§ (1) Where by or under any Statute (whether passed before or after the passing of this Act) land is authorised to be acquired compulsorily by any Government Department or any local or public authority, any question of disputed compensation shall be referred to and determined by the arbitration of such one of a panel of official valuers to be appointed under this Section as may be selected in accordance with Rules made by the Reference Committee under this Section.
§ (2) Such number of persons, being persons with special knowledge in the valuation of land, as may be appointed for England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland by the Reference Committee, shall form a panel of persons to set as official valuers for the purposes of this Act in England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland respectively: Provided that of the members of the said panel for England and Wales one at least shall be a person having special knowledge of the valuation of land in Wales and also of the Welsh language.
§ (3) A person appointed to be a member of the panel of official valuers shall hold office for such term as may be determined by the Treasury on his appointment, and whilst holding office shall not himself engage, or be a partner of any other person who engages, in private practice or business as estate or land agent, surveyor or valuer.
§ (4) There shall be paid, out of moneys provided by Parliament, to official valuers such salaries or remuneration as the Treasury may determine.
§ (5) The Reference Committee—
- (a) for England and Wales, shall consist of the Lord Chief Justice of England, the Master of the Rolls and the President of the Surveyors' Institution;
- (b) for Scotland, shall consist of the Lord President of the Court of Session, the Lord Justice Clerk and the Chairman of the Scottish Committee of the Surveyors' Institution;
- (c) for Ireland, shall consist of the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, the Master of the Rolls in Ireland and the President of the Surveyors Institution, or (if the President of the Surveyors' Institution thinks fit) a person, being a member of the council of that institution and having special know ledge of valuation of land in Ireland appointed by him to act in his place.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Gordon Hewart)
I beg to move, in Sub-Section (1), after the word "compensation" ["any question of disputed compensation"], to insert the words, 178and where any part of the land to be acquired is subject to a lease which comprises land not acquired, any question as to the apportionment of the rent payable under the lease.The object of this Amendment is to prevent trouble in procedure, so that the valuers who dispose of the question of compensation may also be enabled to settle the question of the apportionment referred to.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "be referred to and determined by the arbitration," and to insert instead thereof the words,at the request of either the claimant or the public authority be assessed by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, and such assessment shall be final unless either party shall within sixty days of the issue to such party of the notice of assessment require the Commissioners to refer all or any of the items of such assessment to the determination.This Amendment is one of the first importance. I was unable to attend upstairs as frequently as I should have liked, and such incursions as I made were, I fear, as ineffective as they were infrequent. In relation to this particular Amendment I had some opportunity of laying the points that I considered relevant before that Committee. I simply wish now to bring out the facts so that I may get nothing more, or less, than the considered judgment of the House upon those facts. The proposal is that instead of the tribunal for assessing the compensation as contemplated by the Act, there shall be substituted the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. My first point is: There is the most complete agreement on the part of hon. Members of this House, certainly also supported by general public opinion, that unless it is absolutely necessary no new Government Departments should be created. There, I think, we are on common ground. The question is as to the necessity of a new Public Department, and here a new Department is contemplated. Under the Financial Resolution, which has already been before the House, an expenditure of at least £24,000 a year is contemplated in connection with the valuers and their staff. We all know that that means the small beginnings of a great expenditure which will undoubtedly grow into a large, important, extensive, and, as I think, an unnecessary public Department.
What is the existing machinery which we think can be adapted to this purpose 179 connected with the Commissioners of Inland Revenue? That body has been in existence for a very considerable time. It has been constantly in the habit of valuing land for public purposes passing at death, and indeed, every kind of property which is taxable by the State. The Commissioners of Inland Revenue constitute a body of Civil servants of which this country has just reason to be proud, and during their existence they have accumulated a large store not only of tradition but of experience. I suggest that such a body should not lightly be put on one side for any new Department, however competent the new officials may be assumed to be. This body has established a reputation for fairness and efficiency, and that is a splendid asset of real public confidence. Therefore, it cannot be suggested that they are at all likely to be unfair to the claimants who, under our scheme, would come before them, because naturally their whole tendency is to appraise the value of hereditaments which come before them at their highest possible value for the good of the State. In addition to that general asset which we possess in the Commissioners of Inland Revenue and their officials, there is a special Department which was set up under the Act of 1910, of famous memory. What work has been done by that Department and how far is the work of that Department relevant to the Bill now before the House? I think it is particularly relevant because the whole of the energies of that Department have been devoted to finding out what was the value of land. There was a Debate in which a minority of hon. Members took part, and some of us remember that our attendances at this House were not infrequently closed with the rising of the sun the next day after the sitting. We have an acute recollection of those long and strenuous fighting days.
The whole basis of that Bill was to devise machinery whereby not only should a portion of the increment on land on the occurrence of certain happenings fee taken for the State but that there should be established, as the present Minister for War has more than once stated, a new Doomsday Book. How far has that progressed, and what use can be made of it, as we suggest, by our Amendment? It is useful, I think, to find out exactly what is the position to-day. I am informed that for the year ending 31st March, 1911, the number of district valuers in the fourteen 180 divisions of England, Wales, and Scotland amounted to 111, and the distribution is as follows: England, ninety-four; Wales, ten; and Scotland, seven. Who are these-district valuers, and how do they work? They are skilled men working in the locality, and public officials who are constantly consulted by the legal profession for valuations, as I happen to know from my own practical experience. I do not think anybody will disagree with me when I say that these district valuers, whether their creation and upkeep may have been expensive or not, at any rate their work has been admirably done, and there is not a single lawyer who will not agree with me when I say that the references made from time to time to them to ascertain the value of land for various purposes have, on the whole, met with satisfactory results. Therefore, the first point is that you have skilled and impartial men on the spot able and by their experience actually have been giving public satisfaction with regard to the valuation of land within their own area.
What has been the result of their efforts during the years from 1910 until 1916 when they practically suspended their operations? I will give to the House the figures. On or before the 31st of March, 1915, for Great Britain there was a total number of provisional valuations made of 7,335,455 and a total number of hereditaments valued by these officials of 9,982,354. The approximate area of land included in the provisional valuations was 53,694,807 acres of a total value of £4,555,285,522. In the year ending the 31st of March, 1916, for the same area in Great Britain the total number of provisional valuations made in England, Scotland and Wales was 448,969. The number of hereditaments valued in the year was 603,232, the acreage was 2,499,502, and the value was £712,498,533. I have given the figures of that year to show that, at any rate up to 31st March, 1916, this Valuation Department was busily at work, keeping its experience and its machinery going at a very obvious rate of official efficiency. It is not, therefore, an obsolete Department. It was closed down afterwards, and was switched off onto other war work as far as making fresh valuations were concerned, but it may be described still as a going concern only waiting to be started again, at full speed for the purpose of this Bill and the-other Bills which are dependent upon it. Take the totals under the various heads which I have already given up to 31st 181 March, 1916. The total number of provisional valuations was 7,784,424; the total number of separate hereditaments thereby valued was 10,585,586; the area was 66,144,309 acres; and the total value was £ 5,267,784,055. That is an important work, and on the whole a fair bit of work efficiently done and tested by the general public making applications themselves or through their legal advisers when and as often as occasion requires. I do not know how far I am justified in saying it because I have not made any personal investigation on the point, but I am credibly informed that it can be fairly stated that the land in Great Britain under the scheme has been not very far short of completely valued, at any rate, in a provisional sense. I am glad to have confirmation of that fact from an hon. Member who has expert knowledge in the matter. I do not put it any higher. The cost of the work, of course, has been pretty heavy, about £ 4,600,000, but, if we are to take the precedent set in some investigations into Government expenditure, the usual argument adopted is "Yes, supposing the expenditure was not as useful as we thought it was going to be, now that we have made it let us go on with it and make the best of it."
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
It may be good or it may be bad, but it is an argument often used by the Government, and, as I am anxious that they should go my way, I take any argument, good, bad, or indifferent, to induce them to do so. That is the general position with regard to the work which has been done. I just sum it up briefly again: An impartial body, the efficient work done, and the strong objection on all grounds to the creation of an additional public Department. This Department is the very one needed for the special objects of this Bill. What do the Government propose? They propose to give the go by to the Department in any really large sense, and to set up a new body of valuers. How is this body going to be composed? It is to be composed of official valuers who doubtless will be selected from gentlemen of unquestioned professional status, and, I am sure, of public and private character. What will be their attitude so far as we can judge from the valuations of land which have taken place in the past? Their undoubted tendency will be, not to value 182 upon the basis which we suggest or upon the basis upon which the Commissioners of Inland Revenue would inevitably go, but to value in the old way, to which, I believe, the country, whatever may be the opinion of the majority in this House, strongly objects where land is taken for purely public purposes. I say nothing about the personal claims of these gentlemen. I say that the Commissioners of Inland Revenue are the right people, and an Amendment to Clause 8, standing in the name of the Attorney-General, shows that the Debate upstairs must have affected the Government. An Amendment was made in Committee whereby if both the claimant and the public authority so desired they could go to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue to arbitrate between them, and the Government, quite properly, have now put down an Amendment setting out the conditions under which this body, when invited by both parties, shall operate. They therefore quite clearly contemplate the adaptability of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue for this particular work.
It may be argued that the Amendment I have on the Paper leads to delay. I suggest that that shows the excessive moderation of my proposal What do we suggest? We suggest that the Commissioners of Inland Revenue shall be the body to which when the claimant or the public authority disagree the question shall go, and it is laid down that either party shall, within sixty days of the issue to such party of the notice of assessment, require the Commissioners to refer all or any of the items of such assessment to their determination. It was suggested upstairs that this involved delay. But there is no reason for delay at all, because under all the Bills we have had before us, certainly under the Housing Bill, and probably under the Land Settlement Bill, it is provided that the local authority need not wait until the compensation is assessed, but if there is any trouble or bother about it they can enter after fourteen days' notice and go on with their whole scheme. There is, therefore, no question of delay being caused under our proposal. We say that if you are dissatisfied with the decision of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, then within sixty days you can appeal to this body which is here set up; and, considering the views we hold on the subject, I ask hon. Members if they could expect greater moderation. However much hon. Members may disagree with us, 183 I suggest that, holding the views we do, we could not possibly have made a more moderate proposal. First, we say, take the existing body, and if that fails to give satisfaction, set up a much smaller body which would operate within the ambit of, but be independent of, the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. It would hear appeals from the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, but those appeals would be very few, if, as we hope, we induce the Government to accept this Amendment and a subsequent Amendment. But I respectfully submit that the proposal Which we now make embodies a fair scheme. It is efficient, it is economical, and, if it comes reasonably near these descriptions, I suggest the Government will undertake a very grave responsibility it they decline to meet us in any way with regard to this proposal.
§ Sir G. HEWART
My right hon. Friend, an moving this Amendment, regretted that he took a smaller part than he could have desired in the consideration of this Bill upstairs, and he referred to the fact that the part he did take was ineffective. I am bound to say that my right hon. Friend, in using those words, seemed to be doing an injustice to himself. So far as this particular Amendment is concerned, he did explain to the Committee, at no little length, the points he has made to-day, with one possible exception, to which I will refer presently; and the only sense in which his contribution to the discussion was ineffective was that it failed to persuade the Committee. I trust it will meet with the same proper fate to-day. What is it that my right hon. Friend proposes to do? The Bill as it stands is a Bill to provide particular machinery for the assessment of compensation in cases of dispute as to the proper amount of compensation where land is being acquired by a Government Department or by a local or public authority. It is the aim of the Bill to provide fair machinery and to prevent an unfair price being paid. If the Bill secures its main object, one of its results will be to diminish the number of disputes by reducing the hope of obtaining unduly high prices. We are dealing, therefore, with the disputes which will remain, and not with cases of agreement. The first observation of my right hon. Friend is as to the valuers we propose to appoint for that purpose. As Members of the House are well aware, the number of valuers con- 184 templated is not more than eight, and those valuers who are to be appointed will be a new Government Department. I do not know that there is anything very terrible in that phrase, especially if the House realises that all that is proposed to be done is to appoint eight valuers. But may I point out that my right hon. Friend does not get rid of those valuers by his Amendment. What he is proposing is, not that these valuers shall not be appointed, but that they shall be called "referees" that in the first case every dispute shall go to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, and then, after an interval of, at the outside, sixty days, they shall go to the valuers whom we are proposing to set up. Whatever else this Amendment is going to do, therefore, it is not going to got rid of these valuers.
