HC Deb 31 December 1916 vol 88 cc1667-81

(1) Where, during the course or within the week, immediately preceding the commencement of the present War, possession has been taken of any land by or on behalf of any Government Department for purposes connected with the present War, whether in exercise of any prerogative right of His Majesty, or of any powers conferred by or under any enactment relating to the defence of the realm, or by agreement, or otherwise, it shall be lawful for the Government Department in possession (hereinafter referred to as the occupying department), after, the termination of the present War, to continue in possession of the land for such period, not exceeding two years from such termination. as the occupying department may consider necessary or expedient, and, if on application being made to the Railway and Canal Commission (hereinafter referred to as the Commission) not less than six months before the expiration of such two years the Commission consent thereto, for such further period, not exceeding five years from the expiration of such two years, as the Commission may consider necessary or expedient in the national interest.

(2) Whilst any land so continues in the possession of any occupying department, the Department may for the purposes of the public service exercise in relation. thereto all such powers as were during the continuance of the War exercisable in) relation thereto for the purposes of the defence of the realm, subject, however as respects the power to close public high ways, to the provisions of Sub-section (3) of Section six, and, as respects the power of removal of buildings and works, to the provisions of the next following Section.

(3) The occupying department shall pay such rent in respect of any land which continues in their possession, and such continuance shall be upon and subject to such terms and conditions, as to compensation or otherwise (including compensation for any depreciation attributable to works and buildings not removed) as, failing agreement, shall be determined by the Commission.

(4) The occupying department may transfer possession of any land to the Admiralty or Army Council or the Minister of Munitions, and upon such a transfer being made the Department to whom possession is transferred shall be deemed to be the occupying department.

Lords Amendments:

In Sub-section (1), after the word "exercise"["exercise of any prerogative right of His Majesty"], insert the words "or purported exercise."—Agreed to.

After the word "lawful"["it shall be lawful for the Government Department in possession"], insert the words "subject to the provisions of this Act."—Agreed to.

Lords Amendment: "In Sub-section (1) to leave out the word "five"["not exceeding five years"], and to insert instead thereof the word "three."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.


I would like to ask the Minister of Munitions or the Home Secretary for some explanation why the House is asked to accept this shortening of the time. I remember when the Bill was before the House that both these right hon. Gentlemen were in favour of the total period being seven years. There was an Amendment similar to this one moved from this side of the House, but it was resisted by these identical Gentlemen who are in charge of the Bill. If we are asked to go back upon that decision, I would rather like to know the reasons. The reasons for having seven years as the total period were given very fully when the Bill was under discussion in this House, and at least some explanation should be given why we are asked to go back upon that decision.


The hon. Member will remember, when this question was before this House, we were pressed more than once to reduce this period, and we then made certain alterations in the Bill. During the interval before it reached the other place, seeing that the pressure was likely to be continued, the Department went over the whole matter again, with a view of considering what was the minimum period to which they could assent, and the conclusion come to was that it might be three years. On that account we gave way to the pressure.

Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment:

In Sub-section (2), leave out the words "the next following Section," and insert instead thereof the words "Section two," and at the end insert,

"Provided that—

  1. (a) If the exercise of any such powers causes the pollution, abstraction, or diversion of water or the-emission of noxious fumes to such an extent that if exercise of such powers had not been authorised by this Act persons interested in adjoining or neighbouring land would have been entitled to restrain the exercise thereof, any person who would have been so entitled shall be entitled to such compensation in respect of any loss occasioned by such pollution, abstraction, diversion, or emission during the period of occupation under this Section as, failing agreement may be determined in manner provided by this Act; and
  2. (b) nothing in this Section shall be construed as depriving any person of any right to recover damages in respect of any injury to property caused by accident due to the exercise of any such powers as aforesaid."


This is a privilege Amendment, because it imposes a new charge, but it can be made with the assent of the House.


