§ 6.8 p.m.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Young.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to. House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The Earl of Shannon in the Chair.]
§ Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5 [Cost of urgent repair of unoccupied listed buildings]:
§ THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF SHANNON)
I must advise the Committee that if Amendment No. 1 is agreed to I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 2.
§ LORD LYELL moved Amendment No. 1:
§ Page 14, leave out from beginning of line 10 to the end of subsection (9) and insert—
("subsection (7) of this section.
(7) The provisions of subsections (6) and (7) of section 104 of this Act (which make provision for appeals against compulsory acquisition of listed buildings) shall with any necessary modifications apply to notices given under this section as if references therein to compulsory purchase orders were references to notices given under this section.")
§ The noble Lord said: In the unfortunate absence of my noble friend Lord Dundee, I have been asked to put this Amendment to the noble Baroness on behalf of several of us in Scotland who are concerned about particular aspects of Clause 5 of the Bill. In particular, we are worried by an aspect of the clause which gives rise to difficulties so far as the listing of buildings is concerned. There are several of us in Scotland, particularly among the members of the Scottish Landowners' Confederation, who are 1287 somewhat perturbed by the very large local authorities which came into force on May 1, 1974. It is for this reason that we want to insert the safeguard which seeks to prevent the unnecessary listing of historical monuments and buildings by employees of a local authority, or various other bodies which the landowners feel does not have sufficient historical or architectural interest in the community in general.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but I think he is speaking to Amendment No. 2 and not to Amendment No. 1. Is it in order to continue with Amendment No. 2 although it has not been called?
THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I beg to move Amendment No. 1. This is a Bill which has received a very warm welcome, and quite rightly so. It is a very big step forward and is a great contribution from this country towards European Architectural Heritage Year, which is due to take place next year under the dynamic leadership of Lady Dartmouth. This Bill is a very valuable contribution, but I must say that I think it is marred by Clause 5, which I feel gives powers which are extensive and unlimited to a degree which is not really necessary for the main purposes with which the Bill is concerned.
There are, of course, safeguards in the Bill. I am afraid that I was not able to be here for the Second Reading, but I read with care the explanation of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I think that she was aware that this is a matter of concern but, I am worried lest this should arouse in certain people's minds a measure of anxiety as to the way in which the Bill might be operated, though many people would otherwise wholly welcome the general purposes which the Bill is intended to attain. In her explanation, the noble Baroness said that there were certain things "that are envisaged", and she said, "what is likely to happen". One of the catcalls which we frequently hear in this House is, "If this is so, put it in the Bill".
As the Bill stands, a local authority or the Secretary of State can do repairs to a listed house or, in certain cases, to an unlisted house, to an unlimited extent and thereafter recover the whole cost from the proprietor. This Amendment suggests 1288 that there should be some reference to the sheriff as an independent person, to see whether this is a fair and proper way of meeting this expenditure. The limitations are that it should be necessary, which should not be too difficult; that it should be a reasonable cost—which is difficult, because it is very hard to know what is a reasonable cost nowadays—and that it should not involve hardship. I do not know what is the latest definition in law of "hardship", but, at all events, I suppose it means that one cannot be ruined.
Another curious point is that the Secretary of State himself can order repairs to a property. I can see that there are certain advantages in getting a property repaired by somebody else. There is an advantage in not having to do it oneself. But the real safeguard here rests in an appeal to the Secretary of State. So that one would have the very curious situation arising in some cases of the Secretary of State acting in an administrative capacity on one side, and thereafter acting in a quasi-judicial capacity in relation to an appeal from a decision which he had himself reached. It is a rather thin form of protection.
What has been said—and this is a matter which I must ask the Government to tell us about—is that there will be a circular describing the manner in which the powers under the Bill will be operated. I wonder whether the noble Lord who will speak for the Government will tell us what is intended? Could we have a sight of the circular? Is it intended to take into consultation those who might be interested in seeing the circular? I am moving the Amendment because I think that some amendment will be required in due course.
We are told that if an Amendment is moved the Bill will be lost. I do not think the House wants to lose the Bill, but I feel that there is too wide a gap here in the Bill as drafted, and that in the future we shall need a rather more precise definition of how these powers are to be carried out. However, at the moment, what I am asking for is that we should know pretty fully how the Government will deal with this matter by circular. This is important and if something of the sort is not done the Bill may receive a measure of opposition from people who would otherwise warmly 1289 welcome the whole concept underlying it. It is with that in mind that I beg to move.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
May I say how much I welcome the spirit in which my noble friend Lord Selkirk has moved the Amendment. I am very glad that he supports the principles of the Bill, which I think received the support of everyone who spoke on Second Reading. I hope that on Second Reading I recognised the concern that had been expressed. When I went on to explain how I saw Clause 5 operating in practice, it was to indicate something of the reality of the situation in which a local authority might decide to move in to do vital repairs to a building and then charge the owner. Of course, as this power has not existed before, one can only act on a hypothesis. But I said that to allay the fears of those who had expressed anxiety about the clause.
