§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call upon the Secretary of State for the Environment to move, That the Bill be read a Second time, I would tell the House that I have a long list of hon. Members on both sides who wish to speak. I hope that those who catch my eye will take account of that fact.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill seeks to strike a fair balance between the needs of the community and the rights of the individual. In recent years there has been a growing anxiety that in too many cases the balance has been tipped against the individual, I should like to think that is one of the reasons why so many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides wish to take part in the debate on this important matter.
The object of the Bill is to give effect to those proposals in last month's White Paper, "Development and Compensation—Putting People First", Cmnd. 5124, which require legislation. The White Paper, which was presented to Parliament by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales, itself derived from two sources. The first was the comprehensive review of the compensation code undertaken by the Government with the assistance of the local authority associations and other bodies which have submitted memoranda and views. Many others have also helped, and I should like to thank them. Not least was my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg), whose Planning Blight and Worsenment Bill failed in both 1969 and 1970 to get beyond a Second Reading, but, like many another Private Member's Bill, helped to pave the 36 way for improvements in the law in a difficult and complex field. I should also like to mention the Greater London Council, which faces perhaps the most difficult problem in urban development but which has consistently urged upon government the need for improved treatment for those affected by public development.
The White Paper was derived secondly from the recommendations of the Urban Motorways Committee in its report "New Roads in Towns", published last July. I am sure that hon. Members will join me in congratulating that committee upon producing so down-to-earth and so sensitive a report—sensitive to the fact that new roads can seriously affect the lives of people and their surroundings.
The Government's concern is two-fold. It is to ensure fairer compensation for those who must suffer from change and to make certain that damage to the environment is reduced through better planning. We are all agreed now that social costs and values have to be considered as well as direct costs and benefits. In referring to the Urban Motorways Committee report, I hasten to add that the provisions of the Bill are not confined to the effect that new or improved roads can have on homes and lives. The Bill also affects aerodromes and certain other public works.
It is perhaps with roads that the effects are most widespread and striking. The Department of the Environment and local highway authorities are currently building, preparing and planning major road schemes to a value of £4,370 million. Expenditure on new construction and improvement of major roads in Great Britain between now and 1977 is expected to exceed £3,000 million. Last year alone over 300 miles of motorway, high-quality trunk road and principal roads were built or improved. New construction and improvement of motorways and trunk roads should average over 150 miles a year until the early 1980s and principal road building should continue on average at roughly the same rate.
Those figures will give the House a good idea of the scale of the physical public activity on roads. The result as we all know is the classic conflict between public and private needs. The White 37 Paper summed up the predicament in a fair way when it said:The Government are committed to enhancing the quality of everyday life in Britain. In so doing a balance must constantly be struck between the overriding duty of the State to ensure that essential developments are undertaken for the benefit of the whole community and the no less compelling need to protect the interests of those whose personal rights or private property may be injured in the process.This dilemma is at the heart of contemporary political debate. Sometimes the State is seen as playing the rôle of a juggernaut, putting roads before homes, riding rough shod over the rights of individual citizens. At other times, the private owner is condemned for 'selfishly' holding up a much needed development. Yet nearly always, the conflict is not between public (or private) right and private (or public) wrong. It is a conflict of right with right—the public's undoubted right to have a new road or school or waterworks and the private person's right to enjoy his home and garden, undisturbed.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
I appreciate that the Bill is aimed at compensating people for this damage. The question is whether the construction of motorways is worth all of this damage. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has mentioned the sum of £4,370 million which, in the view of one leading local authority expert, will be doubled by this compensation charge. Surely there are limits to which the building of motorways must conform? Otherwise our cities will be ripped apart to provide access roads to these motorways. Is this to go on for ever and ever without any limit?
§ Mr. Rippon
I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have to try to achieve a balance between the need for roads and the need to protect the environment. I will say something later about balancing the provisions for compensation with considerations of better planning. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of this Bill doubling the cost of the roads. As will be seen from the Explanatory Memorandum, the total annual cost is expected to be about £65 million. We must get that in proper perspective. We have also to accept that this is a conflict by no means confined to the towns, although as our population has grown it has become steadily more urbanised. Only 150 years ago, 20 per cent. of the community lived in urban areas; now the figure is 80 per cent. It is in the urban areas that the 38 conflict is most keenly felt through slum clearance, comprehensive redevelopment and new urban motorways.
The report of the Urban Motorways Committee set out a new and I believe more sympathetic philosophy for the planning and carrying out of major road projects. This is an aspect of the matter which is to some extent the point raised by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). It calls for more pains to be taken to fit these roads more intelligently and carefully into the environment, to have regard to social costs as well as direct economic benefits which might be derived. This philosophy also calls for regard to be paid to the need to minimise the effects of traffic noise by mounds and other kinds of barriers, to minimise as much as possible the disruptive effect that these projects can have by separating people from their friends, shops and places of amusement.
This new outlook must involve better statutory powers, that is powers enabling a highway authority to buy land, not just for the highway itself but for the remedial works which will make it more acceptable in its environment. The Committee also recommend that highway authorities should be responsible for providing sound insulation in houses affected by noise from a new urban road.
§ Mr. Peter Trew (Dartford)
It is not clear from the Bill whether it is intended that the sound insulation provision should apply to future or existing roads. Can my right hon. and learned Friend help?
§ Mr. Rippon
I believe that it is clear and I will deal with this. The provision deals with new roads and improvements to existing roads.
In the planning of highways the Committee also recommends that evaluation should go beyond the mere economics of the scheme and should attempt to form some idea of the true cost of its likely effect on the urban environment. It is that new philosophy which the Government accept with enthusiasm. The principles of this new deal are set out in paragraph 7 of the White Paper which says:Eight principles underlie the Government's proposals:Those principles present a logical sequence. Even if we do all the physical things which the Committee has recommended there could and would still be hard cases. One cause of hardship has been the absence of a statutory right to compensation where land and property are depreciated in value by public schemes although no part of them is taken by the scheme. This gap is closed by the provisions of the Bill.
- (i) Harmful impact on the immediate surroundings must be alleviated by comprehensive planning and remedial measures.
- (ii) Noisy and unattractive public developments must, by better planning, be separated from people and their homes.
- (iii) Damage to visual amenity by large-scale public works must be minimised by good pleasing design.
- (iv) Noise, smell and other forms of pollution must be reduced to a minimum at source—if it is practicable, eliminated.
- (v) Where, in spite of these efforts, damage still is done to individual amenities, reasonable compensation must be provided for those who suffer noise and other harmful effects.
- (vi) The processes of inquiry and decision on projects, compulsory purchase and payment of compensation must be thorough but concentrated in time and must be conducted so as to minimise blight and the hardship this entails.
- (viii) No time must be lost in carrying through the new approach to design and planning, to remedial works and sound insulation, to acquisition and compensation.
- (viii) People threatened by, or suffering from, the effects of public works must be told, in an understandable way, their rights and the help which is available to them.
All this may mean more work for those who plan roads, and more initial expense. But I believe that it will also have the beneficial effect of speeding up the administration of development projects. There will, I believe, be less incentive for those affected to obstruct good public schemes by using every legal means at their command. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides have had constituency cases which have really turned more on representations about fear of inadequate compensation than upon the particular merits of the scheme concerned.
I remember spending some 30 days at a public inquiry into the extension of Gatwick Airport. In that case, if the provisions of the Bill had been in operation, dealing with protection against noise and loss of amenity and provisions for compensation the process would have been very much simpler. It was hard to tell the owner of a transport cafe that there 40 was no need to pay him compensation because his café was not being taken and that all that was happening was that the road past it was being diverted so that he would have no customers. That is a gap in our law which it is high time we closed.
§ Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Kensington, North)
When we had the proposals for Westway, running through North Kensington, the objections were not based on financial factors but on the effects of the road on the community. Surely the effects of this Bill will be that the local authority will have the power but not necessarily the duty to provide for mitigation of these effects. How does the right hon. and learned Gentleman propose to ensure that local authorities exercise their powers of mitigation?
§ Mr. Rippon
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to argue where powers should be imposed as a statutory duty and where local authorities should simply be given power to act in what they regard as the best interests of their inhabitants. We are having a major reform of local government and there must be an area in which local authorities are able to exercise discretion in favour of their inhabitants. They have not been able to exercise that discretion up to now because there was no power for them to do so.
Although there may be criticisms of the Bill—there will be opportunities to discuss them in Committee—the Government's proposals constitute a new attitude to road planning and design, providing new legislation to help people affected by public works, and a new approach to help people understand their rights and seek benefits to which they may be entitled in order to mitigate the effects of essential public works.
I might add, in parenthesis, that I am also conscious of the public anxieties that are often aroused by a feeling that too much of the pre-planning stage has taken place behind closed doors. This often builds up a public resentment against proposals which are thought to be cut and dried in advance. The difficulty is well known—that of trying to avoid blighting wide areas before, for example, the preferred route is chosen. However, I have a feeling that, provided the initial period of public debate of alternatives is limited, 41 this may be a price worth paying in order to achieve earlier publication and discussion. I intended, therefore, to give urgent consideration to this aspect of public participation in planning.
I turn now to the detailed provisions of the Bill. It deals with an area of law renowned for its complexity, and I have no doubt that there will be criticisms of detail and perhaps even of some principles which will have to be followed up. But I hope that the general principle and objectives will commend themselves to the House as a whole.
Part I of the Bill creates the wholly new right of compensation where the value of dwellings and small businesses is injuriously affected—is depreciated—by physical factors caused by the use of public works, including any highway or any aerodrome. This new right is stated in Clause 1(1). The physical factors—noise, smell, fumes, smoke, and so on—are in subsection (2) and the public works are defined in subsection (3).
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
Why is compensation limited to physical factors? A house may be seriously depreciated in its value by the fact that it is next to a big motorway junction, like "spaghetti junction" in my constituency. Why should that not also be taken into consideration?
§ Mr. Rippon
I think the hon. Gentleman will find that it is. But it is a fair point to raise. I am going stage by stage through the Bill indicating the various grounds which may give rise to public action in future. What Clause 1 recognises is that many people have suffered from the effects of public works in the recent past, and claims are to be admitted if the use of the works began within three years before publication of the White Paper—that is, back to 17th October, 1969. This is provided for in subsection (8) and is intended to take care at any rate of the hard cases which have arisen while the Urban Motorways Committee completed its work.
Clause 2 defines the interests qualifying for the new compensation. Clause 3 deals with the procedure of making a claim. Clauses 4 and 5 deal with the general provisions and assumptions in assessing a claim. The remaining clauses in Part I are mainly concerned 42 with supporting provisions, but I would be right to draw the attention of the House to two points.
First, by virtue of Clause 3(2) and Clause 4(1), compensation will be assessed by reference to prices current 12 months after the start of the use of the works. That is intended to allow time for values to settle down.
Secondly, Clause 9 makes it clear that claims may be made in relation not only to new public works, as provided for in Clause 1, but also to significant alterations to public works already in existence. That was the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew). Here again, the provision is retrospective to 17th October. 1969.
Part II contains a number of provisions for the purpose of mitigating the injurious effects of roads and other public works—sound insulation—and for wider compulsory and discretionary land acquisition powers for highway and certain other local authorities, and powers to carry out remedial works.
Clause 17 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations placing a duty or giving power to the authorities responsible for the works in question to insulate buildings against noise resulting from the construction or use of public works, and lists the main items which may be covered. These regulations will be prepared in the light of the discussions we will be having and will be made as soon as possible after the Bill becomes law.
All public works other than aerodromes, for which sound insulation schemes can already be made, could be covered by these regulations. But, as the White Paper announced, the main priority is to tackle the problem of traffic noise and its effects on the occupants of dwellings. Local authorities were sent in October an outline of our proposals for a statutory right to sound insulation related to new roads and major road improvement works. Basically, the position is that either landlords or occupiers will be able to claim to have the sound insulation carried out at the expense of the highway authority. Specifications are being produced and cost limits will apply.
For the qualifying limit for noise level, the Government have in mind one where the noise exceeds 70 decibels (A), which 43 is the level recommended by the Noise Advisory Council, for more than 10 per cent. of the time over the 18 hours from 6 a.m. to midnight. Some people say that it is too high, however, and it will be kept under review especially in the light of a comprehensive review of people's reactions to traffic noise being undertaken by the Building Research Establishment.
We are also proposing to give authorities discretionary powers to carry out sound insulation during the period of construction of a road and for any bad cases of noises that have arisen from schemes carried out over the past three years. Of course, this is an important but not too easy part of the Bill. The effect of noise on people and the technical assessment of noise represent a complex and controversial issue. It is the quality as well as the volume of noise which matters. I remember how people were very upset when jets replaced turbo-props; although we could prove in terms of decibels that the volume of noise was very little different, there was a change in the quality of the noise. It is a subjective rather than an objective test. Some people are very happy with the noise of a discotheque. Others may be like P. G. Wodehouse's golfer who was put off his stroke by the noise of butterflies in an adjoining meadow. It is not easy to measure for precise statutory arrangements, but there will be a fruitful opportunity to discuss this in Committee, when the Government will listen with sympathy and understanding to the views put forward.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
I accept that invitation to discuss this in that manner. Shall we have the pleasure of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's presence in Committee?
§ Mr. Rippon
That is a matter of conjecture.
On more certain ground than that, the new powers to acquire land outside highway limits and to carry out works to mitigate the adverse effects which a new or improved road can have on its surroundings are contained in Clauses 18 and 19. Clause 18(3) at present provides that these acquisition powers shall be 44 exercisable only when the date when the road comes into use is on or after 17th October this year, but it can be seen that the surroundings of some roads opened in the past year could plainly have benefited from such powers, and the Government have decided that the new discretionary acquisition power in Clause 18(2)(b) should be available in relation to roads which have come into use on or after 17th October 1971, that is to say, a year earlier, and an amendment will be moved in Committee for this purpose. That establishes that amendments will be coming forward.
Part III of the Bill contains the new provisions for payments to those displaced from their homes or farms. In future there will be home loss payments for residential occupiers of fit and unfit properties and farm loss payments for owner-occupiers of farms who move to unfamiliar land or may suffer temporary loss of profitability in doing so; and there is a package of provisions to help residential and other occupiers who are displaced. They will be eligible for any of these if the date of the displacement is on or after 17th October this year.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Would my right hon. and learned Friend and the Chancellor of the Exchequer consider again the requirement that money acquired for land compulsorily acquired from the farmer must be reinvested within a year to avoid capital gains tax and consider extending the period to three years, and would he also improve substantially the compensation paid to tenant farmers who, when their farms are compulsorily acquired, can rarely afford, under the existing terms of compensation, to move to another farm, and who lose their homes and livelihood?
§ Mr. Rippon
I do not think that point arises directly from the Bill. It is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I appreciate its importance and I will bring it to my right hon. Friend's attention.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
Further to this point, my right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that a whole community in my constituency at Foulness are likely to be affected by the Maplin airport development, and that farmers there are tenant farmers with relatively low rents and yet producing 45 very high grade crops. Can my right hon. and learned Friend give me an assurance that the Bill will ensure fair and just compensation of a kind which will enable them to establish themselves elsewhere?
§ Mr. Rippon
I am sure that this is a problem which arises over the whole country in one way or another. I will come on to some of the detailed provisions of the Bill, but that problem of the tenant farmer is part of the landlord and tenant legislation, and some provisions were made in the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968 which, I hope, dealt with the matter to some extent. It raises issues which, I think, are to some extent outside the scope of this Bill.
Home loss payments are provided for in Clauses 23 to 25 and will be made as of right to occupiers who have been living in a dwelling as their main residence for at least seven years before the date of their displacement.