I demur to the suggestion that the Treasury will appoint more valuers than experience shows to be necessary for the purpose. My right hon. Friend dwelt, and very properly so, on the excellent work which has been done by the district valuers. It is not in the least proposed that that work shall be thrown away. The records of the Land Valuation Department will be open for all proper purposes under this Bill. What was it that happened with regard to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue in the Committee? There was in the Bill a Clause— Clause 8— which provided that, if the parties agreed, they might refer their dispute to arbitration. I observed, in answer to a question put to me, that so far as I could see there was no obstacle in the way of agreement between the parties to refer their dispute to the arbitrament of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue; and I agreed to the addition of words that would make that perfectly clear. An Amendment was accordingly proposed, and if Members will kindly turn to Clause 8 of the Bill as it stands, they will see that it is there provided thatNothing in this Act shall prevent, if the parties so agree, the reference of any question as to disputed compensation to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue or to an arbitrator agreed upon between the parties.The consequential Amendments to which my right hon. Friend made a passing reference, which appear upon the Paper to-day, indicate no change of plan, no after-thought upon our part. They are merely consequential Amendments for the purpose of making it plain that when the Commissioners of Inland Revenue act in 185 that way they will be acting as valuers. What, then, is the difference between the view which I am submitting and the view which is urged by my right hon. Friend? It is this: The Bill at present provides that where both parties agree the decision may be made by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. My right hon. Friend proposes that the Commissioners of Inland Revenue shall, in the first instance, at any rate, be the appropriate tribunal if either of the parties shall desire it; in other words, the function of the Amendment is to give to either of the parties to the dispute the power to compel the other party, however reluctant he may be, to submit to the arbitrament of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, together with a provision that if the award is not satisfactory there may be recourse to one of the valuers appointed under the Bill. Two criticisms follow obviously, do they not? One is that the Amendment does not get rid of the valuers; the second is that it is pretty obvious that there will be cases of double proceedings, in the first place, before the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, and in the last resort there will still be the proceedings before the official valuers. I submit to the House that the Bill as it stands does make appropriate use of the experience and the accumulated materials of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, and, where the parties are agreed, it provides, without any ambiguity, that they may select those gentlemen to determine the question between them. It is not proposed to appoint an unnecessary number of valuers; it is not proposed to throw away the benefit of the work which the Commissioners of Inland Revenue have done; but what is proposed is that we should have a small body of competent gentlemen who would devote their whole time, not a part of it, to the determination of such disputes as may remain after the provisions of this Bill have come into force. I submit, therefore, that the scheme of the Bill is to get the benefit, without the disadvantage, of the plan which my right hon. Friend is proposing.
§ Sir EDWARD CARSON
Personally I regret the decision to which the Attorney-General has come. Advantage ought to have been taken of this Bill to get rid of the number of different authorities who are to assess land for different purposes. Let me take the way this Bill will operate in Ireland, where I am acquainted with the valuation of land probably better than I am in this country. In Ireland you have 186 the Land Commissioners, who have for purchase purposes to assess the market value of land in matters which come under State purchase, and also in other matters. If a man dies and his estate has to be, valued, you have then to get at the market value, but instead of going to the Land. Commissioners, though the land has to be-valued by the same process of valuation to attain the same object— namely, the market value— you have to go to the Inland Revenue. When this Bill is passed, if the land is going to be taken for other purposes than those for which the Land Commissioners value, you are to set up a third body of referees to ascertain exactly the same result— namely, the market value. It does not seem to me that that is business. Market value is market value, or ought to be, no matter who values. It seems to me an absurdity that you are to say that in one set of circumstances one tribunal is to ascertain what is the market value, and, in another set of circumstances, you are to ascertain it by a different tribunal. The proper tribunal is the taxing tribunal, and for very obvious reasons. The owner has no right to have a less market value assessed for the purposes of taxation than for the purposes of sale for public purposes. What you really want to get at is the same standard. You want the thing to be assessed in the same way. In the case of a man who has ready money you value the money at the real figure. In the case of land you do not value it for Death Duties before the same tribunal as you value it if it is being sold for public purposes. Why should there be two different standards? Market value is market value, and it does not require different tribunals to get at that market value.
You are setting up a new Department. The Attorney-General may pretend to be-very innocent in his idea that we are only going to have a few valuers. He says there will only be eight. I have looked through the Bill and I cannot find it set out there-Is he going to put in a Clause to limit the number to eight? Will he undertake to put in a Clause to limit it to eight? We all know very welt how these things grow. They keep on growing. They never stop growing. They; never come to the maturity that stops, growth. I appeal to the Government to take this opportunity of having one tribunal to set up one standard. The Attorney-General made a point which, no doubt, is worthy of consideration. I have 187 no doubt that my right hon. Friend opposite (Sir D. Maclean) will agree. The Attorney-General says that by this particular Amendment, although you substitute the Revenue authorities for the referees, you still allow an appeal to the referees, therefore you must have some referees. What my right hon. Friend opposite says is true. There will be a very small number of cases as compared with the number dealt with under the Bill as it stands. Why not get rid of the referees altogether? I am sure my right hon. Friend opposite would be quite willing to agree to that. Why is a man more competent because he is acting as a referee than if he is an Inland Revenue valuer? You will get them from the same class, or they ought to come from the same class. You are really going to select these men and set them up to do exactly the same thing that trained men are doing day by day, month by month, and year by year. You are going to set up this new tribunal to do exactly the work they are already experienced in doing. May I offer a suggestion? I was in a few of these compensation eases when I was a Law Officer. It is thirteen years since I first, brought before the Government of that day the enormous extravagance incurred where land was assessed when taken; for public purposes, and the enormously unfair sums that were given on many occasions. In my opinion, the proper way to make the assessment for land for public purposes, subject to the conditions which are laid down in the Bill, would be simply for the parties to send in a statement, just as they do in the case of Death Duties, and let the Revenue authorities through their valuers make the assessment, and then, if either of the parties is not satisfied, let them have a hearing before these Commissioners, so as to put any additional points. I do not think you want any appeal to other referees at all, and I am perfectly certain you would get the work done in a quarter of the time if you did it in that way, and I believe you would get just as good and fair results. I do not think anyone will charge me with wishing in any way to take away from the owners proper compensation, but my experience has taught me that these hearings lead to extravagance in cost and delay in the assessment, and I believe what you ought "to do is to try to concentrate on a short process, just as you do in the case of Death Duties, and not, unless it is necea- 188 sary, have any hearing at all. But I must press on the Government, because I think this is a matter of very vital importance to public undertakings, this one vital matter as being the whole object of my speaking here— and that is, that they should do what is best to get at the same standard of market value for taxation and for compensation.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The great controversial Bill of the Session has come forward at a most unfortunate time. The Labour party have got their annual meeting at Southport and cannot be here in such force as they ought to be, and this is a Bill which will probably be more discussed in the next four years than any other Bill we have passed this Session. If it is passed as it is it will be a failure, and everyone will have under his eyes cases where enormous prices have been paid for land required for housing, and, therefore, it is bound to be a very much discussed Bill, and it is being discussed in a House in which one of the parties is almost absent. That is the first unfortunate thing. But then we have this advantage. We have a new recruit for a sound method of dealing with all these compensation questions. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson), who I hope voiced the views of all the Ulster Member, has been the first Conservative really to lay down what I believe to be a perfectly just fact—that the value at which land is assessed for rating or taxation should be taken as the basis for compensation also. That has been the Radical programme for a great many years, and I am certain that only on such a basis as that shall we ever get rid of this perpetual friction over the acquisition of land, whether it be for public purposes or for railway companies or other semi-public bodies.
The problem put before us by this Amendment is perfectly plain. It is whether we should take the existing body of State valuers as the body to determine the compensation to be given to land owners whose land is required for housing or other purposes, or whether, instead of the State valuers, who have been at their work now for nearly ten years and have already valued the whole of the land of England, we should take a special new body of referees, of people who have not hitherto been in the Government service, whose whole trade and profession has been in the service of the landed interest, and, 189 therefore, will obviously be biassed—not corruptly, but normally biassed — in favour of the interest for which the majority of their work has been done in the past and will be done in the future. Which of these bodies is likely to serve the public interest. best, those who have been trained, who have specialised, who have got all the records together of the land all over the country, who have these records ready to their hands to refer to, or this new body of private valuers put on the panel for public purposes, who have got to remember that they are not permanent Government officials, but mere temporary judges with a bias towards one of the interests which have to be judged? It is perfectly obvious that in the public interest the Amendment ought to be carried. It would substitute for these private judges a public body that has given perfect satisfaction in the past and has got all the records at its disposal. The right hon. Gentleman chose to be facetious about the smallness of the new Government Department—only eight valuers. Even the valuers themselves may increase beyond eight, and they undoubtedly must if many cases come before this tribunal. But that is not all. This new body cannot possibly exist without their records. They will be absolutely futile, and directly you start on records, directly every case that comes before them has to be filed, directly they have to refer back to previous judgments of their own, you get reconstruction not merely of a new Government Department but of a regular Court of Chancery. We do not want to have a new Department of that sort. We are already overloaded with these Departments. Still less do we want one where it is realised—and the country will realise this very soon—that it is merely instituted in order that a larger and unfair compensation can be allotted to landlords instead of the just compensation which they will get from that body which assesses the value of land for taxation.
During this War the Admiralty has consistently used the district valuers and the new Inland Revenue Department as its agents for dealing with the acquisition of land throughout the country. It came to them because it found they were the best informed body on this subject, and naturally when one saw how the Government Departments during the War were using the Inland Revenue and the district valuers one imagined that the Government, when dealing with this great hous- 190 ing question and the acquisition of land, would immediately follow on the path which they had laid down during the War, and that the Departments which had been consulted during the War would be consulted during the reconstruction. Instead of that we find this Bill absolutely hamstrung by having the one Department of the State which has specialised on this question of land values and has all the records at its disposal, scrapped, and we have this new Department foisted upon the country, solely in order that a heavier and unjust compensation may be paid for the privilege of using British land. This is the ruin of the Bill. If this Amendment is thrown out, the Bill might just as well take its place beside the. 1846 Land Clauses Consolidation Act and the other Land Acts we have had in the past for assessing compensation. Claims will be made, excessive compensation will be paid, injurious affection will come in, severance and all those additional claims for compensation will arise. If the Government had gone straight ahead and done what Government Departments have done during the War, used their Land Valuation Department and the district valuers for assessing compensation, we might have got some sort of fair value of the land. The Attorney-General referred us to Clause 8. He knows perfectly well that Clause 8 is a dead letter. Clause 8 says:Nothing in this Act shall prevent, if the parties so agree, the reference of any question as to disputed compensation to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue.Does he conceive it possible that any landlord would consent to the submission of his case to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue when he could instead submit it to this panel?
