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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 John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough 12:00 am, 27th November 1972

I am grateful. My right hon. Friend is always right in these respects. But I understand that the vast majority of the 70,000 acres is land required for new roads, new housing, new factories and new reservoirs: a little may go for forestry. I think that if he checks my right hon. Friend will find that I am right.

It is therefore time that Her Majesty's Government did not just accept as inevitable a continuing increase in demand for land for the uses that I have mentioned. Is it necessary to plan these gigantic new motorways? In my constituency there is to be what is fondly called a new east-west highway to serve the east of England ports—which will be very busy once we are in Europe—and to whisk incoming goods straight to the west coast. The road will go through south Leicestershire or north Northamptonshire. I counsel my right hon. Friends not to make it so easy for the tremendous Continental vehicles to thunder from Lowestoft or Felixstowe to wherever they are going. The goods should come in by container and be sent by rail. The Government should not accept as inevitable that the demand for land for new roads will continue to grow as it has grown recently.

To some extent the same applies to land for reservoirs. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State seems to be of the impression that any amount of land is available to meet our need for the extra water that we shall want in the 1980s. It is forecast that by the early 1980s there will be a water shortage in the South-East. It seems that the only solution the Department has for this sad position is to build more and more reservoirs.

I counsel my right hon. Friend to study alternative methods of obtaining water which do not involve vast areas of land having to be acquired and flooded, to look with more enthusiasm and energy into our desalination policy, which seems to have died during the past two years and to look again more energetically at water re-use and underground storage. I suggest that sooner or later we shall have to concentrate more on vertical construction for houses, so as to save as much land as possible for the construction of the new houses that we shall need in the 1980s.

I particularly welcome Clause 40, which meets an important point on agricultural compensation. It gives the unwilling seller of land the right to receive up to 90 per cent. of the selling price before the sale is completed. That is a sensible and generous move.

To give the House an idea of the difficulties of prospective sellers, in the past when a figure has been agreed with an unwilling seller payment might not have been made for 12 months. In the past six months alone the price of agricultural land has doubled. For instance, if the farm of my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Michael Shaw) had been compulsorily acquired in March of this year for, say, £100 an acre, and he received compensation of £100 an acre today, it would buy today only half the land it would have bought in March. Clause 40 is an excellent provision because, as the amount of agricultural land available is declining rapidly, the price is likely to continue to increase.

I welcome Clause 57. For a landowner or farmer whose land has been blighted by development it is a sensible idea to enable an acquiring authority to acquire the balance of the land available which is no longer an economic unit.

There is still a good deal of unfairness. There is unfairness to tenant farmers and to owner-occupiers engaged in farming. With those few remarks, and in the hope that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind that land is not in inexhaustible supply, I welcome the Bill.