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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Since the title of this Bill was published people have complained to me verbally and in writing about it. I confess that these are ugly words, but they describe an ugly and harsh situation in which many of our fellow citizens find themselves. To the charge that these words are ugly jargon I plead guilty, but, try as I might, I could find no better way of expressing the evils which this Bill seeks to cure.
These evils arise when people find themselves caught in the planning machine or when, as a result of State intervention or decisions, they find the value of their homes or businesses are seriously reduced or their lives are made intolerable by noise, fumes, vibration and other interference which damage modern living. Planning blight is a term already recognised by Statute, a term of art or of jargon which describes the situation when a planning decision makes it impossible for a man to sell his house or business except at a price substantially lower than the market price.
This happens, for example, when a decision is made public by a planning authority which will not take effect until some future date-very often at some future indefinite date. We then have the situation where the greater the uncertainty the greater the damage it can do to the individual affected by it. One of my constituents recently came to live in Fylde, having been moved from Bedfordshire by his job. He had great difficulty in selling his house because there was the mere threat of the possibility of an airport being built in the vicinity.
The dilemma of someone who has to move his job and finds it impossible to get a fair price for his house is easily imagined. I know from my profession that there is no more distressing task for a solicitor when a contract has been submitted to a proposed purchaser than to tell his client that nothing revealed on the search but a mere reply to an inquiry indicating that at some future time there will be compulsory purchase or some change of use. These things are happening very frequently and this type of situation occurs frequently.
As the pressure of planning grows and the pressure for modern development changes so much, these problems will increase. The question is, having got the problem, how does one find a solution? I must confess that there is no easy solution to the problem. It is very difficult to find the balance. For example, over the past few years we have been faced with an increasing demand for more participation in planning. Several hon. and right hon. Members in the House today have had to try to cope with this problem. The dilemma which this induces is very great because the more that participation is brought forward, the more plans are sought early, the more likelihood there is of blight.
This is one of the matters which a Bill such as this has to try to balance. It is intolerable that the price of more participation should be greater hardship for more people. We have to have modern development and motorways and airports, but I do not think we should have them if the cost is borne to a considerable extent by people who cannot afford to have that load placed on their shoulders.
What the Bill seeks to do, therefore, is to adjust the balance in favour of those of our fellow citizens who may be adversely affected by planning blight or some other form of public development. It seeks to do this in three ways. First, it gives the citizen the right in certain circumstances to compel a public authority to buy his house or business in advance of requirements—a sort of compulsory purchase order in reverse. Secondly, it seeks to extend the compensation to those whose land is not actually taken. Thirdly, it seeks to improve the compensation which people receive when their property is compulsorily purchased.
Before turning to its actual provisions, I may say that I have found it exceedingly difficult to draft the Bill. I have no doubt that there are many shortcomings in the drafting, but I hope that if the House accepts the principle which I seek to establish, difficulties such as these can be overcome in Committee.
On the principle which the hon. Gentleman has enunciated, would he agree that whilst, of course, the action of a public authority may cause the sort of blight he has in mind, precisely the same blight can in very many cases be caused by the action of a private individual on his own land or of a company using his land? For example, there is the case covered——
There are certain occasions when private development of land can cause inconvenience and all the other matters to which I have referred in the Bill but in these days that inconvenience, and so on, will almost certainly spring from a planning decision taken by a public authority.
In drafting this Measure, which deals with a highly technical subject, I have had valuable help from my colleagues in the Society of Conservative Lawyers, from reports and pamphlets issued by the Chartered Land Societies and by Justice, and from individual hon. Members. If I might further digress, I would say that it might not be a bad thing if Parliament had its own parliamentary draftsmen to whom back benchers could go with their problems so that we might have the same resources as have the Government. In this present case, what- ever good things the Bill contains I attribute to those who helped me: its shortcomings are entirely my own, and for them I take full responsibility.
The Bill is divided into three main sections. The first section deals with the problem of planning blight; the second with compensation, and the third with—terrible word—worsenment. I wish to deal with each in turn.
Clauses 1 and 2 are concerned with planning blight. The Bill seeks to extend the circumstances in which the present procedure for planning blight can operate and the categories of people who can take advantage of it. The Town and Country Planning Acts of 1962 and 1968 lay down the conditions in which a citizen can call upon an acquiring authority to purchase his property. At present, this can be done only at a fairly late stage of the planning procedures, as for example, where the structure plan in force—and I stress the words "in force"—shows land which may be required for any functions of a local authority, Government Department, or nationalised industry, or, where a compulsory purchase is in force, is land on which the Minister of Transport wishes to provide a trunk road or a special road.
If, as owner-occupier of a dwelling or other property of a rateable value of less than £750, the person satisfies these conditions, he can call on the acquiring authority to buy the land if he can prove that he has made reasonable endeavours to sell and has been unable to do so at a price substantially less than that at which it would normally have been expected to sell. In other words, as I have said, it is a sort of compulsory purchase order in reverse: the person concerned can call on the State to buy the property. The need for this provision has been recognised by the State, and its effect has been helpful in so far as it goes, as it enables people to get on with their lives and, in particular, gives them mobility.
The Bill seeks to extend the scope of this planning blight procedure. Clause 1(1)(a deals with land in respect of which an indication has been given that it is to be or may be acquired by compulsory purchase or is to be allocated for a use different from the permitted use. It will be seen that this wording widens the present position. Hon. Members may be cerned at our using the word "indication", which could mean something quite unofficial but, to my own knowledge, it is quite possible for an unofficial indication from a local authority to blight land. We are therefore very much widening the scope within which a person can say "My land has been blighted", and call on the local authority to buy it.
It may be argued that this provision is too wide but, I repeat, I am not wedded to any special phrasing; I want to establish the principle. But there is in the Bill as there is in the Acts as they now stand the limitation that people cannot compel a local authority to buy unless they can prove that blight has taken place. That seems to me to be a quite serious limiting factor. Fanciful blight is not covered by the Bill but only that blight which has actually happened. The test ought to be: has the local authority or some other authority done something which causes blight? If blight results it ought to be remedied. I am not very much concerned with the cause of blight except that, in this case, it should stem from some planning decision. The acid test in the Bill, as it is in existing legislation, is that blight must be proved.
The Clause goes on to tackle a problem that will continue to grow. It enables people whose land is adversely affected by a development, or a road, but which is not actually taken for the development of the road to secure a blight notice. The land must be adversely affected by noise, fumes, vibration or other interference with light or amenity. It can be seen quite clearly that we envisage the plight of those who live quite close to developments such as motorways; who hear the rumbling of heavy traffic, who see that traffic from their windows, and who suffer from its noise and diesel fumes. It envisages also the plight of those living near airports who have increasing noise by night and by day. The position of those who have their land taken may be satisfactory, but it is with those people on the periphery of public development and who are affected by it with whom the Clause is concerned.
We seek to help those people in two ways. First, we say that if the land is adversely affected they may operate the blight procedure and cause the local authority to buy. Secondly, we make compensation payable if they can prove that their land has been injuriously affected. This is done by Clause 2.
I must make it clear that by this Measure I am not trying to stand in the way of desirable public development. In many cases today, some local authorities and some Ministries in doing their job try to cause the least possible inconvenience. For example, Mr. James Drake, the County Surveyor and Bridgemaster for Lancashire County Council, who is one of the greatest road engineers in the world, certainly in Britain, says that the motivating spirit behind the question of compensation for the taking of land for motorways is that it should be treated as a question, not of cases, but of people involved. The Bill seeks to give some statutory help to those who are trying to tackle the problem in this way.
I want to give an indication of the type of thing I am talking about. Only yesterday I received a letter from a firm of solicitors in Tiverton. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), if he succeeds in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, will go into the Tiverton situation in greater detail. A motorway is coming to that area.
The letter from the solicitor says:
A number of our clients in Willand are people who have struggled hard to find a deposit for modern bungalows and have taken up large building society mortgages. The great fear, and the trend of the market substantiates that fear, is that the value of their properties will so depreciate as a result of the coming of the motorway that their mortgage borrowing could well exceed the revised market value. In some cases the consequence could well be personal insolvency. …
This is perhaps the classic predicament in which very few properties will actually be acquired for the route of the motorway but very many will have the motorway on their doorstep or at the bottom of the garden.
That is the sort of dilemma with which the Bill seeks to deal. It may be said, and no doubt it will be said, that this is a very expensive process. However, I have not the slightest doubt that it is desirable. I have received comments from the British Road Federation, which is, after all, very keen that many more roads should be built. The federation says:
1. The aim of the Bill is to seek to overcome, by widening the area of compensation and acquisition, the adverse effects suffered by some property owners or occupiers under present planning law.
2. So far as these losses are occasioned by road planning or road construction the British Road Federation is broadly in favour of reform. Where any construction scheme is for the benefit of the community as a whole it is wrong that any individual should be caused loss for which there is no compensation.
I believe that there is support here and in local authorities, which want extra powers to deal with hardship. Every hon. Member knows that the threat of hardship is one of the most delaying factors in getting planning permission and projects through, because people will object unless they think that at the end of the day they will get a fair deal.
As a specific example of what my hon. Friend has just said, I have pleasure in informing him that Tiverton Rural District Council fully supports the Bill. [Laughter.]
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information. I do not think that there should be too much laughter. There is great support amongst much larger authorities for some Measure to deal with this problem.
I believe, too, that one by-product would be that there would be a discipline asserted upon planners to ensure that their plans affected the least possible number of people. On the question of the third London Airport, for example, if the Bill were enacted and those concerned had to compensate people who might be affected, they would probably much prefer to have a site near the sea rather than in the centre of a heavily populated area where there would be much more compensation to pay.
Clause 3 provides that a compulsory purchase order should have a schedule and a plan showing properties which may be injuriously affected but which are not to be used for the actual project.
I must confess that I would have preferred to have been able to put this idea more clearly before the House, but this is an idea which has been scouted in local government circles. It is an adaptation of the principle of having a swathe of land on either side of a motorway, for which special provision should be made. This would enable wider planning to be carried out for the whole set-up. If a road is regarded as merely a road going through on a set route, that is narrow planning and not good planning, because it takes no account of the land on either side of the road. We seek, perhaps in an inadequate way, to take account of those on either side. We have put in a limit of £100: the injurious affection must amount to a figure in excess of that amount before compensation can be paid.
Clauses 4 to 7 seek to improve the present rules governing the assessment of compensation. The effect of these provisions would be a fairer deal, especially for small businessmen.
Clause 8 abolishes site value compensation for unfit houses. The Housing Act, 1969, improved the position of owner-occupiers, certainly, and went a long way towards remedying the injustices which previous legislation had imposed on people, but at the time we did not think that this Act went far enough. We believe now that site value compensation should be abolished.
Especially in the North of England, many people bought houses upon which they relied for income in their old age. It has already been established that just over 60 per cent. of all private houses are owned by people owning no more than one house and that many of these are old people. Cases of hardship have come to light. This Clause seeks to remedy this position.
Clause 9 is the most controversial Clause, because it deals with worsenment. Put simply, I suppose that worsenment is the opposite of betterment. The word was first coined by the Opposition in the debates on the Land Commission Bill. I have heard many other suggestions, but I cannot find a word which indicates more clearly what worsenment is.
The State has recognised betterment. The State says that, if through the grant of planning permission—if through the putting in of sewers or other development—the price of land is increased, the State ought to have at least some of that betterment, because it has been responsible for it. At present, the betterment figure stands at 40 per cent., but it can be adjusted by Order at any time.
If it is accepted that the State can better a property, it necessarily follows that State action can worsen a property and reduce the price of property rather than enhance it. Whilst the State accepts betterment, it ought equally to accept worsenment. It wants to have its cake and eat it at the moment.
What the Bill seeks to do, briefly, is this. If a person thinks that State action has worsened his property or reduced it in value, he can apply to the Lands Tribunal for a certificate of worsenment. If it is granted, two things can happen. Either he can claim compensation, if the worsenment is ruled to amount to £500 or above, or he can call upon the local authority or the acquiring authority to buy him out.
Before the hon. Gentleman passes from the definition of "worsenment", will he explain what the difference is between the conception of worsenment in Clause 9 and that of "injurious affection" in Clause 3? Secondly, am I to understand the hon. Gentleman's reply to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) to mean that an example of worsenment could be where a planning authority gives planning permission to a private individual to carry out a development on the next-door property?
There is very little difference between injurious affection and worsenment. It would be stupid to argue that there was. I chose the word "worsenment" in this context to provide a direct contrast to "betterment". If the argument is accepted that the State, by the grant of planning permission, improves land, equally, if the State grants planning permission for a private developer to do something obnoxious on a piece of land which affects other people but which will attract betterment to the developer and to the State, the argument of worsenment for the adjoining owners should be accepted. If betterment is collected, it would be no bad thing, instead of handing it to the Treasury, to pay it to those whose property is worsened.
No, I could not possibly say. I should have thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman would have known that. It is an open-ended commit- ment. I cannot possibly cost this Bill; nobody can. However, I would say that the more it costs, the more are people suffering injustice.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) has raised a very important point on the issue which I put earlier in the debate. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that whenever a local planning authority grants planning permission for land to be developed—let us say for the erection of houses on vacant land—and that injuriously affects neighbouring land and spoils the view from my house which previously had an open view, that would give me the right to have my land acquired by the planning authority?
As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the old law of England was that there was no right to a view. That has been the law until planning legislation stepped in. We should take cognisance of the fact that when the State intervenes, it begins to will situations. In the old days it did not. This problem is one which ought to be argued in Committee, and I well appreciate that it is a difficult problem.
I have dealt as briefly as I can with the injustices which this Bill seeks to correct. We live in an age when, whether we like it or not, there is bound to be increasing State intervention in our lives, and the task of Parliament is the historic one to remedy injustice and see that right is done. I suppose it could be that in presenting this Bill I have bitten off more than I can chew or, to mix my metaphors thoroughly, that I have jumped in off the deep end when I should have put a cautious toe into the water. That may well be, but I make no apologies because planning and compulsory purchase are causing injustices and somebody has got to do something about it. Unless we stop talking and do something, the talking can go on for a very long time indeed.
In considering whether the Bill should have a Second Reading I ask hon. Members to look beyond the jargon, the technicalities and complexities and to see clearly what the Bill tries to do. When the State moves in, it does not just take a house, for example. It takes a home and all the love and care which have gone into the home. When it takes a shop it does not just take a building; it takes the effort, the sweat and tears that have gone to build up a business. When the State does those things, the State should be generous. Justice demands that this Bill should get a Second Reading.
The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) is to be congratulated on bringing forward a Bill which, as he recognises, is extremely complex. The House will agree, I am sure, that he presented the Bill with great skill and ability. But, as he has recognised, it is a very complex subject and it raises a great many difficulties.
My first criticism is that it seems to me that this cannot properly be the subject matter of a Private Member's Bill. No doubt, some of the provisions in the Bill are very valuable, and I certainly support them, but they are allied to others which I would oppose.
As the hon. Gentleman has said, the Bill in the main deals with three matters. First, it extends the provisions of Section 138 (1) of the principal Act, that is, the Town and Country Planning Act 1962. Section 138 deals with
land affected by planning proposals and qualifying for protection
under subsequent Sections of that Act. These provisions relate to planning blight.
Secondly, the Bill contains provisions dealing with injurious affection; and thirdly, it deals with what the hon. Gentleman recognises is a horrible word—worsenment.
May I say something about the proposed amendment to Section 138 of the principal Act. It is important to remember at the outset that we are dealing with the expenditure of public money by public authorities, and that there is no unlimited purse. No doubt, if there were, the grievances and the injury suffered by every person would and ought to receive attention, and they ought to receive ample compensation. But I am sure that every hon. Member will recognise that from a practical point of view one must balance the needs and the resources of the community against the interests of the individual.
Section 138 of the 1962 Act seeks to preserve that balance. Its provisions are comprehensive and it is important to see how wide they are. The hon. Gentleman has, no doubt, studied the Act very carefully. He used the word "jargon", and in some ways I suppose laymen would say that there is a great deal of jargon in it. Section 138 states:
The provisions of sections one hundred and thirty-nine to one hundred and fifty-one of this Act shall have effect in relation to land which—
and so on. That shows how comprehensive those provisions are. They are followed by more comprehensive provisions dealing with the interests which may be affected.
No doubt, the hon. Gentleman will develop his point later in the debate. All I am saying is that the Act seeks to preserve the balance and it sets out the provisions in very comprehensive detail. The hon. Gentleman will probably see what I mean if he allows me to proceed.
The present blight scheme under the regulations is restricted to owner-occupiers and tenants with a remaining term of three years or more and, in the case of business premises, with a rateable value of £750 or less. Clause 1 of the Bill seeks to extend this provision. Clause 1(1)(a)—I think the hon. Gentleman recognises this—is far too wide in its scope. Just consider the wording. It proposes to include
land in respect of which an indication has been given by any means—
What on earth does that mean? It is all very well to say that these points
can be dealt with in Committee, but, after all, those words are contained in the Bill—
an indication has been given by any means.
I say, with respect, that there could be nothing wider than that. Paragraph (c) includes
land likely to be adversely affected—
How much wider can we get than that expression? It would cover all sorts of things. Under that provision an authority could be forced to buy not only the land needed for the scheme of development but also the adjacent land of which the authority has no need whatever. Why should a burden of that kind be placed on a local authority'? After all, the most likely person to suffer hardship because of blight are residential owner-occupiers and small businessmen. They are provided for by the existing blight scheme end, in my view, to extend Section 138 of the principal Act by adopting the proposals in Clause 1 of this Bill would certainly not mean that the fair balance to which I have referred would be preserved.