I think that a specific fear which people have is that the Secretary of State has the power to list a building and is also the person to whom an owner of a listed building would appeal against a charge which was being made to him for repairs to a building. I have considered this point but, as I understand the position, this is not a new matter in law. When a building is listed, it is of course listed by the Secretary of State on the advice of either the Historic Buildings Council in England or the Historic Buildings Council in Scotland, and certainly if an owner or someone else wished to demolish a listed building there could well be an inquiry which, at the end of the day, would be settled by the Secretary of State. Although it may seem so, I do not believe that this clause in itself would be a new departure in law.
On the point about the circular, in answer to the fears raised by the Churches, the Government gave an undertaking in another place that there would be a circular to local authorities setting out the circumstances in which they see this power being used. Before such a circular was issued there would, as always, be extensive consultations with local authorities and with other interested parties. I hope that that will give some measure of satisfaction to my noble friend and that with that explanation he will feel able to withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, directed a particular question to the Government. I am not at all sure that his remarks would not have been better directed to leaving out Clause 5. However, I will answer the point he raised. Yes, it is the intention to issue a circular letter. That letter will stress that it is only emergency repairs to make a building wind and weather proof that are intended. I should have thought that there would be little doubt as to the desirability of ensuring that repairs of this nature would be undertaken.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ THE LORD BISHOP OF LONDON
Before the noble Lord sits down, can he say what authority a circular has? One of the fears of those whom I as Chairman of the Churches Main Committee am representing is that however many circulars you may have, those who have to take action have to act in accordance with the provisions of the Act. If, indeed, a circular has such authority that those to whom it is addressed must observe what is required of them, that will ease our anxieties considerably. It has been suggested to us—and therefore I put this question to the noble Lord—that however many circulars you may have a district valuer, for instance, may feel it necessary to go to the Act and use the powers provided for him there, however much he may be persuaded to do one thing or the other by a circular. Could the noble Lord explain exactly the authority of a circular?
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
I should have thought that the circular depended entirely on the provisions of the Act, and that the provisions of Clause 5 were reassuring. A circular, of itself, cannot have any legal authority. I think a quick glance at Clause 5 will show that there is a right of appeal to the Secretary of State and I would say that the position was very well protected within the Act. The circular is for guidance, and if local authorities act in a way contrary to the Act then, clearly, as I said, there is a right of appeal and I have no doubt that the Secretary of State can be relied upon to act within the provisions of the legislation.
§ THE LORD BISHOP OF LONDON
The noble Baroness has said that this 1291 will be for immediate repairs only, but as I observed in the debate on Second Reading, immediate repairs for a church may be exceedingly expensive. They may necessitate putting up a great deal of scaffolding and considerable repairs may be needed, although they may be superficial. I am wondering, for instance, how the Minister would interpret,that recovery of it would cause him hardship".I suppose anybody could say that it was a hardship to him to have to spend a lot of money on a building on which he did not particularly want to spend it. It seems to me to be very wide, and we would greatly welcome some assurance that the Church, for example, will not be placed in a position where it has to spend a large sum of money on a building which it may not even want and which may be very expensive to repair, even superficially.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
May I make two comments on the fears which have been expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London? In the case of a church requiring an enormous amount of scaffolding to repair the roof, as he quite rightly said this would obviously be an enormous expense. I think the reality of the situation would be that a local authority would be extremely hesitant to embark on such an undertaking. As he will appreciate, in the first instance the expense will fall directly on the local authority; it will have to pay the bill and then will have to try to get the money out of the owner of the building.
The right reverend Prelate will be aware of the letter that was written by the Minister to a Member in another place, in answer to queries he raised in the Committee stage of this Bill. I think I am right in saying that it is not the intention of this clause that an owner should be put to great expense, and I think we should both agree that major repairs to a large church roof would be a great expense. So I think on both those grounds the reality of the situation is that local authorities will not rush to undertake major repairs of this nature.
