it is unfair that that should be so. I do not know which noble Lord is going to reply from the Front Bench but it would be of the greatest help to those representing the interests of licensed victuallers if the Minister felt able to indicate at any rate his agreement that it would be right and proper, by the elimination through negotiation of that type of wording from the tenancy agreements, to put licensees of public houses in the same position vis-à-vis this Bill,vis-à-vis, for example, the Landlord and Tenants Act 1954, as are other tenants of business premises. That is my first point.

I then go to the point which relates to blight notices. They have been fully argued already, both in another place and in your Lordships' House. I should not usefully be occupying your Lordships' time, I think, if I did more than simply to place on record the unease and disappointment that I and many of my noble friends on this side of the House feel at the position as it is left in the Bill having regard to the various changes which have been made and the form of the Bill as it has emerged. The first of the two points that I wish to raise relates to Clause 68(6). That subsection would repeal Section 11 of the New Towns Act, 1965. It would, by so doing, remove from the owners of land and the occupiers of land within designated areas, areas designated for the purposes of a New Town Corporation, the right to serve after seven years a blight notice under Section 196 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, in relation to land or premises with which they are concerned.

The point which I would seek to place on record and which I submit is to be regretted is this: that the change made by the Government with regard to the legislation affecting blight notices takes away the right which has already accrued to a number of persons affected by designations of areas for the purpose of New Town Corporations. Under the existing legislation, under the provisions of that section of the 1965 Act which it is sought to repeal, the owner or occupier of premises affected by a designation notice is entitled, once seven years have gone by, to serve his blight notice under Section 196 of the 1971 Act and he need not, once seven years have gone by, prove that the land with which he is concerned is affected by blight. That is a technical term in the Statutes with which your Lordships will be familiar. He need prove nothing. All he does is to serve his blight notice and he then can enjoy all the rights which the service of a blight notice confers on him. He can require the acquiring authority to purchase his land. That is the main provision. The acquiring authority cannot in those circumstances serve on him a counter notice challenging the blight notice which the owner or occupier of the land has served.

I am conscious of the fact that the Government reply will be as follows: that in Clauses 67 to 79 we have introduced a very large number of changes in the law relating to blight notices; we have brought into the scope of that law a number of people who were not within it before; we have made it possible to serve blight notices long before the seven years have expired; we have, in other words, conferred on a very large number of persons rights which did not exist before. Let all that be accepted. I welcome that. It nevertheless remains, that there are a number of people in this country who thought that they were entitled to exercise a right, seven years having elapsed, and who now will find, when this Bill is passed, that they have had that right taken away from them and that nothing has been put in its place. I would have thought that always in our legislation we very much dislike the idea of taking a right or material property from any citizen or non-citizen of this country unless we give compensation or put some corresponding advantage in its place. The Government are not doing this in the case of rights which have accrued after the expiry of seven years. I respectfully submit that that is a matter of regret. It should not be done. If that right is taken away, something should be put in its place.

The provision in Clause 78(6) is expressed not to apply in relation to blight notices served before the Act comes into force; but one knows that many people do not follow the process of legislation as closely as all that. They do not realise that if they give in their notice before the Act comes into force it is valid, but, because they have not read the proceedings in the two Houses of Parliament, that if they wait until the Act is in force they will lose it; in particular among those people who do not know that are those who are more careless of their interests than others. I submit that that is wrong. That is the second point I should like to make, and I should be grateful if the Minister would consider it.

The third point I should like to make is also one which has been argued. It was argued both in the other House and also in your Lordships' House, and I simply repeat the basis of it in order to place on record that, in my submission, the matter is left in an unsatisfactory position. It relates to ecclesiastical property. Under the blight notice provisions ecclesiastical property which is excused from the obligation to have rates charged on it does not come within the scope of that property in relation to which blight notices can be served. I take the case of a church, and for the purpose of my argument the case of a particular one, a Methodist church at Thornaby, which was much discussed in the other place. The position with regard to that church is that it is on the edge of the A.66 development in Tees-side. The acquiring authority has acquired all the land surrounding that church and the church is left there in splendid isolation. Its congregation has either gone or, with the shift of population, is rapidly going, and the church is becoming derelict.

Some three years ago those responsible for the church were advised by the local officers concerned that it would be unwise to expend much for the purpose of its upkeep or repair. Without a congregation, left as I say in isolation, the residential buildings having disappeared from around it, the church is becoming derelict. It is difficult to think that it would be wise to expend money on maintaining it; worse than that, it would become the prey of vandals who would go in and out of it and proceed to do the damage which, unfortunately, vandals frequently do in modern times. As I have said, the ecclesiastical authorities responsible cannot serve a blight notice under the blight provisions because the church does not qualify. If compensation is to be paid, it has to be paid under the provisions of Rule (5) of Section 5 of the Land Compensation Act, 1961.

That rule provides that when you are assessing the value of property for which there is no ready market, because of the purpose for which it is used—and that really applies to this Methodist church—you have to take the reinstatement value; provided always that the Lands Tribunal is satisfied that there will be reinstatement in some other place. If that is not shown there is no reinstatement value paid. Years may go before the site of this church is actually required for the purpose of the A.66 development. By that time the church may be a derelict wreck, and its value for the purposes of reinstatement may be nil. The net result of that history would simply be that a church which has ministered to the needs of a full congregation is empty and goes to rack and ruin. No compensation is payable to the ecclesiastical authorities responsible in respect of it. If they wish to reinstate it in some other place they will get nothing by way of reinstatement value because the reinstatement value will be nil. To rebuild a wreck is not worth while.