I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

Perhaps when I explain the nature of the Amendment the House will agree to allow it to be made. During the period of five years for which possession may be retained, damage may be done to property taken in this manner by smoke or other causes and the effect of this proposal is to enable compensation to be paid for such damage done during that time. A desire was expressed in another place that this proposal, which is not an unusual one, should be introduced and I hope, therefore, that this House will agree to accept it.


I hope that the House will not take that course. As Mr. Speaker has pointed out, this is a privilege Amendment, I need not make any comment on that point. But the Home Secretary has explained that this applies not merely to land which has been taken, but to any damage which may be suffered by adjoining owners by reason of the various causes mentioned in this Section. I would like the House to recognise—indeed, I am sure it does-—that wherever a nuisance is created—and I would take the case of a smoke nuisance as typical for purposes of illustration—wherever such a nuisance is created the parties prejudiced have a remedy at common law. They have a remedy on the ground that it is a public nuisance, and an action would lie for damages for a private nuisance in addition to that. There are certain powers under the Public Health Acts and various other Acts with which I heed not trouble the House, but in point of fact, not only in common law, but by statutory legislation, there are ample provisions for dealing with cases of smoke nuisance and the other nuisances enumerated. The real sting of this Amendment is to be found in the end of it. It is to give these particular people whose land may not be taken a mode of remedy against a Government Department which they would not have against an ordinary factory owner. In other words, it gives them an alternative and an additional remedy in seeking damage for the nuisance by putting into motion the Lands Clauses Acts, which were never intended for that purpose at all. On this point of compensation for nuisance I maintain there should be the same law for all. There should be the same right against the Government factory for a smoke nuisance as against any other factory. The House will agree, I am sure, that if it were proposed in the event of any smoke nuisance anyone suffering damage should have power to put the Lands Clauses Act into motion and go to the Railway and Canal Commission the whole country would be up against it. I quite agree that where a Government factory causes a nuisance the Department should be liable in the same way as the owner of a private factory. I have no doubt it is so liable, and will be so under this Bill when it becomes law. If that be not the case, then I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to make it clear that that is the intension of the Government. But I do suggest that there should not be any remedy in these cases which is not open to all who suffer damage. That seems to be very desirable, and all the more so when one considers that as a result of the other Amendments, which, of 'course, I cannot now discuss, the matter will not have to be decided merely by the Railway and Canal Commission, but in some cases by an arbitrator. I hope, therefore, the Government will reconsider their decision on this point.


As one who took great interest in this Bill when it was before this House, I wish to say I cannot associate myself with the protest just uttered by the hon. and learned Member for the Tradeston Division of Glasgow (Mr. Dundas White). The right hon. Gentleman, in accepting this Amendment, has fulfilled both in the spirit and in the letter the undertaking which he gave to this House on this matter, after a prolonged debate, when he promised that it should be considered in another place. Although my hon. Friend has fastened upon one point only, there are other points which are of far greater importance in connection with questions of pollution and abstraction, and I sincerely hope the right hon. Gentleman will adhere to his suggestion that the Lords Amendment be agreed with.

Question put, and agreed to.


A special entry will be made by the Clerk at the Table to the effect that the House has agreed to waive its rights with regard to this Amendment.

Lords Amendment:

In Sub-section (3), at the end, leave out the words "by the Commission," and insert instead thereof the words

"in manner provided by this Act, and in determining such compensation regard may be had to any loss suffered by the temporary severance of the land occupied from other land occupied therewith immediately before the time when possession was taken by the occupying Department or by reason of such other land being otherwise injuriously affected by the exercise of the powers conferred by this Section, and in determining the rent payable under this provision regard shall be had to the like considerations as are set out in paragraph 6 of the Schedule to this Act with respect to the determination of compensation payable for land acquired under this Act."


This is also a privilege Amendment, because it imposes a new charge.