§ LORD DUNCAN-SANDYS
It seems to me that this clause is really a reasonable one. Also, I think it is reasonable to assume that the Government, in issuing this circular, will take into account the 1292 anxieties which have been expressed in this debate. Many years ago, as Minister of Housing and Local Government, I issued many circulars of this kind. These are, in essence, guidance to local authorities and, on the whole, local authorities are glad to have that guidance. It is not always easy to interpret not only the letter but also the spirit of a law passed by Parliament. If it were found that there was a general or extensive disregard for the guidance given in a circular by the Government, then I have no doubt that the matter would have to come before Parliament again and some qualifying clause might have to be inserted. I think we must assume from the start that local authorities are reasonable people. They have no wish to impose hardship upon those for whose welfare they are responsible.
I should also like to remind your Lordships that one of the main purposes of the series of clauses in the Town and Country Planning Act, and in other related Acts which refer to this matter, is to prevent a practice which I do not say is general, but which has been widespread in some cases, where people who possessed listed buildings of interest and importance have deliberately allowed them to fall into disrepair and allowed them to reach the point where it was not reasonable to ask for them to be brought back into good repair, in order that they might apply for permission to demolish. One of the main clauses in this Bill is designed to try to restrict and control the power of an owner to demolish a building in a conservation area. Therefore, I think it is essential to the whole intention of the Bill that this clause should remain, while at the same time recognising and expressing the hope in which I join with my noble friend Lord Selkirk and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, that in their circular the Government will take account of these anxieties while not frustrating the purpose of the Bill and of this clause.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
I suggested that the examination of the clause would indicate that the position is safeguarded. If I may, I should like to read very briefly from the clause. It begins:For section 101 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 (which gives a local authority power to execute urgent works for the preservation of unoccupied listed buildings) there shall be substituted the following section"—1293 and then I turn to Section 101(7):Within 28 days of the date of a notice under subsection (6) above, the owner may represent to the Secretary of State—and it goes on. I should have thought that there was ample indication there that in an instance such as the right reverend Prelate has touched upon there is the safeguard he seeks.
- (a) that the amount specified in the notice is unreasonable; or
- (b) that recovery of it would cause him hardship; or"
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
I should like to say one thing. As most of my noble friends who have put down their names to these Amendments seem to be from North of the Border, I see no reason to suspect that the Ministers of the Government in the Scottish Office are not going to be any more co-operative with their circular of advice. I see no reason to suspect, when similar advice is given to the Scottish authorities, that they should be any more reluctant to accept such advice as local councils South of the Border. I have considered this matter very deeply and I see no reason for these fears. The advice of my noble friend Lord Duncan-Sandys is good. One should assume good intentions. The Government are going to issue a circular to the local authorities and until they are proved guilty they should be assumed to be innocent. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, said, amending legislation should prove necessary, it can be done. But I very much doubt that this will be necessary.
THE EARL OF SELKIRK
What the noble Lord has said is quite sensible, but I am bound to say that I do not think that legislation should always depend on everyone being reasonable, because human nature is not always reasonable. As my noble friend Lady Young has said, the local authorities will not want, of course, to expend a large amount of money. I accept that. This is quite a good safeguard. But the safeguards in the Bill are very narrow. I feel a great deal of sympathy for the right reverend Prelate, although I think it was on a different clause. But so far as an ecclesiastical body is concerned, I do not know to what point hardship can be said to extend. I do not know if it has ever been tried in law. I 1294 have very grave doubts as to what is the precise definition of "hardship".
I am a little disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, cannot go further than he has. I am not trying to remove Clause 5. What I was trying to do was to give impartial arbitration to the sheriff in Scotland as to what would be a fair charge to the owner. The noble Lord talks about wind and weatherproofing. But to put a roof on some houses is a major operation. I have been concerned as a trustee with one very interesting old house whose walls were almost falling down. A quarter of a million pounds has been spent on that house—and it would have been a great tragedy if it had not been spent. This is unlimited power and unless it is used with great discretion great difficulty could be caused unnecessarily. That is the point I have been trying to make and I do not think that that has been contradicted. There may have to be future amendment on this.
I was grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, said. I do not propose to press this Amendment. I am grateful for what the noble Lord has said, but I hope that he will take it back to his right honourable friend and that there will be considerable importance attached to the terms of the circular. I do not know how this will come out in Parliament. Perhaps we may want to look at it and discuss it to see whether it is properly appreciated that these very extensive and unlimited powers could be charged to a proprietor—it could be at any amount, running into millions possible in some cases. This is in the Bill. As a House we have to be careful what powers we give, even to local authorities; some are more reasonable than others. Does the noble Lord wish to say something?