My Lords, that is a situation which, in my submission, is highly unsatisfactory. It was pressed on the Government in the other place and Ministers showed some sympathy for the position. They have since written explaining their views. I think that I can probably summarise the explanation they give by saying that there are other types of buildings which may be in like case. If that is the view of the Government, I submit that it is a very unsatisfactory answer. The mere fact that you do two or three injustices is not a reason why you should be excused for doing one major injustice.

Those are the three points that I desire to raise. I hope that the Government will be able to give some thought to them and at least exercise their good offices with local authorities to see to it, in so far as an injustice of that sort can be prevented or lessened, that it will be, and that they will use all the influence they have in that regard to further that process.

8.47 p.m.


My Lords, I hesitate to delay your Lordships' House at this late hour, but I shall be brief. I shall be the briefer because the substance of what I have to say has already been laid before your Lordships by my noble and learned friend Lord Stow Hill. But I am under commission from the Main Committee of the Church of England and from the Chapel Committee of the Methodist Church to express concern about the condition of the particular church of which the details have already been given, which indicate a process which is deplorable and a process which I would commend to your Lordships' House as one that should at least receive very serious treatment.

If I speak, I ought, I suppose, to declare an interest. As a Methodist Minister I am concerned with the Methodist Church. My interest is not commercial but ecclesiastical, though I suppose that if all the Methodist churches were closed I should be temporarily unemployed. The fact of the matter is that, as my noble and learned friend Lord Stow Hill correctly pointed out, if you set a church as a kind of withering palm tree in the middle of an ever-increasing desert, then sooner or later you will reduce the value of that church to the point at which ultimately, as the Secretary of our Chapel Department says quite truly, the property will fall into the hands of the local authority for market value and not reinstatement. It is perfectly true that those who have entered upon this programme of delaying acquisition of church property in Thornaby have expressed the idea that the church is of some precious value and therefore should be maintained as long as possible. This is quite erroneous. There is no concept as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will know, of prevenient grace which protects the authority of the Church in conditions where it is almost isolated from the kind of physical and social contacts which would make it an effective instrument for the purposes for which it was built.

I draw the attention of your Lordships to this matter, even at this late hour—and I have been sitting patiently in order to do so—because this seemed the appropriate moment at which I could ventilate my deep concern and express a certain umbrage at the assumption authoritatively given that if, for instance, special treatment were accorded to a Methodist church, similar treatment would have to be accorded to a bingo club. A bingo club forsooth! To equate the value of a church with a bingo club is a monstrosity of speech as well as of substance. I entirely repudiate it and take considerable umbrage at the very thought, as have my ecclesiastical friends. I do not know whether anything can be done at this late hour, but it is a simple fact that if you separate a palm tree from the oasis waters, sooner or later it will wither and die. If you take a church and leave it isolated within an area which has already been desolated that church, inevitably, will die.

Some of your Lordships may feel that the value of a church is perhaps exaggerated in the minds of some of us who are professionally associated with it. But I happen to know the circumstances of this particular church and I would not feel justified, even at this late hour, in leaving this matter without ventilating my sense of grievance and the hope that even now the Minister may give us some little assurance that in these matters a local authority will not proceed to demolish the value of a church by isolating it so that finally it will be dead and there will be no reinstatement value that can be attached to it. That, I am sure, is not an intention of the Government: it is the effect of a policy which is one that I deeply deplore.


My Lords, we are dealing with the complexities of this complex Bill right up to the last moment. I am afraid the noble Lord, Lord Soper, is perfectly right in thinking that nothing can be done about any of these matters on this Bill, and indeed the last matter that he raised falls outside the scope of the Bill. I will deal with the matters in the order in which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, raised them. In respect of licensees, I confirm that the Brewers' Society and the National Federation of Licensed Victuallers are in touch with each other and pursuing what I am sure is the most fruitful course of action; namely, that which the noble Lord outlined. As I am not party to the discussions, I cannot give the noble Lord any further information about it, but I will find out how they are getting on, and as soon as I am in a position to do so I will let him know what conclusion they have arrived at.

With regard to the business of blight and the New Towns, I do not want to go over the ground again at this stage. All I will do is to repeat the assurance that I gave, I think on the Committee stage, that the Development Corporations will of course be expected to deal sympathetically with any reasonable cases of blight which fall outside the new statutory framework. We have already issued a circular to them, and there will be pamphlets available to the public making clear to them their rights. I will, however, read the noble Lord's words carefully, and if I find that there is anything further I can add to what I have already said, I will write to him.

My Lords, as to the churches, the blight provisions and the injurious affection of land acquisition provisions and powers in the Bill are all tied to the classes of individual most likely to suffer personal hardship from the effects of prospective public development. Institutions such as churches (and I am afraid, although I can see the distinction between churches and bingo halls, they might fall into the same class for this purpose), although they undoubtedly face difficulties, cannot be said to suffer hardship of the same kind as personal individuals. Nor are they in any worse posititon than other bodies outside these categories. I must confirm that to bring churches within the blight provisions would seriously damage the whole concept on which the provisions that we have been discussing are based. As to the particular case of the Thornaby Methodist Church, my right honourable friend the Minister for Local Government and Development is dealing with this matter, and I will see whether the correspondence he is having both with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and the Member of Parliament can be relayed in any form either to the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, or to the noble Lord, Lord Soper, so that I can keep them both informed.

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

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