§ Sir G. HEWART
I think the hon. and gallant Member is asking me a question. Those who were able to speak on behalf of the owners of land said in Committee that it was quite wrong to assume that they would never agree to submit the question to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I can quite believe that this Clause was solely inserted as eye-wash by the Land Union, because no landlord in his senses will use Clause 8 or will consent to have his case submitted to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue while he can submit it instead to a panel of special valuers who come from private practice.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Because he would get much higher compensation from the other body working under a panel.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Because they have a natural bias in favour of the owners of land. Do hon. Members who represent the landed interest really think that a bigger price will be paid by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue than by the panel of valuers. If so, why not accept this Amendment, and when we come to Clause 8 why not leave out the words "if the parties so agree," and make it possible to go to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue even if one of the parties do not agree. We know perfectly well that they will resent any measure or any Clause in this Bill which compels them to go to the Inland Revenue Commissioners in order to decide the true compensation to be paid. This Bill is in fact a fake. It pretends to acquire land for public purposes at a specially cheap price. In effect it will do nothing of the sort. It allows not only the increment value that has arisen from the War, but all the other charges that have made arbitration for the assessment of compensation to be paid for land in the past such a farce and such a monstrous charge upon the public purse. All this is maintained, and although the Government pretend that they are trying to found on this Bill all their other reconstruction policy, their housing policy, their land settlement policy, and their railway and transport policy, yet when you come back to this fundamental Bill you find in it the same old prejudice in favour of the landed interest that every Land Bill has ever had in the past.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ROYDS
The speech of the hon. and gallant Member seems to have been founded on a misconception. There are two parties to every sale— the vendor and the purchaser. If you are dealing with any Government Department it is for the owner of the land when he is selling it, or his executors when assessing Death Duties to appoint representatives to act in regard to the assessment of the value of the land, and the Assessing Department or the Purchasing Department appoint these district valuers to act for the Inland Revenue Commissioners on these 192 occasions. They generally come to an agreement, but if they do not come to an agreement now there is an appeal to the Law Courts. In most cases in regard to Death Duties there is hardly ever an appeal from the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. The parties come to agreement. I do not think there is an appeal in one case in ten thousand. Therefore, the hon. and gallant Member should understand why most of the people who own land have complete confidence in the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. The fact that they always come to an agreement shows that they are both reasonable and that there is no difficulty between them in settling the value of the land. The hon. Member suggests that there should not be a multitude of authorities, but that in a sale to a public Department the same people who assess the Death Duties should also assess the compensation in the case of the sale of land. But in the case of a sale such as we are providing for now there is no appeal from the valuers who are appointed, whereas in the case of those who assess Death Duties at the present time in the Inland Revenue there is an appeal from them. If you are going to fix a body as you do in this Bill whose decision is to be final it is perfectly obvious that you must fix an impartial body; you cannot fix the same body who have been acting for the Government in the negotiations for the sale. They will, no doubt, in the negotiations for the sale employ the district valuers who have been referred to. Therefore, they will not be thrown overboard. As a matter of fact, they are negotiating sales at the present time on behalf of the Government. If they cannot come to an agreement, does the hon. Member really suggest that the same Department shall be the final arbiters in the matter? If the parties do not agree; you are bound to set up an impartial tribunal, and that impartial tribunal in. the shape of this panel of valuers provided for in the Bill seems to me to be the best way of dealing with the matter. I believe this panel of valuers will act in a perfectly impartial way and give satisfaction to all interests. There is no reason whatever to suppose that they will be in favour of the owners of the land any more than they will be in favour of those who are purchasing. If the hon. Member thinks we cannot find eight impartial valuers in England, I think he is casting a very serious reflection upon the people 193 of this country. I hope, therefore, the House will not support this Amendment, but will support the proposals of the Government, which seem to me eminently reasonable.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
I think the hon. Member who has just spoken has entirely misconceived the purpose of the Amendment. His speech is entirely in support of the Amendment. He states that they fail to agree in only one case in ten thousand, and he alleges that it is unfair that the valuers in connection with the Land Valuation Department should be the final arbiters. But under this Amendment they are not the final arbiters. Under this Amendment in one case in ten thousand, or it may be in one case in a thousand or one case in a hundred, if there is dissatisfaction an appeal may lie to the official valuers. I am very glad to have the assurance of the hon. and gallant Member that it is only once in ten thousand that an appeal will be made, because that disposes of the argument of the Attorney-General when he says that by means of this Amendment we do not get rid of the appointment of official valuers. If they are only to be called in in one case in ten thousand, I presume there would at least be no necessity to employ a panel of eight highly skilled and highly paid officials, who, I understand, are to be paid something like £3,000 a year salary. I should imagine that a smaller panel of one or two valuers would obviously be sufficient for the purpose of hearing these appeals. The speech we have just heard affords a sufficient reason why the hon. and gallant Member should see his way to support the Amendment, which gives the appeal he desires, and on the other hand it should enable the Government to accept the Amendment, because the objection they have hitherto raised has proved to be ineffective. I make an appeal to the Government not to turn a deaf ear to the extremely powerful and able speech delivered by the right hon. Member for the Duncairn Division (Sir E. Carson). He has voiced this afternoon what is the general view of the average man and woman in this country.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
That view has found expression, as the Government must know, from resolutions which have reached them which have been passed by most 194 of the great municipalities. The Glasgow Corporation, the Manchester Corporation, and something like a hundred different borough councils in this country, have passed resolutions expressing the opinion that the Bill in its present form is entirely inadequate for the purpose of securing land on fair terms, and that the value of the land which is returned for assessment purposes should be the value at which it should be secured for public purposes. Those who have so long advocated that view in this House and in the country are very glad to have received such valuable aid from the right hon. Member for Duncairn. When this Bill passed its Second Reading I expressed the view that it was altogether an unsatisfactory Bill. In Committee the Bill has been very much worsened from the point of view of securing the object which the Government set out to achieve. It was the desire of the Government that there should be an easy method of assessing compensation which would be comparatively inexpensive. Nearly all the safeguards which were in the Bill on Second Reading—and I think they were inadequate then—have disappeared from the Bill. It was intended that this should be a tribunal before whom those actually interested should appear themselves and that there should be no expense for legal assistance by solicitor and counsel. That precaution has disappeared from the Bill. I do not say it is unfair to have these valuers if you are to have this procedure, but what I wish to point out is that this method of procedure inevitably drives you to the old time-wasting as well as money-wasting methods of making it difficult to secure land on favourable terms. Now, whether it was wise or unwise, the precaution as to representation by solicitor or counsel has disappeared. The proposal that there should be only one expert witness on one side has been modified so that with the consent of the official valuer there may be other expert witnesses. There is now a provision that the local authority—I am not sure if it is mandatory—may make an offer of the amount they are willing to pay for the land and the owner may make a counter-offer. Within these limits the cost may fall upon the local authority or upon the owners.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We are not now discussing all the amendments. The only point is as to the character of the tribunal.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
I apologise if I have transgressed, and I will endeavour to keep within your ruling as closely as possible, but I hope that I am in order in pointing out that the method under which the Bill operates by means of this tribunal is a method which gives very few advantages, if any, over the present system. Even the governing desire of making the procedure inexpensive has been overridden by the action of the Committee upstairs. As compared with this tedious and expensive method, my right hon. Friend proposes the simple method under which the parties go to the valuers under the Land Valuers Department. As the right hon. Member for Duncairn (Sir E. Carson) has pointed out, in at least nine cases out of ten the probability is that only documentary evidence will require to be submitted, and there is no necessity for any appearance by counsel or the parties themselves. The procedure would be inexpensive and rapid. It would be possible to obtain early decisions with regard to the matter, and if, in the last resort, either of the parties was dissatisfied, there would still remain the appeal to the official valuer. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Wedgwood) that, after all, this is the crucial decision with regard to this Bill. If this Amendment is passed, I believe there will be a certain amount of confidence on the part of the local authorities, who at present have made such a very strong protest, that an opportunity will be given under this Bill of securing land for housing on something like reasonable terms and with fair expedition. If this Amendment is rejected, practically the whole of the municipalities in this country will view this Bill not merely with suspicion, but with mistrust, and it will be necessary before long to secure an Amendment which will realise the desire of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Duncairn that these two valuations should cease and that there shall be only one market value, which shall be operative for the purposes of rating and assessment as well as for the purchase of land when it is required.
§ Sir COURTENAY WARNER
I hope the Government will reconsider the position which they have taken under this Amendment. This Bill was prepared for the purpose of carrying out the objects of the other important Bills that have been introduced. Its object is to simplify the process of acquiring land for public purposes, 196 and to ensure that too high a price shall not be paid for it. There is no question of injustice in this Amendment because this Amendment does leave what I should not leave if I had my own way— the appeal to the valuers. I think that it is a mistake. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Duncairn that the taxation authority should be able to value and lay down a price without any further ado about the matter and without any appeal. I do not think that anybody would distrust them. I am quite sure that landowners throughout the country have trusted them in the past and will trust them in the future. It is very seldom they make a mistake.
§ Sir C. WARNER
Yes, but they have used that appeal very seldom. The hon. and gallant Gentleman himself has said that there has been an appeal in only one out of 10,000 cases. Does not that prove the confidence that is placed in their finding? I agree that in some cases they may make mistakes— in one case out of 10,000 —but surely to spend money on a separate organisation to provide an appeal, which this Amendment leaves, is a waste of money if there is to be only one case in 10,000, because it leads to delay and increased expenditure. The great object and the great necessity arc to make it clear to the public that we are doing our best, and that the Government are doing their best, to simplify the transference of land, and to have these appeals will make it more cumbersome. One other point should be taken into consideration by the Government. There is a feeling of trust throughout the country in the Inland Revenue Department. People believe in them and they do not believe in a new Department that is picked up anywhere. That is a very serious point. It is useless to say that this is not a new Department because there are only eight valuers. These will have their secretaries and clerks under them, and it will be a new Department. I appeal to the Government, if they cannot simplify this Bill by striking out the new Department, to give the work to a Department already existing, if possible, with the appeal, if it is insisted on, that is left in the Amendment.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belfast (Sir E. Carson) argued as if this Bill only dealt with the valuation of land, whereas it deals with the assessment of compensation for 197 land taken compulsorily. The two things are quite different. The valuation of land is comparatively easy. I was told only yesterday by an official of the London County Council, who I suppose deal with more costly purchases of land than any other local authority in the country, that they come to a settlement without any hearing of any kind in from 75 per cent. to 90 per cent. of the claims that are made against them, and the same thing applies to all the large claims which they could settle and would settle, but that having regard to public opinion, they feel, and I think rightly feel, that when there are large claims running into hundreds of thousands of pounds they ought in the interests of public security to be settled by a tribunal of arbitration. But any valuer will tell you that the fixing of the price or value of a farm or any holding by itself is a comparatively easy matter, and it is very rarely indeed that it is solely a question of the valuation of land which forms the matter in dispute in arbitration. What has to be decided in these cases is the question of compensation, and these questions which crop up continually involve claims for goodwill, severence, disturbance of business, and trade claims affecting every kind of industry and trade. What use would a valuer of the Inland Revenue Department be in assessing such claims as these? Take another kind of claim. The Manchester Corporation had a Bill in this Parliament for carrying water from the Westmorland lakes by a huge aqueduct right down to Manchester, and various big boroughs in that part of Lancashire. This would demand a valuation, not only for the land taken in passing through the country over which the aqueduct has to be carried, but compensation for damage in various places through which it goes. The House can easily understand that carrying a huge aqueduct through a considerable stretch of country must involve very serious claims for severance and injurious affection. It will go through many businesses, and it will cut off portions of business premises from the rest. Gentlemen of the school of thought of the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme sweep away in an airy fashion all claims for severance, consequential damages, and injurious affection, but in most of the cases that are fought these are the most substantial claims, and the cases in which it is most difficult to arrive, at a proper ascertainment of the value.