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
I rather regret that I did not say what I might have said if the Amendment had been moved in the way that I had expected that it would be. I indicated that I thought there was some confusion and the longer our discussion goes on the more I feel that we have indeed not been considering the Amendment as it is before the Committee. I want to stress that this is not a Government Bill, but, as we are anxious to be as helpful as we can, it may be helpful if I say what 1295 the view of the Government is with regard to the Amendment as it has been tabled.
Under Clause 5 as it now stands, the owner of a building has a right to make representations to the Secretary of State against the recovery of costs incurred in carrying out emergency repairs on the grounds that the repairs were unnecessary, that the cost is unreasonable, and that recovery would cause hardship—the points that I was making in reply to the right reverend Prelate. As I am advised, the effect of the Amendment would be to remove the right to make representations to the Secretary of State and to provide instead a right of appeal to the Courts by applying the appeal provisions relating to the compulsory acquisition of listed buildings. The Amendment provides that these provisions would apply with modifications, but it does not provide any means of modifying them. Nor does it make clear what grounds of appeal could be used.
I am advised that the drafting of the Amendment as it has been tabled is faulty. It would apply provisions of another Act, the Town and Country (Scotland) Act 1972, with modifications, but it does not specify the modifications or provide means whereby they may later be made. Finally, it would amend only that part of Clause 5 which applies to Scotland and leave unamended the parallel provisions for England and Wales.
If I may now turn to the substance of the Amendment, this would substantially alter the position of an owner who wishes to appeal against the recovery by the local authority of costs incurred by them in the carrying out of emergency repairs. Under Clause 5 as it now stands an owner may make representations against recovery of costs on three grounds—and I have already mentioned them—that the repairs carried out were unnecessary; that the cost was unreasonable; and that the receovery would cause hardship. I emphasise that it appears to me that this provides adequate safeguards for an owner. The Amendment, however, would remove the specific grounds upon which representations or appeal might be made.
I am not at all certain what, if anything, would take their place. Further- 1296 more, I am advised that there would be little, if any, advantage in substituting the courts for the Secretary of State but that there would certainly be substantial disadvantages. In the first place there is the question of expense. As your Lordships will know, the procedure of appeal through the courts can, and often does, prove very costly. Representations to the Secretary of State on the other hand need involve no extra expenditure on the part of the owner. Secondly, the Amendment would enable the courts to intervene only where they were satisfied that reasonable steps had been taken for properly preserving the building. This appears to mean that the works were unnecessary because the building was already being properly preserved. If it does mean that, it limits severely the safeguards given to the owners by the Bill. Certainly the Amendment would remove the right of an owner to appeal on grounds of hardship.
I can see little, if any, merit at all in this Amendment. I hope that what I have said, being placed on the Record, may be of some help to your Lordships. It is the view of the Government that this Amendment would do nothing to improve the Bill and would do nothing to add to the safeguards of the owners of the properties concerned.
THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that statement. It is a valuable statement. I regret if the Amendment is faultily worded, but in our present state of Papers it is a wonder that it is anywhere near the right thing at all. I take the point that the noble Lord made. I have made my point and am expecting a circular which is useful and which, substantially, will meet the points which we have in mind. With those words, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Clause 5 agreed to.
§ Clause 6 [Compulsory acquisition of listed buildings]:
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
On behalf of my noble friend Lord Lyell and myself, I should like to propose that Clause 6 be omitted from the Bill. I 1297 must apologise to the Committee and to my noble friend for proposing this at a rather late stage which does not give a great deal of time for discussion. I am doing so in order to express the fears that have been put to me. I am sure that the right reverend Prelates will also agree, because I believe the Church fears that compensation under the 1971 Act will be severely limited by this clause.
The Committee will appreciate that this clause serves one purpose, which is to repeal Section 116 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. This section sets out the basis of compensation where a building which had been listed was to be compulsorily purchased by a local authority. The nub of the difference between this clause and the old Act is that under the old Act compensation was very wide. Any aggrieved party who was negotiating with the local authority about property which was the subject of a compulsory purchase order could request that the compensation be based on alternative user. This could mean the use of offices, shops, residential accommodation and so on. Under this clause, as I understand it, and as the professional bodies have explained it to me, compensation would be restricted to existing use only. I am not sure what the reason for this change is. I am sure that the noble Baroness will have a good answer, and indeed I hope she will be able to allay the fears of those who feel themselves worried by this new basis of compensation.