I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This proposal partly imposes a charge-and partly reduces it. The first part of it provides for what is well known in legal phraseology as compensation for loss by severance of land from other land occupied therewith which is thereby injuriously affected. In these cases compensation is provided for by the law, but I say frankly I think it is equitable that this charge should be made. This Amendment will provide a remedy which, in my opinion, it was an omission to provide in the Bill. It will provide that in determining the rent regard shall be had to the considerations set out in Schedule 2. But where a piece of land is taken and a building is put up by the State, the owner will not be entitled to claim rent for the buildings put up by the State. It is only fair that the one thing should be set oft against the other.


I hope the House will not agree with the other House in this Resolution. This particular Amendment raises some most important-issues on which the other House has taken a directly opposite view to the one accepted by this House. In point of fact, if this Amendment is agreed to, we entirely alter the structure of the Bill, both as it was submitted by the late Government and as it passed through this House. I take objection to the very commencement of this Amendment, in which it proposes that the word "Commission" shall be left out, and the words "in the manner provided by this Act" substituted for it. That, of course, simply means that all the procedure that we deliberately adopted when the Bill was before the House of Commons for making the acquisition of land under this Act easy, simple, and inexpensive has been put on the scrap heap, and this particular provision brings the whole operation of the acquisition of land under the Lands Clauses Acts, with the methods of arbitration and compensation therein provided. It would be out of order for me to discuss the particular procedure now incorporated in this Bill for assessing compensation.

I hope to do that at a later stage, but I may be in order if I point out that this particular Amendment only applies to land which is under tenancy. The same method of procedure is applied in subsequent stages of these Amendments to land that is compulsorily secured. Where any financial obligations are imposed, in point of fact the Commission, under the original structure of the Bill, was to be the authority for assessing compensation, and the amount to be paid for the acquisition of the land, but instead of that the powers of the Commission are taken away, and its sole duty will be to act as a legal tribunal to hear cases on appeal on such points of law as may be submitted to it. By the substitution of these words in the first part of the Amendment for the word "Commission," you deprive the Commission of the powers originally assigned to them to decide many other matters. This most important one, where it was proposed that a portion only of the property should be taken, was left in the discretion of the Commissioners to say whether the Government should acquire the portion or the whole of the property. But that power it is now proposed to take from them, and you are setting up a particular tribunal under this scheme to which will be given the whole discretion of deciding whether the State must take a small portion of a factory or an estate or the whole of the factory or estate. It is also proposed to deprive the Commissioners of the power of fixing the amount of compensation to be paid for the part of the estate that may be taken.

As to the second part of the Amendment, which the Home Secretary so dexterously described as introducing a quite harmless proposition, if one may judge from the language he used, in point of fact he has introduced by his Amendment one of the most deadly instruments for reviving the fictitious system of fixing compensation which formerly existed. When setting up the doctrine of payment for severance, and the doctrine of payment for damage, the Home Secretary, or the other House, had only to introduce one other doctrine so dear to compensation surveyors, namely, the doctrine of special adaptability, to bring into operation again those powers which enabled landowners in past times to render it impossible for railway companies to pay a dividend. Just consider what this amounts to. Severance! Just consider the ingenious claim for compensation that may be built up on the doctrine of severance. The Minister for Munitions, we will say, has gone to one of the big works and has said, "We want to put an additional wing to your building because we desire to make some special shells." They do that at the expense of the Ministry of Munitions. Then the question arises that the State desires to take possession of the land on which they have built this factory, which they have equipped for this especial purpose. What does the surveyor who is instructed to act for the owner of the factory say? He says, "It is not only a question of paying for the value of the land on which this wing has been set up, but you are going to sever this from our factory, and, if you do that, you destroy the value of our factory." These gentlemen always do discover, in such cases, that this particular wing of the factory is indispensable to the carrying on of the business. Though they may have been in business for a hundred years before that they will say, "If you take this one wing of our factory we had better close down our business, and our £1,500,000 of capital will be so much waste paper." Then, solemnly and seriously, an army of surveyors will give evidence to the same effect, and the arbitrator, being a surveyor himself and knowing what severance means, will take a purely technical view of it. He will not take that simple, ingenuous view which, in cooing terms, the Home Secretary suggested to the House. Not a bit of it! He will not take the view such as would be taken by an ordinary man who is not a technical expert, and who would say this will not do any harm. He will say that this is actual severance, and that severance is a very serious matter. You will find that in nine cases out of ten a considerable sum will be awarded for severance, when from the ordinary, plain, common-sense standpoint no damage whatever is done.