198 One of the most interesting cases fought during the last few years was as to the right of the General Post Office to carry a pneumatic tube right under the Great Eastern Railway. How could a gentleman from the Inland Revenue settle a claim like that, which needs a great deal of imagination and amount of experience in dealing with all kinds of questions before you can arrive at even an approximate value worth anything at all? Take another common case. Say the L.C.C. wish to widen a street. The difficulty in these cases arises from the fact that a public authority or anybody exercising statutory powers of this kind generally does not take the whole of a particular individual's property, but only takes part of it. Suppose local authorities wish to widen a street and run a straight line down part of it, taking off so much of the forecourts or gardens of the houses, the value of the land taken has nothing to do with the claim. What is the value of a piece of land which could not be built on? But the damage to the houses must be enormous if you are going to bring the street right up to the front windows where previously you have had a garden or a forecourt with trees. Therefore, the trouble in these cases is not the question of valuation, and I am surprised that a Member of the great legal experience possessed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Duncairn should try to induce the House to believe that the questions arising under this Bill are mainly questions of valuation of land, and that he does not realise, as any public authority could tell him, and as the official of the London County Council has told me, that the question of the valuation of the land is in itself a very small matter, and that the important claims are claims for damages, severance, or injurious affection resulting from taking part of the house or of the land. People who have owned houses and had part of them taken, people who have owned land and had a line of sewers placed right across it, will understand that the damage is very substantial, and the House, if it wishes to do justice, should appoint the very best tribunal that can be got to ascertain that value. Human nature is imperfect, but my view is that the best chance of arriving at a true solution of these problems is to select men who in carrying on their own businesses, in their everyday life for years and years, have derived knowledge from the settlement of this sort of claim and from dealing with these cases of valua- 199 tion. The Government have not in their scheme gone as far as I should like in selecting the very best men from the surveyors' profession. They have, however, gone far in that direction.
§ Mr. TOOTILL
I do not intend to delay the House much on this question. I am much obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme for making reference to the fact that a number of Members are absent from these benches. Not all of them are absent, however, and I wish to voice what I think would be the opinion of all Labour Members were they present. We feel that this Bill is an attempt to do something towards settling a great question in which we have been deeply interested for many years. I want to join most seriously in the appeal to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill that he will consider sympathetically the request made by the hon. and learned Member for Duncairn to strengthen the Bill—I am sure it will strengthen the Bill—by establishing one definite, complete standard of valuation of land. I speak with the greatest deference and humility, but as one who has had nearly fifty years of close contact with the working-class mind of this country and as one who knows something of the present trend of opinion regarding many problems which are now exercising working men's minds. At present a conference is being held in Southport. There many questions will arise affecting the political situation. There is existing a great deal of suspicion, mistrust and misunderstanding as to the determined policy of the Government on many questions. It ought to be the Government's desire and intention to remove as far as possible the ground for any mistrust. We know that the War has brought about great changes. It has induced Parliament to consider with greater willingness and acceptance reforms that hitherto they would not have touched with the proverbial fire tongs. As an old campaigner in the movement, I desire to appeal strongly to the Government to establish a land court of such a character that, at any rate, it would tend to inspire confidence among those who are not supposed to understand all the technicalities and details of land law, land courts, land arbitration, and so on. I do think that the man in the street, the average working man, is beginning to realise that these questions affecting the landed interests 200 that come before Parliament are not dealt with with that impartiality and disinterestedness which the Government ought to manifest. Therefore, my strong anxiety is that something should be done to reestablish, as it were, that good feeling and good relationship as between what were once termed the masses and the classes To-day the Government has an opportunity in this Bill of showing that they are desirous of removing all obstacles and hindrances to the bringing about of such a reform in land valuation and land acquisition., two things which are going to be more in vogue in the near future than ever they have been in the past. We want to know why local authorities are so indifferent to the beginning of building operations. Why is it that the plans which their surveyors and other officials have-spent so much time upon have not been carried out? Why has not some beginning been made up to now? I want to know how much land difficulties have stood in. the way of their commencing building-operations. The man in the street wants-to know who or what is the hindrance. If my Labour friends were present I am sure they would join with me in the appeal to the right hon. Gentleman that there should not be a new departure, a new policy introduced, and a new set of officials appointed when the existing body have proved themselves capable, have done their duty loyally and faithfully, and, therefore, are able to deal with all these difficulties as they arise. Surely with their accumulated experience they will be able to decide technical issues with satisfaction to all concerned. If the right hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance that some such provision will be made in this Bill before it passes this House, I think we would be satisfied to allow this Clause through without further debate.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
The House is in a difficulty in dealing with this subject, because this Bill is so small a Bill. One speaker treated the Bill as a Bill relating only to purchases by Government Departments. In fact, the Bill does relate also to purchases by local authorities, but it does not relate to purchases by private promoters, which probably on the average are more numerous in total than all the purchases by Government Departments, though possibly not more numerous than those by Government Departments and local authorities. I venture to anticipate that in future the purchases by private undertakings will be very much more 201 numerous than they have been in the past. It is inconceivable that we should to-day create a tribunal for the assessment of compensation which in future will not also be utilised for all compulsory purchases, even although they are not in this Bill. We cannot be thinking of setting up one procedure for Government purchases, and intending in the future to create another and different procedure for compulsory purchases by private undertakings, such as railway companies, dock authorities, and so on. Bearing that in mind I venture to think that the objection to the utilising of the Inland Revenue Department on the ground that it is a Department of Government and that on Government purchases it might tend to be rather partial to the Government side—that objection ought not to be treated as too serious. The Inland Revenue Department, of course, in connection with the valuation of land when first started, had to employ suddenly a very large number of valuers, and it is no injustice to the valuers to say that some of those employed at the outset were not up to the standard of those who are there now. I believe the general experience of the country is that the valuers have in recent years been good, and the experience during the War of valuations not made for the purposes of ordinary work, but for purposes of war in connection with the acquisition of land by Government Departments, is that the work has been done with extreme efficiency. As Chairman of the Land Acquisition Committee, on whose Report this Bill is partially founded, I can say that the evidence received before that Committee as to the manner in which the work had been done by the valuers of the Inland Revenue Department in valuing during the War for the acquisition of land was extremely good and extremely satisfactory. That being so, I cannot help thinking that we ought, if possible, to utilise their services as much as we can. It is quite true, no doubt, that to leave the matter compulsorily in the hands of the Inland Revenue Department without any appeal of any sort may be open to some objection. But this Amendment is not open to that objection. Allowing for that, and allowing also that the Inland Revenue ought not to be the final judge, there are four points of principle upon which I think the House will be in agreement. The first is that the taxation value and purchase value ought to be identical in so far as the compensation involves the valuation of the land.
202 Secondly, we ought to utilise the knowledge and experience of the Inland Revenue Department as much as we can. Thirdly, and this is important, if we do utilise the Inland Revenue Department it will tend, particularly under the provisions for appeal, to make that Department more efficient. That is a very important point. If the valuations of the Inland Revenue Department when disapproved of by the parties concerned can be brought before official valuers on appeal, and the valuers of the Inland Revenue Department cross-examined, there is no doubt that that will stimulate efficiency on the part of the valuers of the Inland Revenue Department more than any other step we can possibly take, and it is of the highest importance that the machinery for valuation for all purposes in the country by the Inland Revenue Department should be as efficient as we can make it.
The last point is this, and one which I think is also very important, that what we want to do is to arrange that the assessment of compensation when land is compulsorily purchased shall as much as possible be done by consent and by settlement between the parties concerned without the litigation involved in an arbitration before any tribunal. The view my Committee took on that subject was that if it was possible for the parties to go to the Inland Revenue Department and ask for a valuation—and a valuation is not the same thing as an arbitration—submitting the facts in an informal way, not by formal evidence, that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred that valuation would be acceptable to both sides, or, at any rate, would form the basis upon which they could arrive at an agreement. That is particularly so in the case of small owners who are not well off and to whom the expense of the fees payable to a survey or is a serious drawback. For small owners it would be a great thing if they could simply send particulars to the Inland Revenue Department and ask for a valuation for a small fee. They would then be protected. One speaker this afternoon said that the only object of the Bill in regard to procedure was to simplify the process of acquiring land and not paying too high a price. I think here is another object and that is that the price which is paid should be a just price to the owner. It is just as important to see that the price should not be too low as it is to see that it is not too high.
203 That is particularly so in the case of small owners who cannot afford to get the best advice from skilled surveyors. Having those considerations in mind, I suggest to the House that we should either take this Amendment or possibly a variant of it which would not differ in essence, namely, that either party should be entitled to go to the Inland Revenue Department and ask for a valuation, and that by whichever party that is done the Inland Revenue Department should send a copy of the valuation to the other party. If they agree, there is an end to the matter, and if they do not it goes before the referees. That is almost the same as the Amendment and does not involve the trouble and expense of two separate hearings. The first step is a very inexpensive one and that, to my mind, is its merit.
My Committee, in regard to ordinary cases of compensation, thought they could not go further than to ask the Inland Revenue Department for any existing valuations that they happened to have, but my own feeling is that it is desirable to have a special valuation of the particular land that is being purchased. Under the Finance Act, 1909–10, when there is acquisition under compulsory powers, an occasion arises within the meaning of that Act which necessitates the valuation of that specific property, and consequently to ask the Inland Revenue Department for a valuation before the compensation is assessed is merely asking it to do that which it will have to do a few weeks or a month or two later when the compensation has been assessed. It follows that the Inland Revenue Department ought to be able to do it for a quite insignificant fee. That is the suggestion I make to the House, and it could be put in the form of an Amendment to Clause 8 quite easily. The parties should be allowed to apply to the Inland Revenue Department for a valuation, and if they do not agree the procedure could go on as provided by the Bill. I believe that that would meet the real object underlying the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman or most of it. At all events, it would have the great effect of ensuring that the Inland Revenue Department view on the matter should be known, and, consequently, that the taxation value and the acquisition value would be kept on the same footing by the Inland Revenue Department. It would only be in very occasional cases that the tribunal of referees 204 would override the valuation of the Inland Revenue Department. But in those cases where they did it would be all to the good in the public interest, because it would greatly promote the efficiency of the Inland Revenue Department. I suggest very earnestly to the Government that we ought to use the Inland Revenue Valuation Department as much as we can and not limit it to the provision contained in Clause 8, that it shall only be used where both parties agree. We want, so to speak, to promote agreement, and to take steps which will lead to agreement rather than to wait till agreement has come without any assistance. If we can assist the parties to agree we shall be doing the thing which, above all others, we want to do for the purpose of simplifying the procedure of the acquisition of land.
Lieut.-Colonel A. MURRAY
The House naturally listens with the greatest attention and respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken, but I doubt whether the suggestion he makes is one which would meet the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean). In any case. if his suggestion were acted upon and an amendment inserted in Clause 8, leaving Clause 1 as it is, that Amendment to Clause 8 would not have that bearing on Clause 1 desired by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
I shall vote for the Amendment unless I have an assurance from the Government that they will agree to such an Amendment on Clause 8.
§ 5.0 p.m.
I am very glad to hear that, and I shall also vote for the Amendment. I hope the Government will pay due attention to what has fallen from all quarters of the House this afternoon in this respect. I do think this is an opportunity the Government should seize in. order to simplify the whole matter of valuation. The Attorney-General said that there are eight valuers to be appointed, but I see nothing in the Bill to that effect. He said also it was hoped that the new Department which was to beset up would not grow. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Duncairn (Sir E. Carson) said, quite truly, that once a Department is set up it is bound to grow and always grows. The Attorney-General apparently, I think, has in mind the valuations that are to be made only on account of the acquisition of land by local authori- 205 ties in respect of housing schemes; but there arc any number of valuations that will have to be made in the future under Bills introduced by the Government or proposed to be introduced. There are, for instance, valuations under the Land Settlements Bill and under the Forestry Bill which I hope will see the light of day at an early date. How can the Attorney-General say that this Department it is proposed to set up will be limited to eight valuers? What is it proposed to do in respect of the Valuation Department? I do not wish to travel outside the terms of the Amendment, but I ask, does he propose to appoint those valuers from the Valuation Department as that at present exists, or is the present Valuation Department to remain in existence? We are told it is not doing any work at present. Is it to remain in existence, and, in adition to that Department, are we to have a new Department consisting in the first place of eight valuers, and which Department may grow; and are we to have those two Departments in addition to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, who are valuing for Death Duties and other such purposes, and the Land Valuation Department set up by the Finance Act of 1909– 10, and are all those Departments to be sitting side by side? I hope that the Government will be able to meet the arguments that have been put forward in respect of this Amendment. I am still unable— though I may be quite wrong, and I speak with all humility in the presence of the hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last— to see that the Amendment which he proposes to Clause 8 will meet the views of the House, or, rather, the views of those who agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles. For my part, I regret very much that the Government has not seized this opportunity of dealing with this matter in a more satisfactory manner. I regret that the Government have not grasped the nettle and made a better attempt than they have done to deal with this very important matter, and if this Amendment is pressed to a Division, I shall certainly vote against the Government.