In England and Wales the amount of the payment will be seven times the rateable value if the displacement occurs before 1st April next year, and three times if it occurs thereafter. In Scotland it will be six times the rateable value. In all three countries the upper limit of the payment will be £1,500. The reason for the dividing line in England and Wales is that 1st April is the date when the new valuations are in force, and an adjustment would, therefore, be needed to keep the payment before and after on a similar footing. I know there has been a suggestion that seven years is too long a qualification period, but the difficulty is that, in arrangements of the kind we are considering, a line has to be drawn somewhere, and we have sought a balance between the extra central and local government expenditure to be incurred, which, by using the seven years, is expected roughly to be about £18 million a year, and the time by which people can be said to feel the emotional wrench in having to move from one place to another with unfamiliar ties.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
It is obvious that there is a dividing line for the multiplier because of the new valuation lists. I would not expect an immediate reply to this point, but 46 would be grateful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would look into it. Concern has been expressed by a number of authorities that in the valuation lists there is a difference between upgrading of industrial valuations and the domestic valuations. If this is so it will have an effect on the provisions of the Bill as well. I should be grateful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would allay the fears that industrial valuations are being treated in the new valuations more generously than the domestic.
§ Mr. Rippon
I do not think there is any justification that I know of at the moment for that assertion, and to some extent, therefore, the hon. Gentleman has asked a hypothetical question. Clearly, it is a matter which will have to be discussed at the appropriate time and in the context of these arrangements.
Clauses 27 to 29 deal with the farm loss payment. The principle here rests on the premise that a displaced farmer who sets himself up in another farm cannot get the best out of the new farm to start with and, therefore, should be compensated for temporary loss of yield. It is impossible to quantify this loss accurately, and so a formula has to be adopted to secure an approximation. Thus Clause 28 provides for the amount of the payment to equal the average annual profit from the agricultural use of the old farm during the three years prior to the date of displacement.
Under Clause 30, for the first time, disturbance payments will be made as of right to those residential and business occupiers who have no compensatable interest in the land in question. This means they will no longer have to depend on the good will of the acquiring authorities for the payment of the expenses involved in removal costs and in the losses sustained through disturbance to trade or business. Those who qualify will be all statutory tenants, tenants of unfit houses and house and shop properties, service tenants, and tenants holding on after their legal terms have expired.
I ought perhaps to mention that we said in the White Paper that licensees would be among those entitled to this payment. However, when it came to drafting the Bill we found there were 47 considerable difficulties in that, and it was not possible to distinguish between the various types of licensees. So we have been obliged to leave them out, but local authorities will have a discretionary power to make payments in these cases. The amount of disturbance payment will be equal to the reasonable expense of removal or, if the person concerned is carrying on trade or business, equal to the temporary loss of profits attributable to removal.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman give me some enlightenment as to what will happen when the original owner or tenant is displaced as the result of a replacement of a road by a new road, for example? Undeveloped land may be worth £100 an acre but with development in sight it can overnight become worth £15,000 an acre, or some such fantastic amount. Will that situation be catered for? Will there be compensation? Will there be a balance between the values of developed and undeveloped land, and losses sustained because of disturbance?
§ Mr. Rippon
I now follow the intervention of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) which I could not understand earlier about settling up. The Bill is concerned with providing compensation for those who suffer hardship and loss. It will not deal with the position of those who make profits and pay taxation in accordance with those profits. The purposes of the Bill and what it is designed to do must be recognised. In that context there are other matters concerned with land development and land prices that may have to be debated and discussed on other occasions.
§ Sir Frederick Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that the disturbance allowances will include compensation for the expenses which, for instance, crippled people have incurred to make their houses adaptable to them? This is not normally included in the market value. It does not add one penny to the market value but involves considerable expense to these people.
§ Mr. Rippon
Provision will be made for payment for reinstatement.
48 Clauses 31 to 34 introduce improvements in entitlement to rehousing. Clause 31 places squarely on housing authorities the responsibility for rehousing anyone displaced through land acquisition when suitable alternative accommodation on reasonable terms is not available. Clause 32 enables them to advance money to displaced owner-occupiers to acquire or build another dwelling. A special feature is that only the interest will be repayable during the life of the loan, with repayment of the principal deferred until the end of the loan period. That provision is aimed at helping owner-occupiers of low value property with limited means.
Part IV of the Bill introduces improvements to the compensation code when land is acquired compulsorily. Clause 35 removes a limitation over the compensation payable when someone's land is taken for public works. Hitherto compensation has been assessed by reference only to the injurious effect of the part of the work situated on land taken from the owner. This has resulted in some hard cases. The provision deals with the situation which arose in the well-known case of Edwards v. Ministry of Transport in 1963. I shall not bother the House with the details.
Clause 36 and Clause 37 make special provisions to ease hardship on, respectively, disabled persons—that covers the point raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Sir F. Corfield)—and business people over 60. Clause 39 remedies another frequent cause of complaint. It is the practice of a few local authorities to reduce compensation paid for properties acquired from owner-occupiers if they are rehoused in council houses. The Clause will prohibit in future that undesirable practice.
Clause 40 will be a helpful provision to many people. It requires an acquiring authority which has taken possession of somebody's land to make, on request, an advance payment in respect of any compensation to which he is entitled. The amount is to be 90 per cent. of the compensation either agreed to be payable or, in default of agreement, 90 per cent. of what the authority estimates to be payable. That will not in any way prejudice subsequent disputes before the Lands Tribunal or elsewhere. This is an important provision which will help many 49 claimants who up to now have perhaps been induced to settle with the acquiring authority because they needed the money quickly. In some cases people have had to wait up to 20 years for settlement. It is no good in many cases saying that interest becomes payable and back date it.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
Can my right hon. and learned Friend say whether the Bill incorporates what is said in the White Paper, namely, that the 90 per cent. early payment should be obligatory? The White Paper says that it should be made at the purchasing authority's request. The Bill is not clear.
§ Mr. Rippon
It is something which the person whose land is acquired is entitled to as of right. It is not a discretionary arrangement.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say why the Bill gives legislative effect to paragraph 34 of the White Paper but not to the recommendation in paragraph 35, which deals with compensation before dispossession? If these were made obligatory in the Bill it would make emollient a good many hard cases which cause difficulty. I have such a case in my possession.
§ Mr. Rippon
Paragraph 35 says:The Government have decided that it would not be reasonable to make it obligatory upon authorities to pay any compensation before entry to the property. But hardship may arise even before the owner is dispossessed. A recommendation will therefore be made to all acquiring authorities to make advances of up to 90 per cent. before entry if the claimant needs the money to reinstate himself before he can reasonably be expected to give up possession.That is a discretionary authority which can be exercised.
Clauses 41 to 45 constitute another important set of provisions which are designed to effect improvements in the law relating to severance of agricultural land on compulsory acquisition.
A number of the general improvements in the Bill will benefit farmers—for example, the home loss payments, advance payments of compensation, the new provisions for compensation for injurious affection and sound insulation. But there are two new improvements specifically for the benefit of farmers. The first, which I have already mentioned, 50 is the farm loss payment. The second is dealt with in Clauses 41 to 45. In future, when farm land is taken, the owner will have the right to require the authority to acquire the whole of the unit which he owns if the remaining land is not reasonably capable of being farmed as an agricultural unit by itself or in conjunction with other land.
Those Clauses should be of special value in cases of land severance which have occurred with the building of new roads and reservoirs.
Part V of the Bill removes some limitations on the law of planning blight and is an important extension in that regard, particularly in slum clearance areas.
Clauses 48 to 54 extend the classes of land in respect of which blight notices may be served, which are listed in the Explanatory Memorandum, with the general effect that owner-occupiers may require the blighting authority to acquire the property much sooner.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydvil)
This is an important and useful provision, but why is it made less effective by the fact that when a planning blight notice is served one loses any right to loss payments provisions mentioned earlier in the Bill? I cannot understand the logic of that and I should be grateful for an explanation.
§ Mr. Rippon
Offhand, I do not know why that is so. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Local Government and Development to deal with that when he winds up. Under Clause 57, where part of an agricultural unit is blighted, it will in future be possible for a blight notice to be served, claiming that the land not affected cannot be reasonably farmed by itself or in conjunction with other land, and requiring the authority involved to buy the claimant's interest in the whole of the unit.
That is as brief an explanation as I can give of the basic provisions of a rather long and complicated Bill. I hope that the House will take the view that taken, as a package, these recommendations are fair and reasonable and deal with the needs of people affected by modern public development.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman propose to deal with the schedule?
§ Mr. Rippon
Certainly Clause 61 and Schedule I deal with Scotland and reproduce the effects of Part V. There are many aspects of the Bill which cover situations in Scotland as well as in England and Wales. I am sure that if the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) or any other hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies raise specific questions about any differences there may be between England and Scotland, my right hon. Friend will deal with them. Schedule I reproduces for Scotland the effects of Part V to which I have referred.
§ Mr. Ross
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciate that it is unusual for a Bill to contain 12 paragraphs in a schedule relating to Scotland? The schedule is virtually a miniature Bill, which will have to be dealt with in a Committee on which, I assume, there will be very few Scots. The Committee will be bored to tears if the Scots were to give it the attention it merits.
§ Mr. Rippon
I am sure the Scots are welcome everywhere. They do not hesitate to enter into matters concerning England and Wales when the spirit moves them. I hope that the House will feel that it is a convenient way of dealing with matters in which there is, inevitably, a good deal of duplication both of the problem and of the solution in the United Kingdom as a whole.
The whole package, including the measures in the Bill, will cost extra money, perhaps of the order of £65 million all told in a normal full year. In practice, because of the grant arrangements, about £50 million will be carried by central Government, £12 million by local authorities and £3 million by other statutory undertakings. Money spent on better quality in our planning and fairer treatment for all is money well spent and may in the end result not only in better and more expeditious planning but better value for the community as a whole. I therefore commend the Bill to the House as a fair and sensible measure which we want to put into effect as soon as possible.
One of the statutory measures referred to in the White Paper has already been introduced—the order designed to encourage owners of houses which are approach- 52 ing the end of their lives to keep them in good repair. The good maintenance payment for unfit houses is being doubled from four to eight times rateable value, and that was approved by the House last Friday week. I hope that we shall be able to deal with the Bill as expeditiously as we dealt with that matter. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
The House is indebted to the Secretary of State for having himself introduced the Bill and for the painstaking and comprehensive manner in which he has brought a very complicated Bill before the House. He has probably introduced a new concept into our proceedings by giving us notice of amendments before the Bill has been read a Second time. I hope it will not mean a whole flood of additional provisions, which the House will not have seen, being introduced in Committee.
On behalf of the Opposition I immediately welcome the Bill. We wish to see it enacted at an early date after proper scrutiny of its detailed provisions, not least because, while some of its provisions are retrospective, others can be brought in only after the Royal Assent. We therefore wish to approach the Bill in a constructive and helpful way.
I pay tribute to the work of the Urban Motorways Committee which was set up by my predecessor as Minister of Transport, in July, 1969. Although the Bill is non-controversial in principle, that does not mean that it is not very important. It introduces several new principles into planning law and the law of compensation.
Public authorities have had a privileged position at law on the question of injurious affection. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred briefly to the Edwards case. If I remember aright, that was a Court of Appeal case of 1963, not 1964. Under the Edwards principle a person was entitled only to damages arising from the piece of land that was actually taken. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not give the details of the Edwards case, but I will do so because they are instructive. It was ruled that, as only a small part of the noise on the trunk road was generated 53 from the piece of land taken from Mr. Edwards, he could not bring into account the noise which was generated on the land taken from other owners, and that was the source of his major complaint. The Bill also puts right the wrong which arises under the McCarthy Rules. Under those rules, which resulted from a House of Lords decision in 1874, a person who has no part of his land taken from him has virtually no claim for compensation, although he might be most injuriously affected by noise, nuisance and so on which arise from public works. Public authorities have been in a privileged position in this respect. A private developer or a private individual would not have got away with causing such nuisance to adjacent properties.
We are all glad that this has been rectified and that the provision is to be backdated. Why was 17th October 1969 chosen? I know that it is three years from the date of the White Paper, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the time the Urban Motorways Committee has been at work and an appropriate date would be July. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider extending the date a little further back? A few weeks or months will bring more people within the benefits of the Bill. The only significant date that I can recall about in October 1969 is that I became Minister of Transport, and I do not want that to inhibit the right hon. Gentleman from going back a little bit more.
In terms of injurious affection, the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke about the differences between discretionary and mandatory provisions. In the backdating period the right to compensation will be mandatory, but the right to sound insulation will be discretionary. I agree that local authorities should have discretion, but I am not sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman who presides over the Department that produced the Housing Finance Act will be taken very seriously when he talks about increasing the discretion of local authorities, having taken it away in a most vital part of their administration.
Although we want to encourage discretion by local authorities, we shall have to look carefully at the provisions where 54 there is a mandatory duty and where there is only a discretion. We have to draw a proper balance between the rights of and benefits to the community and the inconvenience, nuisance and loss to individuals who have to move house or lose part of their property. Compulsory purchase and similar measures should not be used unless there is a benefit to the community. Before such orders are made, for whatever purpose, I hope that there will always be an unanswerable case of public benefit. The Bill goes some way to redress the balance which has been tilted too far to the advantage of the public authority against that of the private citizen.
Another factor which the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned and which always appears in our debates on these subjects is blight. Here we have two problems of balance. There is the enormous problem of how far public discussion of possible alternative routes should go—and this certainly applies to motorways and to alternative sites for a new runway—if it is not to cause great inconvenience and sometimes actual loss to the owners of property. Those who may be affected are never sure what the position will be until all the lengthy processes of public discussion, lengthy appeals, and all the rest, have been gone through. We all know how discussions concerning runway lengths, and so on, can continue for a very long time—as the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, since apparently he took some part in prolonging the affair at Gatwick.
Considerable difficulty often arises when seven or eight alternative routes are put forward in a road scheme since it is known that only one route will eventually be selected. When I was Minister of Transport I often felt moved to publish more information about alternative sites, but I did not do so because of the problems of creating blight over various parcels of land. It is easy to draw lines on maps, but we must always remember that people are affected by those lines and these matters can cause great anxiety. I am glad that the Minister is to look at this matter. We welcome the extension conferred by the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will not hesitate on subsequent stages of the Bill to give further assistance if it is required.
55 I come to deal with the general approach to the other benefits conferred by the Bill, namely those in respect of home loss, farm loss, disturbance payments and rehousing which are to be found in Part III of the Bill and which are to be welcomed. We shall seek in subsequent stages of the Bill to make suggestions to try to make improvements in the Bill and to remedy some discrepancies. Many of these are Committee points and I shall mention only one or two now.
One thought that struck me when looking through the Bill and the White Paper was that tenants do not appear to have been given as generous a deal as perhaps have owners of property. I know that many problems are involved, but often in urban redevelopment schemes in the centres of our great cities it is the tenants who suffer the most when the homes in which they have lived for many years are taken away. I do not see why it is necessary to occupy a house for a minimum of seven years before qualifying for benefits. I am not suggesting that people should be allowed to move in to a property just ahead of a development scheme, but surely it would be fairer to institute a period of three years. We shall return to this matter in Committee.
I turn to the amount of compensation. I understand that the figure of compensation will be seven times the rateable value until April next and three times the value after that date. This at least discloses some idea of what we can expect from the new revaluation of property between now and April. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Local Government and Development when replying will give the Government's considered view on this matter and will confirm that the figure as a result of the revaluation will be more than doubled. I regard the figure as too low and I believe that it should be 10 times the value now and five times after April 1973.
There appears to be some discrepancy between the qualification for a home loss consequential upon a compulsory' purchase order and the qualification for disturbance in terms of the rehousing provisions. It is sufficient in terms of disturbance and rehousing for there to be an agreement between the owners of a 56 property and the authority in respect of compulsory purchase powers. Clearly, if an agreement must result from a compulsory purchase order, then a number of people who might be willing to treat will be encouraged to wait for the compulsory purchase procedure to begin. I hope that we shall be able to clarify this matter in Committee.
