HL Deb 04 March 1975 vol 357 cc1198-203

[Nos. 3 to 6]

Clause 1, page 2, line 34, at end insert— ( ) An expedited acquisition order shall not be made in respect of any land or part thereof which has been declared to be inalienable by virtue of any enactment.

The Commons disagreed with this Amendment for the following Reason:—

Because the possibility cannot be excluded that land which is inalienable might have ta be acquired urgently under the Bill.

Clause 12, page 10, line 41, leave out sub-section (3).

The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason:—

Because the possibility cannot be excluded that land which is inalienable might have ta be acquired urgently under the Bill.

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, with permission I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 3 and 5. I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 3, to which the Commons have disagreed for Reason No. 4, and that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 5, to which the Commons have disagreed for Reason No. 6; in both cases because the possibility cannot be excluded that land which is inalienable might have to be acquired urgently under the Bill. In the proceedings on the Bill the substance of these Amendments has now been fully debated on four separate occasions; once in this House at Committee stage, and in another place at both Committee and Report stages and on consideration of Lords Amendments.

In asking your Lordships not to insist on these Amendments in the face of disagreement in another place, the Government's position is as follows. Although the Government have no plans at present to acquire for the purposes of the Bill any land held inalienably by the National Trust for Scotland, we cannot rule out the possibility that such land might be required urgently in the future. Acceptance of the Amendments would rule out the use of an expedited acquisition order and, although a compulsory purchase order could be used, it would be subject to special Parliamentary procedure which would cause an unacceptable delay. Failure to provide for the compulsory acquisition of inalienable land by expedited acquisition order could prove to be a serious handicap at some time in the future. There could arise a case where the national interest, in terms of acquiring land quickly for a crucial oil development, had to be weighed against the benefit to the nation as represented by the National Trust's tenure of inalienable land. Through the Affirmative Resolution procedure, Parliament will be able to look at the merits of each case and resolve any such conflict.

Any expedited acquisition order dealing with inalienable land will be subject to the hybridity procedures of this House, as they are applied by the Amendment which your Lordships made on Third Reading. This will afford additional protection to the Trust and I hope will go a long way to meet the fears which they have expressed. The Amendment seeks a blanket exemption for all National Trust inalienable land, present and future. To agree would be to prejudge the national interest issue now, and would apply acceptance of the fact that whatever unforeseen situations may arise in future the inalienability of National Trust land must, in respect of urgent oil-related developments, remain forever inviolate. In these uncertain times that concept is one which the Government would find it difficult to justify.

The Bill does not strike at the concept of inalienability of land in general; it aims to apply a special procedure with appropriate planning, and Parliamentary safeguards to any areas of land which are urgently needed for a narrow range of special purposes. The Bill has no effect whatever on land which is not touched by oil-related developments. The Executive Council of the National Trust for Scotland have offered to consult with the Government on future declarations of inalienability. We have taken up that offer and will be getting in touch with the Trust very soon to work out the details of such an exercise. As I indicated at Report stage, such consultations could at the very least identify areas which are unlikely to be needed for oil development and which the Trust could confidently declare inalienable, if they so wished. The Government have tried to be as helpful as possible in this matter and have thought long and hard about it, as I know your Lordships also have done.

I should particularly like to pay tribute to the wholly constructive approach to this important provision, which moved your Lordships to give the other place an opportunity to examine it again in the light of your Lordships' own views and of the many strongly held beliefs voiced in both Houses and outwith Parliament. But I know that in these circumstances your Lordships will be very conscious of the implications for this legislation of any decision of your Lordships' House to overturn a provision on which the will of the other place has twice been expressed. I therefore ask your Lordships not to insist on the Amendments. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on their Amendments Nos. 3 and 5 to which the Commons have disagreed.— (Lord Hughes.)