§ Sir G. HEWART
I cannot help thinking that there is some misapprehension as to the effect of the Bill as it now stands. If I followed the suggestion of my hon. and learned Friend behind me (Mr. Leslie Scott), who was of opinion that the substance of the present Amendment would 206 be provided for if in Clause 8 we inserted words which made it clear that a party to a dispute of this character was entitled to have from the Commissioners of Inland Revenue a valuation, I do not know that there would be any grave difficulty, except one which I must mention in a moment, to that course, but supposing that course were adopted, I really do not see how it would get rid of what would certainly be the objection of the Bill as it stands. As the Bill stands, it is perfectly open to the two parties, if they agree, to refer the dispute to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, and we must not forget that this Bill is limited to cases of dispute. Suppose the course which my hon. and learned Friend suggests were adopted, the effect would be that one of the parties would go to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue for a valuation, but that would be perfectly futile unless that valuation were accepted by the other party to the dispute. We should then be in the position contemplated by Clause 1. I submit, therefore, that so far as that kind of dealing with the matter is concerned, it is amply provided for in Clause 8. If the two parties desire to have the matter decided by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, the Bill says they may have it so determined. I do not want to appear in the least unwilling to meet the sense of the House, or the sense of any considerable number of Members of the House, if what is proposed is practicable, but I assure those who have made this appeal to me that they are asking for something which is not practicable. They are proposing that the normal ordinary tribunal for matters of this kind should be the Commissioners of Inland Revenue.
The main objections are these two. In the first place, the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, although they are undoubtedly well qualified to deal with questions relating to the value of land, are not well qualified, and would not profess to be well qualified, to deal with the collateral and very often far more important questions which arise where land is compulsorily taken. That is one objection; but another, and even graver, objection is this. One of the most important functions which the Commissioners of Inland Revenue have to discharge is to advise Government Departments as to the value of land. Are they to abandon these advisory functions in order to take up the functions of valuers, or are they to endeavour to combine the two? That, I 207 submit, would be impossible. The effect would be that the Commissioners, upon whose advice every Government Department depends where a question arises as to the value of land, would have to abandon this function. My hon. Friend opposite seems to think the matter has received too little attention, but we have canvassed every statement and have considered every proposal with the greatest care, and with the best will in the world I do not, at the moment, see my way to go further in the direction suggested. I do not want it to be thought that this is the last word. I am perfectly willing to consider it, but it must not be taken as in any sense a pledge that I can carry out a proposal of the kind that is suggested, because I say frankly that as I appreciate the facts and difficulties now, I do not see how we can go further in the direction which is desired.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
My right hon. Friend, I think, has done well to recognise the weight of opinion which is behind this Amendment, but I must at once say that I regard the very tentative suggestion he has made as wholly inadequate. I should like to ask him what he means by "at the moment," because here we are on the Report stage, and now is the time. I do not see how you can possibly fit in an Amendment like this by way of a new Clause, and it is not to be expected that we can expect much mercy in another place on a question of this kind.
§ Sir G. HEWART
As I understood my hon. and learned Friend behind me (Mr. L. Scott), he was of the opinion that this Amendment might be withdrawn and that it might be possible, by some Amendment to Clause 8, to go some way towards meeting the substance of what was suggested. What I meant by using the words "at the moment" was that I cannot now see how that proposal is to be squared with the present fabric and structure of the Bill. It seemed to me that if the substance of the present proposal were carried the Bill would have to be remodelled.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
May I ask the Attorney-General whether he is prepared to accept the suggestion which I made that either party should have the right to go to the Inland Revenue Department and ask for a special valuation of that property to be made, a copy of it then being sent to the 208 other party, so that agreement might be promoted? I wanted to know whether the Government would make that concession, making it clear that the Inland Revenue Department should have that power and that duty.
§ Sir G. HEWART
If an answer to that question is required now, my answer is that I am not prepared to say so.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I will make this suggestion to my right hon. Friend in view of what I think is a difficult situation. If the Government are prepared to discuss or reconsider the Amendment in view of the expression of opinion in the House, why not accept a Motion to adjourn this Debate? [Sir G. HEWART indicated dissent.] If he does not agree to that we must go on. The hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Cautley) said quite rightly from his point of view—and I quite accept it as an argument against my proposal from that point of view—that any valuation of amenities and injurious affection—and all those who know what that phrase ''injurious affection" has meant in the past in the valuation of properties for public purposes, either required by a railway or by a local authority, know the vision of imaginative values which have been thrown upon the railway companies and public bodies in endeavouring to get land for public purposes. It is said that such a body would lack imagination, and I hope it would lack imagination of the kind which arbitrators have exercised in the past, to the grave dissatisfaction of the public. It is because the Commissioners of Inland Revenue would move on a different basis altogether that this Amendment is moved. They would take substantially as their basis, first of all, the taxation value, and, after that, the other considerations which arc relevant and proper would come in, and just and no more than just compensation would be paid to the individual whose property was to be taken by a public authority. One point was made by an hon. Member on the question of small purchasers. Of course, under the proposals of the Government, in the Land Settlement Bill and the Housing Bill there would be a very large number of small purchasers. A few acres would be taken here and there near towns or in towns, and it is just the district valuer the man on the spot, who knows the whole of the circumstances, who would provide 209 the very machinery you would want. As for the suggestion that eight valuers are going to be enough, we know now, of course, that in all probability the Government, or leading members of the Government, are going to engage in a crusade throughout the country—and as far as we are concerned we will help them all we can—to see that houses are supplied and to stimulate local authorities all over the place to go ahead at once in this matter. Do you think that just a few valuers will be enough? Why, you will have a huge Department before you can turn round, but here you have the district valuers on the spot, and the whole machinery is ready and waiting for carrying out into just effect, in regard to the price of land, the very proposals of the Government. In regard to the proposal which my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. L. Scott) threw out, as to which might happen in Clause 8, I have far too much experience of this House to let an opportunity of this kind slide. Here and now is the time. I think in this Amendment you have the right machinery, the right men, the right methods to do justice in this matter, and nobody wants any more than that.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I must say the view I have taken of the Amendment is that the merits of the Amendment itself have been a good deal exaggerated in this Debate. We have to decide whether the tribunal for fixing the compensation should be special valuers set up under the Bill or the Commissioners of Inland Revenue as proposed by the Amendment. Personally, I do not think really it matters very much whether you take one or the other. I do not think there is a great deal on merits to choose between them. It has been said on the other side that these special valuers will inevitably have a bias in favour of the landowners. I do not believe they will, and I think very likely that if the proposal of the Amendment had been in the Bill we should have been told, and with quite as much plausibility, that the Commissioners of Inland Revenue have a very natural desire to put as large a value upon the land as possible in order to get larger taxation, and I think that objection would have been taken. Therefore, so far as the actual merits between the two are concerned, I do not think there is very much to choose. That does not end the matter. There are other considerations. One of my hon. Friends belonging to the Labour party said just now that what they wanted to get was a tribunal that would give confidence 210 throughout this country. There has been, and is still, an immense amount of suspicion—I often think unjust suspicion— against the owners of land. I have personally no bias for or against thorn. There was a speech made this afternoon very hostile to those who were described as the representatives of the landowners. I am to some extent a representative of landowners. There are landowners in my Constituency who are supporters of mine, and to that extent I am a representative of them, but I do not believe for one moment that any landowner, at all events whom I represent, would like to have his representative in this House tolerating the idea that he wants any sort of bias in his favour on a question of this sort, or that he is out for any tribunal which may get in a few more pounds when his land is being taken. One hon. Member referred to the question of getting land under the Housing schemes, and he wanted to know whether land was being held up by land-owners. I have attended several meetings of the Housing Group upstairs, where we had information from the Local Government Board and the various Housing Commissioners, and the testimony which came from all parts of the country was that the land-owners were putting no obstacles whatever in the way of obtaining land for housing schemes. If I may refer to my own experience in my own Constituency, where I have been taking an interest in this question, there has been only one absolutely recalcitrant landowner, and that is the Government, which owns the very best site we want for building purposes under the Housing scheme, and we cannot get it from the Government. I think, from the point of view of the landowners, who are sometimes regarded with suspicion by those who take up a hostile position with regard to the land, as well as from the public point of view, it is desirable that there should be a tribunal which will give confidence.
I must say, on the whole, I agree with my right hon. Friend opposite on the point as to the valuation of amenities and questions of that sort. I think that in the past in the taking of land for public purposes there has been very often a very exaggerated value put upon what is described as amenities, and questions of that sort—collateral values of the land. Not only that, but it seems to me that my hon. Friend behind me who brought forward that point was hardly fair to the 211 Inland Revenue Commissioners in regard to their capacity for putting a fair value upon those particular aspects of the land. I should have thought myself that, provided the Inland Revenue valuers are competent and fair, they would be very quick to distinguish between the value—to take my hon. Friend's illustration—of a house, for instance, with a garden in front of it and a similar house which had been deprived of its garden and had a tramway running close to the front door. That would affect the value of the house and the property, and I think that difference of value would certainly appear in the valuation as given by the Inland Revenue. For those reasons, though I do not think as a tribunal there is much to choose, I must say I regret that the Attorney-General has not seen his way to meet the Mover of this Amendment more than he has, and for the reasons which I have endeavoured very imperfectly to give, I would certainly feel that for myself, as representing an agricultural Constituency and a good many landowners, it would be impossible for me, if there were a Division upon this question, to vote against the Amendment.
Lieut.-Commander C. WILLIAMS
I only wish to raise one point on this particular subject. I think all of us agree with the right hon. Gentleman who leads one small section of the House, and with very great skill, in wishing to see the acquisition of land made as easy and as cheap as possible, but at the same time it must be recognised that there are certain interests in the country at the present time, certain large sections of the community, that are very dissatisfied with their position. No one will deny, I think, that in the case of a whole farm or a whole property the Inland Revenue people are the right people to value it. I would welcome their valuation every time; but the feeling in the agricultural community to-day is that these men have been engaged in the past in valuing whole properties and whole farms, and they have not been accustomed to cut up a property, take a slice out of it, take the eyes out of a farm, and then value the rest. They have been used to valuing a farm or this or that business premises, but they have not been used, as a general rule, to value a particular bit after some has been abstracted. For that reason I would like to ask the Government to see that, par- 212 ticularly in the case of the small individual, who may have his whole livelihood or part of his livelihood taken away from him at a very short notice, there is some body, quite independent, quite fair-minded, and which has a very intimate knowledge of these details, to whom the small individual may appeal if he considers he has been put in an unjust position in any way.