In my view, it would place an intolerable burden on public authorities. It would require them to acquire property from landlords and owners of large businesses, property which they do not need, and moreover—and this is an important consideration—it would mean considerable expenditure of public money and as a consequence money would not be available for public schemes which do require carrying out.
Will the hon. Gentleman forgive me? I want to pursue this. Clauses 3 and 4 deal with injurious affection—that is, the depreciation in value of property caused by nearby public development. It is true enough—and I recognise this—that there are at present limitations on the right of the individual to be paid compensation and I frankly agree that there is a case for doing something about this and that there are many injustices which can be referred to as far as this is concerned.
As I understand it, Clauses 3 and 4 are based on proposals put forward by chartered land societies. Clause 3(1) says:
When any compulsory purchase order under any enactment is made it shall contain a schedule and plan showing land not taken by the order but which may be injuriously affected by works or development…
How does one define these words "injuriously affected"? What are the limits? It is true enough that under subsection (2) the promoter has put in that compensation is not payable unless the depreciation exceeds £100. But there is only this money limit. The gates are opened very wide. I have no doubt that there are many cases which require looking into, but I do not think that this matter is dealt with satisfactorily in the wording of the Bill. Indeed it is an instance again of how unsuitable it is to try to tackle this matter—which I agree is important—in the form of a Private Member's Bill.
I have looked at Clause 7 which is the replacement of Section 30 of the Land Compensation Act and I would certainly give that Clause approval.
I turn to the third aspect which is the Clause which deals with what is called "worsenment". According to the Explanatory Note worsenment occurs—and one must get a definition of this horrible word—
… where an owner or occupier of land complains that his land has been injuriously affected as the results of the action of any authority possessing purchase powers. …
Section 9(1) uses these very words
… as a result of the action of any authority possessing compulsory purchase powers. …".
What action? Any action? Does action include both the grant and refusal of planning permission? If so, it might well be that if planning permission is refused, compensation would be payable. Again, this Clause would impose—as I have said before in regard to injurious affection—a heavy burden on public authorities. It would require them to buy land where there was a "certificate of worsenment". I can understand a case being made out for the payment of compensation in a matter of this kind because of hardship. But surely it is wrong, as before in the case of injurious affection, to impose an obligation in a case of that kind on a public authority to acquire land which it does not need. It surely is against the interest of the general community. There is in addition the further point that there is a good deal of confusion between Clauses 3 and 4 and
Clauses 9 and 10 and a person could receive compensation under Clauses 3 and 4 and might also have a claim under Clauses 9 and 10. That is a point which might be looked at.
Clause 8 is an important Clause which I would certainly oppose. It seeks to abolish site value compensation and it gives power to require authorities to make a grant when undue hardship is caused by site value compensation within three years. Since 1918 under every Government the recognised principle has been that when a public authority acquires individual houses the compensation is based upon the value of the site alone and not on the value of the house. There is sound sense in that because if a house has been declared unfit to live in it should not have any value as a house. No sane person would live in such a house and the public should not have to pay for bricks and mortar which simply have to be cleared away.
I frankly admit—and we all recognise this—that there are cases where hardship would arise and the Government have recognised this. This Government has taken steps in regard to this. Under the provisions of Part V of the Housing Act, 1969, practically all owner-occupiers affected by slum clearance proceedings which started after 23rd April, 1968, receive a supplementary payment which will bring their compensation up to market value. In addition, under this Act, when an unfit house has been well maintained by the owner-occupier, he receives an extra payment of four times the rateable value.
Those provisions are clearly for the benefit of the owner-occupier, but if Clause 8 were enacted public authorities would in all cases have to pay the full market value for a slum house. When it is remembered that in many cases the demand—particularly in large cities—raises that value considerably it will be seen what a burden that would impose upon the community. In my view, where a house is so defective as to be unfit and when the local authority acquires the building, and rehouses the tenants, there can be no justification for requiring a public authority to pay more than the site value. There are in this Bill references to hardship which exist.
I think that the hon. Member has performed a very important service in intro- ducing this Bill and drawing attention to these hardships and I trust that the Government will do something at an early stage to consider them carefully and do something with regard to them. I support the hon. Gentleman fully in that view. But I also believe, having regard to the criticism I have made, that this Bill—and I compliment the hon. Gentleman upon it and the way in which he has presented it—is ill-conceived. It deals with matters not properly the subject matter of a Private Member's Bill and therefore I trust the House will reject the Bill and decline to give it a Second Reading.
Order. I understand that every hon. Member now in the Chamber wishes to speak in this debate. I shall be able to call every hon. Member if speeches are reasonably brief.
I certainly endorse what the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) said at the beginning and the end of his speech in extending congratulations and commendations upon the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) on introducing this Bill. I do not, however, go with him in the major part of his speech. The hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was almost entirely critical of this Bill and in adopting that approach I feel that he got the balance wrong.
There are defects in the draftsmanship of the Bill, and my hon. Friend, with his characteristic charm and modesty, has proclaimed that fact to the House. But what the hon. and learned Gentleman did by concentrating his attention on these points was to direct himself almost exclusively to the trees of draftsmanship so that, if I may respectfully say so, the wood of principle rather escaped his attention.
I regard this as a public-spirited and courageous venture on the part of my hon. Friend—public-spirited because he seeks to provide a solution to a problem of great economic and social significance, and courageous because he seeks in a Private Member's Bill to do what Government efforts have so far failed to do.
The defects in draftsmanship are acknowledged, and I must tell the House, as I have told my hon. Friend in what he called the consultative process, that there are provisions in the Bill as drawn which I should not wish to see on the Statute Book precisely in the form in which they now appear. But that is not surprising in a task of such complexity, and, as my hon. Friend said, if the Bill is given a Second Reading, detailed attention can be given to these matters in Standing Committee.
Although I very much welcome the Bill and my hon. Friend's initiative, I doubt that we can expect a wholly satisfactory solution to the complex problems of compensation, betterment and worsenment without another wide-ranging review. It is over a quarter of a century now since we had, with considerable cerebral labour, to digest the contents and recommendations of the Uthwatt Report, and it may well be, with all the changes which have taken place since, that the time is now ripe for another Royal Commission, under someone of the standing which Lord Uthwatt had, to consider all these matters in a comprehensive way.
In its broadest sense, the problem is one of the proper relation between citizen and State in this sensitive field of land use.
Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman's criticism, that we ought to have a Royal Commission to consider the whole matter, illustrative of my criticism that this should not be the subject matter of a Private Member's Bill?
I think not. if the Government had taken an initiative, the hon. and learned Gentleman's comment would probably be correct. But he has been long enough in the House to know that the great stimulus and spur to Government action is not seldom the private Member's initiative, such as that of my hon. Friend now.
The problem is inherent in any modern community in some degree, but it has particular application in this country, for three reasons. First, for the geographical reason that we are a small and crowded island, with great problems of land use. Second, the considerable and growing execution of public works—motorways, airports and the like—makes demands on private land and affects local environment. Third, the increasing scale of these public works requires an ever-longer and larger element of forward planning, with consequent problems of blight, this being the main intensified aspect of the problem since the days of the Uthwatt Report.
So far, the law has never succeeded in providing a completely satisfactory solution and has not achieved a balance between the rights of the community, on the one hand, and the rights of owners and occupiers of land, on the other, which has been accepted as wholly just. It is, I think, generally accepted that what is required is a balance. Even in the days before town planning, this was recognised in the two maxims, first, that the Englishman's house is his castle, and second, the principle, sic were tuo tit alienum non laedas—" So use what is yours as not to harm another "—a very good principle in land use, and generally.
In those days, the rights and obligations were a matter of balance among private owners, but in the 19th century, with the inception of public works and the development of the railway system and so on, the needs of the community came into the picture. Our forefathers approaced that matter in a characteristic British spirit of compromise, basing themselves on two main elements. First, it was understood that, where land was genuinely required for a public purpose, the rights of individual ownership must not stand in the way of compulsory acquisition. Second, in those circumstances full and fair compensation must be paid.
No one, I think, would dissent today from those two elements of that approach. Indeed, we in this House have written them into the written Constitutions of newly independent Commonwealth territories in Schedules to our own Acts of Parliament. Yet, in spite of agreement on the principles, there is a good deal of dissatisfaction in practice, and the reason is that their application has become increasingly difficult, as it illustrated by the many changes and revisions of statute law on this subject in post-war years.
I venture to put to the House four main principles which ought to govern our approach to this matter. First, where land is taken under compulsory powers, full market value should be paid. Second, where land is taken under such powers, full compensation should be paid for disturbance. Third, whether or not the land is actually acquired, compensation should be paid for worsenment, or, in the language of the law, for injurious affection. Fourth, there should be an entitlement to compensation for injurious affection when it arises from blight, that is, not from the actual carrying out of the public works but from the notification of an intent so to do, with its consequent sterilising and blighting effects.
Do I understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman equates worsenment and injurious affection, regarding them as the same thing, though one is a lawyer's term and the other is not?
Yes. I shall come to that point but, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, "injurious affection" is already a statutory term, unlike worsenment. I shall come to the question of distinction in more detail later.
Of those four principles, the first—payment of market value compensation—is now honoured, having been restored by the 1959 Act. The second, in regard to disturbance, although not a statutory right is, and has been for a long time, an accepted principle of the law of compensation. It is part of the principle of what Lord Justice Scott in his judgment in the case of Horn v. Sunderland Corporation, which hon. and learned Members may recall, called the principle of equivalence, which, he said, lay at the root of our concept of compensation.
Clause 5 of the Bill seeks to make improvements in regard to compensation for disturbance. I am not entirely happy with its drafting, but I regard the principle as sound.
I was hoping that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be able to help the House and comment on a matter which was not mentioned by the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg). What does he understand by the expression,
personal circumstances of the claimant"?
At the moment, I am at a loss to follow precisely what is meant there.
This is one of the matters which I indicated informally to my hon. Friend. I do not think that this phrase would carry the law any further than it stands already. However, these are points which could be dealt with in Committee rather than on Second Reading.
The main importance of the Bill is in its efforts to improve the position with regard to the third and fourth principles which I have enunciated; that is to say, worsement or injurious affection, and blight. I come now to the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot). The law at present in regard to this sort of injurious affection gives compensation in two cases only. One is for injurious affection by way of severance where part of a larger parcel of land is acquired compulsorily, thus diminishing the value of what is left. The other is where there is injurious affection arising out of the execution of works on the land acquired, thus diminishing the value of the neighbouring land.
What the law does not do at present is give any compensation for injurious affection arising out of a continuing injury to amenity and thereby a diminution in value, such as by the operation of airports, motorways and other major' public works. The rights which exist at present to injurious affection are of relatively ancient origin, stemming from Sections 63 and 68 of the Land Clauses Act, 1845, an Act notorious for the imprecision of its draftsmanshp and which was enacted long before the age of the airport and even of the motor car.
Clause 3 of the Bill seeks to fill this gap by bringing in use. I am not sure that I am altogether happy with the drafting of the Clause, but that is not the main point. The principle of bringing into injurious affection the injury suffered by use which is so real in this age of motorways and airports is sound and very important.
As to the Clauses concerning worsenment, Clauses 9 and 10 seek to deal with this very real problem in a novel way. Again, it may be that it is dealt with in too wide a way. For example, where under Clause 10(1) the owner chooses the option of compensation as against purchase under Clause 9(4), I am not sure that there is any safeguard against successive and possibly repetitive payments for worsenment suffered. But again the drafting is a Committee matter, and it is quite clear, as my hon. Friend has said, that in principle there should be a recognition that, if the community is to recoup betterment due to the improvement of land from public works, then the converse should apply and the citizen whose land is worsened by, for example, the construction of a motorway, which is no personal benefit to him and which injures his amenities, should have some means of getting compensation.
Finally, the law in regard to blight, unlike the law in regard to injurious affection, is modern in origin. It dates only from Part IV of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1959, which was introduced to provide relief for resident owner-occupiers of dwelling houses and owner-occupiers of small farms and businesses whose property has become blighted and difficult to sell. The remedy was given by way of purchase notice, but it is of strictly limited application. These provisions, which are now Sections 138 and those following of the Act of 1962, were amended by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1968, but mainly to bring them into line with the new pattern of structure plans and local plans. However, the provisions remain restrictive both as to the limited nature of the incidents causing blight which can give rise to a claim and as to amount.
Clauses 1 and 2 seek to deal with both these matters. Again it could be argued that Clause 1 is too wide in its drafting, as the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North said, but the existing law is too narrow and should be widened. Certainly Clause 2 is wholly right in seeking to remove the existing limitation to very small hereditaments and only to those held in fee simple. If it is just in principle to give compensation for blight, then the principle should not be limited by price or by tenure. The principle should be applied to all alike.
Again it may be that the word "tenant" could be said to be too wide. It may be that it should be qualified on the lines of the qualifications on lease- hold interests and tenancies which are prescribed in the schedule to the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946. Again, no doubt these are matters that my hon. Friend would constructively consider in Committee if this Bill were given a Second Reading, as I hope it will be.
Though the Bill may not in its entirety be in a form suitable for the Statute Book at the moment—and, after all, that applies to many Measures which are brought forward by the Government with the help and' expertise of Parliamentary draftsmen—nevertheless it should be warmly welcomed as a gallant effort to improve a difficult, complex, important and admittedly unsatisfactory branch of the law.
I will seek to be brief and deal with the wood rather than with the trees of this Bill. The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) is one of the best liked Members of this House, and we know how reasonably and pleasantly he always speaks to any proposals that he is putting forward. But that does not alter the fact that, behind the charm of presentation there lie some iniquitous proposals. It is with those that I shall deal.
I do not complain of the hon. Gentleman raising this matter in the way that he has, though the comments of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) were perfectly correct. The hon. Gentleman has chosen to raise a subject which goes far beyond the scope of a Private Member's Bill, and I am sure that he is well aware of that.
He said that he cannot cost his Bill. I doubt whether anyone can accurately, but I am sure that he will agree that the cost of his worsenment provisions would probably run into hundreds of millions of £s. That will not be mentioned by hon. Gentlemen opposite who, when making constituency speeches, are saying how much they want to reduce public expenditure. I hope that every time that they try to tell their constituents following this debate how those wicked Socialists have voted down this Bill designed to help the poor little man in his fight against the State, at the same time they will point out that those wicked Socialists have saved the Exchequer sums running into hundreds of millions of £s which they would have had to pay by way of additional taxation.
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman cease being partisan for a moment and at least be fair in recognising that my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) made the point that there will be some compensating cost savings in the delays that these provisions will lessen in future?
I think that they will be very small. I will concede to the hon. Member for North Fylde that, as a sugar coating to the Bill, there are some Clauses which raise matters which in my view merit attention.
It is well known that compensation is the subject of a review within the Government. I announced this about two years ago. It is an extremely complex matter and will take a long time. I hope, nevertheless, that the debate will give my hon. Friend an opportunity to give some indication about the progress of those considerations.
Public discussion on this matter has been considerably stimulated and helped by very thoughtful and detailed memoranda which have been produced by the Chartered Land Societies and by Justice. I am honourary treasurer of Justice and I welcome seeing those proposals contained in the Justice memorandum being put forward. I do not agree with all that is proposed, but what is said there obviously merits close consideration. I should be content to see the Bill given a Second Reading if it had confined itself, for example, to the subject matter of Clauses 3 to 7 which raise matters which are worthy of consideration. I do not agree with all of them. I see difficulties about some, particularly Clause 3.
I want to deal with three other main matters in the Bill which go far beyond anything which even the Chartered Land Society put forward in its memorandum and which cause me to categorise it, I hope not unfairly, as being the landlords' and land speculators' charter Bill. I suggest that would be a more suitable title for the Bill than "Planning Blight and Worsenment Bill".
I will explain briefly why I say that. First, landlords. Since 1919 it has been an established principle of our compensation code that slum landlords ought not to be able to get the market price for their slum properties when they are compulsorily acquired to be pulled down and replaced by better housing, but should get the site value only because, the houses being unfit for human habitation, it is not right that landlords should recover, by way of compensation, the market value which will obtain even in that kind of house in areas and times of housing scarcity.
An exception to that principle was and has been established in the case of hardship applying to certain owner-occupiers. As a result of the Housing Act, 1969, the owner-occupier now gets full market value for his house when it is taken in those circumstances. There is therefore, no need to extend the compensation provisions to the owner-occupier, because he already gets market value. However, Clause 8 is intended to relieve the position of the slum landlord to ensure that he gets full market value.
Why do I say that this is the land speculators' charter Bill? I understand that one of the effects of Clause 9, which concerns worsenment provisions, would be that on refusal of planning permission one would be entitled to claim compensation for reduction in the value of the land resulting from that refusal.
What does that mean in practice? We know that a lot of land surrounding urban areas which are likely to be expanded in future years has what is known as hope value; that is, where there has been no planning application yet, but it is known that there will have to be expansion around a particular town. Although it will not be known in which direction the expansion will go, the land will have hope value which may be considerably above its agricultural value.
The speculator buys that land and puts in a planning application. If planning permission is granted he get a substantial increase in the value of the land, and when he disposes of it he has to pay part of it by way of betterment levy. If his planning application is refused—that was the risk that he ran—his speculation has failed and the land will be worth less than the hope value which he paid for it. But, under the Bill, he would be entitled to full compensation for the loss which he suffered when his speculation failed. It is heads I win, tails you lose, for the speculator.
I do not envisage that situation arising, and it is not what I intended. Clause 9 deals with injurious affection. I am using it in the physical sense in which it is already used. If the hon. and learned Gentleman is worried about this, I agree that I do not want to help speculators, but I should not think that it was injurious affection.