I turn to deal with a point which concerns a number of my hon. Friends, particularly those who represent London constituencies, and that is the situation that faces tenants whenever there is wind of any kind of redevelopment scheme. In such a case there is a tremendous incentive for some landlords to try to get rid of tenants ahead of the dates to try to qualify for a higher rate of compensation. In these circumstances the tenants get no compensation at all. If it is possible for local authorities to freeze particular routes for development because they have in mind future possibilities, this would be of great assistance in finding ways to prevent landlords from evicting tenants in anticipation of development. Again we shall seek to give more attention to this matter in Committee.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he thought the House would accept the basic principles of the Bill—and I tend to agree with him—which would mean that the only way in which to take advantage of these provisions is to try to arrive at a value before the public works, road building or whatever it may be, takes place. This is on similar lines to the Labour Government's scheme which was referred to by the present Secretary of State for Trade and Industry as being a totally unsatisfactory scheme. But we now see that that scheme has been embellished by the present Government—in other words, it has been given the public relations treatment by the former Secretary of State.
I consider the Bill to be the right approach to these considerations. It is a little restrictive in that it deals only with noise and smell and takes no account of some of the visual consequences of motorways, and so forth. Again we shall want to return to this matter in Committee.
We shall want to make sure that compensation is related to existing use. The Explanatory Memorandum says that 57 Clause 5 is designed to do just that—although, having read the Clause, I am far from convinced that it will achieve that purpose. We must make sure that nobody obtains any additional benefit or additional planning advantage as a result of this kind of development.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
My right hon. Friend has raised a most important point. Does he recognise that although some land may go down in value, there may be some land in agricultural use, or land which is not being used for any purpose, which may immediately see a fantastic increase in value? Does he not agree that the Opposition do not wish to be committed to compensation on those terms since subsequently we may wish to compensate on previous use values?
§ Mr. Mulley
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for putting, perhaps in more eloquent terms than I would have done, the very next item in my notes. I will go further and say that more often than not public works may lead to an increase in land values of 50 or 100 times the original value of the land, often making a man of modest means into a millionaire, with no action on the individual's part whatever. Merely because that person happens to own the land and because planning permission is granted for a new road or other purpose, the land appreciates enormously in value. It is a cause of great regret to me that earlier Labour Governments did not legislate for the public ownership of land. I am sure that it is an omission that will be put right under the next Labour Government.
As matters stand, the Bill is trying to take care of those cases where there is a loss as a result of public works for the benefit of the community. But there is no provision to offset the gains made as a result of the same public works by fortunate individuals owning property in the areas involved.
I was disappointed that the Secretary of State said nothing about the steps that he proposes to take to publicise these changes, especially as some of them relate to October 1969. It may be that we can persuade the right hon. and learned Gentleman to back-date them a little further. It is important that people should know because in some cases their claims will have been settled or they may have been told that they have no claims under exist- 58 ing law. It would be a great tragedy if people who could least afford to lose the benefits that the Bill conferred lost their rights. Equally, I hope that we can make the procedures for claims as simple as possible. It will not help if a person gets a little money only to find that most if not all of it is taken away in the various legal and professional charges involved in preparing claims.
I want now to say a word or two about the costs involved. Looking at the Financial Memorandum, I am a little concerned to discover that only some £12 million a year of the costs to local authorities will receive assistance through the rate support grant. I am wondering whether the Government have in mind a complete change in the grant system for authorising urban roads. I believe that it is still the case that 75 per cent. grants are usual for road developments in cities and that 100 per cent. is met by central funds for major road developments outside. Is it intended to change the system? If it is, and a bigger part is to be dealt with by rate support grant, what steps will be taken to see that the money is spent on roads? I have reason to suspect that some local authorities spend more than their grants on road maintenance and that others do not spend the grant that they get for that purpose.
In my time as the Minister concerned, the money that I wanted to spend on road developments in towns and cities was the only part of my all too limited funds that I could not spend. The reason was that most local authorities found it extremely difficult to raise their 25 per cent. of the costs. When we get estimates of the size of the rate demands which most of our authorities in big towns and cities are likely to have to levy next year as a result of the constant inflation that we have experienced over the past 12 months, I can quite understand that there will be a great deal of reluctance on their part if they have to find money to meet the bills that we are imposing by this legislation when the desperate need in many cities is for more money to be spent on transport.
In this House we have infrequent opportunities to discuss transport matters. I am sure that a number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will question the need to build 59 more motorways and other substantial road developments. I have heard this Bill criticised because it will remove some of the objections which quite properly are taken by people to current proposals arising out of the unfair consequences for some owners of property and tenants as a result of the inadequate compensatory measures which the Bill puts right to a large extent. But I wonder whether the Bill will not cause fewer roads to be built because of the additional costs which these provisions will give rise to in their building.
We are reminded in the White Paper that there are 15 million vehicles on our roads today and that by the end of the decade, in 1980, there will be 22 million. I cannot possibly join those who say that we do not need any more roads. I believe that we need many more roads, and my experience as Minister of Transport was that in practically every case of road construction that I authorised, on the best cost-benefit analysis that we could do dealing with road accidents, casualties, congestion and the other economic costs, we could show that this public investment yielded a return of between 30 and 40 per cent.—as high as if not higher than in almost any other. Certainly I do not join those who say that we want no more roads.
I do not wish to anticipate Wednesday's debate but, unless the Government are firm in their approach to bigger and heavier lorries, we shall in any even have to meet very large bills as a result of proposed European legislation. I hope that we shall not have to meet those bills. However, I shall not trespass on the case which I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) will put more eloquently and elegantly than I could today, even if it were in order for me to do so.
We are concerned not only about roads but about an integrated transport system. I suspect that the only area where there is integration is in public expenditure estimates, when the whole lot is put together. I am not convinced that by putting transport along with all the other aspects dealt with in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Department we have any integration. We have one senior Minister dealing with roads and another senior 60 Minister dealing with railways and public transport. It may be that the Secretary of State is the only bit of integration that there is. I hope that he will be able to assure the House that the extra money represented by the Bill will not lead to a lack of transport investment generally.
Successive Governments have invested too little in transport over the years. As a result, we have not built up the transport infrastructure that the country needs. In the 1968 Transport Act we went some way forward with railways by recognising that there should be a national commitment to social need. However, we did it only for passengers. We ought to have made some provision whereby subsidy could be given to freight on the railways, in order to take that amount of freight off our roads. The Labour Government made provision for freight to go by rail. But one of the first actions of the present Government was to say that they did not intend to bring in this power.
We have a serious situation on our railways and against the background of the rumours and leaks there is great concern that in the next few years, in the guise of economy, we shall cut down rail services. If we take such decisions, we shall not be able to put matters right in future, and they will be bitterly regretted 10 or 15 years from now. We all know the vast expenditure which is required to provide a viable railway system, although the so-called massive amount referred to by the Minister for Transport Industries is about 10 per cent. of the subsidy that the German railways receive. The average age of our freight wagons is well over 20 years. Many railway bridges have not been renewed or repaired as they should have been. A great deal of public investment would be involved in making the Southern Region into a commuter service to take the strain off the roads.
All towns and cities need, and many want, to do things about public transport. I am encouraged by what the new Labour majority is doing in Nottingham with its bold and imaginative scheme to increase public transport facilities, thus saving the city great expenditure on road disturbance. Many authorities probably want to do something about giving priority to buses. It is useless talking about getting 61 rid of motor cars unless people can be provided with a proper public transport alternative.
All these things will cost money. In the present state of finances, local government cannot afford these things from its own resources. Although we support the Bill, we seek assurances from the Government that the cost of this help will not be deducted from the net amount of new investment in transport generally. I hope that we can be given an assurance on when the Government will come forward with plans, not to cut back on the railways and public transport, but to give real assistance in these areas so that we can feel that we are tackling transport as one entity and not piecemeal. The cost of putting the Bill into effect will have to be taken separately from the figures relevant to the broad transport sector.
In Committee we shall be examining the Bill closely with a view to improving it. In that operation we greatly hope to have the company of the Secretary of State. If he is not present, we hope at any rate to have his sympathy in our efforts to improve the Bill. I commend its Second Reading to my hon. Friends.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Sir Frederick Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
My remarks will not be concerned primarily with the effects of the Bill on the road programme or with that fascinating topic of the public ownership of land. I trust that the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) will forgive me if I do not follow him except to the extent of making one point on each of those subjects.
First on the question of the road programme, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will endeavour to bring forward the plans for roads much further in advance of the date on which it is hoped to commence operations than has been customary hitherto. I gain the impression far too often when attending public inquiries into new roads that time is too pressing for the road authorities to take into account seriously the various alternatives that may have been suggested by objectors and that the operation is more of a public relations one than a serious effort to ensure that the best route is adopted, bearing in mind that the object of today's exercise is to redress the balance between the environmental and the transport aspects of roads.
62 On the fascinating topic of the public ownership of land, I merely comment that I have heard these arguments very often before but never yet have I heard an admission that, if we are to have any commercial activity, let alone any form of occupation of a house that even begins to resemble owner occupation as we understand it, other interests in land than the freehold interest will have to be created which will be subject to precisely the same market forces as the freehold and the long leasehold are today.
The basic problem we face on land compensation is to try to put those whose property is acquired compulsorily into the same position, as far as finance can do that, as they would have been in if they had been allowed to remain in possession. In other words, the man who has his house acquired expects, and has the right to expect, to be put into a position financially as near as may be which will enable him to acquire an alternative house which provides him with as nearly as possible the same facilities and the same amenities.
We have not managed to do this over the last two or three years. The reason is inflation. Only when the unfortunate "compulsory vendor" has known the approximate price he would get for the house to be acquired could he start looking for an alternative; and by the time he found it he was operating in an entirely different set of values, always higher.
We must try to find a means of meeting this problem—I was about to describe it as an evil. I do not think that that word is too strong. Over and over again I have had in my constituency and in my professional activities cases of people who accepted a price which at the time of acquisition was probably a fair market price; but, because of the shortage of houses in an area and because a house, unlike a pair of shoes, cannot be bought in an afternoon they have been unable to find within a reasonable period a replica of their house in a similar area at that price.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development will recall that in the early days compensation was based on the value to the owner. Latterly it became market value plus a 10 per cent. payment in recognition of the fact that, 63 whatever Acts of Parliament may say about willing sellers, they are seldom willing. That used to be called the insult payment.
I strongly urge my right hon. and learned Friend to consider whether we should not return to that 10 per cent., or some other percentage over and above the current market value, to allow for the inevitable pause that must take place between acquisition and purchase of replacement property. I do not think this is a necessary payment where compensation is based on the expectation of planning permission for a development which gives a much higher value than the existing use to which the land is put. Where, as in the case of roads is almost invariably the case, market value is the market value for the land in its existing use, there is an overwhelming case for some extra payment to meet the inevitable change in value between acquisition and purchase of replacement property.
The other aspect I want to touch on is the contrast not only in the Bill but in the existing code of compensation for acquisition of farm land and for the acquisition of other types of property. In touching on the problems of the agricultural community I hope that no one will suggest that I am in any way devaluing the very considerable improvements that have been made in the other spheres or that I do not welcome them fully. I think that many of them were long overdue. The majority, if not all, of them were things which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development and I pressed the then Government to include in the 1959 Act.
When we come to Clause 27, which deals with the farm loss payment, the noticeable thing is that it is confined to somebody with an owner's interest, and as owner's interest is denned later as the freehold interest or a tenancy granted or extended for a term of years of which no less than three years remain unexpired on the date of displacement, that does not help the ordinary tenant in England. The problem is different in Scotland when the customary form of tenancy is a leasehold interest but the English and Welsh practice for many generations has been a year-to-year tenancy.
64 In subsection (6) we are told:No farm loss payment shall be made by virtue of the displacement of a person from any land if he is entitled to a payment under section 12 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968.That is the section which gives some form of compensation to the tenant—I believe it was up to four years rent. With the introduction of this clause we have two different bases for compensation for what is broadly the same head of compensation. The 1968 base is the rent which I have never felt was at all satisfactory, and the present base is one year's average profit which is a much more sensible base for both purposes because it is the base on which for other businesses of a more urban nature one works out the loss of goodwill where loss of goodwill has to be included in the disturbance payment. The most obvious example is the relatively small shop which depends upon attracting people from a particular neighbourhood who know the proprietor and so on.
There are, however, other cases in which clearly the location of a business very much affects its goodwill, and if it is to be moved, that loss of goodwill is an acceptable subhead for compensation for disturbance. To carry that further, in the event of the business being entirely wound up through acquisition, and the goodwill being permanently lost, because it is not transferable—there may not be another shop in the area perhaps—the compensation for complete cessation of business is based on so many years purchase and the average year's profitability.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not dismiss too easily the anomalies which are growing up in the agricultural world as something to be settled by his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in relation to tenure. This is basically a matter of compensation. Here is an opportunity where we should try to see whether we can work out a sensible code whereby the farmer, whether he be tenant or owner occupier, can have proper compensation for complete cessation of business if this is the result of the acquisition.
We are up against a rather extraordinary paradox that whereas we can at least expect, and in most cases do so with confidence, that the quantity of houses, offices, shops, etc., is constantly increas- 65 ing, what is absolutely certain is that the quantity of farms is decreasing and will continue to decrease. It will decrease not only because it is basically farmland that takes the burden of all this development, whether it be roads or anything else, but because the whole economic trend of farming is towards bigger and therefore, fewer agricultural units.
We have a situation in which the farmer is displaced and has almost certainly got less chance of re-establishing himself than the shopkeeper or the person who runs an office. Yet this is not recognised as such. I do not go all the way with the National Farmers' Union belief that the answer is to regard the tenant farmer's interest as a notional lease, although under the security of tenure provisions he has in effect the expectation of a life tenancy.
I do not go all the way with that, for this reason. It is important to remember that the security of tenure provisions of the 1948 Act were introduced for one purpose only—for the benefit of good husbandry, and not particularly for the individual tenant or anybody else. As a result, the farmer had a considerable extra value in his land, with his ability to give vacant possession, something that he could and does sell without in any way compensating the land owner. Therefore, it would be wrong to equate this entirely with a lease, because at the end of the day the State would be paying the landlord the full freehold value and the tenant the whole leasehold value on top. There is, however, a strong case for sensible provisions where the farmer is likely to have to cease his business altogether and this for the reasons that I have given could well be more often than not. I hope this opportunity will be seized.
Finally, one further point. At the end of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill we are told:It is estimated that the only significant increase in public service manpower will arise in the Valuation Office of the Board of Inland Revenue…I hope my right hon. Friend has not neglected the fact that this type of increased scope of compensation, bringing in more people for injurious affection, for example, more people under the blight code and so on, all of which is immensely welcome and very much overdue, will mean more work for the Lands Tribunal. The 66 delay between getting a case ready for hearing and the actual hearing is well over 30 weeks, I believe, and much longer than it ought to be. I hope it will be realised that one of the problems in the acquisition of land is not merely the financial amount in the long run but that to smaller people in particular it creates enormous anxieties. Until they know what they are going to get, and how they can plan their future as a result, it is very difficult indeed to put those anxieties at rest. I hope my right hon. Friend, with the Lord Chancellor, will bear that point very much in mind.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
I wish to question only one provision in this Bill, and that provision I believe to be damaging in an otherwise desirable measure. I am sure, as almost every hon. Member has said today, that we should accept the general principle of the Bill, that compensation should be given for injurious affection, as the lawyers call it—loss of value inflicted on those whose property is not actually acquired and destroyed but is injured by noise, vibration, fumes, and incidentally, I should have thought, visual intrusion as well, although that apparently is not yet included in the Bill.