I should also like to ask the Government a specific question. If I am right in saying that this clause restricts the compensation to existing use only, would the Government consider, where a compulsory purchase order is made in respect of a listed building in future, introducing a procedure to allow the owner to appeal against the basis before compensation is assessed? This would in fact allay the fears of outside bodies in respect of such cases. Perhaps I might give one simple example to the Committee: a case where the clause would be effective would perhaps be one that concerned an old disused church or an old corn market in the centre of some old city. On the old basis of the 1971 Act, very fair and full compensation would be granted. Under this clause, as I understand it, the compensation will be restricted to the existing use of that building. It does not take very 1298 much imagination to understand the difference in the basis of the compensation.
§ THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWELL
This is the first time that I have had the honour of addressing your Lordships, and I do so on a matter of some complexity on which I must ask for your Lordships' indulgence. Nevertheless, it is a matter of great importance to many people, and not least to the Churches.
In his speech last Monday, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London drew attention to the serious discrimination which owners of listed buildings—and the Churches among them—will suffer if Clause 6 stands part of this Bill. We have felt it right not to propose any Amendments, but merely to ask certain questions in the hope that the replies we receive will stand part of the Record of the proceedings and give some assurance as to the intentions of those who have framed the Bill in this particular way.
I apologise for asking seven questions and also for the fact that they are really rather technical questions, but I hope your Lordships will bear with me. I ask, first, this question. Where two adjoining residential properties are of similar size and one is listed, if both properties are acquired by compulsory purchase for office or shop development in an area zoned for office use, will the owner of a listed building be entitled to compensation on the same basis as the owner of the unlisted building? Taking the matter one stage further, will it make any difference if the acquisition is in an area not zoned for office use?
Again, if the listed building happens to be a church (and assuming that Rule 5 compensation is not appropriate), can it be assumed that the compensation which will be payable will be not less than the existing use value (including any of the planning assumptions in the Land Compensation Act 1961) of an adjoining building of similar size?—and in speaking of existing use value, I include any of the planning assumptions in the Land Compensation Act 1961. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that this is no more than equitable.
There are, moreover, certain other contingencies which may arise. The listed building might be adjacent to a vacant site. Where this is so, and both the listed building and the vacant site are 1299 acquired for development, can it be assumed that the assumptions as to planning which will apply in assessing compensation for the vacant site will be taken into account in assessing compensation for the listed building?
Another contingency which may arise is when two adjoining buildings of similar size and use, one of which is listed, are acquired for a purpose which produces a lower value than the existing use value of the unlisted building—for instance, where an open space is contemplated. Can it be assumed that compensation for the listed building will be of an amount not less than that of the unlisted building? And if, in this instance, the unlisted building is a church, can the same assumption be made?
In short, in all the various circumstances I have outlined, will a listed building be given the same treatment, so far as compensation is concerned, as an unlisted building? Surely it is only just that those who are owners of listed buildings and anxious to do what is right for the public good and not just for private advantage, should not be penalised simply because the building they own is one of consequence and an amenity. No one is seeking to defend the speculator who acquires listed buildings in order to make a financial gain at some future time, but the law should protect those who are the guardians of such buildings and who are having these buildings compulsorily removed from their guardianship.
There is one final question I should like to ask. Where a compulsory purchase order is made in respect of a listed building, does the Minister contemplate introducing any procedure to allow the owner to appeal against the listing before compensation is assessed?
I believe that this Bill, quite rightly, is capable of doing a great deal of good, but it will mean that an increasing number of buildings will come into the category of protected buildings. Often it will be not by choice but by sheer accident that a person will find himself owning a property which, under this Bill, because of the implications of Clause 6, will decrease in value. Surely such a person deserves protection and proper compensation.
1300 My Lords, as I said earlier we have not thought it right to move an Amendment, in order to allow the passage of this Bill through all its stages before the Summer Recess. This self-denying ordinance on the part of the Churches requires that owners of listed buildings should at least have the assurance that they will not be unjustly treated.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
I should like to intervene at this point to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell on his maiden speech. I think he has given notice to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, of the questions that he wished to ask, and he will be replying to them. But may I say what a great honour it is for us all that he is the second maiden speaker on this Bill. We hope that, like so many Members of your Lordships' House, the right reverend Prelate will take a great interest in environmental matters because it is such an important subject, and I hope that we shall hear from him on many occasions. Having said that, may I apologise because I was unable to get in touch with him the other morning when he wrote to me and indicated that he would be in the House. I regret to say I was not here myself and received the letter too late.
