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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 William Whitlock Mr William Whitlock , Nottingham North 12:00 am, 27th November 1972

I welcome the Bill, in that it provides additional assistance to those individual citizens who suffer from what are considered to be essential developments. But, like other hon. Members, I cannot be completely eulogistic about it, because in a number of respects it does not go far enough. It does not go far enough to bring about a fair balance between provision for the community as a whole and the mitigation of harmful effects on individual citizens, and it does not, as the White Paper claimed it would, put people first. Roads and other public developments are still placed first. They will still have the same upsetting impact on all our lives. Noises, smells, dangers and visual pollution, will still be there, even though a little more money changes hands. The loss of a beloved home in a cherished spot will still be just as hard to bear under the Bill's proposals.

The provisions of the Bill will merely soften the opposition to public developments a little—and that is its real purpose; to enable authorities to build more roads, to take more land in order that the motor car and the ever-larger lorry can become increasingly obtrusive tools for our modern existence.

Like other hon. Members, I hope that the Bill will be amended in a number of ways, and I should like to suggest several.

The Bill retains market value as the basis of the compensation code, but what is market value? It is not what the owner of a house or any other kind of property thinks he can get by comparing his property with similar property in a similar locality. It is not even what may have been assessed as the value of his property in the days before the present Government came to power and property prices soared. It is what is thrashed out in the rather esoteric world of the lawyer, the estate agent and the district valuer.

I have found repeatedly that people faced with compulsory purchase have not felt that there is anything fair in the procedure followed in assessing what they should receive. No doubt other hon. Members have found exactly the same. For the victim of progress it has seemed not only unfair but in many ways completely incomprehensible.

I should like to give an example of the dilemma people face when their property is acquired compulsorily and they are incensed by the unfairness in the system. A constituent has complained to me about the offer made to him when part of his garden was acquired for a road. Discussions took place between his professional adviser and the district valuer, which resulted in the assessment of his property at 12½p a square yard. Three years before that same land had been valued at £1·25 a square yard, 10 times the offer made after the district valuer's consideration of the matter. Further, land just over 100 yards away was valued by the district valuer at £1·50 a square yard, 12 times the assessment made in his case. His professional adviser was unable to obtain any better offer from the district valuer.

I got in touch with the Secretary of State for the Environment, only to be told that it was a matter of negotiation in the locality, but that if my constituent was upset by the offer he could ask for the dispute to be referred to the Lands Tribunal for independent assessment. But then he was left with the problem of the delay and the anxiety caused by it, and with the cost of taking the matter to the Tribunal without the guarantee that he would receive any better compensation at the end of the day.

In that case it might be argued that as the land was acquired by the local authority the district valuer was an arbiter between the local authority and my constituent, even though the assessment seemed completely nonsensical. But that impartial status most certainly cannot be claimed for the district valuer when he acts on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Environment in the acquisition of land for roads. I have here a leaflet issued by the Department to my constituents in Nottingham who are affected by the proposed Arnold by-pass. The leaflet says: The District Valuer, who acts for the Secretary of State in these matters, will not begin his negotiations to acquire land for the road works before the Spring of 1973. How can the district valuer, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, be impartial and be seen to be impartial? It is true that any constituent aggrieved by the assessment can take the matter to the Lands Tribunal, with all the anxiety, delay and expense that I have already mentioned. I hope that during the Bill's passage the Minister will turn his mind and all his resources to the task of finding a means of assessment which is fairer and more impartial, and which will be far less costly to the individual than the present arrangement of appeal to the Lands Tribunal.

It is good that in addition to compensation paid to the owner based on market value there is to be a home loss payment to the occupier, whether the owner or tenant, in recognition of the special distress suffered by those who lose their homes. But, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) has said, it seems wrong that it is limited to someone who has been in occupation for seven years or more. Why should it be paid only to those who have been there that long? In some ways it can be more distressing to people to lose a home they have just proudly set up and furnished to their own requirements. Certainly it is no less distressing to the man who has been in his house for a year than to the man who has been there for seven years. I trust that this restriction on the payment of such an innovation will be removed at a later stage.

I come to my third suggestion for amendment to the Bill. On 14th March in an Adjournment debate I spotlighted the considerable hardship of small tenant farmers resulting from the present completely inadequate compensation arrangements when they are dispossessed of their land for the building of reservoirs. These people are not wealthy landed gentry; they are virtually slaves of the soil. The Trent River Authority, with whom I have some connection recognised the injustice and the inadequacy of the compensation available and in the 1970–71 Session of Parliament promoted a Bill in which there was a clause dealing with compensation. It would have enabled the Authority to make discretionary payments to people suffering hardship because their farms had been acquired in this way.

The Government opposed that clause and because of that it was removed from the Bill. One of the reasons given for the opposition was that the clause, if accepted, would have been prejudicial to the Government's consideration of the compensation code. We now have that code and the small tenant farmers are no better off. Clause 23 dealing with home loss payments, Clause 40 dealing with the power to make advance payments of compensation and the improved power to deal with severance are most welcome and are clearly a step in the right direction.

But Clause 27 which authorises the making of a farm loss payment of up to one year's net farm income has been limited to the owner-occupier and to the tenant on a fixed term with not less than three years to run. The great majority of tenant farmers who will suffer hardship when their land is acquired for reservoirs and other purposes are yearly tenants and therefore the farm loss provision will not apply to them. The tenant farmer will be left with compensation based on six times the actual yearly rent which is generally conceded, to be completely unrealistic.

During the year the Devon River Authority has been successful in promoting a Bill containing a compensation clause similar to that denied to the Trent River Authority. Will the Minister say that he will favourably consider amending the Bill so as to make the Devon compensation clause of general application to river authorities? Such an amendment is now more necessary than ever. I hope that the Minister will consider these three suggestions because with those and other reservations I broadly support the Bill in the hope that in Committee we can remedy its defects.