Land and Property (Compulsory Acquisition)
Mr Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
I generally try to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman's interjections, but here I think he has gone a little wide of the subject. I am coming to one or two of his more relevant interjections in a moment. Perhaps he will forgive me if I pass from that one which, no doubt, owing to my own slowness, I do not follow.
I should like to add, on the matter of a judge in one's own cause, that even in the more normal case which I have been describing, although they are not technically judge in their own cause, the confirming authorities—the Minister of Housing and Local Government or the Minister of Education, if land, for example, is needed for housing or for schools—have a certain occupational bias. However, this of course does not go quite so far as making them technically judge in their own cause.
Perhaps I may briefly make some suggestions for improvement. I do not think anyone wants to go back to the private Bill procedure. We certainly do not want to go back to the Provisional Order procedure, which is too cumbrous. We must accept the method of the compulsory purchase order, but we must also seek to make it conform more to our ideas of judicial propriety.
First of all, the material evidence, including that of Government officials and people like the Provisional Land Commissioners, ought to be given at the hearing, and should be subject to cross-examination. Next, there should be no written representations behind the backs of the parties. If any written representations have to be made before the proceedings, they should be disclosed and communicated to both parties. Further, as my hon. Friend has said, the inspector's report should be available to the parties. He mentioned Arlidge's case, which is the authority for saying that it need not be so available. Arlidge's case was decided by the House of Lords in 1915. It was a war-time decision, and war-time decisions make bad constitutional practice. After 40 years, Arlidge's case ought to be reviewed by Parliament so as to ensure that those reports are made available.
A further point to which my hon. Friend referred is the desirability of having a panel of inspectors, not on the staffs of individual Departments, but under the Lord Chancellor. I hasten to say that I do not think they should all be lawyers; but they should be centralised in that way, under the administration of a particular Department, and their status and emoluments should be increased to correspond more nearly to the importance of the work that they are doing.
There should be in each case a full and reasoned decision by the Minister. My hon. Friend said that that already happens under the Education Act and the Road Traffic Act. There is no reason why that should not be accepted in general practice. At any rate, such a decision should be available, if asked for by the parties, who would then be able to compare the Minister's decision with the inspector's report on the evidence and arguments heard.
Those improvements, which are all very simple, would go a very long way; but we must also make rather better provision for supervision by the courts beyond the methods of certiorari and so on to which my hon. Friend has referred. There is at present a tendency to limit the jurisdiction of the courts in these matters and to deny the citizen access to them. I want to read this very brief passage from a recent case in the High Court. The learned judge said:
I may say here I am sure that everyone must have very great sympathy for the plaintiff who has to leave the house which she and her husband have occupied and owned for a total period of some 30 years.
It does not appear in the judgment, but this case concerned an old lady 80 years of age who was dispossessed of her house in order that a housing estate could be rounded off by the local authority.
The learned judge went on:
I have no doubt that it has resulted and will result to some extent in hardship for her. It is perhaps unfortunate that from time to time the rights of private individuals have to be sacrificed in the interests of public necessity. It goes without saying that powers such as this should be exercised with the greatest possible care, and it is essential that the court should keep a careful watch on the way in which powers provided by this and similar Acts are exercised.
If it is essential for the court to do that, it is essential that this House should see that the court gets the opportunity to do so. We could remove much public mistrust and anxiety on this point if there was proper provision for the reasonable supervision of these proceedings by the courts. Therefore, I suggest the constitution of an appropriate Administrative Division of the High Court to exercise this supervision.
I may give the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) the reassurance that they would not review policy. It is not the business of the courts to review policy, because that is the function of Parliament. They would be able to review the findings of fact and the inferences of the inspector, and also review the Minister's decision in so far as it purports to be based on facts or inferences therefrom.