That is why I interrupted both the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) to ask what they meant by the term "worsenment" and how it compared w4h "injurious affection". I understood the hon. Gentleman to say quite clearly that worsenment is something different from injurious affection, and clearly he is right on the drafting of the Bill. He was contrasting worsenment with betterment and saying that, as a matter of principle, when a planning decision results in an increase in value, part of that increase in value should be paid back to the State through the betterment levy and that there should be a corresponding payment for worsenment, which can only mean that when, as a result of a planning decision, there is a reduction in the value of land, people should be compensated for that reduction. I understood the hon. Gentleman to adhere to that very example when answering me.
As the Bill is drafted it would do that which I have mentioned. It would give a right to compensation for refusal of planning permission, because planning authorities have powers of compulsory purchase and refusal of planning permission is an "action".
The hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that we argued this point long ago on the Land Commission Bill. Does he not see a distinction between a hypothetical increase and the value which might result from a favourable planning decision? My hon. Friend is concerned with a reduction in the actual value as established, not as affected by any hypothesis.
There is a reduction in the value of land which has hope value if the hope is frustrated by refusal of planning permission.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite argue their case for this wide extension of compensation with heart-rending pleas about hardship caused to small business men and small property owners. In one debate on the Finance Bill, when I was Financial Secretary, I irritated hon. Gentlemen opposite by saying that whenever I heard them talking about the plight of widows I was always looking for the surtax payer hiding behind the widows' skirts. I approach this Bill with a similar suspicion. There are matters—for example, concerning disturbance, about which the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East spoke—which could profitably be the subject of further legislation. But this extension of compensation which is proposed in the sphere of planning blight compensation, in the sphere of this hideous term and hideous conception, in my view, of worsenment and the removal of the site value basis of compensation, is not designed to relieve the hardship of the small property owner, or not confined to that. These matters will provide an enormous bonanza to the large-scale property owners who, as is well known, provide important contributions to the funds of the party opposite—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]—Hon. Gentlemen opposite always sound so shocked when that suggestion is made.
I remember well a conversation that I had many years ago with a professional gentleman who told me in terms about the profits he had made in this sphere as a result of the legislation introduced by the party opposite when they came back to power in 1951 and the further profits that he was expecting to make resulting from legislation to repeal the Rent Act because of the decision at the Tory Party conference. He was substantial contributor to Tory Party funds. Let us be realistic about these matters.
The planning blight proposals in Clause 1 are so wide that their effect would be virtually to destroy everything that we were seeking to do in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1968. The hon. Member for North Fylde was a very helpful, if I may say so, member of the Committee on that Bill. We all recognise the difficulty. There is more and more pressure for increased participation by the public in planning proposals, in the formulation of plans, more and more demand that the planning authorities should publish their ideas at an early stage before they are even committed to them as formal proposals, that there should be opportunities for representations and for discussion.
We recognised that an effect of this would be to some extent to extend the effect of planning blight, and one had to weigh up where the true public interest was, either to have secrecy in planning and reduce blight, or to have openness in planning and extend blight. But if every time there is any public discussion about a planning proposal anyone whose land is adversely affected in value by that discussion is entitled to claim compensation. the result will be no open and public discussion any more. The matter will go back behind the curtain and be discussed exclusively and secretly within the planning authority, and everything that we were seeking to do by the 1968 Act will be destroyed.
Quite apart from the extravagant cost of these proposals and the way in which they would entirely upset the balance which one has to try to find between giving compensation for blight in real hardship cases and ensuring greater publicity for planning proposals, the effect would be wholly harmful and contrary to the public interest in terms of proper planning procedures.
The thought that underlies the argument in favour of what is called worsenment is the almost religious veneration which hon. Members opposite have for land as a source of investment. They have come to regard land as something which by divine right should be an absolutely secure hedge against inflation, a risk-proof investment. They say, "You put your money in land and, however much inflation there is, at the end of the day you will still have retained the value of your investment." Along come these awkward planning authorities making planning decisions which affect the value of the investment. Hon. Members opposite feel that because the Government have taken a decision, or a local authority has taken a decision, which reduces the value of an investment in land, the investor must be compensated for that by the restoration of the value of his investment.
If that is a right principle, why should it not be applied to stocks and shares? If the Government decide, for example, that they are to cancel a large aviation contract, that will no doubt have an effect on the stocks and shares of the manufacturers of that aeroplane. Why should not the shareholders be compensated for the loss which they sustain as a result of that Government decision? One has only to state it to see that it is ludicrous and a nonsense.
Of course the Government must free to carry on and to make their decisions in what they believe to be the best interests of the country, and to answer to the electorate for it. To suggest that one has to try to claw back and make the Government pay for every loss sustained by an individual as a result of a Government decision is ludicrous, but the Conservative Party does not think that it is ludicrous when it comes to land.
in the analogy which my hon. and learned Friend is drawing would there not be a contractual relationship between the Government and the supplier, a relationship which would be terminated by the action of the Government? In that case, would there not be cancellation clauses and compensation terms written into the contract and would not liability then be accepted by the State?
There may be a contract in a particular case, but one can think of many instances when it is anticipated that the Government will take certain action and when that affects the value of the shares, but when in fact the Government decide the other way, or there is a change of Government and an alteration of policy, and the effect is to reduce the value of those shares, when there is no question of the cancellation of a contract. No one suggests that the Government should be expected to pay compensation for that.
All I am seeking to show is that this principle which hon. Members opposite are seeking to elevate and to which they give this hideous term "worsenment" is in fact a bogus principle. They are not facing the fact that investment in land has its risks and hazards, like any other investment and that is something which is utterly different from what takes place when the community recovers, by way of betterment levy, part of the increase in value which the community itself has created.
Of course I am not. What I am saying is that there are cases where, by reason of hardship, in certain circumstances it is thought right that the community should pay compensation. Equally, where the State acquires compulsorily someone's rights or someone's property, the State must pay the fair and proper market value.
If one is arguing, as it is argued in Clauses 4 to 7, that there should be amendments to that law to deal with cases where people are not paid proper compensation on the acquisition of land, that is something very much open to argument, and I would entirely agree that it should be discussed. But what hon. Members are seeking to do is to equate compensation for worsenment with compensation for the acquisition of an interest or with the acquisition of property, and they want to insure against the risk of any adverse effect on their property as a result of a Government decision. This is a ludicrous proposition.
I have hitherto regarded the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) as a rather reasonable man. I must confess that I do not now. He spent the greater part of his speech attacking not only my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg), but all Opposition Members because he seemed to think that my hon. Friend was introducing and some of us were supporting the Bill for all sorts of sinister reasons.
He gave himself away right at the beginning of his speech. He spent a long time attacking the principle of worsenment. He was "having at" my hon. Friend because my hon. Friend could not cost his Bill, and he said—and I made a note of his words—"Of course he cannot cost it, because no doubt the cost would run into hundreds of millions of £s." This gives the whole case away, because if, as the hon. and learned Gentleman himself suggested, people's properties are being worsened to the extent of hundreds of millions of £s every year, there is a real and genuine problem. I need not spend much time dealing with the hon. and learned Gentleman's other arguments, because the House will have listened to them and realised them for what they were.
I am the first layman to take part in the debate, every speaker hitherto having been a lawyer. I am therefore the first layman to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde on introducing the Bill. As a layman, I shall not attempt to deal with the Clauses in detail. I want to emphasise the need for the Bill.
I want to refer to two cases within my personal knowledge from which I draw certain conclusions. The first concerns a close relative of mine who recently bought a house. Her circumstances have changed and she now wants to sell the house, but it cannot be sold because, in the meantime, the local authority has produced and publicised a development plan which involves the pulling down of the house in the period—according to the authority—between 1979 and 1984. Anybody who knows the way in which a local authority works will realise that when one refers to the period from 1979 to 1984 as like as not it means from 1984 to 1990. In other words, the period for which this house is now blighted may be anything up to 15 or 20 years. That is a quite standard and straightforward case of a kind which must be familiar to many hon. Members.
The other case concerns a house in my constituency. Last March in an Adjournment debate I raised this matter with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport because it involves the development of a road. In that case the period involved is a very long one. The property has been blighted ever since 1960. I have a good deal of evidence to support this. It may not be blighted for much longer, but it has already been blighted for 10 years.
My first point is that in both cases a considerable period of blight is involved. The point has not yet been made in the debate that it is not always merely a question of a person's assets—in the form of a house, a shop, or whatever it may be—being frozen for one, two, or perhaps three years. In the second example that I gave the blight has existed for 10 years and seems likely to exist for another two, and in the first case it is not possible to calculate for how long the blight will exist, but it may be anything up to 15 years.
A period of 15 years cut of a person's life—especialy his adult life—is a very long one. For a young person aged 23 or 25 who acquires property, or an interest in property, a period of 15 years—which will take him up to around 40 years of age—seems endless. This problem particularly affects young people because in these days they move their jobs and their residences much more readily than they did before. The burden which blight places upon young people, day by day, is a very heavy one. But to older people a period of 15 years is also a long time—it may be longer than they have. At whichever end of the scale it is a period of 15 years is a long time.
In respect of the case which has occurred in my constituency I do not seek to place the blame on any authority. The development of a road is not decided by one official, or even by one committee. A great deal of thought has to be given to the matter, and in the case that I have mentioned—Kingston Road—four autho-rities are involved, namely, Merton Borough Council, the Greater London Council, the Ministry of Transport and British Railways. The matter has been further complicated by the fact that while the discussions were going on there was a change in London government, which means that the four authorities now considering the question are not the same as the four that were originally considering it.
That fact makes no difference to the people whose properties are blighted. I do not say that this is anybody's fault. I know that these matters must take a long time to settle, and that the greater the number of authorities involved the longer time they take. But that fact merely accentuates the need for a Bill of this sort. If the fact that four large authorities are involved in a planning project means that the project takes 10 years instead of only four to develop, it also means that individual properties are blighted for 10 years instead of four, and I cannot believe that any hon. Member would think that that was just. In many cases the authority concerned was elected by the person affected.
This is the dilemma with which we are faced. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde said, a balance must be struck between the public and the private interest. I believe that the balance is now too much in favour of the public interest and that private individuals are being injuriously affected and have no redress. Public authorities can raise the necessary money, in one way or another. They may not like to have to do so, but they can do so. A private individual, on the other hand, may not be able to do so. He may suffer severe financial hardship as well as the mental hardship and anguish that goes with all these problems.
As I have said, I am no lawyer. I do not know whether the precise wording of the Bill is suitable. But I know in my heart that at the moment the law is wrong. It is too favourable to the public authorities, as against private individuals. I hope that the law will be changed, and if the Minister is not able to give us an assurance that the Government will introduce a Bill on these lines I hope that the House will pass my hon. Friend's Bill.
I begin by echoing the various compliments which have been paid to the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg). I agree entirely with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot). I have had the experience of sitting opposite the hon. Member for North Fylde in Committee—on the Leasehold Reform Bill—and of finding that on many matters we had an identity of views. That only goes to show how reasonable the hon. Member is. Having congratulated him on bringing this extremely important topic before the House, however, I must go on to say that I agree with my hon. Friends who take the view that it would have been much better if this subject had been brought before the House not in the form of a Bill dealing with certain specific matters—in a way which we all agree is extremely difficult for a private Member—but, rather, in the form of a wide-ranging debate on the whole issue with which we are concerned today.
I say that for more reasons than have been advanced by my hon. Friends. They have concentrated on the width of some of the proposals in the Bill, but there is another aspect of the matter, which I sought to touch upon in one or two of the questions that I put to the hon. Member for North Fylde and to the right hon. and learned Member for Henfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith). If we are concerned with the whole question of equity which arises as a result of people's property being adversely affected by actions of public authorities—if one is saying that people should be compensated as a result of activities of public authorities which are for the benefit of the public generally—this brings into the issue the whole question of whether the same principle should not apply in a wider range of cases.
If one is going to ask a public authority, which will do some development and create a benefit to the public, to pay, or if the ratepayer or taxpayer has to pay because of the effect on land held by a private individual, one should surely at least consider the parallel situation in which a private interest develops land for its own or shareholders' benefit, which development is likely to be to the detriment of the value of the land of some adjacent landowner.
When I put this question to the hon. Member for North Fylde, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North put a similar one, the answer suggested that the hon. Member accepts the point but feels that in those circumstances compensation should still be paid by the public authority which was granted planning permission and which will not gain any direct benefit, rather than the landowner or developer who would gain benefit. I accept that any consideration of equity brings in a very wide range of considerations, but they are wholly in line with the considerations behind the Bill, so one should consider, as a matter of principle, whether what would apply to a public authority should not equally apply to a private concern.
I am obliged for that suggestion, but the hon. Gentleman has not fully comprehended my point. These are very wide issues which could more properly have been dealt with—I say this with no disrespect to the hon. Member for North Fylde—in a wide-ranging debate on the equities of our compensation system. Then we could balance one situation against the other.
The Bill deals almost wholly—and, in the context of injurious affection, blight or worsenment, wholly—with the landowner and the value of his land. But many people are affected by the actions of public authorities or private individuals or concerns which may benefit the authority or concern but react to the deteriment of someone other than a landowner—a tenant or occupier of property. I have in mind a case from my own constituency, where, to solve a difficult traffic problem, a road which had hitherto been a quiet residential road, mainly tenant-occupied, was made into a one-way street carrying heavy traffic, buses and lorries. Immediately, the amenity value of the houses to the tenant-occupiers fell considerably. The Bill does nothing to provide compensation in those circumstances.
I should have hoped that, if we were to have had a wide-ranging debate, it could and should have taken into account that kind of situation, rather than isolating particular forms of detriment, particularly that suffered by landowners rather than other occupiers. The landowner often is not the occupier.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East said that this was a debate on the basic principles of compensation and that, in effect, we could forget about the terms of the Bill, many of which he disagreed with but felt could be dealt with in Committee. But that is surely much too narrow a view of the problem. We can all agree on almost all the broad principles of equity in regard to compensation, but the difficulty arises when one tries to translate them into practical form so as not adversely to affect the balance between the public interest and the interests of the individual which legislation must create.
Therefore, we must be concerned not only with the basic principle but also with the ways in which the hon. Member for North Fylde has sought to translate them into legislation. I should like to give some illustrations. First, on the provisions concerned with planning blight, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North made the valid and forceful point that the wider the participation and therefore knowledge of what is proposed, the greater would be the compensation payable and the possible adverse effect on people's property interests, and therefore the greater would be the compensation payable under the Bill.
But there is a further point of at least equal, if not greater, significance. Planning is never a static concept. It is continually developing. New ideas, methods and machinery are continually being created and are becoming the basis of new plans. One has only to go back a few years to the Buchanan Report to recognise the tremendous influence which that report had upon the basic ideas about traffic planning and town centre planning—ideas which completely altered the way in which local authorities and developers were thinking about how development ought to be carried out. It will not stand still. Obviously there will be constant changes year by year and decade by decade in the way in which people think. It is right that there should be those changes, because otherwise we shall not be able to develop our cities and our countryside in such a way as to provide the highest degree of convenience and amenities and to deal with the constantly changing problems of the day in the best possible way.
The provisions of Clause 1 and the following Clauses relating to planning blight say, in effect, that if at any time land is affected by a plan which a local authority may have at a particular time, the landowner should be entitled to obtain compensation as a result, or to have his land purchased. It is a very wide-ranging Clause indeed, even to the extent that in seeking to create a definition of land adjacent to land which is being compulsorily acquired or which
may be compulsorily acquired in the future, it extends the word "adjacent" to mean any land
likely to be adversely affected on completion of the development or road by reason of noise, fumes, vibration or interference with light or other amenity.
It need not be adjacent in the sense of touching. It can be a long way away, provided that it may be affected in the future by one of these things. Once it can be proved that some planning decision or some refusal of planning permission has been such that one may be affected in that way, the blight provisions are to come into operation.
It may well be, of course, that the planning decision in a year or two would be different, because of some change of plan, and this is constantly happening. This is the whole process of our planning machinery. It seems to me that if we are going to provide, as the Bill seeks, a very wide-ranging right to compensation, on compulsory purchase by the local authority from the landowner, the circumstances which give him the right to take the action may well disappear within a short time, and the effect will be that the planning authorities will be deterred from constantly seeking new ways of implementing their planning duties because they will want to stabilise the possible compensation at the point of the first plan. I think that would be a highly dangerous way of giving effect to what the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
The hon. Gentleman will recall that under the provisions of the 1962 Act in the case of designated land, if it has not been acquired for the purposes of designation within 12 years—that was the period which the Government in 1962 adopted—the landowner has a right to ask for his land to be acquired. That period of 12 years was, no doubt, chosen on the very basis that I am putting forward, that one's approach must be elastic and one must allow a reasonable time for plans to change. After about 12 years the balance changes and the landowner has a right to expect that his land shall be acquired. That is where the provisions in relation to blight are tilting the balance far too much in the opposite direction from that in which they now stand. By saying that, I do not suggest that there is not a case for inquiry as to whether the precise balance which exists at the moment is the right one or whether it could not be improved from the point of view of the individual. Similar criticisms apply to the injurious affection provisions.
There is one further matter which I hope is not a Committee point. I find it difficult to follow exactly what the hon. Member for North Fylde has in mind in formulating his injurious affection provisions in the way that he has. It may be that one of the sponsors of the Bill will be able to answer this point in the course of the debate. As I understand it, he proposes that at the time when the compulsory purchase order is made, there should be scheduled to it certain land which the authority thinks may be injuriously affected as a result of the works which may be done, the development which may be carried out and the use which may follow of the land which is to be acquired. This schedule, therefore, would be wide-ranging, including within it all kinds of land other than the land which is being compulsorily acquired, and which may be adversely affected as a result of the future use of the acquired land. It goes on to say that provided that land is included in the schedule, if, when the land is acquired and is put to the use concerned, the effect of that use is to cause injurious affection to some scheduled land, a right to compensation will follow.
