HL Deb 23 October 1973 vol 345 cc519-26

3.5 p.m.

THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE, NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE (LORD BELSTEAD) rose to move, That the Draft Land Acquisition and Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 1973, be approved. The noble Lord said: I beg to move the draft Land Acquisition and Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 1973, a copy of which was laid before this House on July 23. This Order is intended to give effect in Northern Ireland to the provisions of the recently enacted Land Compensation Act, which did not extend to Northern Ireland. The Land Compensation Act itself was based upon proposals contained in the White Paper entitled Development and Compensation—Putting People First (Cmnd. 5124) which was published on October 17, 1972. The Act, which was debated in very considerable detail in your Lordships' House, will have the effect of causing new or altered public works to fit better into their surroundings and will give people new rights of physical protection from the effects of new public works. It will also modernise the land compensation code in certain respects. When the White Paper was published in October, 1972, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland stated that the changes recommended in the White Paper would be adopted in Northern Ireland and that they would become effective there at the same time as in Great Britain.

A Study Group was set up to advise the Secretary of State on the legislative proposals which would be required to ensure that property owners and others in Northern Ireland would be treated no less generously than those in Great Britain as a result of the White Paper proposals. The recommendation was that the provisions contained in the Land Compensation Bill, as it had by then become, should be extended to acquisitions under Northern Ireland legislation by Northern Ireland authorities and that this should be done by an Order in Council. It was also recommended that such an Order should be made as soon as possible after the Land Compensation Bill was enacted because, among other things, certain provisions would have retrospective effect to the date of the White Paper.

The Order is therefore a very close adaptation of the Land Compensation Act to Northern Ireland circumstances, but it does differ from the Act in two respects. First, existing Northern Ireland law already covered most of the blight provisions in the Land Compensation Act. These are to be found in the Planning and Land Compensation Act (Northern Ireland) 1971 and the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1972. It is therefore only the completely new provisions in the Act which need to appear in this Order. This is true, for example, of Article 60, which enables the personal representatives of deceased persons to serve blight notices.

The other difference lies in Part VII of the Order, where vesting powers are being sought for the Ministry of Finance in Northern Ireland which will match those already held by the Department of the Environment under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 (Section 113). The granting of these powers to the Ministry of Finance in Northern Ireland will reduce the considerable delays and difficulties in acquiring sites at reasonable prices which are being faced at present by the Ministry of Finance when fulfilling its function of providing or acquiring buildings and suitable sites for Northern Ireland Government Departments.

My Lords, I cannot claim that there has been the same public pressure in Northern Ireland in respect of this Order as there was here in respect of the various legislative stages of the Land Compensation Bill. But interested bodies in Northern Ireland followed the progress of the Bill very closely, and when this Order in Council was being adapted and prepared the views were sought of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Ulster Farmers' Union. I beg to move that the Order be approved.

Moved, That the Draft Land Acquisition and Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 1973, be approved.—(Lord Belstead.)

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be very appreciative of the care with which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has explained the purpose of this Order. As he said, it is concerned with the application of the Land Compensation Act to Northern Ireland. That Act, as your Lordships know, received the Royal Assent on May 23 this year. Throughout the passage of the Bill we on this side of the House made it quite clear that we supported and welcomed the measure in principle although we had criticisms to make of the details. What we said on the Bill itself applies similarly to the Order: we welcome it, while having some difference of view on particular points. However, the time to debate the details was during the passage of the original Act and on this side of the House we did our best—and I hope it was constructive and helpful—to draw attention to what we then thought were the deficiencies of the Bill and the ways in which it might be improved. This afternoon I shall content myself with making a few points on the application of the provisions to the particular situation of Northern Ireland.

First, it is vital that the rights to compensation created by this measure are brought to the attention of those who might be eligible to claim those rights. The noble Lord said that there had not been the same pressures in Northern Ireland as there were in this country at the time the Bill was proceeding through the two Houses. It is therefore all the more important that the attention of those who have a claim should be drawn to the benefits that they may receive as a con- sequence of this legislation. What we have to remember is that the provisions of this Order include some that are to be back-dated, as I understand it, to October 17, 1969; that is, three years before the publication of the White Paper that was the basis of the Act. Therefore, unless the contents of the Order are publicised, many people will have given up hope of compensation as a result of schemes carried out in the recent past. Furthermore, the citizens of Northern Ireland have undergone the confusion caused by the dramatic changes in their system of regional government as well as the total reorganisation of local government. I am told that in this situation many individuals are unclear as to their rights and how to claim them. For these reasons, I hope there will be a comprehensive publicity campaign on the measures in this Order and that the procedures for claiming compensation will be kept as simple and cheap as possible.

I turn now to some particular projects that might be expected to involve the application of these new provisions. Two recent road developments in Northern Ireland have been the £1 million motorway by-pass of Randalstown and the £7 million highway along the Belfast Lough foreshore. I take it that these developments will come within the ambit of the provisions in the Order. I should like to ask the Minister whether we can be assured that people affected by these two schemes will be notified of the new provisions, and whether any estimate has been made of the compensation that will have to be paid out.

Two other developments that will get under way shortly are the Belfast Urban Motorway, phase one of which will link the M.1 and the M.2, and the six-mile section of the M.2 motorway between Glengormley and Templepatrick. Here again, I hope that people who are liable to be affected by the developments will be notified about their rights as soon as possible, including that provision which allows payment of 90 per cent of the compensation to be made in advance. And again, what estimates have been made of the cost of the new provisions in so far as they apply to these developments?