I should like to try to answer two points raised by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull. The first question he asked was: What is the reason for the change in the basis of compensation? This is the essential point of Clause 6. As I understand it, under the previous Town and Country Planning Acts, as my noble friend has said, the basis of compensation when a local authority acquired an unoccupied listed building had to be the market value, even if the local authority knew that the listed building was not to be demolished.
The result of this was that an anomaly was created, in that the property would not have fetched market value had it been on the open market, because any other prospective buyer would have known that it was listed and therefore unlikely to be demolished, and would not have paid the same price that the local authority was obliged to pay in acquiring it in order to preserve it. It is because of this anomaly that Clause 6 1301 was put into the Bill. I hope that the Committee will recognise that this was a very real difficulty in which local authorities found themselves.
Having said that, I appreciate that under this Bill the Churches will not have some compensation that they have previously had in the past. So this is a difficulty for them. On the other hand, there is nothing to prevent the owner of a listed building from applying for demolition, and he may have the application granted. In that case, the basis of compensation would be that it was a cleared site and it would therefore be more valuable in the centre of a town than if the building was still standing. I hope that that explains the reason for the change in the basis of compensation.
The changing of the basis of listing would be an enormous change in conservation procedures. I see that there is a relationship between listing and compensation, and I hope that the Department of the Environment will be prepared to look at this question. I do not think one could give a guarantee of more than that, but it is a matter that ought to be looked at in relation to everything else connected with this Bill.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
I join the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell on his maiden speech. I particularly congratulate him on his technical grasp of the situation, and I envy the facility with which he has drawn up and put his questions to the Government. I am extremely grateful that we had some prior notice of the kind of questions that he proposed to address to us, and I will do my best to answer what are really hypothetical points.
I must stress that valuation is a very complex field, and although there are general principles laid down in the Statutes which form the basis of the present compensation code the extent to which they apply in any particular compulsory acquisition will depend upon the individual circumstances relevant to the property which is to be acquired. The basic principle of the present code, however, is that the compensation payable should be the market value of the property and it is this principle which Clause 6 seeks to apply to listed buildings. 1302 With these reservations, if Clause 6 is enacted in its present form the answers to the questions which the right reverend Prelate has put ought to be as follows. Whether I ought to repeat each individual question, I am not sure. I think that may be unnecessary because the right reverend Prelate numbered them from 1 to 7 and indicated that it would be valuable to have the replies on the Record so that they may be studied.
§ LORD SOMERS
May I interrupt? The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, referred to the market value of the property, but who decides the market value? In these days that varies from week to week.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
It would be a pity if I allowed myself to be taken off the track just as I am about to begin to answer the questions. The answer to question No. 1 is as follows: Yes, the same basis applies because the valuation in both cases will be based on market value on which the present compensation code is founded. The answer to question No. 2 is as follows: No, the owners will still have the benefit of the planning assumption that office or shop development would be permitted. The answer to question No. 3 is as follows: No. The compensation payable in the two cases will depend entirely on the market value of the individual properties based on the planning assumptions set out in the 1961 Act.
The answer to question No. 4 is as follows: No. Each property must be valued individually, having regard to the planning assumptions which are relevant to the assessment of its market value. The answer to question No. 5 is as follows: The compensation will be the market value of each individual property which cannot be less than the existing use value of that property and could well be more. The actual amount will vary, but it will never be less than what the market would pay. The answer to question 6 is as follows: If Rule 5 of Section 5 of the Land Compensation Act 1961 does not apply to give compensation based on the cost of equivalent reinstatement, the compensation will be based on market value assessed in accordance with the statutory planning assumptions. It cannot be assumed that the market value of the two adjoining properties which were referred to in the right reverend Prelate's Question No. 5 would be 1303 identical, whether one of them is a church or not. The answer to question No. 7 is: No. A building is listed on its merits because it is in the interest of the community that it should be preserved. Consent can, however, be given in appropriate circumstances for demolition of a listed building.
If I may attempt to reply to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, market value is assessed by the district valuer or by the local authority valuer in accordance with the statutory compensation code. If the value cannot be agreed, compensation can be determined by referring the matter to the Lands Tribunal. If the noble Lord wants further information, I should be glad to write to him afterwards. Although I have put the replies as succinctly as I can, I hope that they will be intelligible when they are read. Great care has been taken in briefing me on this matter. I would not for one moment seek to stand before your Lordships as an expert in this field, but I have done my best to understand the situation, and I think the answers which I have given ought to be helpful in providing, at least, an understanding of the legal position, having regard to the hypothetical nature of the questions as we see them.