I will not multiply the instances. It is easy to see how the doctrine of severance can be made a very deadly one. For instance, say that the military authorities have put up an encampment in a park. The landowner allowed them to do it, probably invited them to do it, and was glad that they should do it. He had no ulterior motives of any kind, and only desired to serve his country. What does the doctrine of severance mean? That the military authorities may have cut off the mansion house from the park, or the mansion house from the home farm. That does not seem to be a very important matter to the House of Commons, but when an army of technical experts get to work and begin to assess the loss by reason of this severance they will find that it amounts to a considerable sum of money. This is not the way we should go to work. I think that these Noble Lords in the other House are the greatest enemies that exist in this country to the real rights of property. They are not the fair representatives of the landowners of this country. I know a great deal about the landowners of this Country, and I have had a good deal to do with them during the War. The great majority of them have placed their parks and estates gladly and willingly at the service of the nation without the slightest idea of making any profit out of it. Then these half-dozen Noble Lords, curbing the enthusiasm of their patriotism by personal pecuniary motives, have stepped in and, in the name of the great landowners of this country, make a ridiculous proposition of this kind. I am satisfied that if any notions of this sort were submitted to the great landowners they would repudiate them with scorn and contempt. The doctrine of severance is a most dangerous and -deadly one and ought not to be intro- duced in this connection at all. I do not want to Weary the House, because I feel quite satisfied that I have only to state the matter in two or three sentences to carry all reasonable and intelligent men with them. It is no good going on to flog the subject after the fallacy of the argument has been clearly exposed. So far as I am concerned, I will not assent to this proposal, and if I can get any hon. Member to tell with me in the Lobby against this Amendment I will divide the House upon it. Although in this particular Amendment we are only dealing with matters of tenancy, which may not be a serious thing in itself, the same principle is applied in later Amendments to the acquisition of land. If you are going to introduce the doctrine of severance and the doctrine of damage to adjoining land, you will make the process of the acquisition of land so costly that it will cease to be of any benefit to the State.

I have only one other point to raise, that is in regard to damage to adjoining land. I really think it is a species of insult to introduce that into a Bill of this kind. Does anybody seriously suggest that because for the purposes of the War a nobleman has given up a portion of his park for an Army encampment or for the purposes of putting up temporary buildings for munition work, that he wants to be paid for the damage done to adjoining land during the term of the War? That is what it means. All sorts-of claims will be made under that heading. Obviously, if a man has had a munition factory put up in his park for the purposes of the War, it destroys all the amenities of the estate, it makes the adjoining land less desirable for high-class residences, and it probably interferes-to a considerable extent with the enjoyment of the sport in connection with the estate. It may be that the munition workers will have an eye to game as well as the owner of the estate. It will mean, in a dozen different ways, to whatever amount, that the damage to the adjoining land will be a very serious item. It is perfectly right and proper that any man who lends his property, or any portion of his estate for military purposes during the War, should have the land restored to its original condition at the end of the War. It would be quite possible to pay a fair ground rent for the land occupied, but to say that, in addition to the damage being made good and a fair rent being paid, he should receive, under the solemn process of a Lands Clauses arbitration an award by an arbitrator after listening to the evidence of experts, compensation for the damage done by the occupation of his land for the purposes of the War is not fair. I know what the answer of the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench will be. They will say that it is not intended to make any ridiculous claim of this sort, but that all that is intended is that in a particularly hard case, where there is a real severance by which considerable damage has been done to the tenancy of the adjoining land, power shall be given to the arbitrator to assess some compensation. That is not what in practice will take place. Once this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament it passes out of the hands of the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on that Bench. The Courts laugh at the suggestion that anything Cabinet Ministers say has any real bearing on the construction of an Act of Parliament. When this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament and this tribunal is set up, experts will go to work in the usual way. I know what the usual way is. I have been there a hundred times myself. If I were twenty years younger and engaged in the usual practice I should very likely look upon this Bill as a means of securing a handsome competence for my old age. This means that absolutely unnecessary expenses will be incurred in costs and that the landowners will receive large sums of money beyond anything that is reasonable or anything that they would expect.