What I find difficult to understand is this. If we are giving a wider right to people who own land which is not the subject of the order to obtain compensation as a result of the future use of that land, why is this machinery necessary for scheduling the land in question which will involve a good deal of administrative machinery, appearance before the Lands Tribunal and so on? Why has the hon. Gentleman not simply said that anybody whose land is adversely affected by the future use of land compulsorily acquired shall have a right to compensation? I appreciate that this may have come from a source other than from the hon. Gentleman, but I find it difficult to follow the justification for dealing with it in this way.
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North on the subject of the abolition of the site value principle in compensation for unfit houses. Moreover, if one gives the market value for unfit houses one is creat- ing an incentive to landlords to refrain from carrying out necessary repairs which might otherwise have prevented the houses from becoming unfit for human habitation. The very fact that he knows that when the house is to be acquired as unfit he will get only the site value is the reason why in many cases the landlord has an incentive to carry out repairs.
The proposed new principle would be likely to act as a grave deterrent to building up our housing stock and a difficulty for tenants of houses which are on the borderline between unfit and not unfit. I appreciate that there are hardship cases, and I would accept that local authorities might be given a certain discretion in deciding whether to make payments over and above site value payments; the sort of discretion that is given on a time basis in Clause 8(3). What I have said about blight and injurious affection applies with equal force to the provisions relating to worsenment, and I will not, therefore, delay the House by going over that ground.
I hope that I have carried the House with me in my suggestion that these methods of carrying out principles which, in themselves, need wide investigation, are methods which should be thoroughly examined before the House gives effect to them. Not only do the principles raise wide questions as to the equity of confining them within a certain area and as to the rightness of extending them ac widely as is proposed; in addition, the methods by which the principles are given effect to in the Bill are themselves open to serious criticism and would require careful examination before being given effect.
For these reasons, while I compliment the hon. Member for North Fylde for initiating a useful debate in which we have been able to adduce the various difficulties that arise, the House would be unwise to accept the Bill in its present form.
I am grateful for this opportunity to intervene briefly in what has been an interesting debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) on his enterprise in selecting this subject. I must tell him at the outset, however, that I do not find his Bill perfect because in some respects it seems to go too wide and in one respect, on which I will concentrate, it does not go wide enough.
It is possible for the ordinary man and woman to find his or her life ruined as a result of decisions taken in the community's name, with no right to compensation or redress. This is an intolerable situation which this House should not allow to exist for a moment longer than it can help.
I refer particularly to the consequences which can flow from orders and regulations designed to ease the flow of traffic on our roads. This should be brought within the scope of legislation, whether by this or another Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) has already mentioned this point, and my own reasons for raising it are directly connected with experience that I have had in my constituency.
When travelling to the West Country hon. Members have possibly taken advantage of the road called the A30 which passes through the middle of the town of Camberley, which is part of my constituency. In the last two years they may have rejoiced to find parking prohibited down most of the length of that road through the town, with double yellow lines pointing out this prohibition. However, the effect of this has been disastrous for a number of my constituents.
I do not use the word "disastrous" lightly. At my request, the Camberley Chamber of Trade and Yorktown Traders' Association sent out a questionnaire to all traders along that stretch of road asking them to say, for my information—because some of the figures were given on a confidential basis I cannot quote chapter and verse in each instance—what effect the restriction had had on their property and the turnover of their businesses.
From some 80 forms that were sent out, I have received more than 60 replies. I concede that things have happened in the last two years which may have hit traders; for example, increases in taxation, restrictions on credit and other Government actions which have made life difficult for the man who is trying to earn a living, and particularly for the small businessman. I cannot, therefore, prove that the consequences of which I shall give examples are all directly due to the restriction on parking and, thus, the inability of prospective customers to park their cars immediately outside or near the shops they would otherwise wish to visit. But I am sure it has been a major factor.
Glancing through the cases, I see people replying to the questionnaire saying that their turnover has been reduced by 30 per cent., 38 per cent., 50 per cent., 40 per cent., 18 per cent., and so on. In one case there has been a 100 per cent. drop. As I glance through these replies, I also see that the value of one lease has dropped by 50 per cent. and the value of another property by £2,000.
I preceded these figures by mentioning that there were other factors, for the benefit of the House and particularly for the benefit of the hon. and learned Gentleman, who seems extremely bitter about this. The last case was a ladies hairdresser.
What were the other factors to which the hon. Gentleman alluded but did not specify? One knows that many small shopkeepers in high streets are gravely affected by the introduction of large supermarkets and so on?
I did not wish to detain the House by going through the catalogue of Government actions, like S.E.T. and the credit squeeze. I referred briefly to them, but if the hon. and learned Gentleman wishes me to elaborate on them, I will. Meanwhile, I hope he will take it from me that this is not a case of increasing competition, but one where along a stretch of road nearly two miles long, customers simply are no longer free, as they once were, to park their motor cars near the shops they wish to patronise.
As I wish to be brief, I will give only a few more example to prove my case. A café owner writes:
Due to the double yellow lines, I have lost nearly £2,000 …
That was in respect of the sale of his property. He adds:
This is a lot of money for small businessmen like me".
Another cafe owner writes:
My turnover has dropped by 95 per cent."—
and, after explaining how he is in considerable difficulty, he wonders how
I shall be able to maintain my business".
A registered blind person who has done his best to set himself up in business and to fend independently for himself has written to me at length, and with some courage, itemising the difficulties which he is facing because of this parking restriction. He hopes that
… something can be done to ensure that this state of affairs will not be permanent".
Finally, I had a letter last year from a local clergyman telling me that he had buried a parishioner who had had a business on this stretch of road. He wrote:
I am quite clear in my own mind that his life was made shorter by the fact that his business had been cut to ribbons in the last months, and the resultant anxiety and misery were too much for him.
The hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) says that when he hears us talking of the widow he always looks for the speculator hiding behind the widow's skirts. I concede that on this stretch of road owners of quite considerable shop property have taken considerable losses, and I dare say that they would be as entitled to a place in any scale of compensation as would the small men who are no longer there because they have been driven out, and the others who are struggling along in the hope that things will improve—and the men who have been driven close to bankruptcy, and who may have died as a consequence. But that does not mean, and it should not be pretended to mean, that the small men should not be entitled to compensation because compensation might also go to the big men.
If the hon. Gentleman is right in his argument, those customers must be going somewhere else. Therefore, someone else's business has profited to the same extent as those other businesses have suffered. Why shoud the community, and not those who have gained a profit, have to pay for those who have suffered a loss?
I find it difficult to appreciate what the hon. and learned Gentleman is driving at. I must ask him again, has the individual no right to protection against the State? Is he saying of individuals who have suffered through no fault of their own but as a result of action taken for the community's benefit, "I am sorry about your constituents, but there are others further down the street who are making twice as much, and they should make it up "? If he says that, I tell him at once that it does not cut any ice with me.
It appears to be impossible to do anything about this present state of affairs. On 20th October, 1969, I asked the Minister of Transport:
… whether he will seek to amend the Road Traffic Regulations Act, 1967, so as to provide for the payment of compensation for injurious affection resulting from a traffic regulation order.
The Answer I got was:
By common law highways are for the movement of vehicular and pedestrian traffic and traffic regulations orders are made to ensure that the roads concerned are safely available for this purpose. In these circumstances it is not considered appropriate to pay compensation in respect of measures taken to ensure the proper use of the highway."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th October, 1969; Vol. 788, c. 162.]
That may be the position of the common law at present, but I hope to goodness the House will not let it remain so.
Who are the beneficiaries of the proper use of this highway? Not the shopkeepers, who can no longer earn a living because no one may park their cars outside their shops. There may be some here who maintain the attitude of the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North and say that they should never have relied on customers being allowed to go on parking; that it is all their own fault and we need not bother. But the House as a whole is surely unlikely to adopt that attitude. It certainly will not do so if there is any compassion in it.
If we judge this matter properly, we can see that the beneficiaries include the holidaymakers travelling, say, between London and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and other beautiful parts of Devon and Cornwall. Why should they profit in this way, and trample into the dust the small man by the roadside? Is there any justice there? I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich will see this problem as I do; and that, perhaps, if this attempt should fail to rectify the situation he and I together can bring in a Bill to amend the present iniquitous state of the law in this respect.
The hon. Member has referred to me and to the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot). I accept that a great deal of benefit may go from local citizens because of people having to pass through in their cars, lorries, and so on, but, in the end, that financial benefit goes to some other shopkeepers. If the hon. Member could put forward a scheme which enabled betterment to be received from those other shopkeepers in return for the worsenment of those of whom he talks, that would be wholly equitable, but why should the ratepayer or the taxpayer be the person to pay without getting anything back?
I do not want to be led into the paths outlined by the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I put it to him that to some extent this already happens. Those who are fortunate enough to profit from the misfortunes of others will contribute by means of higher income tax, selective employment tax and other forks thrust into the body of their operations, and in that way will make an increased contribution to the common purse. But it is no consolation to me for the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North to say, "That is all right. We have also taken a cut, because those who have gone bankrupt are no longer paying income, tax, so we do not get that contribution from them." This attitude is legalistic, miserable, unimaginative and callous. I am astonished to find so little compassion coming from the benches opposite.
This may not be an ideal Bill, it may have faults of draftsmanship—I concede all that. But we have here a problem in human terms which the House should attempt to resolve. If we have any respect for ourselves, it is not a state of affairs that we should allow to continue and I certainly believe that if we cannot deal with it now, we must deal with it soon.
I hope that the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) will stand the shock when he finds—he is not with us at the moment—that he is getting quite a lot of support from at least one hon. Member on this side. Although the Bill is, to put it mildly, far from a perfect piece of legislation, I believe that it is useful in raising matters of great importance which, for the most part, deserve to be sympathetically considered.
One of the things which I believe has caused this debate to be somewhat distorted is the feeling that this is an argument of private versus public ownership. It is nothing of the sort. If it were, the kind of sentiments that I shall express at length would certainly not commend themselves to the hon. Member. For one thing, I have long held the view that, in general, the fee simple ownership of real property by private individuals is an anomaly, and that we should now be moving more and more to ownership of land by the whole community. Indeed, if a little of the time spent on the rather cumbersome exercise of the Land Commission Act had been devoted to the more outright, simple idea of acquisition of land for the public, which my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) has many times advocated, we should be nearer to solving a good many of our problems, and particularly our housing and other local authority problems, than we now are.
But that is not what the Bill is about, or what the argument is about. What the hon. Member for North Fylde is doing, I understand, is trying to do justice within the concept of the existing mixed economy system—a mixed economy system which this Government, rightly or wrongly, accepts. For the most part he has done some very useful work.
There are some anomalies in this Bill, one or two of which are quite glaring. There are one or two drafting errors, or perhaps they were mental lacunae in the mind of the hon. Member which border on the ludicrous but he has served a useful purpose in bringing the Bill forward. He has served a useful purpose for a number of reasons. One is that it enables us to have a hard look at the whole concept of compensation. I have felt for some time that there have been a number of faults about this.
If one goes back to the period of nationalisation under the Attlee Government, one may argue—as I certainly have argued in this House and outside—that the compensation paid to very large owners of capital, particularly in regard to coalmines and our semi-derelict railway system as it was, was far too generous in many cases. Much money was paid to a lot of undeserving people but this is a different problem altogether. It would be a very good thing if hon. Members on this side of the House would reflect that while there certainly are property owners of considerable wealth who would benefit by changes in the law such as this Bill envisages, there are also very many people in a humble way of business and persons in a humble way of ownership who lose a great deal at present.
It does not do to treat these matters as trivial. Opportunities for agreeing with the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) are limited in my case, but in this one I have some sympathy with what he has said. I, too, have the question of a free flow of traffic through my constituency. I have been able to observe and have had constituency cases where people in a small way of business have undoubtedly suffered considerable hardship as a result of technological changes. Those technological changes for the most part we welcome and they are inevitable, but they undoubtedly bear harshly on a number of people. It does not do to laugh this off, or treat it as just too bad but part of the risks of investment. It is said in criticism of this Bill that it may result in a very considerable charge to the taxpayer.
Conservatives are only too pleased to talk about reducing taxation and then to think of ways of increasing it enormously, and no doubt we shall hear more about that in the General Election. Here I shall use an argument which will not commend itself to the other side of the House. Contrary to popular mythology, we are not grossly over-taxed, although there may be room for changes of tax distribution. If it is true that a number of people under this Bill would be unmeritoriously enriched, the way to deal with that is by means of a wealth tax which my hon. Friends and I in the Tribune Group have been pressing on the Government for a considerable time without success. It is also true that some of these measures would result in large payments out. It is true that this represents a concealed hardship which is not recognised under the law at present.
The most important aspect of the Bill is, of course, the recognition of the concept of continuing loss of amenity. Whatever term one uses to describe it, this is the interesting innovation which the hon. Member has introduced and it is one which is to be wholly commended. Technical changes in our society—many of them initiated by Government, perhaps the majority—result in further changes, some of which are favourable but many adverse to individual persons. The question of new aerodromes and new highways are most striking instances. It is well to remember that the process of redevelopment of our cities is really only just gaining momentum. We shall face this problem more and more in the next few years.
It is time, therefore, that we should think in terms of looking at the law and trying to see in what way we can improve it. I am afraid this Bill, if it were to have a Second Reading, would need to be amended in a large number of ways. The confusion between worsenment and injurious affection does not look like being resolved by anyone in this debate. It is a pity that these two terms have been used. I got the impression from the hon. Member for North Fylde, I hope not unfairly, that he was not too clear in his mind about the distinction, but that there is a problem here there is no doubt and we must recognise it. As the Bill stands there may be some peculiar results from this.
It is a little ironic when a Conservative Member of Parliament introduces a Bill the effect of which, among other things, is that it would result in local authorities acquiring more rather than less land. One of the provisions of the Bill is that as a means of compensating persons whose amenity value is affected they may require the local authority to acquire land even though it may not be needed. I should have thought that this had something to commend it. As one who would like to see more and more land publicly or municipally owned, I think this is a point very much in the Bill's favour. Possibly the hon. Member who introduced the Bill would not see it in quite the same light, but as the Bill stands this is a point to be set in its favour.
I want to say a word about the provision which makes for the alteration of site value compensation for condemned properties. It would be better if it were confined to the owner-occupier. As it stands, the Bill is too wide and would result in avoidable compensation for persons who perhaps do not deserve to be compensated, but here again there is a point of difficulty. It is within the experience, I am sure, of most hon. Members that a lot of time sometimes elapses between the decision to acquire and the time when a house is vacated and demolished. In that time, which can run into years—I have cases in my constituency where this has happened—people will continue to try to live as best they can in property which by definition is not fit for use, but they will try to improve it for day-to-day use. It seems a little unfair that that should not be provided for.
It does not, I think, require the drastic provisions of this Bill, but it is certainly an additional element which ought to be recognised in the assessment of compensation. That is one aspect of the Bill which on the whole is in its favour, but it is not the most important part of the Bill. The most important aspect is undoubtedly the recognition of the concept of the permanent worsenment of amenities.
In Clause 1 the word "indication" that is, an indication of a planning proposal—is ludicrously wide, so wide as to be almost meaningless. It does not suggest any formality on the part of the authority. I am surprised too, as the word "blight" is used so much, that it is not defined in the Bill. Most of us know what it means, but in this kind of legislation there is a premium on the need for precision.
Clause 5 contains the words "personal circumstances" in relation to compensation. I like that idea. I have always thought that one of the weaknesses of our whole concept of compensation is that, generally speaking, we compensate for the value that is required, without taking cognisance of the circumstances of the person who receives the compensation.
This new concept works both ways. If it is accepted, the day will come when less than value equivalent compensation is paid to a wealthy person and more than value equivalent is paid to someone of modest means. The concept is a good one, but it is not easy to understand precisely what is meant, in the absence of definition.
I am not sure whether the provision in Clause 3 that
compensation shall not be payable unless such depreciation exceeds the sum of £100".
does not set too low a limit. I wonder how much added work this will provide for the Lands Tribunal and its staff. I again chide hon. Members opposite by saying that many of them have ribbed the Land Commission for the amount of work it undertakes to little purpose—so they say. This provision would undoubtedly create far more administrative and beaucratic work than the Land Commission is ever likely to undertake.
I repeat that the hon. Member for North Fylde has done a useful service by introducing the Bill. I hope that the Bill will receive more sympathetic treatment for its general concept than has been the case so far. In my present mood I should find it difficult to vote against the Bill. Whether I vote for it will depend largely on the reply given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State.
I have always believed that it is the duty of a Labour Government worthy of its salt to hit accretions of great wealth very hard, but to be tender to the point of being generous to persons of comparatively small means. I have said this in relation to the whole question of the behaviour of the Land Commission. The right way to alter the gross imbalance of wealth is by way of a wealth tax and by extending the scope of nationalisation over a much wider field than this Government seem minded to do.
That is one side of the argument. On the other, I think that when dealing with the interests of people of limited means it is right to be generous, even though it involves the Government of the day in some measure of cost.
I am glad that for the first time there has been limited approval from one Labour Member of some portions of the Bill, even though he has coupled it with a recommendation for land nationalisation. We had from two highly paid lawyers who are Labour M.P.s and who both, I regret to say, have abandoned the debate, having heard their own voices, a greater demonstration of knowledge of surtax than we had of the problems which are dealt with by the Bill.
No, not now. I will give way when I have completed this series of observations. It would have been much better if the hon. and learned Members for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) and Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) had remained in the Chamber, having made observations of a kind which my hon. Friend the sponsor of the Bill did not, to hear some of it coming back to them again.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to think again about the uncharitable tone in which he has started his speech. It is true that two of my hon. and learned Friends have spoken and have left the Chamber. So have two of his right hon. and learned Friends. Not only that, but the sponsor of the Bill himself—the hon. Member for North Fylde Clegg)—for reasons that we appreciate, has been absent for the last hour. Obviously an hon. Member cannot sit continuously through the debate on a Bill of this sort. I hope that if the hon. Gentleman draws deductions from the absence of hon. Members he will do so in a fair manner by drawing attention to it all round the House.