The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, put one specific question to me. I think the noble Baroness gave him a fair reply, but, since he addressed a question to me, perhaps I ought to say simply that what is set out here does not mean that all acquisitions will be at existing use value. Development value can still be included in the compensation by applying the planning assumptions in the 1961 Land Compensation Act. The clause will ensure that compensation for a listed building, when compulsorily acquired, is based on its real market value. Possibly the Church may be interested in that statement as well. I hope the Committee will feel that the Government have been reasonably forthcoming and helpful on this matter.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ THE LORD BISHOP OF LONDON
I too would like to add my voice of congratulation to my right reverend Brother on his maiden speech. I do so with a special enthusiasm since I am in a way responsible for his making his 1304 maiden speech on a Committee point rather than on an occasion which might have been of broader interest, but I feared that I might not have been able to be present. I am afraid my right reverend Brother has a long process of education to embark upon in this House, and so may I begin it, I hope without any offence to anybody, by reminding your Lordships that the pronunciation of his See city is "Suth' all".
We are extremely grateful to the noble Lord who sits on the Government Bench for having dealt with this matter, which we all agree is exceedingly technical. I do not therefore want in any way to bowl difficult balls at him, but I am rather concerned about this point he raises about the market value of the building. Supposing there are two listed buildings; one which is, say, an ancient and beautiful house, and next door to it a church which some people may think beautiful, others not—say, a Victorian edifice. Will the compensation be different in the two cases, since obviously the house has some commercial value whereas a redundant Victorian church has practically no value? Supposing the owners of that church cannot obtain permission to demolish and therefore, as the noble Baroness says, are unable to sell the site as a vacant site. Is it the case that two buildings which may occupy identical areas receive very different compensation simply because one of the buildings can be used and therefore has a commercial value, while the other cannot be because it has no commercial value? This is the kind of problem about which we are concerned.
I was rather disappointed by the noble Lord's reply about the process of listing buildings because, as I understand it, the owner of a building may not be aware that the building has been listed at all. Application may be made by a private person and the listing may be made simply because it may be an interesting building, without the owner's being given any opportunity of expressing his feelings about this. It may be many months afterwards that he wakes up to the information that his building is a listed one. In my speech on Second Reading I outlined to your Lordships a case where I think the Methodist Church was going to sell a building for a large sum of money, until it was suddenly discovered that the building was a listed building and therefore 1305 the person who was going to purchase it withdrew and the Church authorities were left with a practically useless building on their hands. One would have hoped—and one will still hope—that the Government would look at this matter so that the owner might have an opportunity of being able to make representations as to whether or not his building should be listed.
I do not want to introduce a tart note into this debate, but I must express some of the feelings which the noble Lord, Lord Foot, expressed on Second Reading. It is really very unsatisfactory indeed that a Bill which is approved of by the great majority of us, but which has just one or two elements which cause a great deal of concern, cannot be amended without the fear of the Bill's lapsing and coming to nothing. We do not want that to happen. We feel strongly, however, that this Bill ought to have been introduced in such a way that we had the opportunity of introducing what we believe to be perfectly reasonable and proper Amendments, without being told that if they were pressed the Bill will be destroyed. I dislike having to say that, but it is a point that should be borne in mind because this clause may have very far-reaching effects on the Churches generally which have not a great deal of money and have to capitalise their resources as best they can in order to be able to carry on their work perhaps somewhere else. They have been put in a position, of great difficulty because they have been confronted with this threat that the Bill would come to nothing if it were amended.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
May I first of all deal with the regret that the right reverend Prelate has expressed in regard to the position if an Amendment had been carried. It is no wish of the Government that there should be no opportunity for amendment of this Bill. There is no question of a pistol being held to anybody's head. Clearly, if anybody thought that a grave injustice would follow this Bill he would say: "Well, something must be done about it." I want to make that quite clear. A great deal of work has gone into the preparation of this Bill and a considerable amount of Parliamentary time has been 1306 spent on it. I think that everybody agrees that, by and large, it is a desirable Bill. It is a Bill that I think will be welcomed by all those who are in any way involved in planning matters and in the issues with which it is generally concerned. My own personal view is that it would be a tragedy if we lost what we have here, but I am making the point because I think it is one which has to be made. I have no wish to introduce a tart note, either, but if anybody sees an injustice being done that is of such a nature that this Bill ought not to be placed upon the Statute Book, then clearly he has a duty to say so. I should regret anything that prevented this Bill from reaching the Statute Book.
THE EARL OF SELKIRK
Is the noble Lord saying on behalf of the Government that he is prepared to give Parliamentary time in the other place for Amendments?