I am sorry to trouble the House at such length on the subject, but this Amendment in particular raises the whole question. Having carefully examined the Bill, I say that the other House has altogether altered the whole structure of the measure, and that the Bill will not be worth the paper upon which it is printed. Any Government Department could go and make better terms without this Bill at all. This would be a disastrous Amendment, and I would rather that the Government should withdraw the measure than accept it. I do not believe the Prime Minister could have seen this Bill. I have differed from the Prime Minister on land questions more than once, but I did so because he has been the man who wanted, as I thought, to impose hardships upon landowners, and I have been the man who stood up for the landowners. I could not stand up for any such scheme as this. I happen to be, in a small way, a landowner myself, but I believe that this kind of legislation and the kind of Amendments that have been put in this Bill by the other House are just the kind of thing that does the greatest injury to the land-owning classes of this country. Of one thing I am quite certain—in the present stage of civilisation no man can hold land unless he does so with due regard to-the interests of the community. To introduce such principles as these is to make the ownership of land almost indefensible.


I sincerely hope that we shall have some reply from the Government to the exceedingly weighty speech of my hon. Friend (Sir Tudor Walters). I confess to some surprise that the Government, which has sincerely—I am quite prepared to say sincerely—been called into existence with the object of greater celerity in business and the more expeditious achievement of public ends, should almost inaugurate its career by adopting an Amendment of this kind. I would remind the House that in regard to important matters of compensation, where the rights of private ownership or of private privilege or amenity have been invaded, it has been one of the characteristics of the Executive since this war to have all such private claims settled and adjusted by an expeditious machinery which is something new in the public life of this country. When one reviews the number of most important private interests that have been summarily referred to the War Losses Commission, it is extremely difficult to understand why a single form of property, interest in land, should be referred to an extremely complex form of machinery. I have regarded with considerable misgiving the countenance which the Government has given to the Amendments introduced in this Bill in another place, inasmuch as I believe that the consequences will be so serious, and that not merely the financial consequences, but the social consequences of this particular Amendment will be so much more serious in future that I would earnestly appeal to the Government to-respond to the arguments brought forward by my hon. Friend, and accept his suggestion that we should disagree with the Lords Amendment.


We are told in the Memorandum to the Bill that The main object of this Bill is to protect the State against loss arising from the fact that in the emergency created by the war it has been necessary for certain Departments to do certain things. The effect and intention of the series of Amendments put in by the Lords is to inflict loss on the State instead of to protect it. I protest against action of that kind, and if my hon. Friend goes into the Division Lobby I shall be very glad to tell with him. This Bill has been turned upside down. Its machinery is made more expensive and less facile than it was in the original Bill. The Government ought rather to withdraw the Bill than accept these Amendments.