The Belfast ring road is especially controversial in Northern Ireland. One understands that the cost is estimated at substantially more than £20 million. It would aid informed debate on the merits and demerits of the ring road if we could be told what additional cost will be added by the application of the provisions of this Order and what is the latest estimate for the cost of the motorway as a whole.

My final point relates to the total cost of the package of measures. In the debate on the Land Compensation Bill it was said that the measures would cost of the order of £65 million in a normal full year for England, Wales and Scotland. In practice, because of the grant arrangements, about £50 million will be carried by central Government, £12 million by local authorities and £3 million by other statutory undertakings. May I ask the Minister—and I hope he will be able to give me this information —what the comparable figures are for Northern Ireland? That is, what is the total cost in a full year liable to be, and how will the costs be spread? It is valuable to have an opportunity to put these questions, but I conclude by repeating that we welcome the Order. It shifts the balance between the needs of the community for certain developments and the rights of the individual to fair compensation in the direction of the individual and therefore the Order has our broad support.

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, for the attention which he has been good enough to pay to this Order, and for accepting that its objective is to follow the recent Bill which went through both Houses of Parliament and, as I said in moving this Order, received considerable attention in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord has therefore turned his attention to some details which flow from this Order, and I will do my best to reply briefly to him. When he shows concern for the difficulties of the people in Northern Ireland in representing their case in whatever may be troubling them in either their private or public life, I understand entirely what the noble Lord says. But I am sure he will be pleased to know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has particularly asked those serving him in Northern Ireland, his Ministers, to ensure that all new members of the Assembly are received promptly and that any case which they wish to put is dealt with thoroughly. The district councils, which took up their duties from October I this year, are, so far as I know, doing a good and thorough job. I am to have the good fortune to-morrow to pay a visit to the first meeting of the Association of Education and Library Boards formed only three weeks after the coming into being of the district councils. That is the situation at the moment in that respect in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord asked me about the general publicity which will be given for what are, after all, detailed points in the Order. I think I am right in saying that Part III of the Order is retrospective, as the noble Lord said. to October 17, 1969. I think I am right in saying that Part IV is retrospective to October 17, 1972, and that Part II. which I omitted to mention, is also retrospective to 1969. So I understand entirely why the noble Lord has raised this matter of publicity. We are going to attempt to see that general publicity, in the form of newspaper advertisements, articles in professional magazines, leaflets on the question-and-answer formula and direct communication with bodies such as the Ulster Farmers' Union and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, is undertaken. In addition, direct communication with known interested individuals is obviously necessary. For example, the roads division of the Ministry of Development and the Housing Executive are at this moment identifying persons who they believe would benefit under the provisions of the Order, and they are trying to do this from their acquisition files.

The total extra cost on roads as a result of the Order is estimated to be in the region of a quarter of a million pounds for a full year. A large part of this expenditure could arise on phase I of the Belfast urban motorway. The estimate is global—which is not what the noble Lord asked me, I know—and is expressed as a percentage up to 10 per cent. of land acquisition estimates. I am very sorry therefore that figures for individual motorways are not available. The figure is intended to cover the other motorways which the noble Lord mentioned, Randalstown, and foreshore motorway and the Glengormley and Templepatrick motorway.

The noble Lord particularly mentioned the Belfast urban motorway or ring road. The estimated cost in 1966 of the whole urban motorway project was £77 million, including £24 million for land. The scheme is to be carried out in three stages: phase 1 is fully approved and will cost approximately £40 million, comprising £30 million for works and £10 million for land. To date, £7 million has been spent on land, including 1,500 houses required and about 300 business premises. My Lords, the total cost of the Order—that is, outside rates and for other things as well—we estimate at about £500,000 per annum, will fall almost entirely on Central Government resources. Under the new system of local government in Northern Ireland, district councils will incur virtually no expenditure under this Order and statutory undertakers will rarely be affected. That is the reason why I am giving the noble Lord the answer in this way. Although he was good enough to give me notice of the questions that he proposed to ask, I am afraid it has not been easy for me to answer him entirely in the way he would have wished. For instance, it is not easy to estimate with any precision, the cost of the new proposals in the Order, but it is thought, as I say, that it will be about £500,000 over the next year or two. The reasons for my apparent vagueness, for which I apologise, include of course the difficulty of knowing what claims may he made, for example, for injurious affection under Part III of the Order including such things as noise insulation, and acquisition of land in connection with roads. Again, one does not know how many claims for home loss payments will be made.

My Lords, I have answered the noble Lord's questions as best I can. May I say, in conclusion, that I hope the Order will commend itself to your Lordships, along with the recent Land Compensation Act which was closely debated in this House. The Order takes several new initiatives to try to solve the conflict of what the White Paper, Putting People First. called the conflict of right with right; namely, the public's right to new developments and the private person's right to enjoy life undisturbed. The right in Article 4 to compensation for injurious affection is, after all, new; the benefit for displacement from houses, from land and simply from occupation is new, and so are the severance provisions in respect of compulsory purchase and of blight. I would hope that the Articles relating more specifically to Northern Ireland—namely, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive Articles towards the end of Part IV, will be both beneficial and effective. With those few words, my Lords, I hope that the Order will now commend itself to your Lordships.

On Question, Motion agreed to.