I was not referring to those who confined their comments to the Bill but to those who sought to intrude into the debate entirely extraneous factors, as did the hon. and learned Members for Derby, North and for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North, both of whom are highly paid lawyers.
I take it that it is not in dispute, yet they seem to know nothing—or, if they know anything, they do not wish to share their knowledge with the House—of the circumstances of that very large number of people who suffer severe injury which the Government have done nothing whatever to redress and which the Bill seeks to redress.
The impression given by the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North—a Q.C.—is that the Bill is concerned to a large extent with surtax payers and very wealthy people. In fact, the houses affected by many of the provisions of the Bill are owned by people of very modest means, if indeed they are owned at all; because the Bill for the first time seeks to make compensation provision for tenants as well, a fact that neither of the two very experienced lawyers opposite to whom I have referred mentioned.
Clause 2 substitutes a new subsection for subsection (3) of Section 138 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, which that experienced Labour lawyer, the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North, described as comprehensive but which was restricted to the interests of owner-occupiers affected by planning proposals. The proposed new subsection will embody also the interests of tenants, which have been an omission in the law for far too long.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg), who introduced the Bill with great moderation, referred to a communication which he has received from a firm of solicitors in Tiverton which acts for residents who find themselves in an unhappy situation—owing to projected route for the M.5—which the Bill seeks to remedy, among other unfortunate situations.
I want to give some specific examples. A young person who has owned his bungalow for only about two years on a long-term mortgage was engaged in working on the engineering works at the Cullompton By-pass a few miles away. His property is now blighted. It will not have the motorway passing through it, so that under existing law there is no compensation. His job on the by-pass has ended and he wishes to move to where there is another job. How can he do so? He has a mortgage round his neck for a number of years—a mortgage which was reasonably and prudently taken out after a search by his lawyer. He is unable to dispose of his bungalow so that he may move or to find employment if he remains in it. That is the kind of situation which people experience.
Another example is that of people of such an age that they have insufficient expectancy of life to secure a mortgage on another property if they move. It is true that the motorway may not pass through their property. Perhaps the embankment will start a few feet away, rising 15 to 20 feet into the air so that, apart from the constant noise from the motorway passing near their bedroom—noise which will continue throughout the night—practically all the light and certainly all the view will be shut out from the back of the house, as much of it is already shut out by the railway at the front of the house.
What are these people to do? The existing law offers them no redress. Local councils are powerless to do anything constructive about it. That is why the rural district council concerned in this case instructed its clerk to write to me asking me to express to the House—as I am doing—the council's support of the Bill.
Local authorities do not like to be in this position, least of all when they are acting not as their own masters but as agents for the Ministry of Transport. It is often the local councillors who get the kicks because the Ministry of Transport is too remote to get them. The Minister of Transport held a public meeting in this village at which a good deal of misleading information was given. Representatives of the Ministry of Transport expressed themselves amazed that people had not known about 10 years earlier where the motorway would run, but in the next breath they said, "Of course the route is not yet fixed and there may be an inquiry". That is entirely inconsistent. In addition, it was only fairly recently that the proposals were altered from two-lane road to a three-lane motorway—which meant that the amount of land required was different. Moreover, a motorway is often superimposed on a high embankment whereas an ordinary road tends to follow the natural contours of the land and is far less injurious to people living on either side of it.
It was wise of my hon. Friend to draw the Bill in wide terms. I have long been concerned with the problem of how we limit the claim for compensation. Do we limit it to a distance of 30, 50 or 100 yards? If we draw a statutory line we shall obviously create injustice to those people just over the line. That is always the case. The degree to which people suffer will depend upon the nature of the structure or the excavation which the statutory authority is imposing. Reference has been made to the problems caused by an aerodrome. Obviously in that case the injurious affection and blight of people's homes can be spread much more widely than, to take another extreme, in the case of a public lavatory. But if we are to deal with this problem, there is plenty of opportunity for altering the details of the Bill in Committee and on Report. It is right that we should start with a Bill in the widest possible terms, even if the Committee and the House in their wisdom tend later towards restricting it.
I am well aware that the Ministry of Transport have been considering the problem of compensation for injurious affection and blight for some time. Indeed, I have been in correspondence with the Parliamentary Secretary about it. But there is no evidence that legislation will be introduced in the near future, or if it is produced in the distant future, that it will be retrospective. But there are considerable motorway programmes under way, so that any legislation other than this Bill will come too late to save from ruin many of the people concerned. Good intentions are not enough.
Nor do I favour handing the problem over to yet another Royal Commission, which is a notorious way, whatever its virtues, of securing that any effective action is delayed. Let us have a holding Act and then, by all means, if the Government want a Royal Commission to make more long-winded recommendations, let them have it; but that should not be a substitute for inaction in a matter which has already been shown to be so pressing.
I must once again castigate the two hon. and learned Members to whom I referred this time for putting seriously to the House that this is not a proper matter for a Private Member's Bill. If divorce were a proper matter for A. P. Herbert's Bill, which is every bit as complex; and if homicide and abortion were proper matters for Private Members' Bills—and I believe that they were all proper matters for Private Members' Bill—then I see no reason why this subject, too, should not be a proper matter for a Private Member's Bill.
My hon. Friend has had experience both as a town clerk and as a solicitor so that he is not simply offering to the House the product of someone else's brain and experience. It is particularly valuable when a Bill of this nature is introduced by an hon. Member with specific knowledge of the position in which local authorities may find themselves, often against their own wishes and their own judgment.
As I said, I am also concerned about compensation for tenants. It so happens that in my constituency they are often tenants of the Church Commissioners, but that is neither here nor there in this context. Often they are dairy farmers. When a motorway is driven through a farm, frequently no provision is made for getting the cattle across the motorway. A farmer with very little capital often is a dairy farmer who needs his monthly milk cheque to keep in business. Who gets the compensation when the motorway is driven through the farm? The owner of the farm. What happens to the tenant who can no longer farm the property because he has no means of getting the cattle across the motorway for milking twice a day? If the landlord is a benign landlord, the tenant may have some of the compensation passed to him, but to the best of my knowledge he is not entitled to it by law.
That is why the provision is sensible which requires the local authority, in this case acting for the Ministry of Trans- port, or the statutory body concerned to purchase the land. There are good precedents for that in Sweden and, to the best of my knowledge, in Western Germany. If one claims that one's livelihood has been ruined by the passage of a new road, under compulsory purchase powers, through a part of one's enterprise, the purchasing authority is saved from all the arguments about the percentage of damage which has been done, for it says, "We will buy the property at a fair market value and then sell it back to you or to anybody else for the highest price that we can get". Often that calls a man's bluff, because if he is claiming that 40 per cent. of his enterprise has been destroyed, and then finds that others are prepared to pay 90 per cent. of the existing price, he will have done himself out of his own enterprise. That is a protective element.
Another effect which the passage of the Bill will have, and which I am sure the whole House wishes to see, is an expedition of our road programmes. If people feel they are not being unjustly deprived they will be less likely to want to reserve their position by putting in objections, by asking for a public inquiry or by employing other dilatory processes. If they have confidence that they will not lose their rights—because this is what so often happens and what people fear—we shall have more expedition in the road programme. This can be of immense benefit to the taxpayer. As road-making techniques advance more and more massive capital equipment is employed, and if one property is in dispute it can result in immense delay and cost. A public inquiry concerning the choice of route can also result in immense delay and expense to the public purse. I am sure, even if one cannot quantify, that by bringing in provisions which alleviate the injustice felt by the individual we can speed up our road programme and save public money.
I am not qualified to enter into the linguistic argument about injurious affection and worsenment, but I have no doubt, now that the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North has left the Chamber, that we all know what the Bill is about. We all know the sort of thing we are talking about where people cannot carry on their profession or dispose of their house, or even continue to live in their house. That is the broad spectrum, and I am perfectly happy that hon. Members learned in the law should improve the drafting and get rid of ambiguities and restrict potential abuses.
What I fear will happen is that the Minister will tell us that his Department has the problem very much in mind and that it is being subjected to the most intensive inquiry and that the Government have the deepest sympathy with those who are suffering from these injustices. That translated into English means, "Do not let this Bill get a Second Reading. We are planning to do something at some unspecified time in the future." That means that many people will suffer loss, hardship and resentment which they need not have suffered if the Bill received a Second Reading.
Like the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) I too am not qualified to speak as a lawyer. Indeed I believe I am the only non-lawyer who has so far spoken from this side of the House and therefore I am naturally very hesitant about opposing my unlearned voice to the legalistic growls which we have been hearing from the pride of lawyers who have been holding forth.
As I see it, I am also somewhat eccentric in being the only Labour sponsor of this important Measure and I am somewhat aggrieved to hear it described by some of my hon. and learned Friends as a speculators' charter. If this were true my association with it would cause great distress, and certainly surprise, in my constituency where I have seen fit on occasion to disparage speculators. I do not see this important Measure in that light at all. There are important principles at stake here and it is appropriate that we should discuss them in general terms during a Second Reading debate. They are principles which need to be considered sympathetically by the Government.
Indeed, I think that all hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from both sides of the House have paid testimony to the motives of the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) whom all of us know well, and who has been fairly described as a well liked Member of the House. But I think that, rather like Mark Antony, some of my hon. Friends have gone on to deliver something rather like the funeral oration at the burial of Caesar in that they have gently shredded his Bill to pieces. This activity by the demolition squad is somewhat misapplied. Quite obviously there are severe problems involved in any legislation in this field. We have seen this repeatedly in the postwar years—certainly in the effort made in the post-war Labour Government to bring some sort of equity into planning law. We gave equal opportunity for verbal hatchet work when we introduced the Land Commission Bill. Obviously there are no simple formulæ which will answer the undoubted difficulties and distress which occur.
However, I think I can fairly claim to be consistent on this, because nearly two years ago I was, together with the hon. Gentleman sponsor of this Bill and indeed my hon. and learned friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Mac-Dermot), a member of the Standing Committee on the Town and Country Planning Bill. I am sure that the hon. Member for North Fylde had in mind some of the attempts we made there to amend that Bill when he drafted the early part of his Bill. Certainly, the subsections to Clause 1 were anticipated in some of the Amendments which were moved on 26th March, 1968, by hon. Members on both sides of that Committee.
For example, there was an Amendment which I think anticipates the wording of Clause 1(1)(a) which was moved by another hon. Member who is a sponsor of the present Bill. It read as follows:
(d) is land in respect of which a prospective purchaser has been informed by any means whatsoever by an authority possessing compulsory purchase powers or by any local authority that there is a possibility of that land being acquired by the exercise of compulsory purchase powers by any such authority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee G, 26th March, 1968; c. 688]
It is true that that Amendment when pressed to a Division did not find favour with the Committee, but I think it may be said in passing that among those who voted for it was my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Row-lands), who has since been translated to higher things. I make the point because it was quite obvious to the
Committee during that discussion that members on both sides felt that there was an urgent problem which required action. A later Amendment was moved which referred to
…land indicated by a local authority as likely to be comprised in the site of a highway.
That Amendment, for what it was worth, was also pressed to a Division and there was a tied vote. At that time I felt that as there were so many problems involved I could not make up my mind and I abstained. I have regretted this ever since, because I feel that at that time we should have pushed the proposal somewhat further, and perhaps as a belated act of contrition I have now decided to be a sponsor of this Measure.
It is easy to talk about the various problems which the Bill would provoke. The reason why we have such enormous problems stems from the very circumstances of urban life in this country. Looking back to the development of the railway system in the 1840s and 1850s, we see a totally different physical and social environment, a country with only a fraction of its present population, a country in which there were far more green fields than survive to this day, and in which it was possible to build vast constructions which would not have an adverse effect upon a population in situ.
Today, however, with a population well above 50 million—and still increasing—living in large numbers of densely built-up towns, it is inevitable that, during the present phase of our transport revolution and the creation of the motorway system, notably the urban motorway system, there will be enormous dislocation and damage caused to people's property. There is no way of avoiding it if that is the way to create an environment, which, I am sure, most people would regard as necessary, in which the motor car may play a significant part.
The costs involved in creating this environment are burdensome, and some of them were defined in the famous Buchanan Report. But I felt at that time that the costs were being minimised because Buchanan did not truly bring out the hidden costs of such development, although reference to the problem was made at length in the report. The hidden costs are the hundreds of millions of pounds to which reference was made earlier today, and which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North said might represent the order of magnitude of the compensation involved were the Bill to be passed. These costs are not theoretical. They are real costs being borne by real people, often just ordinary people, who have no means of redress.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) said, it may well be that some will see this debate as an argument between public and private ownership, and, as he rightly said, that would be a travesty of the problem which we face. We are living in a society in which many millions of people own their own houses. In the majority of cases, these houses are their major investment, often an investment to which they have devoted a lifetime of saving, and it is perfectly proper for all hon. Members to be concerned when those persons' properties are damaged, when their value is depreciated, and when amenity is worsened.
It may fairly be said that this matter is too large to be dealt with in a Private Member's Bill, but, having myself had some experience in the difficult field of private Member's legislation, I make the other fair point that, if the Government of the day are, apparently, not themselves prepared to bring forward legislation, there comes a time when private Members have a responsibility to focus attention upon these problems. I know, as my hon. and learned Friend said, that an inquiry was set up and is still sitting. But that was nearly two years ago, and, even if this be a complex and vexed question, the years are rolling by and more people's hopes are being smothered and their fears realised.
Several points have been raised which I am not competent to examine in detail, but there are one or two matters on which I might properly comment. I listened carefully to what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North said when he described the Bill as a speculator's charter. He envisaged a situation in which someone bought land for which, as I understood it, no planning approval had yet been given; the land was bought because there was a hope value attached to it. But a hope value is not a real value. He went on to say that if, subsequently, that hope was dashed because the planning permission which the buyer had confidently expected was not given by the planning authority, there would then be a case for going back to the local authority to demand compensation.
If that is the position—my hon. and learned Friend speaks with great knowledge of these matters—clearly, neither I nor, I am sure, the hon. Member for North Fylde would want to see such a state of affairs provoked. But what we are concerned with here is not hope value. We are trying to protect real values, existing values. If the gentleman who bought those fields in the hope that he would be able to build a multi-storey block of luxury flats is not given planning permission, he has not lost in the process because there was no planning permission ever given. His hopes may have been dashed. Well—hard luck. What we are concerned with here is the position of the person with a house which has a real value, and that real value is overnight suddenly destroyed by the actions of a planning authority. Then there is real loss, and, as I understand it, such a person would under the Bill have a right to demand compensation from the authority which had depreciated the value of his property. To me, at least—I am sorry if I have misunderstood—that is the philosophy behind that part of the Bill.
I have some reservations about certain of the Bill's provisions. If I may say so, I thought that the hon. Member for Tiverton somewhat exaggerated or spoilt his case when he implied that the Government had done nothing about this problem. By their Housing Act, 1969, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) reminded us, they have gone a long way towards meeting the problems of site value compensation, one matter covered by Clause 8. Whether we should go further on the lines set out in Clause 8 I am not sure, but I should not regard my reservations on that Clause as a critique of the overall philosophy of the Bill.
There are problems in connection with Clause 1, especially subsection (1)(a),
… land in respect of which an indication has been given by any means…
The generality of that is not excluded by the particularity of the later criteria.
I see some difficulties here. I suppose that a member of a local authority, in the heat of the moment, might rise in a council chamber and say, "We have great plans for the future which will sweep away half our town". I suppose that it might come out in a search that Councillor So-and-So on a certain occasion gave an indication that half the town was to be swept away. But if that is the sort of problem which we fear as a complexity arising from the Bill, it would be a good idea to inhibit councillors from making such outrageous statements.
There is at times far too much loose talk about what may be done. I worry sometimes when town planning consultants move into an area. I do not know whether lawyers are highly paid, but I suspect that some of these gentlemen certainly are. They produce reports and strategy plans for 20 or 30 years ahead, and then, having bequeathed the infant upon the local population whom they have been serving, they slip away into the night, as it were, and not even a paternity order can be served upon them. But the infant they have left, in the form of maps, charts and statistics, can effectively blight property for decades to come.
I have this problem at the moment in my constituency. We have recently had prepared for us the Merseyside Land Use and Transportation Study, a massive and, in general, well constructed series of proposals, but these proposals, even though the long-term projects are sketched out in sweeping brush strokes, have caused great apprehension among my constituents. Only last Friday, I addressed a meeting so full that people were crowded out into the corridor and even the street outside. Hundreds turned up, deeply worried about their position.
I must ask my hon. Friends not to take lightly the fears which people entertain. It may well be that they are unjustified. In one sense, our predicament is that the more we try to involve people in public participation and discussion of plans, the more fears we may cause, but, in general, I believe that people have a right to know the facts, such as they exist, and those facts, however ambiguous they may be, will be revealed to any prospective house purchaser when a search is carried out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reading saw this as what some might call the thin end of the wedge of municipalisation. I am sure that the hon. Member for North Fylde had no such object, but there is nothing, of course, to stop this happening. One might see, as the years roll on, no doubt at vast expense, the great bulk of private property slipping into the hands of local authorities and the State. Perhaps some on this side would regard this as an excellent. if expensive, undertaking; Fabian Socialism reaching its apotheosis through the intervention of the hon. Member for North Fylde.