I should like to reply to the speeches which have been made. I hope the House will look at the matter coolly. I think I am entitled to my opinion. The House knows very well that in introducing and carrying through this House this particular Bill I was subject to a good deal of comment, which I cheerfully bore. I went entirely on the principle that commended itself to the House that in this matter the interests of the State must come first. If we want land for defensive purposes we must have it. On the other hand, I always said, and I think the House accepted it, that where injury was done we ought to pay for it. I want the House, notwithstanding what I am going to say in a moment, to bear that in mind in connection with other Amendments as well as this. May I suggest what I think might fairly be done to meet the arguments of the hon. Members who have spoken? The Amendment really is threefold. First, there is the part to leave out the words "by the Commission" and insert "in manner provided by this Act." In my view that makes no change at all in the Bill. It is a pure drafting Amendment, because you must read this Clause in conjunction with Clause 8, which in the Bill as it left this House provides that all questions of compensation are to be determined, if both parties so wish, by arbitration, or, if one party so wishes, by the final referees. I do not think these words make any change at all in the Bill. Take next the first part of the Amendment—in determining the rent under this Section regard shall be had to paragraphs 6 and 7. That means that in determining the rent to be paid during the five years the landowner is not to charge rent for the buildings which have been put up by the State.


That is already provided.


It is nowhere provided, and we ought to keep those words. The central part of the Amendment provides for compensation for injurious effects. I am very anxious to maintain harmony. Of course, this Amendment only applies to the temporary occupation for five years of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions, who is in charge of the Bill, and I suggest that we should disagree with that part of the Amendment. If someone will move to leave out from the Amendment the words "and in determining such compensation regard may be had to any loss suffered by the temporary severance of the land occupied from other land occupied therewith immediately before the time when possession was taken by the occupying Department or by reason of such other land being otherwise injuriously affected by the exercise of the powers conferred by this Section," we will accept the Amendment.


Does the right hon. Gentleman ask leave to withdraw the proposal to agree?

Mr. JAMES HOPE (Lord of the Treasury)

On a point of Order. Would it be possible, the Question having been put "That the House doth agree," to add at the end of the Question "with the omission of these words"?


I think the best plan would be to negative the Motion to agree, and then to propose the addition of the words to which no objection is taken.

Question, "That the House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and negatived.


I beg to move, in lieu of the Lords Amendment disagreed with, after the words "by the Commission," to insert the words in manner provided by this Act, and in determining the rent payable under this provision regard shall be had to the like considerations as are set out in paragraph 6 of the Schedule to this Act with respect to the determination of compensation payable for land acquired under this Act.


I beg to second the Amendment.


Even now I think there is very great objection to accepting this portion of the Lords Amendment. It takes away the last shred of power from the Commission. When the Act was first introduced I drew attention to the fact that a new body was to be empowered to deal with questions which might arise under this Act. I moved an Amendment which was negatived, and we were left to the Railway and Canal Commission. As matters now stand, if we pass the Amendment in its present form, the last shred of power of the Railway and Canal Commission is absolutely taken from it, and there is nothing for that Commission to do now but to assent to the finding of a referee. It has absolutely no judicial function whatever in regard to this Act. It takes away all discretion from the Commission and hands over the entire settlement of compensation to a referee. We all know what that means. We know what it means to have a land agent as referee settling compensation for landowners. It means that we are going to have repeated over again what we have always had when you have called in these referees. It means unlimited compensation for landowners. I have every desire that fair and proper compensation should be given to landowners where any damage has been suffered. But if this passes you will hand over the power not to any public body, but to a set of private individuals called a panel, and you deliberately take away from the Commission the right to disagree in any way with what the referee may do. It is a most extraordinary consequence of this Amendment. Every judicial function which this Commission might exercise will be taken away from it if we pass this Amendment. Therefore, I object to it even in its attenuated form. We ought to retain some shred of power to a Commission which ought to deal with the whole of it.


I suggest that the point raised by my hon. Friend properly arises when we get to Clause 8. These words simply say "in manner provided by this Act." If the Lords Amendments to Clause 8 are disagreed with, these words would be in their right and proper place. The objection, therefore, should be raised when we come to Clause 8.

Amendment agreed to in lieu of the Lords Amendment disagreed with.