Like the hon. Member who spoke of the farming tenant, I should like to be a little clearer about the position of the tenant as opposed to the owner-occupier in cities, including the council tenant who is affected in these ways. I am sure it is clear to the Minister, but it is not clear to me. We should be quite certain what this new compensation requires. It certainly requires that where a motorway has been built, or where there is a good case for building one through a city, persons who are injured in this way should receive reasonable compensation. As it seems to me, it need not and should not mean that additional compulsory powers have to be given to road authorities to acquire and destroy still further areas of residential property, amidst an acute housing shortage, in order to build motorways which would not otherwise have been built.
But Clause 18—the related passage of the White Paper is paragraph 20—does just that, as I understand it. It would enable road authorities with compulsory 67 powers to cut much wider swathes of destruction through our cities. The White Paper graphically calls them "corridors"thrusting through the existing fabric".This is unnecessary to the main purpose of the Bill, and certainly in Greater London the practical effect could be serious. It seems to me that, under cover of the very proper objective of offering compensation where it is due, the Minister is here adding a quite unnecessary power with a quite different purpose which, at least in our cities, could have most damaging consequences.
I entirely agree that public authorities should be given the power, and probably the duty as well, with the agreement or at the request of the owners, to buy property injuriously affected when a road is being built. But for that purpose it is not necessary to give the authorities power to buy up whole areas against the wishes of those now living there. Indeed, this sort of rather high-handed approach on the part of road building authorities has in many instances gone too far already. There is much public feeling in both cities and rural areas about the secret activities of some road authorities which, even now, buy up a great deal of property before a public inquiry has even finished its work or come to a conclusion, the object being, some people think, to create a fait accompli before the report of the inquiry appears. I believe that we need more, not less, control over that sort of arbitrary proceeding.
In spite of what was said in opening by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), I think that this is not the occasion for arguing the whole question of motorways, on which the Government are now spending—the Minister confessed to it today in speaking of thousands of millions of pounds—enormous sums; but I think it relevant to point out that there is a convincing case for continuing the motorway programme between and round our cities, because this genuinely takes traffic away from areas where people live, and road building schemes outside cities do not destroy existing homes.
The issues are entirely different, however, when it is proposed to drive motorways through our existing cities, for then both the human and the financial cost is 68 immeasurably greater. In my view, no convincing case has yet been made for these motorways within the great cities.
In London the issues are different again, though one would not guess that from the White Paper and the report of the Urban Motorways Committee. They are different because in London and the South-East, by common consent—no one disputes this, I think—land is the main bottleneck against housebuilding, and bad housing is an overwhelmingly greater social evil than any traffic delays, however costly they may sometimes be.
In London, certainly—the same applies to others of our great cities—any land taken from housing means making an acutely difficult situation even worse for many years ahead. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor's working party on London housing urged London local authorities to seek and acquire all the additional land they possibly could for housing, wherever it could be found. Yet on the present official figures, on the way we are going, London will still have about 300,000 people without decent homes ten years hence, and nearly one-third of that housing deficit will be due not to inevitable physical difficulties but to the loss of land caused by the Greater London Council's present grandiose motorway plans, if they are carried out on that scale in the interim.
If we greatly increase still further the areas to be acquired for this purpose we shall push up even further the number of people who have the prospect of being homeless or not being decently housed 10 years hence. That seems to me to be the very reverse of "Putting People First", which is the title the Minister has given to the White Paper. Yet nowhere in the White Paper, and nowhere even in the report of the Urban Motorways Committee, is there any mention of the overriding consideration that in these crowded areas taking more land for motorways means making the housing shortage still worse.
I believe, therefore, that we should welcome in general, no doubt with detailed improvements, the compensation proposals in the Bill which empower authorities to acquire by agreement properties which are affected, but I do not believe that a case has been made out for accepting the proposals in Clause 18 for 69 still greater compulsory powers which would be used to destroy homes on an even more disastrous scale in order to build urban motorways in cities which are already suffering from an acute housing shortage.
It may be said—my right hon. Friend hinted at it today—that the compensation proposed in the Bill will make the building of urban motorways so astronomically costly that no sensible authority would propose it, or at any rate carry it out. To take one example, the cost of the proposed west cross route of Ringway 1 in West London has already reached £27 million a mile. In other words, the cost of one mile of it will, I think I am right in saying, exceed British Rail's deficit over the whole country last year, which was supposed to be a great disaster, or, to take another example, the whole annual cost of the Government's family income supplement, which is supposed to cure poverty over the whole country. I do not believe—nobody has yet shown it—that motorway spending of that order can give any rational economic return.
Unfortunately, however, we must not assume too lightly, because the cost is so great, that our road authorities will automatically abandon such plans. Some people, not merely road enthusiasts but the vested interests behind them, seem now to have reached a point at which they think that the cost, whether human, financial or in terms of resources, hardly matters. I often hear that point of view expressed.
In so far as the compensation proposals in the Bill exert some healthy restraining effect on the astronomical sums which it is proposed to spend, that restraint will, surely, be achieved by the main provisions of the Bill, and there is no need for additional powers compulsorily to acquire and to destroy perfectly sound existing houses.
I hope, therefore, that the proposals to which I have referred, especially those in Clause 18, will be critically scrutinised in Committee to ensure that the damage caused by roads actually built is minimised but that no more precious housing is destroyed or housing land lost.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
Could my right hon. Friend drive his point home even harder by asking the Minister to give us tonight an estimate of the number of fit 70 houses which have so far been destroyed to accommodate motorways, and how many more—it will run into tens of thousands—he expects will be destroyed, perhaps, in the next one, two or three years for the same purpose?
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)
I join the welcome that has been extended to the Bill, although with some qualifications, by hon. Members from both sides of the House. It is a major measure which must be welcomed and I congratulate the Secretary of State in being able to bring before the House a Bill of this character. I look forward with great interest to the wind up by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development. It is a matter which has occupied his mind and his energy during the whole time that the Department of the Environment has been established and I offer him my congratulations as well.
It is no mean achievement that a measure of this nature got through the Cabinet. I am not quite sure what the Treasury could have had to say about it. The Secretary of State has given some indication of the costs which will be involved but I am not clear to what extent they are realistic. In that respect I think that I share some of the qualifications expressed by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). The issue of the costs is very much like the arrow in the air. It is a little unpredictable where it will fall and just what will be the total cost to the public purse of the wide commitments which will be taken on if the Bill goes forward as now proposed, which I hope it will.
The Secretary of State quoted the two most effective paragraphs in the White Paper, paragraphs 1 and 2 headed "The New Approach". We see there that the Bill tries to deal with the conflict between the public's undoubted right to have new roads, new schools and waterworks on the one hand and the private person's right to enjoy, as the White Paper puts it,his home and garden, undisturbedon the other. We cannot adopt a scientific approach to this matter. I was 71 interested to hear the Secretary of State accept that the very wide-sweeping proposals would apply with a remarkable degree of comprehensiveness to the disabled, taking account of their special requirements, and that their requirements would be replaced where they were compelled to move into other accommodation.
In the circumstances outlined in the White Paper we are therefore seeking a fair settlement of conflicting interests and the Bill is a bold attempt to do just that. I am sure that it will be warmly received in the country generally. Of course, varying circumstances give rise to complications and problems and that applies particularly of the Greater London area. There, in looking into the problems of blight, the authorities have discovered that although amenity values might be greatly affected, and in some cases disastrously so, by highway proposals and road schemes because of traffic noise, fumes and the general loss of amenity, property values have followed the same inflationary spiral as elsewhere. In other words, although property values might be expected to depreciate, that has not proved to be the case. Much the same situation applies at Heathrow where for many years, in spite of the loss of amenity because of the noise factor, property values have not depreciated to the extent that one might have expected. Therefore, when considering the loss of values this added degree of complication and these unpredictable factors must be taken into account.
The extension of classes of blighted land in Part V are to be welcomed and they have wide implications and effects on the rights of property owner and occupiers. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that the first priority should be to avoid the creation of blight. I support what he says that highway engineers and planners will be required, because of their financial commitment, to reduce to the very minimum the effect of blight on amenities by their acquisition policy. I pay tribute to the work of the Urban Motorways Committee which is of particular significance and must be greatly applauded.
The extended purchasing power to local authorities to include properties which are affected by but not included in a scheme is undoubtedly the most import- 72 ant single step forward in the relief of non-statutory blight. This is a new development. Between 1947 and 1959 no remedy for blight was available and it did not come until the provisions of section 39(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1959 which first defined categories of blighted land, restricting remedies to owner occupiers. It is only fair to recognise that it has been under a Conservative Administration that the problem of blight has been faced up to and legislation introduced.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is not rubbish; it is correct. This is no criticism of other Administrations. The Socialists introduced the 1947 Act upon which so many benefits that we enjoyed in planning in post-war years were based. But a Bill such as this must be seen as a tribute to Conservative Ministers who were prepared to engage themselves in the highly technical subjects involved with the intention of doing what they could to ensure a greater degree of equity between the public and private interests.
I am a little concerned about the position of the tenant in furnished accommodation. In the Explanatory Memorandum they are excluded from the Bill. I take note of the point made earlier by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) about the seven-year period for tenants in unfurnished accommodation. If tenants in furnished accommodation are not to be included it may be possible for the Government to give helpful directives to local authorities requiring them to offer alternative and suitable accommodation to tenants in furnished premises.
I also recognise the difficulty involved in the proper assesment of compensation for owner-occupiers. I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Sir F. Corfield) emphasised particularly the position of tenant farmers. I join with him in expressing the view that they are in an unfavourable and grossly unfair situation. They are faced with the extinguishment of their business and that carries compensation, I believe, on the basis of about five or six years rent.
We are discussing here a radical measure which goes far in its intention to redress the balance between the rights of the individual and of the State, providing remedies for many areas which 73 previously have not been compensated. In that respect, I am sure it will be welcomed on both sides.
Planning authorities' proposals must be subject to far greater and closer scrutiny in future. I support those who have already advocated public discussion, particularly on highway proposals, at a very early stage. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North advocated it in relation to London, but it is equally important in the countryside, with regard to the corridors that are first declared through which the motorways and principal highways go. Widespread concern is caused, but much of it is unnecessary, because when a definite corridor is known it is found to be much less damaging over the wider field, although it is, understandably, equally damaging to those immediately involved.
Now the principle has been accepted that we must look for ways and means to control and prevent widespread misuse of both our land and amenities. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend can have the assurance, from what has already been said in the debate, that the Bill will have a fair wind.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. William Whitlock (Nottingham, North)
I welcome the Bill, in that it provides additional assistance to those individual citizens who suffer from what are considered to be essential developments. But, like other hon. Members, I cannot be completely eulogistic about it, because in a number of respects it does not go far enough. It does not go far enough to bring about a fair balance between provision for the community as a whole and the mitigation of harmful effects on individual citizens, and it does not, as the White Paper claimed it would, put people first. Roads and other public developments are still placed first. They will still have the same upsetting impact on all our lives. Noises, smells, dangers and visual pollution, will still be there, even though a little more money changes hands. The loss of a beloved home in a cherished spot will still be just as hard to bear under the Bill's proposals.
The provisions of the Bill will merely soften the opposition to public developments a little—and that is its real purpose; to enable authorities to build more roads, to take more land in order that the motor car and the ever-larger 74 lorry can become increasingly obtrusive tools for our modern existence.
Like other hon. Members, I hope that the Bill will be amended in a number of ways, and I should like to suggest several.
The Bill retains market value as the basis of the compensation code, but what is market value? It is not what the owner of a house or any other kind of property thinks he can get by comparing his property with similar property in a similar locality. It is not even what may have been assessed as the value of his property in the days before the present Government came to power and property prices soared. It is what is thrashed out in the rather esoteric world of the lawyer, the estate agent and the district valuer.
I have found repeatedly that people faced with compulsory purchase have not felt that there is anything fair in the procedure followed in assessing what they should receive. No doubt other hon. Members have found exactly the same. For the victim of progress it has seemed not only unfair but in many ways completely incomprehensible.
I should like to give an example of the dilemma people face when their property is acquired compulsorily and they are incensed by the unfairness in the system. A constituent has complained to me about the offer made to him when part of his garden was acquired for a road. Discussions took place between his professional adviser and the district valuer, which resulted in the assessment of his property at 12½p a square yard. Three years before that same land had been valued at £1.25 a square yard, 10 times the offer made after the district valuer's consideration of the matter. Further, land just over 100 yards away was valued by the district valuer at £1.50 a square yard, 12 times the assessment made in his case. His professional adviser was unable to obtain any better offer from the district valuer.
I got in touch with the Secretary of State for the Environment, only to be told that it was a matter of negotiation in the locality, but that if my constituent was upset by the offer he could ask for the dispute to be referred to the Lands Tribunal for independent assessment. But then he was left with the problem of the delay and the anxiety caused by it, and with the cost of taking the matter to the 75 Tribunal without the guarantee that he would receive any better compensation at the end of the day.
In that case it might be argued that as the land was acquired by the local authority the district valuer was an arbiter between the local authority and my constituent, even though the assessment seemed completely nonsensical. But that impartial status most certainly cannot be claimed for the district valuer when he acts on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Environment in the acquisition of land for roads. I have here a leaflet issued by the Department to my constituents in Nottingham who are affected by the proposed Arnold by-pass. The leaflet says:The District Valuer, who acts for the Secretary of State in these matters, will not begin his negotiations to acquire land for the road works before the Spring of 1973.How can the district valuer, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, be impartial and be seen to be impartial? It is true that any constituent aggrieved by the assessment can take the matter to the Lands Tribunal, with all the anxiety, delay and expense that I have already mentioned. I hope that during the Bill's passage the Minister will turn his mind and all his resources to the task of finding a means of assessment which is fairer and more impartial, and which will be far less costly to the individual than the present arrangement of appeal to the Lands Tribunal.
It is good that in addition to compensation paid to the owner based on market value there is to be a home loss payment to the occupier, whether the owner or tenant, in recognition of the special distress suffered by those who lose their homes. But, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) has said, it seems wrong that it is limited to someone who has been in occupation for seven years or more. Why should it be paid only to those who have been there that long? In some ways it can be more distressing to people to lose a home they have just proudly set up and furnished to their own requirements. Certainly it is no less distressing to the man who has been in his house for a year than to the man who has been there for seven years. I trust that this restriction on the payment of such an innovation will be removed at a later stage.
76 I come to my third suggestion for amendment to the Bill. On 14th March in an Adjournment debate I spotlighted the considerable hardship of small tenant farmers resulting from the present completely inadequate compensation arrangements when they are dispossessed of their land for the building of reservoirs. These people are not wealthy landed gentry; they are virtually slaves of the soil. The Trent River Authority, with whom I have some connection recognised the injustice and the inadequacy of the compensation available and in the 1970–71 Session of Parliament promoted a Bill in which there was a clause dealing with compensation. It would have enabled the Authority to make discretionary payments to people suffering hardship because their farms had been acquired in this way.
The Government opposed that clause and because of that it was removed from the Bill. One of the reasons given for the opposition was that the clause, if accepted, would have been prejudicial to the Government's consideration of the compensation code. We now have that code and the small tenant farmers are no better off. Clause 23 dealing with home loss payments, Clause 40 dealing with the power to make advance payments of compensation and the improved power to deal with severance are most welcome and are clearly a step in the right direction.
But Clause 27 which authorises the making of a farm loss payment of up to one year's net farm income has been limited to the owner-occupier and to the tenant on a fixed term with not less than three years to run. The great majority of tenant farmers who will suffer hardship when their land is acquired for reservoirs and other purposes are yearly tenants and therefore the farm loss provision will not apply to them. The tenant farmer will be left with compensation based on six times the actual yearly rent which is generally conceded, to be completely unrealistic.