But somehow I do not see it in those terms. If the Bill were passed, there would almost certainly be a period of some months, possibly a couple of years, during which many people would take advantage of the powers which would then be theirs—in other words, to insist that the local authority acquire their property. But even there, we should be wise not to exaggerate the extent to which this would happen. After all, people do not want to give up their houses just like that because, perhaps 20 years from now, some great coil of concrete spaghetti will descend upon them in the form of a grade separation junction. They will want to live in that house, perhaps, in the evening of their years.
But what they will get from the Bill is the security of knowing that, if events should conspire to force them to leave that home, they will not be damaged by any prospective purchaser being deterred from purchasing. The knowledge that this security is there might well lead them not to wish to give up their houses at all. In other words, I am not sure that we shall see this vast unloading of private property on the local authority market.
But even if this happens, many of the plans tentatively sketched, as of now, will as the years go by be altered, withdrawn or substantially amended. In that case, assuming that there had been this great unloading of property, the local authority would now find itself with a great deal of property, for which it had paid the market value and which, if it chose, it could now unload back on to the private market. What is to prevent that? In other words, the local authority could have a float of property—at one end, property being acquired at market value, under the blighting provisions of the Bill, and, at the other end, property being unloaded on to the private market as the blighting was removed because the plan no longer imposed such blight. This is not an unrealistic way of looking at the process——
If a road scheme were to go through my hon. Friend's constituency, would he not consider that blight remained on the periphery of the scheme? Those people who are left on the periphery would still face anguish or loss through having to stay there, unless they had compensation or could force the authority to buy them out.
I take my hon. Friend's point about the periphery, but, as I understand it, the Bill would provide, under the terms of so-called worsenment or injurious affection, for the taking into account of precisely this peripheral shadow. It is rather like what I used to be told at school about the umbra and the penumbra. In the areas in deep shadow because of blight, where the chances are that property will be demolished, there are certain safeguards at the moment. When property is demolished when motorways are built, compensation is payable. But where there is peripheral property which will not be, or will not be seen to be, directly required years in advance, there is no security.
A motorway is going up the middle of the Wirral peninsula at the moment. The house of one constituent of mine is being demolished and purchased by the Ministry of Transport. He may not like this, if he does not want to leave, but nevertheless he has some financial security. The man next door, who will have in front of him some concrete structure which will take away possibly thousands of £s of value from his house, has no right to compensation.
In all fairness, this is not good enough. This has been recognised now by hon. Members on both sides. I know that, privately, many hon. Members on this side feel that this Measure, however unsatisfactory it may be in many details—I am sure that it is unsatisfactory in many details—is nevertheless focussing attention on one of the gravest problems which our society faces. As the State becomes the great juggernaut, driving motorways through vast areas of our urban environment, so ordinary little people will be pushed and shoved out of the way. What we have to do is make sure that the consequences for them are at least eased by giving them as much financial security as we can, to which I think they are entitled.
I am not seeking to curtail the debate, but I rise now because this is perhaps a convenient time at which to express the views of this side of the House.
The Bill has given rise to a most important and serious debate of a very high standard. The debate has attracted right hon. and hon. and learned Members from both sides of the House, who have spoken with great authority on a very complex and difficult part of our law. It has also attracted self-termed laymen, hon. Members who are not lawyers but who have spoken with great feeling of constituency problems which have arisen because of our laws relating to compulsory purchase—such as my hon. Friends the Members for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins), Woking (Mr. Onslow) and Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). These speeches have underlined the importance of the Bill and also the real concern in the House for the present state of the law.
Some hon. Members have criticised some aspects of the Bill. They do not agree with all of it, but find merit in much of it. Some have criticised it purely for technical, drafting reasons. But all hon. Members have been unanimous in their congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) for bringing the Bill forward. I join most warmly in those congratulations, because it is high time that we debated this subject.
I know that my hon. Friend is motivated by that warmth of character of which so many hon. Members have spoken this afternoon in mentioning his popularity in the House. He has spoken from a deep feeling for humanity and abhorrence of hardship and suffering among the people of this country, where-ever it may be found and for whatever reason it may exist. With these two traits of his character, he has coupled his own deep and wide professional experience as a lawyer who has had brought to his attention over the years problems of the kind which he has discussed.
The concern which has been expressed is widespread and is felt generally throughout the country. There is possibly no branch of our law relating to land, apart from the iniquitous Land Commission Act, which has caused greater bitterness and sense of injustice than our present laws on compulsory purchase and planning blight. This concern outside the House has found expression in reports, which have been mentioned already—the Report by Justice on "Compensation for Compulsory Acquisition and Remedies for Planning Restrictions", and also the Report of the Chartered Land Societies Committee, "Compensation for Compulsory Acquisition and Planning Restrictions". Each has gone into this branch of the law in some depth.
On the very first page of the Chartered Land Society's Societies Committee Report there are quotations from a number of criticisms from learned justices of appeal, who have called this branch of the law "a mass of obscurity", a "thicket", a "jungle", a "monstrous legislative morass", a "labyrinth", and a "maze". The Chartered Land Societies Committee passes the comment:
Such strictures can hardly be disregarded.
Yet apparently the Government have seen fit to disregard these strictures, because this report has been in their hands since November, 1967, and they have done precisely nothing.
Periodically my hon. Friends and I have asked the Minister at Question Time when the Government will make a statement on this report and when they will bring forward legislation. Each time we have received the rather bland and evasive reply that the matter is complex and requires study.
Indeed, it is. But meanwhile time passes and more schemes are produced by local authorities and more people suffer, or feel that they suffer, one injustice or another. It is a matter of urgency that the Government should bring forward some legislation. I hope that if the Minister is to invite his right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the Bill today he will at least do so with the excuse that he has immediately in hand some legislation to deal with the great problem that the House is discussing today.
I certainly hope that the attitude of the Minister is not that of the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot), who made a cold speech, a speech completely without soul. The hon. and learned Gentleman has shown himself to be without any feeling at all for the hardship of people in this country. His excuse is that he sees a speculator peeping from behind the skirts of every widow, and he has seen fit to equate homes and small businesses with stocks and shares. Because of that, he draws the conclusion that we should be slow to try to remedy ills and injustices where they exist. I express the hope that that does not represent the Government's view of this matter.
I should like to see a greater sense of urgency compelling the Government to take some action. This is not to say that we on this side do not recognise some of the real difficulties in the way of legislation. I take, first, the question of planning blight which is dealt with in the Bill. Obviously there is a real dilemma. If a local authority has planning proposals that will affect someone's land and it discloses those proposals, the owner will find himself left with the property on his hands because he will be unable to sell it. This can cause hardship. He may wish to retire, sell his business, sell his home or change his job. Illness may compel him to move. If he has a young family there is the problem of schooling. People may wish to move from one locality to another for many reasons, but they may find themselves absolutely trapped where they are by local authority proposals.
On the other hand, if the local authority keeps its proposals secret until the very last moment a purchaser buying that property, and within a short time thereafter suddenly finding that mature proposals are brought forward and revealed, will be left with a sense of grievance because he has bought something in his innocence that he otherwise would not have bought.
Obviously knowing when to disclose or not to disclose the proposals of a local authority poses the problem: will it injure the present owner of the land or will it injure somebody buying that land in innocence of what those proposals may be? A way out might be to say that the local authority should, wherever these circumstances exist, acquire the property itself. But immediately we are faced with the enormous expense that this would involve. We cannot expect the community, either nationally or on a local basis, every time a planning committee decides to start discussing its proposals concerning some land or other, to burden itself with an obligation to buy that land, because between the initiation of discussions and the final decision whether to do anything with that land a great deal can happen. A planning committee may initiate discussions and eventually decide not to proceed with the proposals. Therefore, we must try to seek some other solution.
The Conservative Party has been carrying out a detailed study into the very problems raised by properties liable to be acquired by a local authority in the future. Our proposal is that the owner of any such property should be able to apply to the local authority for a certificate of minimum value, provided the property is well maintained, which would be the equivalent of the market price. When the local authority ultimately acquires that land, the owner will get either the value that has already been certified or the current market value, whichever is the greater.
Consideration has to be given to inflation, so there should be machinery for an owner of land to ask for his certificate of minimum value to be reviewed from time to time. It is hoped that such a proposal will keep an open market for property even though it may be subject to proposals by a local authority in the future, because the certificate of minimium value will indicate the price below which that land will not be acquired by the local authority.
The hon. Gentleman is stating something of considerable interest to the whole House. Is the proposal of the Conservative Party that any owner of any land at any time, whether or not his property is affected by planning proposals, can apply to the local authority for a certificate of minimum value and that this should be amended from time to time as and when the owner thinks right?
The proposal is limited to circumstances in which planning blight arises where an owner finds that he cannot sell his land because of activities, to use a neutral term, of a public authority. Where some active step has been taken by a local or other public authority, an owner can go to the authority and say, "Please give me a certificate of minimum value showing the market price of my property today, disregarding your plans for the future".
I shall be coming to those matters later. I am dealing now purely with the problem of somebody with property affected by local authority proposals being able to dispose of it freely in the market and not finding himself economically trapped because nobody wants to buy that property in view of the local authority's proposals. I am dealing purely with this market point.
Perhaps I might add that this proposal also meets the problem of vast expense. It does not require the authority to buy that property here and now. The authority can wait until it needs the property before it acquires it. But what has been created is a viable market within which that property can exchange hands.
I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to this point, although I may say that we on this side consider that it is part of the legislative programme which we shall put into effect when the electorate give us the opportunity to do so.
I may not have followed the hon. Gentleman. What assumptions are made about the rate of inflation in the price of houses in the forthcoming period? Is it assumed that it will continue throughout the 1970s and maybe into the 1980s at the same rate that we have seen in the 1960s? If not, what assumptions are made?
No assumption is made in advance. Inflation either takes place or it does not between the granting of the certificate and the time that the owner requires it to be renewed. That will be known at the time of the request for the renewal or review of the certificate. We will be working on what has happened in the economy generally.
I invite the Government to consider this matter seriously. They have been responsible for many actions which have brought about blight. I remind the Minister that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, when Minister of Transport, urged local authorities with populations of 75,000 or more to prepare road plans for the 1970s and 1980s. A great number of local authorities did so and, at her behest, employed consultants at some public expense to prepare these plans. The result has been to blight thousands of properties up and down the country which now will not be sold, and the local authorities are getting the odium because of it.
That is unfair. I am sorry so say this, because I was with the hon. Gentleman all the way until he came to that point. If I catch Mr. Speaker's eye, I shall point out a similar case inaugurated by Mr. Harold Watkinson when he was Minister of Transport which has been hanging over thousands of my constituents ever since. It is quite wrong to suggest that blight started suddenly after October, 1964. The hon. Gentleman has spoiled a good case.
One admires the hon. Gentleman's loyalty to the right hon. Lady. I am seeking to urge on the Government the necessity for immediate action because they have created the situation. I have given the example of the advice given by the former Minister of Transport to local authorities which has created blight that would not have existed otherwise. Having created the situation, the Government are under a moral obligation to try and put the matter right.
I will leave the problem of planning blight and turn to another question raised by the Bill, and that is injurious affection. It arises mostly today in the many traffic and road schemes which exist. A motorway will be built which will cause carriageways to be elevated so that they pass the bedroom windows of houses alongside the roadway. There are the problems of noise, fumes, general nuisance and annoyance. Some progressive local authorities have sought powers to deal with these problems, but so far they have received very little satisfaction from the Government.
Perhaps more than any other local authority at the moment, the Greater London Council is concerned with extensive plans for the building of motorways. It has sought to persuade the Government to give it power to acquire by agreement properties which are outside the actual line of the road but which are affected seriously by the road. At the moment, the only powers which the local authority and the Ministry of Transport have is to acquire the land in the line of the road. There is no power, either by compulsory purchase or agreement, to acquire the land on either side. The Greater London Council has sought power to negotiate and buy the properties of people who are so affected and who feel that their living conditions have become intolerable.
There are cases also where perhaps such a drastic solution as the acquisition of property and possibly its demolition is not necessary and where, for example, soundproofing could remove most of the annoyance and nuisance. Here again, the G.L.C. has sought power to make grants to the occupiers of properties alongside highways so that they can carry out the necessary soundproofing of their properties. I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to proposals of this kind. They would not create an inordiate amount of public expenditure, but they would go a very long way towards relieving much of the hardship which exists. It is a matter of great significance when the local authorities are conscious of these problems and wish to alleviate some of the greater injustices which many of their necessary programmes are creating.
Another part of the Bill which requires examination relates to the Clauses dealing with small businesses. Under the present compensation law, no account is taken of past blight in calculating trading loss in the case of a small business. The owner of a small business may be in an area that is under general redevelopment but is not immediately subject to a compulsory purchase order because he is one of the later stages of the development. All about him his customers can disappear as houses are pulled down awaiting the erection of new housing by the local authority. The process can take a long time. While he is there, his living is suffering because of the disappearance of his customers. As the law stands, there is no way of helping anyone in that position. I consider that this is a matter which the Minister should look at and which the Bill seeks to meet.
There is also the inability of the older shopkeeper occupying the shop-parlour type of accommodation who, because of age or ill health, cannot contemplate the high rents that he will have to pay to go into new accommodation. The compensation legislation does not meet that kind of case, just as it does not meet the case of a business man who has a very short tenancy. These are circumstances which create a great deal of hardship, and they require close attention and possibly legislation.
One sympathises with the hon. Gentleman's argument about worsenment. However, could he say why it is that the Conservative Party accepts the principle of worsenment but not the principle of betterment when planning proposals increase values?
I have not yet dealt with what is known as worsenment. I had been dealing with the somewhat different concept of injurious affection and had moved from that to a consideration of specific cases in which I submit that there should be a new look at the principles of compensation in respect of small businesses.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde knows this, and I think that he agrees that the part of the Bill dealing with worsenment is not acceptable. In the way in which he posited this part of the Bill he said, "I am putting it forward only because the Government have put forward the concept of betterment. Whilst they adhere to the philosophy that if an owner of land has received a benefit or a value added to his land because of some action of the community, and therefore the community should take back some of that value, it is also right that where the community has reduced the value of that man's land, because of its planning proposals, it should compensate him. The Government cannot both have their cake and eat it".
The Government are not prepared to accept that argument. Although they have urged the so-called justice of betterment right through our debates on the Land Commission and on the betterment levy, they have never accepted the logical converse. When the Greater London Council put up a proposal that worsening, or injurious affection, should give rise to some form of compensation, the reply from the Ministry was:
The ownership of land inherently carried with it certain risks of loss or possibilities of profit due to the activities of others on other land.
In other words, if the owner of land suffers a loss because of the action of the community, that is just too bad; he has to suffer his loss, but if the action of the community brings a gain to that man, jolly good—the community goes in for its cut. That is the Government's philosophy in this matter.
That is why my party has been bitterly opposed to the whole concept of the Land Commission and betterment levy from the outset. We are pledged at the earliest opportunity to abolish the whole lot at one fell swoop.
This is fascinating. If the principle of worsenment is to be mounted on the case that the Government have introduced a tax on betterment, if the Tories come to office and get rid of betterment, as they have promised to do, will they seek not to proceed with their ideas of worsenment, or shall we lose betterment and gain worsenment?
The hon. Gentleman was not listening to me very carefully. I said that the concept of worsenment was not acceptable, and that I understood my hon. Friend to incorporate it in his Bill merely as a counterweight to the Government's concept of betterment. We would wish to see neither the betterment levy—because we regard it as completely irrelevant, erroneous and "a bad thing", to use an old term—nor worsenment, in the general terms in which it exists in Clauses 9 and 10 of the Bill—for reasons that I have already given. It is impossible to calculate the cost to the community of a matter of that kind, and no responsible Government could offer that as part of its programme. No matter what may be the electioneering tactics of the Labour Party, the Conservative Party does not intend to make promises that it cannot keep, or promises that are impracticable of being kept.
If a house-owner is slap on a motorway, so that the carriageway goes by his bedroom window and he gets all the fumes and noise of the traffic, that is one thing; if he is 30, 40, 50, 60, 100 yards or even a quarter of a mile away, he may still say that the motorway activity has caused some worsening to him, but it is incapable of definition. In the case of the new airports, dealing with a far larger acreage, the matter becomes completely incapable of definition, and it would be completely irresponsible on my part to suggest that if the Conservative Party were given the opportunity it would bring in the converse of betterment levy as part of its programme. I say that betterment levy should go—full stop.
I want to deal with only one further matter, which has been already referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton. He rightly pointed out that our laws on compulsory purchase, blight, and the rest—all the matters that we have been discussing today—create a tremendous feeling of injustice among the people. Many useful and necessary development plans are held up because people object to them and demand a public inquiry, not because they feel that the plans are not good but because they feel that they will get a raw deal from the local authority or the Government when their property is acquired.
Can the Minister say whether any estimate has been made of the cost that the community must bear in respect of these delays, in terms of manpower? How much time of local authority officers, and the officials of his Department, is taken up in dealing with objections and inquiries, and how much time and money would be saved if they did not have to deal with these matters to the extent that they have to at the moment?
What is the cost to the community of the delays caused to the rolling forward programmes of roadways through having to clear away public inquiry matters?
Would not the Bill increase the cost? It would result in more and more applications being made, more and more planning inquiries, and greater and greater costs.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has not followed my argument. At this stage I do not wish to go over the ground again. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will read what I have said in HANSARD. He may find that I said something entirely different from what he thinks I said.
The Bill is by no means perfect. My hon. Friend has merely sought to provide a forum for an important and useful debate on a branch of our law that is crying out for urgent reform, and he is to be congratulated for doing so. It is also clear from what hon. Members on both sides of the House have said that there is a great deal of support for many of the provisions in the Bill. Hon. Members may quarrel over some Clauses, but the points that have been raised are purely Committee points. Unless the Minister is prepared forthwith to undertake to introduce a Government Measure dealing with these problems I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. Its imperfections can be dealt with in Committee.