I think the Attorney-General must realise that there is very little real opposition to the Amendment before the House, and I do not think that with him the feeling of opposition is very strong. Everybody who has spoken appears quite willing that the Amendment should be accepted. [An HON. MEMBER: "No !"] I think it is fair to say that the general trend of the speakers has-been in favour of the Amendment. Really, the opposition of the Attorney-General is based on very narrow grounds. He has widened his grounds a little in his second speech, but I think the reasons he puts forward for not accepting the Amendment then would have carried a great deal more weight if they had been advanced by him in the first speech he made. What is the real difference? The Attorney-General went a great deal in the direction of meeting the views of the Mover of the Amendment. When the Bill was first introduced there was no mention at all of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. They were not to be brought in at all. In Committee the Attorney-General did bring them in They are brought in by agreement, but he-has done a great deal more than that. He has not only brought them them in by agreement, but he has framed their procedure. He lays down in the Amendment he is going to produce later on the method in which they shall act, and so when he made his first speech the only objection he brought forward at all to the Amendment was that the effect of making the application compulsory instead of by agreement would be that you would get double procedure, and therefore delay in having first of all a hearing by the Commissioners and then the referee. I think that argument he destroyed himself later by a reply he made to the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) when he said that the reference to the Commissioners was not put in at all by reason of any compulsion on this side of the House, but because the representatives of the landed classes—
§ Sir G. HEWART
No, Sir, that it not what I said nor is that what happened. What I said to-day in reply to one of my hon. Friends was that in the Committee I had, for a moment, assumed too lightly that the vendor would never agree to a reference to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. But the words inserted in Clause 8 were not due to the fact that I was convinced to the contrary. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will cast his mind back he will remember that I said at first in this Committee that in Clause 8 of the Bill as it stood in my opinion the Commissioners of Inland Revenue might be selected. I said that I would make that fact perfectly clear. But that was not in the least because I was satisfied that a particular group of persons would or would not welcome them.
I do not want in any way to misinterpret what the Attorney-General said. What I gathered, and gather again now is, that the Commissioners were there in the Bill as a body who would be likely to be acceptable. If so, I do not see how we are going to run much risk of delay. The Attorney-General said he could not accept this Amendment because of a risk of double procedure, but then he says he has reason to think the Commissioners will be acceptable to the people who go before them. If that is so, there is not very much chance of this double procedure, and the only argument he advanced against accepting this Amendment in his first speech falls to the ground. It is not only from his own admission, but from all parts of the Committee, we have heard that the number of appeals against the Commissioners on matters in which they have no power to act are very small indeed.
Take the valuations under the Finance Act. That was an Act upon which a tremendous feeling was working up in the country, and an Act in connection with which you might have expected any number of appeals. Millions of valuations were made. The number of actual appeals to the referees or the arbitration courts were the very smallest number—.00000001, or thereabouts. It seems to me that the experience of the past, and the general 214 feeling of the House and in all quarters towards the Commissioners, makes it extremely unlikely that if they are put in in the way suggested by the Amendment, that we shall get any great number of appeals. Therefore the objection of the Attorney-General—and his main objection —to accept the Amendment appears to go. Experience has shown that the feeling of the House would be justified that the result of placing this matter in the hands of the Commissioners would not be followed by a crop of appeals. If it had been otherwise shown in relation to the Finance Act it would have been quite sufficient ground for the rejection of the Amendment. So far, however, from that, and so far was there agreement, that very few appeals came from the Commissioners to the referees; and we are going by the method suggested to gain more than we shall lose in the immense number of cases settled straight away by the Commissioners without their ever getting at all to the referees.
In his second speech the right hon. and learned Gentleman widened his ground. The Attorney-General goes on to say two things. First, that the Commissioners cannot do the work. It is not now, he says, practicable, and they ought not to do it, because if they do it they ought to give up their present position of advising Government Departments, or they must combine the two things, and combining the two things is something which ought not to be done. It appears to me that if it is impracticable for the Department to do this, it is just as impracticable to come to an agreement, as they have to come to an agreement, by compulsion. The reasons advanced by the Attorney-General are reasons for dropping out of the Bill that special part inserted in Clause 8. He is practically telling us now that he is providing regulations in an Amendment coming on later to do something which cannot be done. I do not think really he can seriously maintain that this work we are asking that the Commissioners shall be given the first chance of doing is work they cannot do! What the Attorney-General appears to have done is to have taken up the line of argument that was advanced by the hon. Member for Grin-stead, who suggested, in the first place, that the Valuation Department ought not to be employed because their valuations lacked imagination. I was surprised to hear that. I always understood that if there was one quality they had it was imagination, and that what they lacked 215 was experience. We have heard from the Chairman of the recent Commission on land what, I think, every Member of the Valuation Department when he reads it will read with a very great deal of pleasure —that is the very striking testimony to the efficiency of the Department. The hon. Member for Grinstead made a point which, had it had any substance at all, would have been an extremely good point. He pointed out that these cases are not merely going to be cases of the valuation of land: they were going to be cases of compensation for many other things than merely the acquisition of land. There is the danger to buildings arising from that acquisition, and he suggested—and I am sure he did not mean wilfully to mislead the House as to the nature of the Valuation Department—he suggested that the staff of the Valuation Department was only competent to value simple land, and had no experience at all in dealing with such questions as damage to buildings, houses, and so on. The Attorney-General would seem rather to embrace that suggestion. I find it very difficult to understand how he could lend any countenance to it at all.
What is the fact? This House in 1916 passed a Bill for the acquisition of land. That Bill was to enable Government Departments, under the stress of the War, to take property of all kinds and all sorts. Out of that acquisition all kinds of compensation cases have arisen. What has been the practice? The Admiralty, one of the bodies dealing with the acquisition of land under the Act, put the whole of their cases for compensation into the hands of the Valuation Department. That Department has prepared the cases. It has settled a great many of them. Where the cases have not been settled they have appeared before the Losses Commission on behalf of the Admiralty; so that it cannot be said, either by the hon. Member for Grinstead or even by the Attorney-General with any force, that the Department are not competent to deal with this very class of case. As a matter of fact, there are special advantages in referring the matter to the Commissioners. The reference in the first case is to one of the eight valuers. I do not think any one of these eight valuers to be appointed will have full experience of all kinds of valuation. After all, valuations, like everything else, divide themselves into certain kinds and specialisations. Pos- 216 sibly these eight gentlemen will be selected, not because of their general knowledge of all valuation, but one man probably because he specialises in one department and another man in another, and special cases will be referred to the men with special knowledge.
What is the position in regard to the Commissioners? The reference that is asked for in the Amendment is not a reference to any particular district or superintendent valuer, but to the Inland Revenue Commissioners. They will have under their control a staff of something like 200 valuers, men all over the country with all kinds of experience, men experienced in the general problem and also the other problems of the case—not only the simple acquisition of land or buildings, but experienced in the valuing of minerals, machinery, agricultural land, city properties, and so on. The Commissioner of Inland Revenue have at their disposal the most efficient valuation staff in the country. What would happen to any reference made to them? They would deal with it according to the case. If it was a simple case, simply taking a piece of land or a building, they would probably refer it to the district valuer in the particular area. If it was a case where there were special qualifications required they would probably place it before one of their valuers with special knowledge on the matter. So far as to it being impracticable that the work should be done by the Commissioners, I think the House will realise there is nothing at all in that point.
The only other point that remains is the point that the Commissioners cannot occupy, or fulfil, the dual capacity of advising a government body or local authorities and at the same time act as arbitrators in these disputes. I myself think that that would be a very real point indeed if there was no reference at all from their decision. But the Amendment leaves a reference, an appeal, but my own experience in the valuing of property leads me to believe that in the great mass of cases, both the local authorities and the vendor will be perfectly willing to accept the valuation of the Commissioners. Their feeling would not be affected in the slightest degree by the fact that the Commissioners are a State Department, and are going to advise Government Departments and the local authorities. There may be a few cases in which the decision would not be accepted, but those few cases can go to the referees. If the House wants 217 to be assured, and satisfied—and I think that is the feeling of the House—this new Department which has been created is not going to grow, and that these eight valuers are not going to ultimately expand into a body consisting of a great number, then the surest way they can be certain of it is to adopt the Amendment. The great mass of cases will be simple cases and will be disposed of by the Commissioners, a few of the cases, intricate, and complicated, which cannot be settled by the Commissioners, will go to the referees. I think it probable that such cases will be quite sufficient to keep occupied the staff of official valuers to be appointed under this Bill. I hope the Attorney-General will see that this is the only real way to go. There is no great principle at stake here. It is most important for Shim to remember that if he refuses to accept this Amendment that decision will be likely to do what he has no wish to do. The effect will really be to cast a doubt in the public mind upon the great body of State servants now operating through the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. Whatever else happens that is bound to happen. I do ask him: Is it a wise thing, is it a sensible thing to run the risk of that? We have got people all over the country who have to come to the Commissioners to settle questions of Estate Duty and Increment Value Duty. These people are going to be told in effect under this Bill that while they can go to this body and accept their decision on these points, yet when it comes to a question of selling a piece of land they have got to go to some other body. They will ask at once: "Why is this done? Why cannot the same people that deal with us in relation to Estate Duty and Increment Value Duty deal with us in regard to the sales of land? Are they not competent? Are they not fair? Cannot they be trusted?" The effect of refusing this Amendment must be to create a grave doubt in the minds of the public and to reduce the value of the work that is toeing done by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue at the present time. I hope very much that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will realise the sense of the House, and meet us.
§ The SECRETARY Of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Shortt)
I have listened very carefully to the arguments brought forward and have come to the conclusion that it is quite impossible to accept this Amendment as it stands. Let me remind the House of the fact if 218 there is to be a Division. Whereas a considerable number of speakers has purported to support the Amendment they have, in almost every case, given reasons for supporting something quite different. Let me remind the House also that we are now dealing with the Clause of the Bill which is to make provision for cases of dispute, and for a tribunal which will decide the amount of compensation, when the parties are unable to agree. In a very large number of cases the parties will probably agree. We hope it may be so, but provision has to be made, and in this Clause is being made, not for cases of agreement, but for cases of disagreement. I would ask the House to remember also—because I think it has a very great bearing upon the value of the Amendment so far as the Bill is concerned. What is it suggested that this Amendment will do in order to improve the Bill? In the first place, hon. and right hon. Members desire to see provision made that the amount of compensation shall be assessed by the same persons who assess for rates and taxes and so on, and that the amount paid for the purchase of the land is to be based upon the amount which the vendor has paid in rates and taxes. That is perfectly right, No one disputes that. But this Amendment if carried would not affect the Bill in the slightest degree so far as that is concerned. I quite agree, if the proposal had been what it is not, namely, that the Inland Revenue Commissioners were to take the place of the proposed valuers in each case under this Bill, their decision to be final, they could or might have awarded a man an amount as the value of his land relative to what he had paid rates and taxes. It is not so—
§ Mr. SHORTT
It is much too late to do that now, but we can deal with a. new Amendment. If a new Amendment is put down we will consider it. I am dealing with the only Amendment before us. That is the position. I wonder how many speakers who have supported this Amendment would have supported it if there had been no appeal. I am quite sure some of them would certainly not have supported it. In addition to the decision we are dealing not merely with the compensation that compulsory purchase involves; but with something more than the mere value of the land.
§ Mr. SHORTT
Of course it does something more than a mere valuation. Is it suggested that all compensation for damage to severance is to be taken away? I can well understand that we want to get rid of the inflated values given in the past for severance, but is it now suggested that there is to be no compensation for severance? If that is so, then let the Amendment say so and be done with it. If there is to be compensation for severance, then that is something which a man has not paid taxes upon. Therefore you still have to have your Commissioners inquiring into something which is not settled as the value of the land might be. There is nothing in this Bill to prevent any people who care to go to the Inland Revenue Commissioners from doing so, indeed the Bill provides for it. What we are considering is not whether two people can agree as to the Commissioners, but we are discussing whether this House is entitled to enforce upon an unwilling man the Inland Revenue Commissioners as a tribunal to which he must go. Many owners would say that they do not care whether the Inland Revenue Commissioners have advised or not, and they would be willing to take their valuation, and I can understand that point of view. But supposing a man does not do that, and says, "I am not going to the Inland Revenue Commissioners, as I have not put my evidence before them, and I know they have made up their minds, therefore I am not going before them." Is the House entitled to force upon that man a judge who has made up his mind before the case has been heard at all?