During the year the Devon River Authority has been successful in promoting a Bill containing a compensation clause similar to that denied to the Trent River Authority. Will the Minister say that he will favourably consider amending the Bill so as to make the Devon compensation clause of general 77 application to river authorities? Such an amendment is now more necessary than ever. I hope that the Minister will consider these three suggestions because with those and other reservations I broadly support the Bill in the hope that in Committee we can remedy its defects.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)
The Government's proposals will, in the words of the White Paper, strike a new balance between the community and the citizen. The important factor is that new balance. We have for the first time the recognition of the principle of worsenment. The Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg), which I had the honour to support, embodied this concept but unfortunately at that time it was said to be intolerable that the principle of worsenment should be recognised. At last it is to be recognised and I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend who has pushed this through the Treasury. How he did it I cannot imagine but it is a brilliant performance. New hope is being given to those suffering from aircraft and motorway noise.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
Since I dealt with the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) on behalf of the then Government, I must point out that I certainly did not say that the principle of worsenment was unacceptable. I drew attention to the attitude being adopted by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen then in opposition. Although they were supporting the principle of worsenment it was hardly logical, having regard to their attitude towards the State having an interest in the principle of betterment. They were in favour of compensating for worsenment but not in favour of assisting the State where betterment had occurred as a result of public activity.
§ Mr. Allason
The hon. Gentleman has the worst of all worlds. He was supporting a system of betterment which was impracticable and rejecting worsenment. We at least rejected that form of betterment but we do tax betterment very severely, up to 75 per cent. This is conveniently forgotten by Labour spokesmen.
Any day now I expect to receive news about the line of a 15-mile by-pass 78 through my constituency which is being built to motorway standards. It will have a tremendous effect on those who, unhappily, find themselves on that line. We desperately need this by-pass but someone has to be hurt. The benefits to the community are undoubted and naturally the Government would not have considered building it but for the fact that the A41 is highly congested and the traffic upon it is doing immense damage to the towns lying on that route.
People have been very worried because while those on the line of the route will have their houses taken and receive fair compensation, those just off the route did not know what was to happen. Now at last this principle is recognised and those not actually displaced by the motorway will receive compensation. This is excellent.
It is a fine thing that compensation is to be paid for aircraft noise which is a scourge in Hertfordshire. During the Third London Airport inquiry it was found that Cublington was totally unsatisfactory as an alternative site because of the immense damage which would be done to Buckinghamshire. Instead we have an airport at Luton which is doing as much damage to Hertfordshire as Cublington would have done to Buckinghamshire but which is doing it 10 years earlier. We have this great difficulty of the aircraft having to fly, for control reasons, between 3,000–4,000 ft. for 20–25 miles as they leave Luton. This makes the most horrible din on the ground beneath.
Unfortunately, at the moment, any recognition of worsenment only occurs where there is a change at the airport resulting in increased noise. If a new runway is built, presumably aligned in a different direction, other people will be affected. At Luton, there has been a slow build-up of aircraft noise, the airport having been in existence since before the war. It was only in 1968 that the first jet aircraft started operating from there and the full effect of noise was felt. But it has increased at a rate of about 25 per cent. a year cumulatively since 1968. So, we are at our wits' end with aircraft noise now. As I understand it, however, there is to be no compensation for that because it already exists.
If the Secretary of State gives permission for the runway to be strengthened— 79 which is the proposal now—it will not result in any greater aircraft noise but it will mean the ability to fly more aircraft from Luton and it will be difficult to see whether that actually results in greater aircraft noise. So on this aspect I fear that there is no great help for my constituents in the Bill as it stands.
But, of course, Clause 17 deals with soundproofing and the Government wish to lay down standards of soundproofing. The present standards are totally unsatisfactory. At Heathrow, the limit is 55 noise and number indicator. The whole of any ward part of which receives 55 n.n.i. grading is entitled to soundproofing. Luton is more generous. It has taken a figure of 45 n.n.i. and has put an additional band—I believe that it is 300 metres—outside the 45 n.n.i. contour. This hardly touches my constituency, however. It touches the village I live in but no other village in the constituency.
This is ludicrous when people are being driven insane by the noise from Luton. Although 45 n.n.i. may sound a low rating, one difficulty is the effect in the deep countryside at night. Just a few aircraft at intervals in the night can drive people to desperation. If one is wakened at midnight, at 1 a.m., at 3 a.m. and again at 5 a.m. night after night, one is driven to distraction, but the noise and number indicator is probably quite low—perhaps well below 45. Therefore, I hope that the Government, when they lay down standards, will abandon this totally inadequate measure of noise.
It is right that an airport which is seeking to make money by operating should pay for the disturbance it causes. Luton Airport boasts that it is making a considerable sum for the Luton ratepayers. Yet it will hardly pay one penny for my constituents in order to give them some measure of relief through soundproofing.
I turn now to the question of blight. I feel that the proposals here are somewhat inadequate since the blight notice in relation to, for example, a road scheme can only be served once the preferred plan has been adopted. Of course, the blight takes place at a much earlier stage. There is a cafe in my constituency which has been blighted for years because of a proposed road scheme. But the scheme 80 has never been adopted and because of that the owner of the cafe cannot serve a blight notice on anyone. Yet he has been unable to sell his cafe as a going concern because there is the possibility of the whole house being demolished at some stage.
This is the great difficulty. If someone is blighted we should try to play the game by him. Equally, of course, we do not want to blight everybody. Therefore, we have the greater danger of secrecy amongst the road planners. The Road Construction Unit, I am told, is not meant to consult county planners because that might reveal its intentions. The intentions do get leaked, however. We have seen examples of the lines of motorways being leaked. In any case, the road engineers come along and put in pegs so that it is obvious where the road is going to be. As soon as that is known, blight starts.
Equally, under the Skeffington proposals, we want to have proper public discussion. We do not want secrecy. So, if we are to have a balance between public discussion and secrecy and blight, let us be generous over blight. Of course we come back to the difficulty of increased compensation. But what is this increased compensation? It is not, as many people think, that everyone who is blighted is going to serve a blight notice, but only someone who is desperate and wants to sell his business or house and cannot do it because he is blighted.
Let the authority responsible for the blight purchase what they will be required to purchase. It will be a very small number of properties. For example, the cafe owner I have mentioned will only want to sell if he desperately wants to retire, for example, and he should be entitled to serve a blight notice. The expense is great but what are the public acquiring? It is not money thrown away, but a valuable asset. On the whole, land or property increase in value year by year, and it may well be that the acquiring authority gets a rising asset.
In my constituency, we had a case where a man wished to leave his home, which was on the proposed line of a motorway. He was able to serve a blight notice. The house has been bought and he has moved. He is happy and I think that the Department ought to be happy 81 at having acquired that house 18 months ago. It has increased, I suppose, about 50 per cent. in value by now, and if the motorway goes a different way the Department will make a handsome profit on resale of the house. So we should not be frightened of extending blight notices. We do not want to go too far, but from roughly 12 months after a proposal has been introduced which does have a blighting effect, a man should be entitled to serve a blight notice.
Subject to these reservations, I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly. It is an excellent step forward and I am glad to see it.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)
I agree with the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) in extending to this Bill a welcome which has been expressed already on this side by my right hon. and hon. Friends. I do so because it continues the work which we on this side began when we were in Government. There are, however, one or two points I would place before the House because I think they are worthy of consideration by the Government.
The first is this. There are a large number of my constituents who have suffered and are suffering considerable hardship in view of the construction of the Heads of the Valleys trunk road which, when completed, will link with the M4 at Llandarcy. I am sorry that the element of compensation in the Bill does not run as wide as I would like to see it. Therefore, a number of my constituents will not benefit from the provisions of the Bill as they might have. I should have liked to see some attempt made to compensate those who suffer as a result of the carrying out of public works even though their land or other property is not acquired for such public works. I refer to the damage suffered by and the disturbance inflicted upon those who have to put up with the transportation of materials in heavy vehicles to construct public roads and road schemes. Such a situation can mean a decline in property values, a situation which has been represented to me by the residents of Gilfach Road which is near my own home in Neath.
It is, perhaps, unfortunate that we do not have on the Government Bench a Minister from the Welsh Office.
§ Mr. Coleman
I hope that in Committee such a Minister will be a member of the Committee on the Bill.
§ Mr. Coleman
I hope that the Minister or the Secretary of State for Wales, who knows a great deal about this problem I have been talking about, will see if there is some way in which help can be given to people such as my constituents.
I turn to another omission from the Bill which I would represent to the Minister as the cause of considerable injustice to a large number of our fellow citizens. The group I am referring to are the travelling showmen who conduct travelling fairs throughout England, Wales and Scotland. There are some 4,000 travelling showmen. With their families that means that there are between 12,000 and 15,000 persons whose accommodation could be affected. Their homes are their caravans. Because of their business it is impracticable for them to live in houses. These people, however, must have winter quarter sites for their caravans, when they are not travelling during the winter months. This need has been recognised in Schedule 1 to the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act, 1960, by which exemption was given for such sites from site licensing. Such sites as those used by showmen for winter quarters are usually situated on the outskirts of towns. That enables the showmen and their families to have such facilities as shops and schools near at hand.
Such land, however, is especially vulnerable to compulsory purchase orders for housing and for roads. The difficulties which showmen have in obtaining land for winter quarters when they face the problem of their sites being taken over for public works are formidable and are ever increasing. Apart from shortage of land, local authorities are reluctant to grant planning permission for use of the land for caravan sites. Representations 83 on this point have frequently been made to the Department. Existing winter quarter sites are frequently owned by showmen, and many have been for a generation or more. In other cases they are rented, but it is ownership alone of the site which gives a showman and his family security. In four areas the Showmen's Guild, which is representative of the showmen of this country, itself owns or leases sites for its members, and there is an instance of one of these sites in the north of England have recently been the subject of a compulsory purchase order for a new trunk road.
I would ask the Minister if he would look again at Clause 31 of the Bill which deals with the duty of local authorities to rehouse those who have been displaced from their dwellings where suitable accommodation is not available. It is only common justice which showmen and their families have a right to in respect of their winter quarter sites that they should be treated as other residential occupiers who are displaced from their dwellings. At present the only assistance which the Department can give following a public inquiry is to recommend the local authority to assist if it can. This the Secretary of State frequently does, but local authorities have other things to think of, and there is this absence of an obligation in Clause 31 to assist the travelling showmen. The travelling showmen do not have the ratepayers' money spent on them in the provision of caravan sites, as the local authorities have to spend it on gypsies. They make no complaint about this. Indeed, they prefer to be independent. They only ask that when the land upon which their homes stand is acquired by a compulsory purchase order they are placed in the same position as that of persons whose homes happen to be houses.
This Bill is an attempt to bring a new sense of justice to those who find themselves having to suffer hardship because of the desire on the part of authority to improve the amenities of our lives, and I hope that the Minister will find himself able to give some relief or compensation to those who are affected as I have tried to show.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Shaw (Scarborough and Whitby)
I have a good deal of sympathy 84 with the case that the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) has been making for the travelling showmen. We have a considerable number of them in Yorkshire. The hon. Member is absolutely right that when winter comes they go back to base, and if that base is compulsorily acquired they are put in a very unfair position. I must say I would support him in the views he has expressed on this point.
I was interested to hear him tell us about the extension of a motorway which was taking place in or near his constituency for I myself am having this embarrassing experience of traffic flow arising from a motorway which is not quite complete—where two M roads come together but the middle is missing; and when the traffic finds its way around the bottom of one's garden it is obvious how urgently needed are the provisions of this Bill.
I am glad to feel that the Bill has been generally welcomed this afternoon. It is a Bill which is overdue. Obviously, ours is a small island; obviously we have a large population; equally obviously, that will create the need for change and development throughout the country. If we are to get the change and the development we need we must make sure that the property, the homes, which we acquire to bring about the general good are acquired fairly, with proper compensation paid to the individuals who have to suffer for the general good.
It is being realised that it is no longer necessary to move from the centre of cities and great industrial areas and create residential deserts in the cities. We are finding once again, with planning, modern development and, above all, smoke abatement, the pleasure of living in cities. It is apparent on visiting the big cities that there is a reawakening of a desire to live in the older parts of those cities. That does nothing but good for our national life. But now those cities are endangered not by the old dangers of smoke and filth, but by great concrete roads suddenly being placed right through them. If planners make decisions to build these roads, which we accept are necessary, they must take into account every consideration, not least the well being and the convenience of those who live in the area.
I am sure that the Bill will go far to put into effect a much closer and realistic cost/benefit analysis of the true costing of motorways and of other public works 85 We must ensure that the new-found life of our cities is not destroyed by the careless building of roads as we have seen in the past. The value of the peace and quiet of a family's home can be destroyed and the value of their property reduced. The income from a business can vanish. If that must happen, then let proper compensation be paid and let the planners consider that before they make their final decision.
Similar considerations apply, although often in a different way, to the countryside. Adequate compensation must go, not only to those whose land is acquired, but to those whose rights are affected in any way. Most of us have seen the National Farmers' Union's criticisms. The union makes the valid point that each year 70,000 acres of agricultural land goes out of production. Therefore, every time that land is bought for public works there is less land available for the farmer whose land has been compulsorily acquired to choose from when he seeks his new farm.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Sir F. Corfield). In the city or in the country, the provision of fair and adequate compensation gives the planning authorities a much truer cost of the development. That is particularly important when a decision has to be made about whether to go through an easy route of rich farmland or to take a more difficult route through some less prosperous and less hard-worked hilly country.
There are some matters not covered by the Bill—for example, development in country areas, particularly in the national parks. Part of my constituency is in a national park. It is important to maintain the attractiveness and character of the villages in national parks. The difficulty is that the more attractive the villages are the more people want to live in them. The more people want to live in them the more difficult it becomes for the local people, who have lived and worked there and who have their roots there, to continue to live there. Sometimes it becomes more difficult for employment to continue.
Farming communities must change and they must grow if they are to remain alive. But often they are ossified by too 86 much well-meant planning. They become havens for the retired and for weekenders but a deprivation for the original villagers and their children.
My next point concerns planning blight. In Scarborough there is very serious planning blight and, as the Bill stands, I do not think that the situation will be helped. For many years the future of the centre of Scarborough has been under discussion. After many years of discussion plans were put forward for central development areas. A public inquiry was held in 1965. After that inquiry the then Minister of Housing and Local Government turned down the plans. There are still no plans agreed for the centre of Scarborough, although I understand that much work has gone into their preparation.
Many heartbreaking cases have come to me which I have passed to the Minister. I have been unable, because of the state of the law, to get any satisfaction. Elderly people seeking to sell up and to move because they can no longer live alone often fail to find a buyer and so in large measure fail to preserve what has been their life savings, their house. People with the offer of new and better jobs have not been able to move away from the district to take them because they have not been able to sell their house. And, most tragic of all, people who have small businesses have had to work harder each year as the business has been going down hill because the district has been going down hill. They have had to get rid of their assistants because they could no longer afford them. They have worked longer and longer hours. Some of them, alas, in the end have been told by their doctors that they will have to give up their business or else they will pass out of this world.
Those are real tragedies which have gone on for far too long in places like Scarborough. If something can be done through the Bill to help cases such as that, the Bill will bring tremendous relief. It is largely a question of time and speeding the processes of planning and, when they cannot be speeded, attempting to bring some alleviation by compensation. Until a plan has been prepared and approved no loan sanction or grant will be made to a local authority to enable it to help in deserving cases.
87 I welcome the principles embodied in the Bill. I hope that it will be possible to amend it in some of its detail. But I hope, above all, that we shall give it a speedy passage through its various stages.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. R. B. Cant (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
My interest in the Bill derives largely from the fact that I am chairman of the Stoke-on-Treat planning committee and urban renewal sub-committee.