I share with the whole House an appreciation of the formidable task upon which the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) embarked in framing the Bill. I may have more sympathy with what he is trying to do than have most other hon. Members. He is trying to reform a major part of the law, or to stimulate Government action to that end, by means of a Private Member's Bill. He takes my mind back to the one occasion when I came first in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills and tried to do the same by introducing my own Leasehold Enfranchisement Bill. I know that he has spent hours and hours with fellow lawyers trying to draft Clauses and wondering how the Government draftsmen would look at them. I appreciate the extent of his commitment.
In contrast to what many hon. Members have said, I can state that the Government have much sympathy with many of the substantial points raised by the hon. Member—as I shall seek to show. Although the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) was a little ungenerous about this, I hope that at the end of the day the hon. Member for North Fylde will have the satisfaction that I had when, although I could not get my Bill on the Statute Book, the Government later accepted most of its principles and were able to produce their own Bill to achieve much of what I wished to achieve. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay to the hon. Member for North Fylde is to say that we certainly accept that the difficulties and grievances which he has brought to the fore should be brought to the attention of the House, even though in many respects we are not yet able to pronounce definitely upon them. In the course of my remarks, I shall try to note the tremendous amount of advice which we have had not only today, but from extremely well-informed organisations and to try to analyse the hon. Member's Bill and to give some of the preliminary conclusions which the Government have reached.
Like a few other hon. Members—the many have been the lawyers and the few the laymen—since having responsibility for these matters I have concluded that in order to understand these things one needs to be a lawyer of exceptional calibre in specialist branches of the law, a surveyor or estate agent of great distinction, and an accountant of no mean ability. I am none of those things; I am merely a Minister of the Crown. I shall do my best as a Minister to explain the situation as we see it to some very distinguished and learned hon. Members who deal with these matters almost every day. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) that it requires not only a degree of public spiritedness, but a high degree of courage to decide to embark on these matters.
Contrary to the impression which the House may have gained from the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), these are not new problems which have suddenly dawned on the scene. They go back a long time. I am glad that in preparing for the debate I spent a little time finding out the history of this matter and how far back these questions went in order to anticipate the criticisms, which have come fast and thick—that although we set up an inquiry only two years ago to study these matters, we ought now to be promulgating conclusions and announcing Bills.
I discovered that the House, the law and the country have been discussing these questions not for two years but for 125 years. I found that the contentions and the arguments were almost exactly those which we have heard today. They found their way into an Act of Parliament in 1845 when it was decided that compensation for acquired interest should be based on two precepts: one the value to the owner and the other an addition of 10 per cent.
In 1874, the House of Lords, sitting as a court, held in what came to be known as the McCarthy Rules, Rule No. 4:
damage must arise from the execution of the works and not from their authorised use".
These complexities were being evolved a long time ago.
In 1917, we had a very learned Committee. I mention this with diffidence. The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East suggested that we should now have a Royal Commission. I do not have responsibility for establishing Royal Commissions, but I shall see that the idea is conveyed to the appropriate quarter, for there may be something in it.
I was saying that in 1917 we had the Scott Committee. I want to read what it had to say because some of my hon. Friends may think that this is absolutely unexceptionable Socialism:
It ought to be recognised, and we believe is today recognised, that the exclusive right to the enjoyment of land which is involved in private ownership necessarily carries with it the duty of surrendering such land to the community when the needs of the community require it. In our opinion, no landowner can, having regard to the fact that he holds his property subject to the right of the State to expropriate his interest for public purposes, be entitled to a higher price when in the public interest such expropriation takes place, than the fair market value apart from compension for injurious affection, etc.
Having regard to these considerations, we think it desirable that it should be definitely provided that the standard of the value to be paid to the owner is to be the market value as between a willing seller and a willing buyer; though, as we make clear below, the owner should, of course, in addition, receive fair compension for consequential injury".
This was the principle of market value enunciated in 1917, and it is the basis of the law today.
It is not just 13 years of Tory Government that we have had when a change might have been made, but rather 53 years since the Scott Committee reported in 1917. As one who has taken an interest in these matters, I regard it as a matter of some regret that this course should have been urged on the Government by hon. Members opposite when it was not urged on the Government when hon. Members opposite sat on this side of the House. However, I suppose that that is in the nature of politics and I do not complain about it.
I do not dissent from the hon. Gentleman's historical analysis to date, but the purport of the Scott Committee in 1917, which was given statutory effect in the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919, was simply to do away with the 10 per cent. addition, and nobody has argued that we ought now to go back on that. The point is that there was enshrined in the law compensation for injurious affection, but that has proved insufficient because in the 50 years between then and now the big public companies, the motorways and the like, have spread the effect of injurious affection and spread the effect of blight. What we now want to do is to catch up with a situation which could not have been contemplated by the Scott Committee.
But it could have been contemplated by the Government of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a member, which told us about the number of motorways they were planning and for which they were promulgating planning orders. That is a fair point to make. I am not saying that these problems do not exist. Indeed, it is part of my case that they do and that they should be examined and that something should be done about them as soon as possible. In this historical review I am seeking only to establish the point that there is nothing new under the sun.
It may be that more people are now affected and that we are meeting these problems in a more pronounced form, and I have some sympathy with that view, but the problems are not new. If people have tried to grapple with these problems for 125 years, during most of which time we have had Conservative Governments, and have found it impossible to find satisfactory solutions, it is a little hard now to be told that we should have done something within two years of the establishment of an inquiry; I put it no higher than that. There was the Uthwatt Committee, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, which was perhaps the last time we had a comprehensive review of these matters.
I turn to the nature of the concern, which I share. It is the increasing pace of modernisation in our society, especially the building of roads and motorways. More and more people find themselves affected by planning decisions and public works. They are affected not only by motorways but by the whole paraphernalia of Government—the provision of sewage disposal works, hospitals, prisons, all those things which, fortunately or unfortunately, we want; and when someone takes a planning decision, from that moment large numbers of people are affected by that decision.
I should like to express our appreciation to such bodies as the Chartered Land Societies, the Justice Committee, local authorities and the Greater London Council who have given careful thought to the matter. The fact that we do not accept many of their conclusions, or that we want to discuss them with them, does not detract from the appreciation which ought to be expressed by the House, and which I express on behalf of the Government, to those who are giving attention to these extremely difficult questions.
Let me spend a moment looking at the three main problems and at the varying approach of these bodies to each of them. I will explain the advice which we have had, which often is conflicting and contradictory—and that forms part of the great difficulty in reaching conclusions. The first heading is that of market value. The Chartered Land Societies criticise the market value basis itself—and I notice that most hon. and right hon. Gentlemen did not criticise that basis. The Chartered Land Societies proposed the wider use of the "equivalent reinstatement" basis of compensation. They suggest that this basis should be available for all types of property except owner-occupied houses. For these they recommend that the authority should be required to offer an interest- free loan to make up the difference between market value compensation and the cost of buying an equivalent house.
On the other hand, the Justice Committee do not go along with the general attack on the market value basis. They support the idea of interest-free loans for residential owner-occupiers, although they appear to accept that such a scheme would present considerable administrative difficulties—and we agree that it would. Both the Chartered Land Societies and Justice made various proposals for detailed changes—for example, in compensation for business tenants.
I turn to the second heading, that of injurious affection. The Chartered Land Societies' idea was, incidentally, originally suggested by the Scott Committee in 1917—that of a defined area of injurious affection attached to a compulsory purchase order. They recognise that this would not work where there was no order. This solution could not be applied if there were no C.P.O. They attempt to cover this deficiency by a general appendix on worsenment which, I regret to say, contains no specific proposals.
If I might add to the confusion, this idea of defining an area—with which hon. Members have expressed some sympathy—has been criticised as administratively impossible by no less a body than the Buchanan Report Standing Joint Committee. Clearly that, too, cannot be accepted without a great deal of further examination.
Justice suggest a completely different approach. They say that there should be a right to compensation for injurious affection, without any definition of an area, if a common law action for nuisance would have been available had it not been for the statutory protection enjoyed by the public authority. They specifically reject the idea that public authorities should be put in a worse position than private bodies carrying out similar development.
Another approach suggested by the Greater London Council would be to give authorities discretionary powers to buy property which is severely affected and to pay grants towards the costs of sound insulation in other cases.
On the question of injurious affection alone, therefore, we have at least three, if not four, fundamentally different pieces of advice which have been offered to the Government, all of which we are studying as well and as sincerely as we can.
The third main problem is that of blight. The Chartered Land Societies suggest removing virtually all the limitations on the blight scheme. They would make the remedy of a blight notice available to all owners, and require an authority to buy where any indication had been given that land was likely to be acquired in future.
Justice accept that removal of the restrictions on the categories of owners entitled to serve blight notices
would place a burden on authorities greater than they could endure —though they agree that the limit of the £750 annual value should be reviewed. Justice also accept that
The earlier the blight notice procedure is made available to those affected, the greater will be the practical problems for the acquiring authority and the particular danger that the authority will be required to purchase land which it may not eventually need.
The hon. Member for Tiverton spoke about compensation for tenants. I do not think that he was entirely accurate. Blight provisions already apply to tenants with more than three years to go, under Section 149(4) of the 1962 Act.
I appreciate that. I am advised, however, that what the hon. Gentleman has in mind is covered by Section 149, which is why I gave him that information.
I thought that the hon. Member for Hornsey was a little ungenerous to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot), although the hon. Member for Tiverton was positively objectionable. I was sorry about that. The hon. Member for Hornsey accused my hon. and learned Friend of being without soul. I was pleased that he did not accuse him of being without life and soul, since my hon. and learned Friend's vigorous contribution proved that he is not without plenty of life.
But my hon. and learned Friend has plenty of soul as well, for it was he who, when occupying my office, proposed that we should examine in detail all these difficulties and do what we could to overcome them. Although hon. Gentlemen opposite point out that we have been inquiring into this matter for two years—they complain that by now we should have produced a solution—the fact remains that we are making progress and that this is entirely due to the inquiry which was established by my hon. and learned Friend.
In view of the conflicting advice which we are receiving—I have thought it right to spell this out to the House—two years cannot be said to have been too lone a period to be examining this matter. We have had three informal meetings with the Chartered Land Societies, which published a memorandum on the issue. The complexity of these matters is considerable.
I said at the outset of my remarks that I would come to that at the conclusion of my speech. I do not like reversing the order of my speeches, putting my conclusions first, so I will do as I said and come to that matter later. I promise the hon. Gentleman that I will not play for extra time, so that hon. Members will have an opportunity to comment on my conclusions.
These are matters of great complexity and tremendously involved interests, as I have demonstrated. Both the public and private sectors are involved, as is a great deal of money. If we do not get the answers right, the cost to public funds could be enormous; and while we must look after the rights of private individuals, we must balance that with the rights of the community as a whole.
The hon. Member for North Fylde said that the Bill could not be costed, and the hon. Member for Hornsey had nothing to tell us about the expense that might be involved, although he said that it would be an expensive exercise. In my judgment, having done a few quick sums, I assure the House that it would be expensive.
Just as the hon. Member for Hornsey said that hon. Gentlemen opposite are anxious to know Government policy on this matter, so we are anxious to know the policy of the Opposition. If it is in order for hon. Gentlemen opposite to complain about our having been inquiring into this issue for two years without producing definite proposals, then, by the same token, we are entitled to seek a complete catalogue of what hon. Gentlemen opposite would do if they were in power. After all, they have had two years in which to examine the matter, and the hon. Member for. Hornsey pointed out that the Conservatives have had a committee looking into the matter during this time.
I listened with great interest to the conclusions of the hon. Member for Hornsey, but he had nothing to say on any of the subjects apart' from the question of the certificate of minimum value. Again, the hon. Gentleman ought not to complain about the Government in this respect if, in two years, his own party's committee has not been able to produce any more fundamental proposal than that.
I might say, in passing, that we do not know how much that proposal would cost, but we do know that it would require an army of valuers and of bureaucrats to work it. One thing of which we have not heard much from the other side today is the cutting down of the number of public servants. As I am responsible also for the Land Commission I can tell the House that we are engaged in cutting down the number of people there, but the Opposition proposal would need more than ten times the number of staff that we would save if the Land Commission were abolished in its entirety. This is an interesting aspect of these problems.
Apart from the continuing examination of the problem which I have already described, Government action has been taken in two respects in particular. Noise, for example, is part of the problem. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced in December the setting up of an advisory body on noise, and only this week I believe the membership has been announced. We hope that a great deal more attention to that aspect will follow. Similarly, in 1969 my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport established a committee on urban motorways, and it may well be, I just throw out the thought, that much of the answer to injurious affection arising from roads will be sought in better planning and design, an aspect of policy of which we have heard very little.
Turning, now, to the Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that I carry the House with me in this intention—I will keep to the three main headings which I have suggested. Market value on compensation for compulsory purchase would not, I think, be regarded as the main feature of the Measure, but it is interesting. I am very glad to note that the hon. Gentleman has not adopted the more extravagant proposals for basing compensation on the principle of equivalent reinstatement. In our view, it is quite impossible administratively to decide what would be equivalent accommodation. Again, if enacted, such a proposal would require an army of officials.
Clause 8 proposes to do away with site value compensation for unfit, slum houses taken over from landlords. This is unacceptable, because the Government took action in the 1969 Housing Act. In that Act we gave the equivalent of market value compensation for owner-occupiers, and increased payments for well-maintained houses. Here, again, the hon. Member for Tiverton was extremely ungracious when he stated that the Government had done nothing. It is with the owners of slum property that the real problem lies. As I say, we took action in the 1969 Act, and the Government cannot be expected in 1970 to go further than they thought right last year. Such a proposition has only to be stated to be seen to be quite unacceptable.
As to injurious affection and worsenment, I say at once that there is no doubt that certain forms of public activity have a very serious effect upon neighbouring properties, and this is the basis of the Government's examination. But it would be wrong to accept the view that compensation is the only solution, although it is part of the solution. Other solutions may be more radical, far-reaching and more worth while to the community as a whole.
Clause 3 is based on the Chartered Land Societies' definition of an area of injurious affection related to a C.P.O. In their report the Societies recognised that this solution might not be workable. That is shown in paragraph 33 of the report. I listened to the hon. Member with great care since he adopted this proposal, but I found nothing in what he said which removed the doubts which the Societies have. This is not a new idea for it originated with the Scott Committee in 1917. No one has yet found a formula which is workable and which could be written into the law.
The revolutionary part of the Bill is in Clauses 9 and 10 and the proposals for certificates of worsenment. What is meant by
the action of any authority possessing compulsory purchase power."?
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) referred to this matter and the New Law Journal had a great deal to say on it. It suggested that this phrase could include the grant of planning permission and on this basis a local authority might have to pay compensation. On this basis a local authority might have to pay compensation to someone whose property was affected by development carried out by a private body. If that were to be written into the law of the country it would cost several hundred million pounds.
When talking about these sums of money, if they are put forward responsibly by the Opposition, hon. Members opposite should tell us where the money is to come from, how they will effect other savings and how this would be brought about. If this proposal were put into the law any prospect of having a force east of Suez would fall into insignificance. If we had both these things as Government policy there would be no room for the next Conservative Government to do anything at all for they would have to put up taxation for the whole of their existence. It is quite wrong where private bodies are concerned for neighbouring owners already have a right of action in appropriate cases.
On the New Law Journal's interpretation of action, someone could get a certificate of worsenment if the value of the land was affected by a refusal of planning permission and that would demolish the basic principle that no compensation is payable for planning restrictions, which is vital to the success of our planning system.
It is not clear why the hon. Member made the primary remedy for worsen- ment purchase by the public authority, as suggested in Clause 9. By definition the public authority concerned does not need the land. If there is need for a change in the law we believe that the right remedy would be the payment of compensation rather than purchase by the authority. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) was right in saying that this proposal could be called municipalisation or nationalisation or by some other term, but it would place an intolerable burden on local authorities to be expected to take the purchase of thousands of acres which they would possibly never require
Moving to planning blight, which is dealt with in Clauses 1 and 2, these proposals would widen the present position very considerably. The hon. Member wants to force public authorities to buy from landlords and owners of large businesses against the present position which is restricted to classes of property where hardship is most likely to occur. Here again in what is proposed the cost to the public purse would be very considerable. No hon. Member opposite during the whole debate has answered the questions, how much, in place of what, and where would the money come from? These must be very relevant questions for the House to consider.
Even more serious, under Clause 1(1)(c) to (e) the hon. Member proposes that land must be bought which is adjacent to land which is needed. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich rightly drew attention to the effect of these proposals. In respect, for example, of noise and fumes, to what extent could it he said that land is affected? Who would decide where the land was affected and at what distance?
It is common practice now for local authorities to announce road programmes which are 20 years away from being completed. I instance the proposals of the Conservative-controlled Greater London Council, though I will not go into the merits of the proposals. What the hon. Member for North Fylde is seeking to provide is that when plans are promulgated for action 20 years ahead somebody should have to try to sit down and decide which adjacent land might be affected if roads are built 20 years hence. It is utterly impractical to write such a provision into a Statute. This is one of the reasons why we cannot accept the Bill.
Although the Bill contains some very good ideas and some which we would support, particularly those Clauses which I have not talked about, it is often impractical and is certainly not based upon the principles of financial prudence. The Bill has no sign of selectivity whatsoever. The Selsdon man does not appear in the Bill. He appears only when public money is being paid to the other unfortunate people and not when we are dealing with the people in question.
I turn, finally, to some of the conclusions which the Government themselves are reaching. Although we have been discussing these matters for two years, we think that we are now ready to enter into Stage 2 of our considerations in the discussions. We want now formally to discuss, particularly with the local authority associations, but, in addition, with all the other interested parties, the various ideas which I have run through this afternoon, to see what their practicality will be and to try to reach some agreement. We shall be embarking upon that stage of our deliberations immediately.
