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Orders of the Day — Land Compensation Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th November 1972.

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Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby 12:00 am, 27th November 1972

May I first pay tribute to the previous Government for the exploratory work which they did prior to this reform of the compensation code. I know what a pleasure it would have been to the late Jim MacColl or Arthur Skeffington, or to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) to be at this Dispatch Box presenting the Bill. I know what a lot of work they did. If I mention the second row of the Ministry it is because that is where all the chores on this compensation code were done under the previous Government—and perhaps under this one.

I had the advantage, two-and-a-half years ago, of taking over in the department a report and recommendations which, if I had sent them off there and then to the parliamentary draftsmen, would not have made a bad Bill. I know that my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for the Environment said in answer to a Parliamentary Question on one occasion that he thought the report was highly unsatisfactory. Indeed, it was in the context of the comprehensive review which we wanted to carry out, but I readily admit that it was the foundation on which we have built to get a good compensation Bill.

For various reasons we have made substantial improvements on those first ideas. I pay tribute to my hon. and right hon. Friends who constructively urged this reform when in opposition and, since then, from these benches. I thank them for their patience in waiting two-and-a-half years for this Bill to be presented, under this Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Good-hart) asked how long the Bill will last. Its period of pregnancy has been nearly as long as that of an elephant and I hope that it will last for the lifetime of an adult elephant at least. We will add to this measure as the occasion arises, but I would hate to start all over again on a comprehensive review before a considerable time has passed.

As some recompense for the delay in bringing this Bill forward, I offer two benefits. First, the Bill is more retrospective in its benefits than anything the House has seen since the Declarations of Indulgence in the 17th century. I have always been a great purist in my views on anti-retrospective legislation but not so pure that I oppose the benefits given retrospectively to individual citizens in a Bill of this sort. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) asked for it to go even further back, but we have been fairly generous. The provision was taken three years back because the Bill provides for a settling down period of 12 months, followed by a claim period of two years.

This could mean that the claim period in respect of a scheme opened up three years before the date of the White Paper, might still be open. It seemed right to allow these claims to be made. A special extension of the period has been provided to ensure that where it expired on the date of the White Paper or soon after, claims should not fall because of lack of time in which to prepare them. I do not think that we can be more generous than that and I doubt whether we can go as far as the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) suggested and give the Secretary of State discretionary powers to go even further back than that.

Clause 1(8) which gives this retrospective right is unique. If the motorway passing a person's bedroom window opened three years and six weeks ago, he can claim this new right to compensation. This is a statutory tribute to those whom I have mentioned, to hon. and right hon. Members who have pressed for this in the past, and to the many professional bodies, associations, societies and local authorities who have urged this reform. What we are saying in this subsection is, "You were quite right over three years ago and we will allow claims back to that time".

The other recompense for having waited for the Bill is that by doing so we have been able to include the valuable recommendations of the report of the Urban Motorways Committee and to create an entirely new right—the right to a home loss payment which that Committee recommended.

Once again I pay tribute to the Labour Government for setting up that committee. I cannot pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park because I believe that he just missed setting it up. But he urged it as Minister. It was Mr. Richard Marsh who set it up, and I have no doubt that the hon. Member for New-castle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Robert C. Brown), who was then Parliamentary Secretary, had a lot to do with it.

As I have said, the home loss payment is a new right—indeed, an entirely new kind of right. The Urban Motorways Committee said in its report that this right should be given … in recognition of the real personal disturbance which is inflicted upon the occupiers of dwellings when they are required to move. … To attempt to tailor such payments to individual circumstances would be a matter of considerable complexity for which no sufficient basis of relevant evidence at present exists … the amounts will at present therefore have to be set by some general and fairly arbitrary formula. … No one is going to make a fortune out of the home loss payment. But I hope that our effort to recognise that there is a value in a home beyond the value of the bricks and mortar will make people feel that the machine does care. It is certainly not intended as complete compensation.

One must work this on a type of formula, but for that very reason I do not want to spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar. I admit that the tar offered by many hon. Members in the debate today is worth more than just a halfpenny, and it is very easy to spend other people's money and say, "We want more". I cannot remember where it was that Oliver Twist lived, but I am sure that many of those who have spoken today represent that constituency, because almost all of them have asked for more.

We are not dogmatic about the details of this scheme. There have also been protests about our choice of seven years. They were made by the right hon. Gentleman, by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath and by many other hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is a formula. We think that we have struck the right balance between the public payer and the individual recipient. But let us talk about it again in Committee, when I shall be able to explain the considerations which we applied—for example, whether we should do it on a graduated basis or reduce the seven years to five, or even three. We considered various alternatives, and came down in favour of seven years.

On the other side of the formula, the rateable value has been questioned. Here again it is a matter of devising a formula, and this one seems to be the most appropriate. The right hon. Gentleman thought that this was a new disclosure, but it is an old one, because the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath and I have discussed it late at night with no one else in the Chamber at the time, not even the Press reporters, because it did not reach the newspapers the following day.

Our information discloses that when we have the new list we shall see that over the whole country rateable values will increase by about two-and-a-half times. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath has said that in the sample taken in Birmingham the figure is three times. My advice is that over the county as a whole for domestic properties it is two-and-a-half times. Although commercial and industrial property may be either side of that level we are taking here a figure for the whole country which we are advised as being two-and-a-half times. I stress again that an increase in rateable value does not mean an increase in the rate poundage or the rate payable.