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, I and my noble friends believe that in asking your Lordships to agree to overturn a decision which they have previously made the Government are breaching for the first time the legal method by which your Lordships can already overturn inalienability. I believe that that is a fundamental error, and the only gain is the saving of perhaps a few short weeks. In so doing the Government undermine the confidence in the National Trust of those who were considering donating land and properly, and that may not now be given because donors will feel that what can be done once may be done again. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, both he and Mr. Bruce Millan in another place have been most co-operative in seeking a solution. The delay of 28 days before the expedited acquisition order procedure can be applied is an additional safeguard provided by the Government at Third Reading in your Lordships' House. So I and those for whom I speak accept the position, and will do all in our power to prove that our fears are groundless. We hope that from now on closer co-operation with St. Andrew's House may prevent those acquisition crises, which we feared might happen with such disastrous results to Scotland and indeed to England, before they arise.


My Lords, on these two Amendments, also, we regret that the other place has not agreed with our views, though there has been some amelioration in another Amendment which the other place accepted, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has reminded us, over the hybridity arrangements. That was a great improvement on the previous subsection in the Bill, which we dropped. But we regret that the procedure for considering inalienable land, including a Joint Committee of both Houses, has not been retained and I join my noble friend Lord Craigton in being disappointed. Both National Trusts for England and Wales and for Scotland have made it clear that they do not regard inalienable land as exempt from compulsory purchase, provided that decisions are taken by Parliament in accordance with the previously stipulated procedure. We do not think that that procedure need have been discarded for the purposes of the Bill, and we are sorry that the other place has not agreed.


My Lords, this is a matter which is of considerable importance to all of us and I find myself in some sympathy with what has been said by the noble Lords, Lord Craigton and Lord Campbell of Croy. I think that there is little doubt that one wants to see that land is kept inalienable; but, at the same time, there is the highly important question of the development for a specific purpose. I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Hughes can enlighten me on this, but I understood from the Bill that where land is taken it is not taken permanently; it is taken for a specific purpose and when that purpose is achieved the land returns to its original state. It seems to me—and I hope that I am right in this—that although the land is called inalienable and although it is taken for a specific purpose, it returns to its inalienable state after that purpose has been fulfilled. If I am right on this, then the position is fully defended; but, at the same time, I can fully understand the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, and others being a little anxious about it. I hope that we can say that the present state of the Bill clarifies the matter for those of us who can be worried about the situation.


My Lords, I am grateful for the way in which the noble Lords, Lord Craigton and Lord Campbell of Croy, have spoken. What they have said is very much in line with what the National Trust for Scotland have done. My honourable friend the Minister of State kept the National Trust very much in touch with what was taking place in the later stages. If I may quote extracts from the last letter from the Trust to Mr. Millan, it shows exactly how the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, was echoing his position. They say in the third paragraph: The Trust in accepting the situation as it stands today "— that is, after the Commons voted not to agree with the Lords Amendments— must of course express its deep regret that the Government did not feel convinced in accepting the arguments advanced both in the Commons at an earlier stage and throughout the three debates in the House of Lords ". Further on, they say: Indeed, support for the Trust has been reinforced in recent months thanks to the decision made by the Secretary of State over Drambuie over which issue the Trust was joined by Ross and Cromarty County Council and local opinion including the crofting township most directly concerned. The letter goes on: The contingency of extreme urgency over some site in the future should, it is very much hoped, be remote but in any event it should be capable of solution as a result of the prior consultations to which you refer in the penultimate paragraph of your letter. On this point I am glad to be able to report to you that the undertaking given by the Trust's President, Lord Wemyss, in the House of Lords during the Report stage on Tuesday, February 18th, was fully endorsed by the Council meeting yesterday. The Council was anxious to ensure that the maximum degree of mutual confidence existed between the Government and the Trust in the pursuit of its many aims and objectives. Thank you for undertaking to ask officials of the SDD to get in touch with us in order to work out appropriate machinery. My Lords, in regard to the point made by my noble friend, obviously I cannot refer to any precedent because it has rarely happened in Scotland that this position has arisen; but I must point out that he is not totally correct. It will not follow that all land will be returned to its original state; there could well be circumstances in which it would be in the national interest that the land should continue in (shall we say?) industrial use. Obviously, however, in a case where inalienable land was no longer required for the purposes and was to be returned to its original state, I do not think that there is the slightest doubt that it will be returned to the National Trust in, I hope, as near as may be the state in which it was originally taken over. I hope that that partial point will satisfy my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones.

On Question, Motion agreed to.