We are reminded almost daily that we are moving into the decade of the urban motorway and all the problems which it brings with it. I do not agree with the severe strictures made of the urban motorways by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay); his reaction to their development is perhaps unduly distorted by the fact that he lives in London. In some of the older industrial cities and towns, the urban motorways may—although we shall pay a heavy price for them—make a contribution to the release of a great deal of land for potential industrial and commercial development, and may even hasten urban renewal because many slum houses of the worst kind will be pulled down.
I agree with those who are afraid of the activities of highway engineers. The Secretary of State will soon find that his Department is dominated by the engineers and that the planners and architects are very small fry in his great empire and establishment.
A number of possible amendments to the Bill have been suggested, and I agree with many of them. I have listed 13, but I shall not weary the House with them. I wish to refer to the financial aspect of this matter. I am not sure what burden will fall on local authorities. I have a special interest in local government matters, and I suppose that a great deal will depend on the legislation under which the work is carried out. Will the authorities receive 75 per cent. or 50 per cent. grants, or a nil grant, or a general contribution under the rate support grant?
The only other aspect of the financial problem to which I wish to refer is the question of the multiplier of rateable value which, in the White Paper, was merely a matter of three. In the Bill it is seven before April and three after 88 April. That is very interesting because, in a short debate on the rateable values of the gas undertakings, the Minister of Local Government and Development said that, in effect, the average change in rateable values would be three. If that is so, I agree that the figure should be at least nine—
§ The Minister of Local Government and Development (Mr. Graham Page)
I do not recollect saying that. I thought I said that it was 2½ times.
§ Mr. Cant
That may be true. Perhaps my memory is at fault, or I am biased in favour of residential property. However, the Minister seemed to give the impression that people living in houses may be worse off than those who occupy offices or run industries. The 7:3 ratio throws up all sorts of interesting speculations.
I wish to take up a great deficiency in the Bill, namely, the continued acceptance of market value and disturbance payment as a basis for compensation. If there is anything which seems 100 per cent. correct in theory or principle it is that compensation should be related to market value plus disturbance. It borders almost on generosity. However, one finds from talking to people who are victims of what is happening as a consequence, for example, of the building of motorways in towns, that in many cases the results are nothing less than a travesty of social justice, personal agony and sometimes tragedy for the people concerned.
I could give the Minister a number of examples of that. A person occupying a terraced property—and I am talking in terms of the very low values which apply in a provincial city like Stoke; I am not bemused by the preposterous values in the great metropolis of London—may be offered £850. He may point out that only a couple of years have elapsed since an improvement grant of £675 was made for the property. Therefore, the net figure is almost ludicrous. Not only do these corridors of concrete mop up the older terraced property; they take delightful specimens of semi-detached houses in their train as well. In this case the compensation is much more generous. It might reach £2,800.
It is time that the Government considered this very serious problem and 89 did not simply continue to pay homage to the splendid principle of market value plus disturbance payment.
If the amount to be paid is disputed an interesting situation arises. A valuer will give his conception of the market value plus disturbance payment. I suggest to the Minister that the data on which valuers base their offers of compensation are completely out of date.
Another development proves the total inadequacy and injustice of the present situation. Valuers say, "If you are not satisfied with my valuation, provide evidence to the contrary." It is totally unjust to expect people—many of them inarticulate and old—to comb auction rooms, or to do anything else that may be necessary so as to provide valuers with up-to-date data on current market prices. The onus should not be on them. If that means more valuers, that should be accepted.
Instead of market value—if that is what market value means—the Government should accept the principle of equivalent reinstatement. Anybody whose house is demolished to make room for an urban motorway, or for any other purpose, should be given a sum to enable him to buy another property of the same age, the same condition, the same character, and in the same sort of locality, so that he may transfer to his new home without financial burden. I should like to say more about that and to do so with greater passion, for it strikes me as one thing that the Government should do.
In the interests of social justice something should be done about the Lands Tribunal. I have had correspondence with the Department about that. No doubt the Lands Tribunal is an excellent body, but for anyone to tell people that they have a right of appeal against the decision of a district valuer by going to the Lands Tribunal is nothing short of abuse. It is outside this problem, but I have the instance of a constituent who, after a long period of dispute, went to the tribunal. I will falsify the figures slightly, but the message is unaltered; his compensation was £50,000 and the cost of going to the tribunal was £51,000. That was to settle a dispute that arose in 1958.
I return to the poorer people who are expected to go through that procedure. 90 I know that the Minister of Local Government and Development is a very humane person.
§ Mr. Cant
I know that he is a lawyer, but that does not stop his being humane. Why does he not set up a small claims court? I know all about the complexities, but many of the provisions of the Bill would have been totally unacceptable 10 years ago. At that time we could not have entertained the idea of compensation on this basis. So with the Lands Tribunal; the day will come when we shall have a small claims court enabling people to settle differences which in my constituency often do not amount to more than £100, just as they are able to settle before the rateable value tribunals disputes about what a rateable value should be.
I know that these subjects are outside the Bill, but I hope that the Minister will be able to give us his thoughts about them.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I, too, welcome the Bill, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on the part that I know he has played. Having sat with him in Committee, I know how close to him are many of the issues that we shall be discussing. I compliment him on the important part that he has played in this respect. Having said that, I should like to point out some of the defects of the Bill.
I wonder whether hon. Members have considered that the land being used, and for which the compensation is to become necessary, simply does not exist in an inexhaustible supply. In England and Wales land is now being consumed at the rate of 70,000 acres a year. It was being consumed at the rate of about 50,000 acres a year in 1955, and is likely to be consumed at the rate of about 90,000 acres a year a few years hence. More than 1 million acres have been used for development of one kind or another since 1950. A million acres is a lot of land. For instance, it is more than the whole of Leicestershire. I counsel my hon. Friends when considering the Bill to remember that the land that we are discussing is simply not in an inexhaustible supply. Bluntly, they are not making any more of it these days.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I do not detract from my hon. Friend's argument, but I should like to get the figures right. Apart from the difficulty of land not being available, the figure of 70,000 acres a year relates to agricultural land going into non-agricultural use. That is not the amount taken up by public works, which is much less.
§ Mr. Farr
I am grateful. My right hon. Friend is always right in these respects. But I understand that the vast majority of the 70,000 acres is land required for new roads, new housing, new factories and new reservoirs: a little may go for forestry. I think that if he checks my right hon. Friend will find that I am right.
It is therefore time that Her Majesty's Government did not just accept as inevitable a continuing increase in demand for land for the uses that I have mentioned. Is it necessary to plan these gigantic new motorways? In my constituency there is to be what is fondly called a new east-west highway to serve the east of England ports—which will be very busy once we are in Europe—and to whisk incoming goods straight to the west coast. The road will go through south Leicestershire or north Northamptonshire. I counsel my right hon. Friends not to make it so easy for the tremendous Continental vehicles to thunder from Lowestoft or Felixstowe to wherever they are going. The goods should come in by container and be sent by rail. The Government should not accept as inevitable that the demand for land for new roads will continue to grow as it has grown recently.
To some extent the same applies to land for reservoirs. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State seems to be of the impression that any amount of land is available to meet our need for the extra water that we shall want in the 1980s. It is forecast that by the early 1980s there will be a water shortage in the South-East. It seems that the only solution the Department has for this sad position is to build more and more reservoirs.
I counsel my right hon. Friend to study alternative methods of obtaining water which do not involve vast areas of land having to be acquired and flooded, to look with more enthusiasm and energy into our desalination policy, which seems 92 to have died during the past two years and to look again more energetically at water re-use and underground storage. I suggest that sooner or later we shall have to concentrate more on vertical construction for houses, so as to save as much land as possible for the construction of the new houses that we shall need in the 1980s.
I particularly welcome Clause 40, which meets an important point on agricultural compensation. It gives the unwilling seller of land the right to receive up to 90 per cent. of the selling price before the sale is completed. That is a sensible and generous move.
To give the House an idea of the difficulties of prospective sellers, in the past when a figure has been agreed with an unwilling seller payment might not have been made for 12 months. In the past six months alone the price of agricultural land has doubled. For instance, if the farm of my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Michael Shaw) had been compulsorily acquired in March of this year for, say, £100 an acre, and he received compensation of £100 an acre today, it would buy today only half the land it would have bought in March. Clause 40 is an excellent provision because, as the amount of agricultural land available is declining rapidly, the price is likely to continue to increase.
I welcome Clause 57. For a landowner or farmer whose land has been blighted by development it is a sensible idea to enable an acquiring authority to acquire the balance of the land available which is no longer an economic unit.
There is still a good deal of unfairness. There is unfairness to tenant farmers and to owner-occupiers engaged in farming. With those few remarks, and in the hope that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind that land is not in inexhaustible supply, I welcome the Bill.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Barnes (Brentford and Chiswick)
I am not sure that I agree with what the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) said about vertical construction. He should talk to some of the people in my constituency who used to live in terraced streets, which they loved, and which have been bulldozed away to make room for tower blocks of flats.
93 The Bill is of particular interest in my constituency, which is especially afflicted by a combination of road and air traffic. The M4 begins in Brentford and Chiswick the A4 runs through the constituency, the North Circular Road—which the Greater London Council plans to make one of the ringways—begins there, and there is the A316, which is probably due to be realigned and improved to become a feeder road for the M3. Happily, the worst threat for the constituency—the southern section of Ringway 2—appears to have been removed from over our heads for the time being by a belated decision of the GLC not to build the Chiswick section of that Ringway at least for 20 years or so—a decision no doubt arrived at with one eye on the GLC elections.
There has for long been the feeling in my constituency that it is wrong that compensation should be payable only where land is actually taken, and that there should be no compensation for loss of amenity and injurious affection. To that extent the Bill is very welcome.
The figures in the Financial Memorandum are not very large. I am not sure that I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) that the Bill is likely to be a check on road building. The £65 million a year compensation figure given by the Secretary of State must be compared with the £2,000 million which the GLC's original ringway plans for London would have cost. As some of my hon. Friends have suggested, the effect of the additional powers given to local authorities could be to give greater encouragement to the type of road building that is most destructive of the environment, such as the GLC's plans for London.
§ Mr. Mulley
I hope that as a result of the Bill there is no fall-off in road building where it is needed, but what the Secretary of State has not told us is the basis on which the £65 million is calculated. The size of the road programme will determine the amount of compensation, and it is because that figure is relatively low that the road programme is not likely to expand.
§ Mr. Barnes
That is certainly so. There are several points that the Committee will want to look at closely, but I will refer only to the most important ones concerned with principle.
94 The first is compensation for injurious affection. This will be payable only as a result of developments that came into use after 17th October, 1969. It is obvious that the Government must draw a line somewhere, but the Secretary of State should have discretionary powers in certain special cases to enable compensation to be paid for developments coming into use before that date. One such case is Adelaide Terrace, in my constituency of Brentford on the Great West Road. The situation for the people living there is far worse than it is in Acklam Road, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann). There was a big enough row about Acklam Road when Westway was planned a few years ago.
Adelaide Terrace is an appalling example of how not to build urban motorways. The elevated section of the M4 is about the same distance from the houses as it is in Acklam Road, but the houses in Adelaide Terrace are much lower, so that all the people can see is the elevated section of the M4. They have no view over the top of the motorway. Not only that, but under the elevated section of the M4 there are the six lanes of the A4 at ground level. About 25 houses are affected. Most of them are owner-occupied, and most of those that are owner-occupied were bought by the present owners before the elevated section of the M4 was opened in 1965. The injurious affection that they have suffered is so monstrous that the Secretary of State should have special powers to enable compensation to be paid to them.
Another point on the injurious affection proposals is that compensation is not payable for increased use. The White Paper says that people must expect existing facilities to be put to their full potential use. That may be all right as a general principle, and probably all right in the vast majority of traffic management schemes, but there are some traffic management schemes which change the character of a road in ways that could not possibly have been foreseen at the time a property was bought. A quiet, residential road can be totally transformed by a stream of traffic twice a day, with all the fumes and noise that it involves.
We must remember that when the Concorde comes into operation at London Airport there will be a considerable 95 change of use. The Bill provides that compensation is to be paid for injurious affection at airports only if there are significant alterations, such as new runways or extensions, or the strengthening of existing runways. But if Concorde makes as much noise as at present it looks like making on take-off and landing, especially at a time when most aircraft are becoming quieter, this should surely be covered by the terms of the Bill. If Concorde services are to become at all frequent at London Airport, this will be a change of use at that airport which will affect those living directly under the glide path; it will be a change of use totally different from anything which could have been foreseen in earlier times.
I agree with what has been said about the qualifying period in terms of home loss. I certainly feel that the period should be much less than seven years. I agree with the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Park, of a period of three years, because people who live in London, for example, move house frequently. They often experience great difficulty in finding new houses. If the qualifying period were reduced the home loss payment could be of great advantage to many families who have not lived in their houses for as long as seven years.
Those are the main points to which I wish to draw attention, and no doubt we shall mention them again in Committee. The Bill is welcome in principle, although it remains to be seen how satisfactory it will work in practice.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office (Mr. George Younger)
I hope that I may be allowed to intervene briefly to explain a small but important point, namely, how the legislation will be effected in Parliament in terms of Scottish interests.
There is a separate compensation code for Scotland which is consolidated in the Land Compensation (Scotland) Act 1963. That Act offers Scotsmen who are affected by the land and wayleave acquisitions of public authorities terms precisely the same as those obtainable in England and Wales. I am sure that Scottish Members would agree that this state of affairs should continue. It was right, therefore, that the comprehensive study of compensation 96 problems which preceded this legislation was carried out on a Great Britain basis, and it is right that the legislation should be framed and dealt with in this House on a Great Britain basis.
Because of the differences in terminology and legal practice between Scotland and England, and the fact that many of the statutes to which reference has to be made in the Land Compensation Bill are separate and different for Scotland, many Scottish adaptation provisions have had to be written into the Bill. We have taken the trouble to ensure that these are so framed and placed as to give Scottish Members every opportunity to appreciate and debate the effect of the Bill in Scotland.
Therefore, although the Bill in its present form can effectively be considered and debated by Scottish Members, there will still be a significant gain in convenience and comprehensibility to those in Scotland who in future will have to operate the Bill if the Scottish provisions are eventually reproduced separately when the legislation becomes law. Therefore, the Government propose that when the Great Britain Bill has received Royal Assent a resolution should be put before the House seeking its authority for reenactment of the Bill for Scotland through the consolidation procedure.
§ Mr. Mulley
I do not know whether the Minister gave notice to my right hon. and hon. Friends who are particularly concerned with Scottish interests that he proposed to intervene, rather unusually, from the Front Bench in the middle of this debate. I see the force of what he said about a separate printing for Scotland, which seems to underline the point that the procedure in respect of Scotland is very unsatisfactory, especially in the way in which the Standing Committee system is framed. It is inconvenient for Scottish Members to have to serve on one of these Great Britain Committees and also to have responsibility under the Scottish Standing Committee arrangements. Since the Minister has said that there will be a separate arrangement for the Scottish provisions will he not consider withdrawing the parts of the Bill which affect Scotland and putting them into a small Scottish measure?
§ Mr. Younger
I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman, because it is of 97 the greatest importance that the compensation provisions for Scottish people should be precisely the same as those available to people in other parts of the United Kingdom. It is important that there should be uniformity, and the way in which I have outlined what will happen seems to be the right way to approach the matter. This will assist those who will be handling these matters in Scotland for many years ahead.
I am certain that what I am suggesting will be widely welcomed by those who will operate the legislation in Scotland. Indeed, I believe that we should be criticised if we did not do something of this kind. I am sure that this arrangement will receive warm support by everybody in Scotland, since it will ensure that the compensation provisions are fair and uniform throughout the whole of Great Britain.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Widnes)
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not take up the Scottish point which he raised, but I endorse the comment made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), namely, that it is difficult for Scottish Members to obtain places on English Standing Committees, although some Bill contain legal provisions which apply to Scotland and which need to be dealt with by Scottish Members.