§ Mr. SHORTT
If he can appeal, what is the value of this proposal? The next point is that there should be a quick and cheap procedure. Take the case of the man who does not approve of the Inland Revenue Commissioners and therefore will appeal. You will get under the provisions of this Act as many people accepting the offer of the purchasing authorities as you would get accepting the decision of the Inland Revenue Commissioners if this Amendment were carried. Under this Amendment the Inland Revenue Commissioners would make their awards, and the man who thought the award was right would accept it, and probably a small number would appeal to the referees. Under the Bill as it stands the purchasing authorities will make their definite uncon- 220 ditional offer to the owner, and the purchaser will know if he does not accept it. He will have to consider the question of his own costs and the costs of the purchasing authority, and he runs a great risk of losing these if he does not accept a reasonable offer. Under the Bill the purchasing authority can get the valuation of the Inland Revenue authorities who are at present advising the Local Government Board with regard to sites. The local authorities can get their opinion as well. The negotiating party can say, ''What we offer you is the valuation of the Inland Revenue Commissioners." They can accept that, and the large majority will do so. The few unreasonable people who would have appealed front the Inland Revenue Commissioners equally will go before a referee, but so far as cheapness and speed is concerned the Bill is the speedier, because the man has sixty days in which to appeal from the decision of the first tribunal. Therefore you save nothing in time or in any way by setting up this procedure under the Amendment instead of that contained in the Bill.
It is said that we do not want to set up a new Department. We were told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Duncairn (Sir E. Carson) that this is going to be a new Department which will swell. I know that the Inland Revenue Commissioners already have a large number of valuers, but I suppose that they are there to do something, and are not simply kept twiddling their thumbs, and they must have some work to do, and if this extra work is to be thrown upon them instead of upon the official valuers, are they going to leave their present work undone, or are we to have an additional number of valuers attached to the Inland Revenue Commissioners to do this extra work, and if so, where is the saving?
§ Mr. SHORTT
You will have to swell the officials of the Inland Revenue Department just as you will have to swell this new Department, and therefore the saving suggested is absolutely valueless. I have listened very carefully to all the arguments brought forward in support of this Amendment, but in my opinion it would not improve the Bill one iota, and it would not make it any more certain that the man would proceed upon the lines which have been suggested. This Amendment would not 221 cheapen or quicken the procedure, and it might very well be a grave hardship upon some individual owner of land who did not choose to have the tribunal which you are now choosing for him under this proposal. Again, this Department has not had the experience in compensation that it has had in mere valuation. The Inland Revenue have not that experience, and that is a very good ground why many selling owners might desire some other tribunal to decide between them and the purchasing authority. It has been suggested that we should accept this Amendment because our proposal would be a reflection upon the integrity and the efficiency of the Inland Revenue Commissioners. But really that argument requires no answer. I could scarcely believe that an hon. Member whom I have known so long and so well as the hon. Member for Newcastle (Major Barnes) would have made such a suggestion.
I did not suggest that there was any reflection upon the Board, but I said it was a reflection upon their efficiency. The right hon. Gentleman himself has now just made such a reflection.
§ Mr. SHORTT
That statement is equally unfounded, for there is no reflection upon their efficiency. It is suggested that they have not the necessary efficiency in the important branch of compensation. In the assessment of compensation they have not had the necessary experience, and nothing like the experience of other men who can be got to do this work. Therefore, I hope no one will pay any attention to the suggestion that there is any reflection upon the Inland Revenue authorities in this matter.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I think the House will have noted with considerable interest that while the Attorney-General viewed the Amendment now before the House with a very considerable amount of favour the Home Secretary, who says he has listened to the Debate very carefully, has concluded that this Amendment could in no event be accepted; he has declared that it is entirely unnecessary and a perfectly futile attempt to improve the Bill. What guidance the House is expected to take from these two positions which have been taken up by my two right hon. Friends who used to be colleagues of mine, fighting the battle on the same platform and on the same principle, I do not know, but I will leave that point for my right 222 hon. Friends to settle between them. Whereas the Attorney - General regarded our arguments with a certain amount of favour, their only effect upon the Home Secretary has been to harden him beyond the point of adamant in opposition to this proposal. Another argument which the Home Secretary used was that this Department will not have the necessary experience or capacity to deal with questions other than those as to the bare value of the land, and he mentioned compensation for severance and other points which might arise. Quite rightly the right hon. Gentleman says that my Amendment does not shut those out.
What has happened during the War on this point? We had the testimony of the Select Committee on National Expenditure in their Fourth Report of 1918, and what do they say about this Department, which it has been suggested is unfit to do anything except to assess the bare rateable value of the land? In respect of the transactions of the Admiralty which have been very extensive and numerous, not only in regard to the amount of land purchased, but as to the number of transactions, the Committee was criticising the fact that in the formation of the national shipyards the Admiralty had not taken advantage of the experience of this particular Department, and they say:The Land Valuation Department, a permanently organised Government Department with district officers spread over the whole area of Great Britain, should certainly have been in an excellent position to afford the sort of assistance required, and one witness on behalf of the Admiralty paid a tribute to the value of the work performed by the Valuation Department.With all possible respect to the views expressed by the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General, I say that I unhesitatingly accept the verdict of the Committee on National Expenditure rather than the views which they have expressed to the House. I hope there will be no error or confusion in regard to the Division which is going to take place, because a real vital issue is here to be decided. There is no doubt about the general opinion of the country on this point. I say this quite irrespective of party. I believe, I will not say a majority, but a very large number of the land owners of this country, are not adverse to this proposal. The very Amendment which I am moving here today was suggested to me by a gentleman of the greatest experience, who all his life has dealt with large estates, and he is at the present moment in charge of some of 223 the most important estates in this kingdom. I say to hon. Members opposite in no threatening attitude, that they have a grave duty to discharge to the public in regard to this Amendment. From all quarters of the House there has been unqualified approval of this proposal, and I hope hon. Members will not vote against it In spite of that, the Government are going on and are going to take a decision which I am quite certain will be heartily condemned, if not in this House, by the country at large.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir FRANCIS LOWE
The right hon. Gentleman very much exaggerates the importance of this Amendment. The question is not whether the Commissioners of Inland Revenue or the official valuers are the best tribunal, but whether one party to the dispute should have the right to drag a man against his will before the Commissioners of Inland Revenue when he would much prefer to go before the official valuers. That would certainly have the effect of delaying the operations of this Act, and I thought one of the chief objects of introducing the Bill was to secure a more speedy and cheaper process in the acquisition of land. In that way the right hon. Gentleman is entirely inconsistent, because he and the party which he represents have always been in favour of the quick and cheap acquisition of land. The experience of the Admiralty to which he referred has nothing whatever to do with the matter. That was an emergency piece of legislation. It was simply something done to meet an emergency owing to the War, and it forms no precedent for permanent legislation such as this.
§ Colonel P. WILLIAMS
The Government have adopted a very uncompromising attitude upon this Amendment, and I fancy, as we go along, that the same un-
§ compromising attitude will be adopted by the two right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench. The reasons which the Attorney-General gave and the reasons which the Home Secretary gave for refusing the Amendment were entirely different, and I imagine that we should have to look at the history of the Bill for the real reason. It is the foundation of all the social reform measures of the Government. It is the foundation of the Housing Bill and of all the projects of housing throughout the country. Yet we could not get this Bill until the Housing Bill was well on its way through the House. That is the reason the Government will not accept any Amendment to this Bill. It is the same reason that led to the outburst in Committee by the Noble Lord the Member for the Horsham Division (Major Earl Winterton). The Land Union Group in that Committee took up an uncompromising attitude towards the Government and insisted upon their rights. It leads one to believe that the true reason the Government will, not give way on any Amendment is that they have made a bargain within the Coalition and that they are powerless. It is part of a great bargain within the Coalition. That is the opinion, I am certain, in the country. The Land Group would do well to remember that the country will not tolerate a return to or a continuance of the old vicious system of paying exorbitant values for land for public purposes. They are to-day prepared to agree to a fair value, but that offer will not be open indefinitely, and if the Land Union do not accept it now they may fare very much worse in the near future.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 213; Noes, 58.227
§ Amendment made: In Sub-section (2), leave out the words "also of" ["also of the Welsh language"], and insert instead thereof the words "acquainted with."— [Sir G. Hewart]
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
I beg to move, to leave out Sub-section (3).
The object is that instead of having a panel of surveyors appointed for a long period who are not in that period to do any other work of any sort or kind, we shall have something similar to the present system—a panel of surveyors, one of whom will attend to any particular case as required at any particular time. A further object is to ensure that the people who are to try these cases shall be practising surveyors at the time. The Bill suggests the setting up of a body of five or six surveyors, who shall be arbitrators and nothing else. The disadvantage of that is that in that case the surveyors lose touch with their profession and with the movements of the market. It is far better to have actually practising surveyors to act as arbitrators than to have a separate class set apart to act in a judicial way. We have had considerable experience of surveyors and valuers under the Land Clauses Act, and I never heard it suggested that the surveyors who have acted there under have not acted competently as arbitrators. One of the many reasons why they have been fitted for their work has been that they have been in constant touch, as practising surveyors and valuers, with the market, and have known the value of the land at the particular time. It is to secure that that this Amendment is proposed, and if the Government can see their way to accept it, it will not affect the principle of the Bill in any way. It is, in fact, only a detail, although, perhaps, a very material detail; but the Amendment will only have the effect that instead of people being appointed for a considerable period, and having to leave their profession during that period, you will have practising surveyors and valuers acting. It has also this additional advantage, that it will be certainly more economical. It is proposed to appoint, I believe, some six valuers, who will receive a salary of presumably from 52,000 to £3,000 a year. It is not known at present what work there will be for this tribunal to do, and indeed many of us hope that there will be very little. We trust that the vast majority of cases will be settled out of Court, and in that case you will always have these gentlemen in receipt of 228 their incomes and with exceedingly little to do. On the other hand, it may be, although I do not anticipate it will be, that they may have so much to do that there will be created an agitation for more permanent officials to be appointed. That is an additional disadvantage which should not be overlooked.
§ Sir G. HEWART
My hon. and learned Friend has moved this Amendment in very clear terms, but I rather think his proposal is much more comprehensive than he has suggested and that it raises a question as between whole-time officers and practising surveyors for employment as arbitrators. That question lies at the very root of this Bill. It has been most carefully and most anxiously considered and the deliberate conclusion of those who are responsible for the framing of this Bill is that the valuers to be appointed under it should be whole-time officers whose sole occupation should be the discharge of the duties with which the Bill will impose upon them. I do not want to elaborate the objections to the alternative system. It is reasonably obvious that where gentlemen are to be put in a judicial or quasi-judicial position it is desirable, if possible, that they should be prevented acting as partisans on one side or the other My hon. and learned Friend seems to assume that we shall forthwith appoint the full number of valuers. All we do here is to fix the number to be appointed and the maximum salary. I hope the House is not going to assume, however, that a greater number of the gentlemen will be appointed than the nature of the work rquires. We shall only appoint them accordingly as the work justifies it. I assume that this is the real point of my hon. and learned Friend and I shall therefore refrain from making observations on the other results which would follow from the omission of the Sub-section.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I am glad my right hon. Friend has made it perfectly clear that he is opposed to this Amendment, because if it were accepted there would be the greatest objection on the part of the public authorities throughout the country, for they look already with a very great amount of anxiety on the procedure proposed under this Bill. I shall reserve what I have to say on the cognate subject in the Amendment which, I understand, is going to be moved by my hon. Friend the Member for one of the divisions of Liverpool.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I am very glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman does not intend to appoint all these valuers at once, because these people who will hold a semi-judicial position are different from other judges in that the work they get will depend upon their decisions in the cases which are brought before them. Obviously, unless they give compensation in excess of what is given by the Inland Revenue valuers, there will be very few appeals, and there will be very few cases for them to decide. Therefore, the larger the compensation they give the more work there will be for them to do, and that in itself should act as a great deterrent to prevent the Government from appointing more of these people than is absolutely necessary in the first instance. If they feel that their continued employment depends upon the decisions they give in the cases that come before them, there will be a direct incentive to grant larger compensation than is fair or just.