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
The noble Earl knows very well that I cannot do so in the present situation. Everybody understands that the timetable being what it is, it is impossible for me to give such an undertaking. If I may introduce a personal note, what I can say is that I have done everything I can to ensure that this Bill has had time in this House. May I say that I have appreciated the tenacity with which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has pursued this Bill. It is a very worthy cause, which has been supported both on Second Reading and tonight by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys. He has put a good deal of time into preparing the way for the Bill before it was presented to this House.
In reply to the points which have been raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, an owner always knows that his building is listed. It is the duty of the local authority to inform the owner that it is listed, so there can be no question of an owner not knowing that his building is listed. With regard to the examples, although the right reverend Prelate drew attention to some instances at Second Reading—and they were impressive ones—he knows that cases are seldom if ever alike, and that each must be valued individually on the basis of what the market will pay. If a building is still being used as a church, a Church can obtain compensation on 1307 the basis of the cost of equivalent reinstatement under Rule 5 of Section 5 of the Land Compensation Act 1961.
If I have not fully answered the right reverend Prelate—and I will look to see whether I have missed anything—I will write to him urgently; and if he wishes any further point to be clarified, we shall be delighted to attempt to clarify it. If I may say so, the same remark applies to his right reverend friend the Bishop of Southwell. This gives me an opportunity to put the matter right. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that I have not disadvantaged her cause in the explanation which I have tried to give.
§ BARONESS YOUNG
Before my noble friend replies, may I take the opportunity to apologise to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell for mispronouncing his name. I shall not make the same mistake again. On the point about the timetable of the Bill, I think that all of us who are concerned with it regret the timetable. However, this is simply a fact of Parliamentary life, and I understand that, in the case of Private Members' Bills coming at this time of the year, there can never be a guarantee that another place will have time for Amendments that may be made in this House. This is a matter for regret, but it is something which no Government can guarantee.
I should like to take the opportunity of thanking the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, for his help and for the help of officials from the Department of the Environment. I hope—and here may I echo a point which has been made on Clause 5 by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys—that if in the future there appears to be an injustice arising from this, then we shall look at it again; but that we must wait to see. I think we all accept that if something arises in the future which we do not at present foresee, then we ought to look at it. I hope that in that spirit the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Southwell and the Bishop of London will accept our good faith in this matter.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
I also should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell on his maiden speech, for mastering, if I may say so, "at a stroke" a highly technical subject (I am sure at very short notice) and 1308 for addressing the Committee with extreme clarity upon this subject.
I was very grateful to my noble friend for her sympathetic consideration and understanding of the purpose of raising this Amendment. She said that the reason—which I am grateful to her for giving to this Committee—for the Amendment to the 1971 Act was to stop an anomaly. However, the worry of those outside the House is how this new clause will be interpreted by the district valuer and the professional bodies which will be involved in deciding what is the market value. As I understand it, the real fear is that although the building may not be demolished it may be; and supposing that it is demolished a year later, then it would seem that the owner had had a very bad and unfair deal. This is the area which I believe that outside bodies would like to look at and discuss.
This is a very difficult and technical subject to discuss at Committee stage. I am wondering whether the Government could give an undertaking to hold a meeting with those Members who have expressed an interest (particularly the Church and other Members) and, perhaps, their professional advisers to discuss the whole issue in order to see if their fears are groundless—or, indeed, to consider their points.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
I should be very happy to arrange such a meeting. If the noble EARL or the representatives of those who speak for the Church wish to get in touch with the Department, I shall be delighted. I felt that it was one of my obligations to this House to see to it that Members had contact with officials at the Department as well as with those of us who have political responsibilities. If it will be helpful (this is without any commitment, of course) to discuss the difficulties—and I think it can be no more than a discussion, because I have to stress that this is not a Government Bill but a Private Bill—we shall certainly be as helpful as we possibly can within the limitations which I have indicated.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
I am grateful to the noble Lord. Whether it is a Private Bill or a Public Bill it will still be the basis for compensation. I hope that the Committee will feel that this Amendment has been useful. As the Committee knows, we are dealing with compulsory 1309 purchase and compensation under compulsory purchase which is always a very sensitive issue. I know that Parliament and this House feels that those who suffer or who are engaged under compulsory purchase should be treated wholly fairly.
I do not wish that this Bill should lose one inch of time due to my efforts and I should be happy to withdraw this Amendment, subject to the approval of the right reverend Prelate.
§ Clause 6 agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses and Schedule agreed to.1310
§ House resumed: Bill reported without Amendment: Report received.