I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in welcoming the Bill, but my welcome is tempered with a number a criticisms. I welcome this measure because the principle of the Bill is to compensate, in various ways, those who, in the interests of the public good, have to sacrifice their homes, comfort or livelihood. Over the years successive Governments of both political complexions have neglected or ignored the claims of many people who have been injuriously affected by public developments against which they had no redress. We must remember that in this respect we are dealing with questions of last resort.
The Secretary of State for the Environment correctly drew attention to paragraphs 6 and 7 of the White Paper, which clearly stress the need for good planning and, wherever possible, the avoidance of the disruption of people's lives. That 98 may seem to hon. Members to be axiomatic, but unfortunately it is not always axiomatic in planners' minds. Planners sometimes appear to ignore this simple maxim.
I digress for a moment to give two constituency examples of what I mean. In 1962 a bridge was built over the Mersey, between my constituency and Runcorn. It was known before it was built that it would be too small for its requirements. Last year it was decided that the bridge should be widened—a not inconsiderable engineering feat, since it is a single-span bridge. In the course of that work there will be tremendous disruption of traffic across the Mersey and there will be great environmental blight for those who live directly beneath the bridge. It may be said that it is necessary in the interests of the mobility of traffic movement, and that may be right. At the same time that the bridge is being widened, however, a feasibility study is being conducted with a view to building another bridge alongside the existing one. Clearly that is not only bad planning, which is creating environmental blight; it is also a gross waste of public money. I have drawn it to the attention of the Minister of Local Government and Development, and I know that he is looking into it. But that is the sort of silly planning which creates environmental blight.
Another example is the proposal of Liverpool unilaterally to extend its airport without considering neighbouring authorities when there is already a perfectly good airport at Manchester. It is true that under the provisions of the Bill people will have the right to various protections if that development takes place, and I welcome them. But this House should realise that people do not necessarily want their homes turned into double-glazed, soundproofed, barricaded fortresses; they want to live in their houses as homes. Planning is the answer, rather than any amount of soundproofing, even though it be provided from public money. It is not what people want. They want comfort, peace and the quiet enjoyment of their homes. The overriding need is for good planning. But if, in the public interest, and when all the plans have been considered, there is no escape but that some people should suffer, the 99 House should be generous with those people, because of the suffering that we, as the public, inflict upon them.
This is where I come to my criticisms of the Bill—because I do not believe that it is nearly generous enough. The principle behind the Bill is good. The hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) described his right hon. and hon. Friends eulogistically for introducing this measure despite the opposition of the Treasury. I agree that it is a valiant attempt. However, the knights of the Treasury brought out their lances and did quite a lot of damage to the Bill.
A number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have referred to Clause 23 with regard to the home loss allowance. Why did the Minister choose the period of seven years? What is the source of this magic figure of seven? Does it come from the seven days in a week, from the seven deadly sins, or from what? Why should a person be required to reside in a house for seven years before it is considered to be his home? If he has lived there for three years, or even for seven months, it is surely just as much his home. If he is dispossessed, all sorts of payments and disbursements follow, whether by his wife or fitted curtains and carpets, or by him for new rose trees for the garden. He is entitled to compensation for having spent hours decorating the place. If he has been there for only a short time, the more perhaps, he should be compensated for the loss of his home. In Committee, I hope that the Government will consider deleting the time limit altogether. I do not see the need for it, and I do not believe that its deletion would be all that expensive.
I give another example of the petty meanness in the Bill. Clause 7 provides that the first £50 of any claim will be disregarded. If this was designed purely for the avoidance of small claims I would accept it, and say that the administrative machinery for dealing with such a claim might be so great that it would not be worth £50. But it does not say that. It says that only the amount in excess of £50 will be paid to any claimant. Why should we rob a claimant of £50 of the money to which he is entitled under the Bill for the disturbance that he suffers?
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) 100 referred to some of the provisions in Clause 9(3), relating to airports, which specifically excludes any compensation flowing from damage relating to airports with the exception of the extension of runways. That may cause a great deal of damage. But there are many other intensifications of the use of an airport where just as much or even more damage can be done than that involved in the extension of a runway. Supposing an airport builds a big new terminal to cater for charter flights by night. Surely that is a major change of use, and a case where compensation should be given to people living round airports who have to suffer from aircraft noise at night, which is far worse than in the daytime.
I welcome the provision for shopkeepers, who have been treated shamefully by previous Governments in terms of compensation. I have in mind especially shopkeepers such as we have in the North of England, who have been in their shops for many years but who hold them on weekly tenancies. The level of compensation that they got previously for the loss not only of their homes but of their livelihoods—bearing in mind that many are men in the early 50s and 60s, and could not easily find alternative employment—was nothing short of disgraceful. To a large measure Clause 30 redresses this.
However, the Clause does not make one point clear. If a man owns his own home and has a nearby lock-up business on a weekly tenancy, and if both the owner-occupied home and the lock-up shop are within one designated area, is that person denied compensation for business use with regard to the lock-up shop? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look at that. It may not be the intention, but that could be the position under the Bill.
I come finally to the level of compensation itself—seven times the present rateable value, or three times the new rateable value. I am not sure whether the rateable value referred to in the Bill is gross or net. I hope that it is gross. The tying of values to rateable value leaves a lot to be desired, because rateable value can be an accidental factor in considering compensation.
I hope that I do not appear to be carping. These are major streaks of meanness 101 in what is otherwise a very good Bill. The tenor of this debate has shown that there is no opposition to the principles of the Bill. I hope that both sides will join hands across the Committee to make this a better Bill than it is, and to throw out the mean streaks which have been put in by the Treasury.
The Bill is limited to public works. What about private development? Is not a person equally prejudiced by the opening of an open-cast mine, a chemical works, or a noisome trade near his premises? It may be said that in such a case he has his remedy for nuisance at common law. Today, that is not a possibility, mainly because of the cost. Even if many individuals join together it is difficult for them to meet the costs of an action against an enormous corporation. What is more, assuming that an individual gets the costs together, the state of our planning law is such that it is difficult to proceed with an action for nuisance at common law. As the right hon. Gentleman will see if he looks at any calendar of cases, very few such cases are taken, although many could be.
I welcome the Bill, which I hope will be the first step to another Bill—from this Government—to give equal rights of compensation, prescribed by statute and not under common law, to those affected by private as well as public development, based on the principle which the present Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—whom I hope has not changed his mind with his job—has expounded in the House, namely, that the polluter should pay.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I hope that the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) will forgive me if I do not follow him over his bridge at Widnes. I share some of the criticisms that the hon. Member made of the Bill. Unfortunately, however, there is a tendency to be churlish towards a Government who have at long last grappled with a serious problem concerning compensation. The Bill is unique and radical in its proposals, and for those reasons I welcome it.
My diffidence in rising to speak is caused by the fact that the last time I spoke on the Second Reading of a Bill concerning money and housing I was 102 lumbered on the Standing Committee which considered the Housing Finance Bill and cost me precisely 257 hours of my life. I hope that the Whip on duty, my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins), will take this as an early application for a dispensation from serving on the Standing Committee which considers this Bill.
The Bill tries to grapple with the problem of reconciling public needs and individual rights and deals for the first time with the question of injurious affection or, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) put it, perhaps a little more concisely if less delicately, worsenment in introducing the Second Reading of his Private Member's Bill on 27th February 1970. That in a sense was a forerunner of what the Government seek to do.
One important spin-off from the Bill when enacted will be that it will make those responsible for planning public structures more careful about where they put them. The classic example of this is to be found in the motorway network system. We have at long last completed the first generation of motorways which gives us a superficial national network. That network was first planned in the 1930s. When it was planned, although the exact lines of the motorway were not created then, the conditions were different from those prevailing today. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Kinsey) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) will agree that had the effects which exist today existed in the 1930s no national motorway network could have been put through, for example, north-east Birmingham. The realisation that consideration will have to be paid to damage done to people's lives will be reflected in better planning policies and decisions.
The question of blight and the serving of blight notices is at the crux of many of the difficulties we face and the injustices which are seen to be done. I welcome the extension under the Bill of the ability to serve a blight notice, not only as hitherto when the development is about to take place, but also to land affected by proposals in development plans, where the plan has not yet come into force.
103 Difficulties and unfairness have been quoted. From my experience as a planning consultant I make a personal plea to the Government for them to see if it is possible to extend this important new proposal to where alternative routes have been proposed but one has not yet been chosen. This could be of actual benefit to the Department of the Environment or local planning authorities in acquiring property or land even if the route on which that property is situated is not finally selected for the motorway or new road. Land and house prices tend to rise rather than fall, so in the long term it could be good investment policy to require local authorities to enter into negotiation to acquire such property or land.
I welcome Clause 57 which enables local authorities compulsorily to purchase a whole farm unit in a case where the compulsory purchase of part of it would make the remainder uneconomic. Can this be extended to residences and commercial and industrial properties particularly in urban areas? I link my suggestion to Clause 35, which provides:Where land is acquired from any person for the purpose of works which are to be situated partly on that land and partly elsewhere, compensation for injurious affection of land retained by that person shall be assessed by reference to the whole of the works and not only the part situated on the land acquired from him.I am not very worried about the question of including loss of visual amenity in other matters that come within the ambit of compensation. If it cannot be heard, smelt or felt in the form of vibration but can be seen, there is less likelihood of no real loss of visual amenity, especially when in contradistinction under Clause 1 artificial lighting is deemed to be a disturbance. There may be the exceptional case such as Spaghetti Junction, as it is euphemistically called, but my view is that many properties near there or similar properties would qualify on grounds of disturbance because of noise, fumes or vibration.
The constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr have suffered greatly if their residences are near the line of the new M6. Grants can be made for sound insulation. However, some buil- 104 dings are so near the cause of disturbance that no matter how much sound insulation were carried out they would still be unfit for human habitation. I hope that the qualifying level of 70 decibels will be lowered because some noise levels below that are intolerable.
I agree with the hon. Member for Widnes that the Bill should be extended to cover injurious affection arising from private development. The radical proposal under the Bill, which is welcomed on both sides, emphasises that it should not matter whether the construction or building is undertaken by private enterprise, by a Government Department—at national or local level—or by a statutory undertaking. This is particularly so in relation to industrial works, commercial works and even, in a sense, residential buildings such as hotels. I very much echo the sentiments of the hon. Member for Widnes when he put forward this point. Of course, there is redress in the civil court and in many other ways. Of course, a person has a right to his easements, as I believe they are called, whether it is the right of light or the right of way. But going to law is necessarily expensive, and, whilst I very much advocate the need which was referred to by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) for small claims courts to be set up, certainly if they cannot be set up the law ought to be changed so that it becomes easier for ordinary people to treat with these concerns.
I particularly welcome the right to advance payment to help individuals find alternative accommodation. I believe this is a definite right, according to the Bill, but if it is only discretionary, I am very wary about local authorities honouring discretionary powers.
§ Mr. Graham Page
The right to advance payment is in the Bill. If the person whose property is being acquired asks for an advance payment, he has a right to the 90 per cent. advance payment.
§ Mr. Chapman
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. That is what I thought the position was before the intervention of the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) earlier in the debate.
105 I welcome also the home loss payments, as they are called, although I wish that they could be extended; I fail to understand the qualification of the seven-year period. I welcome also the duty to rehouse residents who in many cases cannot afford other accommodation, even though they get the full market value of the accommodation out of which they are moved.
This Bill deals with a massive problem. My right hon. Friend said that the current estimate of public works and constructional plans was £4,300 million, of which £3,000 million was for new roads and motorways. We are talking about a Bill which, the best estimates show, will involve an expenditure by central government and local authorities of about £70 million a year—less than 2 per cent. I very much hope that when the Bill gets on to the Statute Book and as events proceed the proportion will be increased.
This Bill gives fairer compensation to more people. It necessarily involves changes in the existing law and changes in the future, but we are living in a changing scene and a changing society, and I very much welcome these radical proposals, unique in one sense, which will alleviate much of the bitterness that surrounds public planning.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Terry Davis (Bromsgrove)
With one major exception I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Mr. Sydney Chapman). I should have thought that everybody inside and outside the House would welcome the Bill, because the present situation is totally unsatisfactory. This Bill is especially important for the West Midlands region because we have so many new developments in the area surrounding Birmingham. I sometimes think that all these new roads come to Birmingham, and far too many of them come through my constituency of Bromsgrove and Redditch.
I feel, however, that this Bill is only a step in the right direction. I urge the Government to go much further in other ways. I echo the pleas made by the hon. Member for Handsworth and my hon. Friends. One point on which I disagree with the hon. Member for Handsworth concerns the right of compensation for injurious affection. There 106 is a very strong case for saying that there should be compensation for the visual effect of new roads.
Let me take one illustration from my constituency. A proposed route for the M42 motorway has been announced. According to this proposal, the motorway will run along a mile-long embankment near the village of Alvechurch, through the Green Belt and across a valley. Several people in houses with a view of the countryside will instead have a view of the motorway if this route is approved. It is no use saying that the motorway will be too far away for these people to be affected. It is true that they will not have much noise and they will not smell the fumes from the motorway, but they will be able to see the motorway, and it will be across the view because of which most people move into that area. These people bought their houses because they wanted to enjoy the country view, and this motorway will rob them of that view. If the motorway must be built across that valley they have some right, surely, to compensation for injurious affection.
Another illustration occurred in Bromsgrove two or three years ago when some large storage tanks were erected on British Rail property. It was impossible for the local planning authority to object because of the regulations concerning development on British Rail property. These large storage tanks dominated a residential road in the town. The people do not smell the contents of the storage tanks; there is no noise from the tanks, but the environment of that road has been totally transformed. Again, there is a case for saying that they have suffered an injury for which they should be compensated.
§ Mr. Idris Owen (Stockport, North)
The hon. Gentleman is putting forward rather a dangerous doctrine. It is recognised that one never acquires a view with a property. Who can say what disturbs the view? It could be a housing estate. A man may have acquired a most delightful prospect when he bought his home. Suddenly there could be planning consent for the fields over which he looked, and he would have lost his view.
§ Mr. Davis
I am aware that one does not have a right to a view. We have all heard of cases of planning permission 107 being given for development on neighbouring fields to existing housing. I have a tragic case in my constituency at the moment. If that has been the situation in the past, it is time that we looked again at these cases of motorways, public works and major developments which totally transform the environment. People have bought their homes because they wanted to live in a certain environment. It is no use saying that people have not been injured, because the value of their houses will have been affected. They should get compensation.
As I understand this part of the Bill, there is no compensation for injurious affection suffered by tenants. I recognise that the landlord is entitled to some compensation for the loss of his investment because the value of the house that he owns has been reduced by the development. But the tenant has to live with the new road, and there is a case for saying that tenants should have some compensation for the injury which they suffer from noise, smell and, I would say, disturbance of the view as well.
I now turn to the part of the Bill dealing with home loss payment. Several hon. Members have referred to the period of seven years' occupation which is necessary to enable one to qualify for this new payment. Many have said that this period is too long. Indeed, why should there be a qualifying period at all? A man bought a house in my constituency. Searches were carried out and inquiries were made by his solicitors from the county council in September. He bought the house and moved into it in October. A week later a man from the county council arrived to bring the news that the road was going to be widened, which would destroy the garden which was the main reason for his buying the house. If the local authority had wanted to take the house as well, he would not have qualified for home loss payment under the Bill, and I suggest that the Minister ought to look again at this qualifying period of seven years' occupation.
The home loss payment can only be made if the notice to treat has been served under a compulsory purchase order. I want the Government to look at this point as well. I have known of many people who sold their houses to the local authority or to the development corpora- 108 tion of Redditch new town because a compulsory purchase order was coming. They sold before the compulsory purchase order was made and before formal notice to treat had been served. They would not qualify for the home loss payment.