§ Amendment negatived.
Sir F. BAN BURY
I beg to move, in Sub-section (3), after the word "shall" ["panel of official valuers shall"], to insert the wordsbe a practising member of the Surveyors' Institution who at the time of his appointment has been in practise for a period of not less than ten years, and shall.The Bill provides that the valuers shall be persons with special knowledge in the valuation of land, but it does not provide that they shall have been in practice as valuers of land, and it would be possible under the Bill to appoint someone who may have had some knowledge of the valuation of land—perhaps only a slight knowledge—and who may have been a member of a surveyors' firm for a year or two. What I want to ensure is that the people who are appointed not only shall have had some special knowledge of the valuation of land, but shall have had some practice in valuing land. I believe I am right in saying that in the case of every judicial appointment this is insisted upon. A judge of the High Court must have been a practising barrister for ten years, a County Court judge must have been a practising barrister for seven years, and a recorder must have practised at the Bar for five years. If I am right in that statement, I think it shows that if in our greatest profession, one for which we all have much respect—the profession of the law—precautions of this sort are necessary, then in the 230 case of these valuers who will be somewhat in the same position as judges, for they are referred to as referees, surely it would be advisable to see that similar precautions are adopted and to ensure that they shall have had the same practice in their profession as is deemed necessary in cases of judicial appointments. I can see no objection to the Amendment, and I trust the Government will accept it.
§ Sir G. HEWART
It was very pleasant to hear the kind way in which the right hon. Baronet referred to the profession of the law, which does not always command equal enthusiasm in all quarters. In this case the right hon. Baronet is slightly in error in his view of the qualification that is required of a member of the Bar before he can become a judge. I speak subject to correction, but I am not aware that he need have had any practice at all. What is required is that he should be a barrister of so many years' standing.
§ Sir G. HEWART
What will happen under the Bill as it stands in order to secure that these gentlemen shall be gentlemen of competent skill and experience? They are to be appointed by a Reference Committee. There are three Reference Committees, but I will only refer to one as a sample. The Reference Committee for England and Wales is to consist of the Lord Chief Justice of England, the Master of the Rolls, and the President of the Surveyors' Institution. The Bill further provides that the gentleman to be appointed must be a person with special knowledge of the valuation of land. Seriously, does not the House think that those two stipulations—first, as to the knowledge of the candidate, and, secondly, as to the persons who constitute the Reference Committee—provide sufficient safeguards that those who are appointed will be persons of sufficient experience? It is to be observed further on the Amendment that the Surveyors' Institution is always to provide these candidates. I do not think we can go so far as that. The fact that the President 231 of the Surveyors' Institution for the time being is a member of the Reference Committee may, perhaps, be taken as an assurance that members of the Surveyors' Institution are not likely to be overlooked, but it is another thing to say that none shall be appointed except a man who is a member of the Surveyors' Institution. I submit to the House that the safeguards which the Bill contains are in this respect sufficient.
Sir F. BAN BURY
May I point out to my right hon. Friend that while, undoubtedly, the Amendment proposes that the valuer shall be a member of the Surveyors' Institution, yet I think I am right in saying that practically all these valuers are members of the Surveyors' Institution; therefore it is not selecting a particular class or a particular institution and giving the members of that institution a particular benefit? If that had been the case I should not have moved the Amendment. All surveyors, or the great majority of them, are members of the Surveyors' Institution. Although the people who are going to appoint the gentlemen are people with very high degrees, and, although the Bill says that the gentlemen appointed must be persons with special knowledge, there is no objection to saying that not only must they have special knowledge, but that they must also be practising. The Amendment is an improvement on the Bill, and I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman cannot accept it. May I ask whether, on further consideration, he will not change his mind?
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
I beg to move, in Subsection (3), to leave out the word "Treasury," and to insert instead thereof the words "Reference Committee."
The object of the Amendment is to secure that these valuers can only be removed by some body independent of the parties to the dispute—that is by the Reference Committee. On the last Amendment the Attorney-General pointed out that the appointment to the panel of valuers rests with the Reference Committee. The Reference Committee is composed in a way to which nobody in this House will for a moment take exception. A better body could not be desired. The Reference Committee comprises the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, and the President of the Surveyor's In- 232 stitution for the time being. When we come to consider the question of the removability of these men from the panel, we find, on looking at Sub-section (3), that it says:A person appointed to be a member of the panel of official valuers shall hold office for such term as may be determined by the Treasury on his appointment.So far as the term, that is the duration of the appointment, is concerned, I have nothing to say against the Sub-section. I make no objection as to how the term of an appointment is fixed. But knowing, as we do, that all Government officials and servants are appointed at pleasure, which means that they may be removed at a moment's notice, I suggest that the House would spoil the independence of this body by leaving the Sub-section as it is and provide a very unsatisfactory tenure of office for these men who are to be appointed valuers. It is well-known now that the cases they will have to deal with will all be disputes between individuals—which includes a company or public body—and either a Government Department or a local authority. Except for the next year or two I have not the slightest doubt that the bulk of the transactions will be the acquisition of land by Government Departments. Government Departments are becoming more and more embracing. Their energies and their fields of action are continually being widened. I am perfectly satisfied that the great bulk of these disputes, certainly the larger in money value, will be disputes between individuals and Government Departments. Under the Bill as it stands the compensation is to be assessed by a Government servant, and as a Government servant he is removable at any time at the mere will of the Government for the time being. That is a very unsatisfactory position which will not carry any conviction or assurance of impartiality on the part of those gentlemen to the people who have to come before them. It is to secure that confidence and to remove a blot on the Bill that I move this Amendment. If we leave the question of the removability of these quasi-judges to an absolutely impartial tribunal such as the Reference Committee it would give confidence to the public, to the claimants and to the parties who have to come before them on the question of compensation.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ROYDS
I beg to second the Amendment. In addition to the observations which my hon. Friend has made 233 as to the necessity of having an independent valuer, I submit that if his Amendment were accepted it would tend to get a better class of man to accept these posts, because the man would know that he would be secure against any change of Government and would only be removable by the Reference Committee by whom he had been appointed. We all want the panel of valuers to be independent and also thoroughly competent. We are much more likely to get competence and independence if they are appointed by the Reference Committee and also only removable by that Committee.
§ Sir G. HEWART
I cannot help thinking that the moving and supporting of this Amendment rests, to some extent, upon a misconception. The Bill already provides that it is the Reference Committee which is to appoint the official valuers. The question is, for what time is the official valuer to be appointed? That, I submit, is a purely administrative question. The Reference Committee will decide whether a particular candidate should or should not be selected for the post. But the question for what time he shall be appointed is not a question which the Reference Committee has the materials to enable it to decide. It is the Treasury, as I suggest, which should determine that matter. My hon. Friend will remember that we had a discussion of a similar kind in Committee, and what was then done was to insert in this Sub-section the three words "on his appointment," that is to say, instead of letting the Clause run:A person appointed to be a member of the panel of official valuers shall hold office for such term as may be determined by the Treasurythe Bill was made to provide that he shouldhold office for such term as may be determined by the Treasury-on his appointment"—that is, a term certain and known to him at the time of his appointment.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Would that enable the Treasury to put in the terms of his appointment that he could be dismissed on three months' notice?
§ Sir G. HEWART
In theory, no doubt it would. It might be open to the Treasury to say that he could be dismissed at will, but it is not to be supposed that the Treasury will do anything of the kind and that the Treasury will not act reasonably. Those who supported the Government in 234 regard to district valuers ought to support them now. The Bill as it stands provides for the independence and competence of the official valuers, and it is right that the Treasury and not the Reference Committee should decide for what term the appointments are made.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
Does "on his appointment" mean before his appointment, so that the terms the Treasury proposes will be made known to possible applicants before they are appointed? It makes all the difference whether the Treasury must give notice on what terms the appointment is to run before the appointment is made, or whether they may determine them after it has been made. I suppose it means before, and, if so, I suggest that the word "before" should be substituted for the. Word "on."
§ Mr. INSKIP
May I ask another question to make my hon. and learned Friend's question a little clearer. These words "on his appointment" were inserted in order to make it quite plain that the Treasury should not have the power subsequently to his appointment to determine at pleasure the appointment. If these words be put in, surely words ought to be put into the Clause which would make it quite plain that the Treasury has not the power to fix the term of the appointment in such a way that the person appointed should be subject to dismissal at the will of the Treasury or at three months' notice. If, for instance, the Treasury say on appointment, "This gentleman shall hold office during the pleasure of the Treasury or until the Treasury gives three months' notice," that is really making it quite nugatory and nullifying the effect of their insertion. I think it would meet the general sense of the House, so far as one has been able to gather it, if words were put in which would prevent the Treasury from fixing any term except what I may describe as a term certain, which would not leave it open to the Treasury at any time to terminate the appointment either upon notice or immediately. I hope the Attorney-General will make that point clear and if necessary put words in.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
Would the right hon. Gentleman accept the words "by the Treasury in consultation with the Reference Committee?"
§ Sir G. HEWART
There is simply the practical objection that the Treasury would be the Department which knows the 235 volume of the work to be done and the probable requirements of the individual who is to be appointed. How idle it would be to provide that the Treasury, before fixing the term, should consult with the Reference Committee which would know nothing except what the Treasury told it. With regard to the other two matters, I entirely agree that "on his appointment" means before his appointment, otherwise it would be "after his appointment." But in order that there may be no doubt about it, I shall be quite willing to substitute "before" for "on," and with regard to the other point I have no objection to the insertion of the word "certain" after "term." If those Amendments would meet the wishes of the House I should be glad to propose them.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir G. HEWART
I beg to move, after the word "term" ["for such term as may be determined"], to insert the word "certain."
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Does that mean that there will be fewer of these valuers appointed, because if they are going to be appointed for a term certain it means that the country will "have to pay their salaries for a longer time if the work drops off. It is a good thing that it should be for a term certain, but there should be a restriction on the numbers appointed immediately in order to save expense. The advantage of giving a term certain is that their emoluments do not depend upon their decisions in any way, but at the same time we ought to reduce the number from eight to a smaller number to begin with in order to ensure that they shall always be full of work, and that there will not be a large amount of time at the end of their term certain for which they are not doing sufficient work.
§ Sir G. HEWART
I should have thought there was really no reason to suspect that the Treasury, in the matter of making appointments, will be reckless or uneconomical of public funds. The difficulty of carrying out my hon. and gallant Friend's suggestion is very great. How is it possible to foresee what the requirements will be and what the necessary number will be? The Treasury will be able to judge. We must have some confidence in this great Government Department to carry out proper economies. We cannot take upon ourselves, in the absence of re- 236 turns and without any kind of relevant knowledge on the matter, to tie their hands. The number which the Financial Resolution provided for was the maximum number. I do not imagine that, at first at any rate, any such number will be appointed.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The acceptance of the Amendment will be an additional argument for the Treasury to appoint fewer than were originally contemplated by the Bill.
§ Sir G. HEWART
If that be so, the very object which my hon. and gallant Friend has at heart will be secured.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: Leave out the word "on" ["on his appointment"], and insert instead thereof the word "before."—[Sir G. Hewart.]
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
May I propose a new Sub-section dealing with injurious affection? "For the purposes of this Section the word 'compensation' shall include ' injurious affection." It is vitally important that it should be made clear in the Bill whether the word "compensation" is used in its narrow sense or in its wide sense. In practice it is used loosely sometimes in one sense and sometimes in the other.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The question ought to have been raised in Committee. I also called on the hon. and learned Gentleman, but he was not here.