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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 Robert Cant Mr Robert Cant , Stoke-on-Trent Central 12:00 am, 27th November 1972

That may be true. Perhaps my memory is at fault, or I am biased in favour of residential property. However, the Minister seemed to give the impression that people living in houses may be worse off than those who occupy offices or run industries. The 7:3 ratio throws up all sorts of interesting speculations.

I wish to take up a great deficiency in the Bill, namely, the continued acceptance of market value and disturbance payment as a basis for compensation. If there is anything which seems 100 per cent. correct in theory or principle it is that compensation should be related to market value plus disturbance. It borders almost on generosity. However, one finds from talking to people who are victims of what is happening as a consequence, for example, of the building of motorways in towns, that in many cases the results are nothing less than a travesty of social justice, personal agony and sometimes tragedy for the people concerned.

I could give the Minister a number of examples of that. A person occupying a terraced property—and I am talking in terms of the very low values which apply in a provincial city like Stoke; I am not bemused by the preposterous values in the great metropolis of London—may be offered £850. He may point out that only a couple of years have elapsed since an improvement grant of £675 was made for the property. Therefore, the net figure is almost ludicrous. Not only do these corridors of concrete mop up the older terraced property; they take delightful specimens of semi-detached houses in their train as well. In this case the compensation is much more generous. It might reach £2,800.

It is time that the Government considered this very serious problem and did not simply continue to pay homage to the splendid principle of market value plus disturbance payment.

If the amount to be paid is disputed an interesting situation arises. A valuer will give his conception of the market value plus disturbance payment. I suggest to the Minister that the data on which valuers base their offers of compensation are completely out of date.

Another development proves the total inadequacy and injustice of the present situation. Valuers say, "If you are not satisfied with my valuation, provide evidence to the contrary." It is totally unjust to expect people—many of them inarticulate and old—to comb auction rooms, or to do anything else that may be necessary so as to provide valuers with up-to-date data on current market prices. The onus should not be on them. If that means more valuers, that should be accepted.

Instead of market value—if that is what market value means—the Government should accept the principle of equivalent reinstatement. Anybody whose house is demolished to make room for an urban motorway, or for any other purpose, should be given a sum to enable him to buy another property of the same age, the same condition, the same character, and in the same sort of locality, so that he may transfer to his new home without financial burden. I should like to say more about that and to do so with greater passion, for it strikes me as one thing that the Government should do.

In the interests of social justice something should be done about the Lands Tribunal. I have had correspondence with the Department about that. No doubt the Lands Tribunal is an excellent body, but for anyone to tell people that they have a right of appeal against the decision of a district valuer by going to the Lands Tribunal is nothing short of abuse. It is outside this problem, but I have the instance of a constituent who, after a long period of dispute, went to the tribunal. I will falsify the figures slightly, but the message is unaltered; his compensation was £50,000 and the cost of going to the tribunal was £51,000. That was to settle a dispute that arose in 1958.

I return to the poorer people who are expected to go through that procedure. I know that the Minister of Local Government and Development is a very humane person.