On the question of compensation for compulsory purchase, again going through these matters under the three headings, the present basis of compensation for compulsory purchase is the market value of the interest which is acquired. The Government have concluded that in fact the market value basis comes as close as possible to being fair to both sides—this was the principle stated by the hon. Member for Preston, North, who rightly said that the balance must be held between the two sides.
I was saying that the Government have concluded that in fact the market value basis comes as close as possible to being fair to both sides—to the individual whose property is being acquired and to the community as a whole which must meet the bill. This is all the more so now that a recent decision in the courts has shifted the date at which the market value has to be assessed. This was the decision in the case of the West Midlands Baptist Trust, about which I was delighted, because I first became a public figure representing a ward in Birmingham in 1946 in which that Church was situated.
We have therefore decided that the market value basis of compensation should remain. In keeping with this, we have already taken action in the Housing Act, 1969 to provide for payments equivalent to market value to virtually all owner-occupiers of publicly acquired unfit houses who under previous law would mostly have got far less.
We shall also examine whether there is a need, where a low-value house is acquired, for any special arrangements to secure a council mortgage or tenancy for the owner-occupier if he is not otherwise able to obtain adequate alternative accommodation.
On injurious affection—that is, the depreciation sometimes caused by new developments such as motorways to nearby property which is not itself acquired for that development—it may he that continuing improvement in planning and design techniques will help to cut down the scale of this problem, but it is hardly likely to eliminate it entirely. There is no doubt that in some cases of this kind of depreciation there can be real hardship, although we must not overrate it. Property owners must expect to face risks of various kinds, whether arising from public or private activity. That is inherent in the private enterprise system.
I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) said. I think that one of the few justifications for the private enterprise system is that people have to take risks. I find it rather odd that a left wing member of my party should propose to remove even the element of risk in the private enterprise system.
I should certainly incur your disapproval, Mr. Speaker, if I were to enter into a philosophical dissertation of that sort.
It must be remembered also that public works can put values up as well as down. Nevertheless, the Government accept that the present situation is not good enough, although we cannot accept the sweeping solution proposed in the Bill, which would be far more drastic, and, from the community's point of view, more unfair than the situation which it proposes to remedy. We have to find a more realistic solution. There are various possible approaches, some of them alternatives but some of them which might be used in combination. I should like to spend a minute dealing with them.
One possibility may be to see whether the compensation rights already available could be clarified to remove the ambiguities which at present make it difficult for people affected by public works to get much compensation in practice. Another possibility that has sometimes been suggested is that we should adopt a somewhat more flexible and generous approach to the extent of land and buildings acquired for projects—in effect, buying out at a fair market price property which might otherwise be injuriously affected. Other interesting ideas come to mind.
Perhaps the most interesting is the suggestion that some kind of insurance scheme might be found to be practicable, and at a reasonable premium. Without committing themselves on the principle, the Government will consult all the interested parties, including the insurance world, about the merit and feasibility of that idea. It may be also that we could extend the discretionary powers of local authorities and Government Departments.
There are obviously some snags in all these proposed solutions, as well as some advantages, but we shall continue to examine them now in association with local authorities and interested parties. The important thing is to accept the need to find a remedy that is practical to operate and is fair to the citizen and the community. This we undertake to do.
Turning to the subject of planning blight——
I am happy to take the point, although I am also glad to tell the House that in the field in which I referee, the referee is the sole timekeeper. Therefore I shall decide for myself when to call time—subject, of course, Mr. Speaker, to your final authority which I always acknowledge.
Coming to planning blight, we also accept the case for a change in the arrangement dealing with planning blight. The Government are satisfied that only owner-occupiers of houses and small businesses should continue to have the remedy as of right to serve a blight notice on the public authority concerned, but we have concluded that this right should be available earlier than under the present law. In our view, the owner-occupiers concerned should not have to wait, as they must do at present, till the proposal causing the blight has reached a fairly advanced stage—for example, when it has been approved by the Government Department concerned. There should be entitlement to serve a blight notice as soon as the public authority has definitely decided, in the light of any necessary local soundings, what it wants to do and has submitted a proposal to the appropriate Minister for approval if necessary. We intend to take a very early opportunity to issue a circular urging local authorities to use their existing discretionary powers to buy in all cases of this kind. I can state that Government Departments will do likewise. It is in this way that we shall try to ensure that these decisions are implemented ahead of the legislation which we deem to be necessary. There are certain other changes which have been put to us about the law of planning and compensation, and when we produce this legislation we shall have the opportunity of dealing with these matters.
My last word is this. Whatever view one takes about the matter, it seems to me that there is one inescapable conclusion: blight, injurious affection and compensation are not subjects which can properly and adequately be dealt with by a Private Member's Bill. They are questions which certainly require Government legislation and, for those reasons. I regret that I cannot advise the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill.
Order. Seven Members who have been sitting in the Chamber all day have been waiting for an opportunity to speak. There are now only 29 minutes remaining in which they can have that opportunity. I have appealed, so far without much success, for brief speeches.
We came here today to talk about planning blight, but we have been listening to speech blight. I shall try to do what you said, Mr. Speaker, and keep my speech down to three minutes.
The whole question of planning blight is of particular importance from the point of view of my constituency, because we are affected by the proposed Channel tunnel, upon which the Government cannot make up their mind, although they are always making promises. I have recently persuaded the Ministry of Transport to put in the Library of the House a map showing the area which might be affected and I hope that hon. Members will look at this. There are square miles of land marked which the Government say could be affected if they ever build the Channel tunnel. But the Government do not know, even if they build the Channel tunnel, how much of that land will be affected. Under the recent Transport Act the Government took powers to purchase any house which could be directly affected by the building of the Channel tunnel—any house that would have to be knocked down to build the tunnel.
But this left thousands of acres of land which we do not know about. Who will buy a property on such land when no one knows whether it will be affected? Surely this is a special case—I make a special plea to the Minister, to bring out the sportsman in him—on which a decision should be made. The Government have already accepted that if they are certain what houses will be pulled down to build the railway to the tunnel, they will buy, and I pay credit to them in that after a little pushing they have done that. But what about the individual whose land is in this "yellow" belt and who does not know whether it is to be pulled down or not? The owners of the houses do not know. Only the Government can know. I make a special appeal to the Government to take some action.
My second point refers to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) who spoke of cars parking in shopping areas, particularly on coastal roads. Here the Ministry of Transport must carry out its obligations to keep the roads free for traffic. Equally a number of small shopkeepers are just as much affected. Again, if the Government have to pay some sort of compensation they would not be so free and easy in laying on restrictions. For example, on one in a coastal town will worry about restrictions being imposed in the summer when the traffic is heavy. But we object to them in the winter. If the Government had to pay some sort of compensation for this they would not be so free in doing it.
Other hon. Members have paid compliments to the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) on the Bill and his speech introducing it. For my part, I cannot refrain from expressing my admiration for the speech of the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), to which I listened with great attention and the closest interest. I regard his suggestion about certificates of value as deserving careful thought. I liked his speech also, if I may say so, because it seemed to me to amount to a devastating criticism of the Bill. His proposal for certificates of value is a far more sensible and realistic method of dealing with these admitted problems than the enormously wide and expensive proposals in Clause 1, notably subsection (1)(a).
I should like to have heard the views of the hon. Member for Hornsey on the question touched on by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot). Why is the concept of worsenment applicable only to land? What is so magic about land that the philosophy and principle of the Bill apply exclusively to land? I recall, for example, that the then Government in 1962 introduced a sudden reduction of purchase tax on cars, with the consequence that the value of everyone's car fell by about £50. No one then brought forward a proposal for compensation. although that loss was unambiguously due to action taken by the community. As I say, what is so special about land?
In my view, the Bill must be opposed. I am sure that it is common ground that, when a local authority prepares a plan it should publish it so that the citizens who will have to live with the end product have a chance to see it. I am sure that it is common ground, too, that the plans should be published at a time when comment and criticism can be meaningful, that is, when alterations are still possible. As the hon. Member for Hornsey said in his excellent speech, if one publishes too early one is unfair to sellers, and if one publishes too late one is unfair to buyers. As it will be unfair, whatever one does, as the law now stands, I am in favour of publishing early so as to give ample opportunity to the citizens to know what the plans are. Nevertheless, the earlier one publishes, the wider is the area which may be affected because the less precise are the plans under consideration and, accordingly, so much the more extensive is the area likely to be blighted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) criticised the use of the word "indication". Given the circumstances in which the Bill is introduced, it seems to me that "indication" is the only word which could be used. It is not a question of publishing cut and dried plans. That is too late. These things must be published when it is a matter of giving an indication of what is being considered. Therefore, if the Bill were to become law, there would be an enormous area of property blighted, or potentially blighted, and an enormous area which would come under the aegis of the Bill for compensation.
It cannot be right to make proposals of this kind on the assumption that local authorities have a bottomless purse. The hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins) made a remark to the effect that the local authorities will find the money somehow. There is only one way—from the pockets of the ratepayers. I am amazed to hear these proposals, unquantified, to put great burdens on ratepayers who have substantial burdens enough already.
I had some sympathy with the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), and I can understand the problems to which he referred. It seemed to me that he pointed a way to a possible solution. The difficulties which he raised are due to the increased flow of motor traffic through his constituency. I have thought for a long time that the tax which is imposed on the owners of motor vehicles is far too small. This was an excellent reason for increasing it. It is motor vehicles which cause the difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. That is the way in which any compensation should be financed, rather than by putting more burdens on the local authorities.
I regret to see how hon. Members who have come up through local government to this House forget, as soon as they get here, all the circumstances with which they were so familiar when they served in local authorities. One after another, we see proposals to put uncosted and unquantified burdens on the ratepayers. It is especially grievous in this kind of proposal, because to a large extent we are considering property which local authorities and ratepayers do not want to buy.
If plans are to be published when alterations are still possible and if it is suggested that the local authority must buy properties affected as soon as blight descends, it is quite probable that there will be alterations in the plans and, in the event, a local authority will be buying property that it does not want. Why should the ratepayer's money be wasted in this way?
My hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks) supports the Bill. He suggested that this would be no great hardship because a local authority in this way would acquire a pool of properties. However, there are plenty of other important ways of spending the ratepayers money. One has to keep in mind such matters as new schools, new facilities for the mentally handicapped, new libraries and so on. I can think of any number of ways in which my rates might be spent without wasting them on properties for which my local authority has no use.
I want to quote an example in my own constituency which will be of interest to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). Before the formation of the London Borough of Bromley, there was what is known as Old Bromley which now forms part of it. Old Bromley produced a plan for the redevelopment of the town centre. It was published, the citizens looked at it and did not like it. When the London Borough of Bromley came into existence, it considered the plan, took note of the criticisms, considered that they were sound, withdrew the plan, and advanced one of its own. If this Bill had been law, Old Bromley would have been required to buy up all the properties affected by the first plan. The London Borough of Bromley would have come into existence, and the hon. Gentleman's constituents and mine would have been forced to cough up large sums of money for the purchase of properties for which they knew that they would have no use.
I cannot support a Bill which has that effect. I feel that I am right to oppose a Measure which, while calling attention to a real and definite problem, imposes a solution involving the expenditure of large sums of money for no good purpose that I can see.
I am extremely interested in the point made by the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. MacDonald) about the development of Bromley town centre. However, if the proposals put forward so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) had been in force at the time, the property would have been bought up by the council. When the plan was changed, the property would have been sold by the council, and I am sure that a substantial profit would have been made on the transaction.
I wish that the Public Gallery this afternoon had been filled with voters from the Greater London Borough of Bromley——
I apologise, Mr. Speaker.
I hope that the debate will receive wide attention in the Greater London Borough of Bromley because we had the sensible and ingenious proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde contrasted with, to my mind, the coldhearted speech of the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) the practical proposals put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) for dealing with an important part of the problem, and a speech from the Minister which meandered into injury time. The trouble is that the injury is being done to my constituents.
Certainly any illusions that I had about the size of the problem of worsenment and blight were rudely shattered this summer when the Greater London Council announced its plans for Ring-way 2 which will bisect a large part of Beckenham. In one afternoon more than £1 million was removed from the value of properties in Beckenham. The mere publication of this plan did more damage to property owners in Beckenham than any storm, flood or, indeed, air raid that has taken place in the area.
Surely the whole point is that the G.L.C.'s plans are not definite. Even the idea is not certain. The line proposed is only an illustration. It could easily be changed. The Bill would mean buying up all that property—I agree that a lot of it is affected—but we do not know that it will be wanted.
I agree that the plans for Ringway 2 will only come to fruition in the distant future. It may be that Ringway 2 will be built in the later 1970s or in the 1980s. It may not be until the 1990s. I accept that substantial benefit may accrue to the community from Ringway 2, but the damage to my constituents was done the moment the line was published. The council can do nothing now to remove that damage.
The homes affected often comprise a large part of the savings of the individuals concerned. I have many letters in my office from individuals who want to retire and move to some other part of the country or who have been transferred by their firms to some other part of the country who now find that their property, for all practical purposes, is unsaleable. At least a dozen cases concern individuals who were on the verge of selling their properties when the line was announced and every offer has subsequently dried up.
Those directly on the line proposed for the new ringway have some protection; they can require the local authority to purchase their property. But those who are on the fringe of the line have no protection of any sort. The Minister said that one had to have a balance between the public interest, the public purse, and the protection of private individuals, but in these cases there is no balance of any sort, because the individual gets no protection of any sort and gets no compensation of any sort.
I fully appreciate that my hon. Friend's proposals have many technical difficulties and that the question of when to assess the amount of worsenment is important. One knows from experience in other parts of the country that values along the route of a proposed motorway will drop sharply and will remain depressed while the construction of the motorway goes on, but that, once the motorway has been completed, property values will often return to something like the old amount. The question when to try to strike a level of worsenment is therefore difficult to settle. There are many problems that ought to be thrashed out, I hope in Committee on the Bill.
But there is one point which stands out from today's debate. It is that the Opposition fully appreciate that the problem of worsenment is not easy, but affects hundreds of thousands, or tens of thousands, of people and that it is not a problem that can be brushed aside. Even the G.L.C., with which I have crossed swords about its proposals for the ringway, has fully admitted that the problem of worsenment for those on the fringe of the line must be dealt with and has said that it will not proceed with the scheme until it receives permission to give some compensation to those on the fringes of the line.
But from the Government we have heard nothing that could be interpreted as a constructive suggestion. The message of the Minister's speech is that those on the fringes of development can just lump it.
Like the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Good-hart), I have a constituency which is haunted by phantoms, phantoms of the G.L.C.s motorways. It is an expression of the law that we are sometimes ruled from the grave, but in planning matters one is often ruled not from the grave, but from the town hall's embryonic plans which sometimes never reach maturity.
The Government have been too modest this afternoon in saying what they have done to eliminate planning blight. To begin with, there was the Town and Country Planning Act, 1968, which was taken through Committee by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) and which, in London, will eliminate much of the blight about which at the moment little can be done. I refer in particular to Section 33 of that Act, which provides that an owner-occupier can serve a blight notice if his property is designated as being within an action area. I have several action areas in my constituency which have now been blighted but which, when incorporated in the Greater London Development Plan, will be the subject of blight notices, so that a good deal of hardship to owner-occupiers can be eliminated. We should be grateful that this has happened, and also for the concern shown by the Government in the passage of the 1968 Act. I have some responsibility for Section 34 of that Act, which extended the benefits of the blight provisions to the building societies of owner-occupiers.
The Government have also been helpful in the advice and the offer of loan sanctions which they have given to local authorities in Circular 15/69, and in earlier actions. One difficulty lies in defining areas of blight. Another is to get local authorities to act quickly and sympathetically in cases of hardship. I can give the House one example which illustrates the problem. I was consulted by a constituent who was affected by the blight problem in the Brixton central redevelopment area, which was designated as a development area by the local authority about five years ago but in which respect of which there has not yet been a public inquiry.
My constituent had been trying for some years to sell his house but had been unable to do so at a reasonable market value. He therefore wanted the local authority to buy it, but it refused to do so on the ground that money was short. I therefore wrote to the Minister of State—my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North—and I received the following reply:
Niall MacDermot has asked me to reply to your letter of 5th June. … We are prepared to consider applications by local authorities
for loan sanction to buy property where it can be shewn that the owner is unable to sell because of the local authority's known proposals for redevelopment and is therefore suffering genuine personal hardship. But I must stress that the decision whether to buy the property is one for the local planning planning authority. If Lambeth Borough Council are satisfied that"—
is suffering hardship through an inability to sell his property as a direct result of their Brixton town centre proposals, and therefore want to buy his property, we will give sympathetic consideration to an application for loan sanction. The decision to buy, however, can only come from them.
That was in 1968, before the issue of the circular by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government which encouraged local authorities to use their extra-statutory powers to purchase property which was blighted. Receiving that letter I was much encouraged, and therefore
|Division No. 72.]||AYES||[3.59 p.m.|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Grant, Anthony||Maddan, Martin|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Nabarro, Sir Gerald|
|Bell, Ronald||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Onslow, Cranley|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Hunt, John||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Iremonger, T. L.||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Blaker, Peter||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Sharpies, Richard|
|Brooks, Edwin||Kershaw, Anthony||Silvester, Frederick|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||KimbalJ, Marcus||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Kirk, Peter||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Deedcs, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)||Lane, David||Worsley, Marcus|
|Eyre, Reginald||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & stone)||Longden, Gilbert||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Goodhart, Philip||Lubbock, Eric||Mr. Clegg and Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop.|
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Hamling and Mr. Boston.|