It is unfair that people in such circumstances should have to wait for confirmation of the compulsory purchase order and service of the notice to treat. When someone knows that he will lose his home, he starts to look for another house at once, and, having found a house, in present circumstances he must not delay; he must acquire his new home at once. But if he does that before notice to treat has been served, he will not have the home loss payment. Moreover, if he serves a notice on the local authority to compel it to purchase his house before the compulsory purchase order is laid, he will lose his payment. I regard this as unfair, and I want the Government to explain why they have imposed that restriction on the home loss payment.
A similar question arises regarding the disturbance allowance. According to the Bill, this allowance is for people who have no other claim to compensation. Much the same point arises in connection with removal expenses, too. I know of people who have sold their property to the Redditch Development Corporation but who have not been entitled to receive their removal expenses because they sold before the compulsory purchase order was confirmed. This also is unfair. They find a new house, which in some cases is not as good as the one they are losing but it is a house to which they are willing to move. They recognise that they have to surrender their home, but they will not have the disturbance allowance or their removal expenses because they have not waited for a compulsory purchase order.
There is welcome provision in the Bill for rehousing. No one has mentioned this in the debate so far, but I regard it as an important provision because, although it does little more than recognise what many local authorities do in any case, I think it wise to write it into the law. However, I have two reservations about the rehousing of tenants.
In a number of instances landlords hold out in the hope that the tenant will move, so that they may have vacant possession before selling the property to 109 the local authority or development corporation. I do not suggest that in such cases there is deliberate harassment, but a tenant, perhaps an elderly person, may well be left in a house surrounded by empty property, and there is a great deal of anxiety and a lot of moral pressure on the tenant in such circumstances to move out of the house as soon as it is possible to obtain alternative accommodation. This is to the financial advantage of the landlord, and there is nothing in the Bill to make the housing authority provide alternative accommodation for tenants in such circumstances. In my experience, a housing authority will not provide alternative accommodation until the purchase of the house has been completed, so the tenant suffers in that sort of situation.
Second, even where the tenant is transferred into local authority accommodation, he may well have to face a higher rent. This is especially so in a new town where the housing authority is the development corporation. Tenants may be moved from older property which is in perfectly fit condition but which is required for a new road, and they have to accept a new house, or even an old house, at a rent much higher than they paid in their previous home. The situation has been made worse, I should add, by the Government's Housing Finance Act, which has made it impossible for the local authority to give generous concessionary rebates to tenants in this situation.
I know of cases where that has happened. I think, in particular, of a tenant whose rent has tripled in four years, first, as the result of having to move out of his old home, and second, as a result of the Housing Finance Act.
Several hon. Members have referred to the effect of planning blight. I see nothing in the Bill to help in that situation. In my own constituency, I have had experience of it through delay in publishing a proposed route for the M42 motorway. There is nothing in the Bill which will help people in these circumstances, and the problem is growing. Hardly a week passes without a new road or some other development in Redditch new town being announced, and planning blight is affecting more and more people. Only last Friday evening, I learned from the Birmingham Evening Mail that it is possible that we shall have another motor- 110 way, an extension to the M42, going through two more villages in my constituency. At once, planning blight will strike, because people now know that the planners are considering a new motorway which will affect that part of North Worcestershire. They have no compensation. There is no redress. If they have difficulty in selling their homes, there is nothing they can do pending publication of the proposed route.
The Bill does not make motorways more acceptable to the people who are affected by them. I hope that the Minister will not take from this debate any impression that k does. The Bill will do a great deal to ease or redress the financial losses which people have suffered in the past, but it will not make a motorway more acceptable. It is an old saying that money does not pay for everything, and, like all old sayings, there is more than a kernel of truth in it. If someone suffers as a result of a new motorway the Bill will help to avoid financial loss, but it will not compensate for the other losses which people sustain.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I agree with much of what was said by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Terry Davis). Fairly recently, I drove, at a reasonable speed, I hope, through his constituency, adding not very much, I trust, to the pollution. Since driving through his constituency, however, I have driven on the Boulevard Périphérique outside Paris, and I am sure that that ringway for Paris has done a great deal to ease the difficult traffic problems of that great city. I believe that we ought to have a ringway round London.
My constituency has been much affected by the "Ringway for London" controversy. Indeed, we have the worst of all worlds at the moment, or we had until recently, inasmuch as we had no adequate ring road but we had a number of lines on planners' maps which did a great deal of financial harm to my constituents and caused much unhappiness. We had three lines. We had the original line for ringway 2 set down by the GLC. Then we had a rather sensible amendment to that line suggested by the local council. These two lines between them affected not scores but hundreds of houses. Then there was 111 Parkway E, the line drawn by a planner years ago—almost in the middle ages as planning went, its origin being almost forgotten now.
Two of those lines have more or less gone. There is only partial blight left Although Parkway E continues to exist on paper and it may be that in some dusty cobwebbed office somewhere there is an ancient clerk drawing lines with a quill pen who actually believes that Parkway E will some day be built, I do not think that many other people believe it.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people have had the value of their property adversely affected. I think, in particular, of a man I know well who has a small tobacconist's shop alongside the original route of ringway 2. If that monstrosity, as it would have been for many of my constituents, had been built, that man would not only have lost most of the charm of his residence but he would have faced commercial ruin for there would have been no way by which he could have been compensated by anyone. I am delighted that there is now provision in the Bill for compensating people such as he.
I welcome the Bill warmly, for I believe that the proposals in it tend to take some of the bitterness out of the game of planner's roulette, which arbitrarily reduces the value of some property while equally arbitrarily increasing the value of other property.
Will the Minister say how long he expects the Bill to last? A number of hon. Members have said that it strikes a new balance and clearly that balance could have been struck in a slightly different way. No doubt it will be altered slightly in the course of a protracted Committee stage but is it expected that the Bill will last for a generation or is it seen merely as one of a continuing number of Bills on this subject? Obviously we cannot forecast what will be in the Queen's Speech next year, let alone five to ten years ahead, but can we expect fresh legislation within the lifetime perhaps of the next Parliament?
The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) both raised the question of a simplified procedure. The hon. Member cited the high cost of going to the Lands Tribunal. 112 I am sure that his example was an exceptional case but I know of another case in which a man with property which had been valued originally at £7,000 went to the Lands Tribunal and the valuation was increased to £17,000. But the legal costs amounted to more than £3,500. Those are clearly extraordinarily high legal costs. I come from a legal family and I do not wish to attach the legal profession in any way. But the case for a small claims court to deal with such matters is very strong. I have advocated it for consumer protection matters and I should like to see a modified procedure and a small claims court in this case also.
There is also an omission in the Bill for compensation payments in respect of temporary losses which individuals may suffer although they are not actually displaced during the construction of public works. This is a subject on which the GLC feels strongly and although that council has been criticised tonight we should pay tribute to the work it has done in the original stages of the Bill, along with the work done by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development and my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg).
I can think of a number of bad cases in my constituency where great hardship was caused by public works. In the Thayers Farm Road area of my constituency there was a great waterworks scheme which was essentially for the public good and which will benefit not only my constituency but many others too. For months steam hammers were operating day and night close to houses of my constituents and making far more noise than anything we have heard in the car park construction outside the Palace of Westminster. It persisted for months on end and caused great hardship to a large number of people and no adequate compensation was paid.
Flood prevention work has caused the closing of part of Beckenham High Street which has meant that for many months much of the traffic that would have gone down Beckenham High Street has gone down Burnhill Road, which is entirely inadequate for this sort of traffic flow. A great deal of inconvenience and hardship is being caused to my constituents there and it will continue for months to come. 113 But even under this admirable Bill there is no way in which they can be adequately compensated.
I therefore welcome the Bill but I fear that those who are chosen to sit on the Committee stage had better put in for compensation now because clearly there are many small points which will have to be dealt with.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
I agree with many of the points mentioned by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), especially in relation to compensation for injurious affection while a road is being built. The problem has affected my constituency considerably. The Aston Expressway, and the interchange, have been built there. They took years to build and during that time there was noise, vibration, dirt and mud, and the people affected have received no compensation for it. There is no provision in the law for compensation in such circumstances and there is none in the Bill. I hope the matter will be taken up in Committee.
In the middle of my constituency is the Gravelly Hill interchange, where the M6 runs through Birmingham. I believe that it is the biggest interchange in Europe. It has been named by certain local wags Spaghetti Junction and the name has stuck. It is the source of intolerable noise, fumes and dirt. As an engineering construction it is superb, but as a work of art it is one of the greatest monstrosities ever inflicted by any Government on the residents of any part of this country. I should hate to live anywhere near it, quite apart from the noise and fumes.
I welcome the Bill as have many other hon. Members, but with reservations. It would be churlish of me to deny that it takes a major step forward, but it has many serious gaps. In the philosophy of the treatment of the person who receives compensation, one principle should apply—he should suffer no loss and he should be fully compensated for any damage that he incurs. I say that unreservedly. I do not accept the principle that there should be a balance. It is not a question of a balance between the community and the individual. This major engineering work has been constructed through Birmingham. Undoubtedly it is an enormous boon to the motorist who travels from 114 London to the North-West by motorway. I shall not go into the argument as to whether motorways should be built or not, but if they are to be built for the benefit of the motorist, residents should not suffer one whit. That is the philosophy on which I base my approach to the Bill, and that is why I raise several points.
The first is one that I made in an intervention in the Secretary of State's speech, concerning visual damage. The right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that that was dealt with in the Bill. With respect, it is not. Clause 1 deals with physical damage entirely and sets out the items of physical damage for which compensation shall be paid:noise, vibration, smell, fumes, smoke and artificial lighting and … discharge on to the land".It does not deal with visual damage at all.
The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen) said that it has always been assumed that a person is not entitled to the view from his house. I accept that that is a principle of law, but I do not accept that it can have any application to constructions like Spaghetti Junction. It is not merely a question of the owner-occupiers around Spaghetti Junction having a nice view from their houses. They are mainly working-class people, the whole of whose capital is sunk in the house that they own. Its value is vitally important to them if they want to sell it and buy another.
Therefore, they should be compensated for any loss, for any injurious affection, however it arises. Clause 1(1) should say, "Where the value of an interest in land is depreciated by the use of public works, however that depreciation arises". That would mean that visual factors were included with the physical factors. That is my first point, which is very important in relation to my own constituency.
My second point must concern other areas as well. What is the position of feeder roads? For example, feeding the interchange in my constituency there is a road called Tyburn Road. As an immediate consequence of the opening of the motorway, the traffic on that road has doubled, and a large part of that traffic consists of heavy vehicles—not as heavy as those we shall discuss on 115 Wednesday, but noisy, dirty, smelly and smoky vehicles. The noise and nuisance which were acceptable a few months ago have increased to a level at which they are no longer acceptable. The people in that road describe their situation to me as hell. Do they come under the provisions of Clause 1? I should like to be assured that they do.
It seemed to me from paragraph 25 of the White Paper that such people were excluded. I am not now sure. At any rate, the position is ambiguous and should be cleared up. I hope the Minister will say something about it tonight. The present wording is not clear, and the matter could perhaps be argued one way or the other before the courts.
The situation I have described is an injurious affection which, although not arising from the motorway itself, is the immediate consequence of the motorway's being opened. It applies not merely to Tyburn Road but to many other areas adjacent to the motorway, where a large part of the noise comes not from the motorway but from the roads feeding it; from motorists pulling out of the motorway or into it.
My other point concerns the noise limit at which compensation can be fixed. The Secretary of State suggested—I think he gets this from the Urban Motorways Committee Report—that 70 decibels is a suitable limit. Having listened to 70 decibels at the Aston University and elsewhere, I can assure him that it is quite unacceptable. It must be remembered that it is a level of noise that has to be borne, not for one or two hours, but throughout the day and night—worse at peak hours but bad during the whole day. I consider it an intolerable level for the vast majority of people. Seventy decibels is not a reasonable limit.
The seven years' residential qualification for compensation for the loss of a home is unreasonable. I can understand why a period for qualification is inserted, although I am not sure that I agree with having any such qualification. What is said in substance is that if a person occupies a house in an area that he knows will be subject to the nuisance of a motorway, he has taken up residence of his own accord, and should bear the consequences. I am not sure that that is a 116 valid argument, but it is probably what is in the minds of civil servants. It might have some validity in some cases, but the period of seven years is much too long. I believe that there should be no qualifying period, because the person who sold the house would certainly have received the benefit of compensation if he had stayed. Why on earth should the person who rents it subsequently not receive that compensation?
The unfurnished tenant is excluded from the benefits of any compensation under the Bill. Financial compensation may be inappropriate, but I should like the Minister's assurance that Clause 31, which provides for the provision—I assume the mandatory provision—of accommodation for people who are displaced in this way, will apply to the unfurnished tenant in the same way as it applies to the furnished tenant.
We broadly welcome the principles of the Bill, but in many respects it will have to go a good deal further to meet the needs and interests of those affected by motorways and other roads. I hope that it will be amended in Committee so that those improvements will be effected and that the Government will allow themselves a good deal of flexibility.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Middleton and Prestwich)
The principles underlying the Bill will be generally welcomed, but Ministers may well think that there is a tide of ingratitude as various points are raised and it is discovered that there are people who do not feel grateful for what Ministers propose to give them. There is the person who does not want to move in order that the general area around a motorway route may be landscaped and the environment improved. There are the people who actually enjoy having a motorway at the end of their garden. I know of some in my constituency. They are very rare, but there are such people. There are people who find themselves just on the wrong side of a benefit outlined in the Bill. But certainly the Bill is, in general, welcome.
My starting point is the fact that in one area of my constituency we have had much experience of motorway construction and road improvement. I am indulging in a certain degree of special pleading on behalf of my constituency 117 here. The area to which I am referring borders both Whitefield and Prestwich, in the neighbourhood of "Besses o' th' Barn". In that area over a period of five years the residents have suffered the effects of advance bridge works over the M62 motorway and then two contracts for the construction of the motorway, the joining point between the two falling exactly within this area. Just as the end of the motorway construction was coming into sight, the widening of the Bury new road between the motorway and the "Besses o' th' Barn" junction was commenced. No sooner was that nearing completion than it was realised that the box girders on the bridges carrying the A56 trunk road over the M12 needed strengthening.
So a series of events have disturbed the lives of many of my constituents. It is clear from the Bill that there will be considerable benefit for many of them, following upon these roadworks, but there are also certain limitations. I add my voice to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) on this subject of disturbance during the construction of new roads and the widening of others. At the moment people can only rely on getting their rates reduced, and they sometimes have to wait rather a long time for a somewhat insubstantial benefit. I took hope from paragraph 12 of the White Paper, which refers to "constructional nuisance". I took it to mean that this point would be dealt with in the Bill. Alas, that does not appear to be the case. I hope that those who have suffered over a prolonged period—as my constituents certainly have—because of motorway and other works, will receive some compensation.
The second limitation to which I wish to refer is that relating to the claim period. As I understand it, the definition used in Clause 1(9) means that anyone can register a claim arising out of motorway disturbance if that motorway came into use on or after 17th October 1969. That is all very well, and it will certainly cover most of my constituents, but what of people who have moved between the start of the works and the road coming into use? Is there any hope in the Bill for them? Perhaps my right hon. Friend can give me some guidance. I have not 118 found it in the Bill, and I do not see why someone who, for some reason, has had to sell his house in that period, should not be able to receive the compensation which, had he remained in that house, he would subsequently have been able to get under the provisions of the Bill.
The third limitation deals with the question of sound insulation. Why is it that meeting the cost of this is merely discretionary in cases arising from 17th October 1969? Certainly the houses of most of the people in my constituency who are living within a few feet of the M62 motorway need sound insulation. If the Government are saying that by giving this discretion they expect that local authorities will exercise it in almost all cases, why can it not be made a duty in the first place? I would hate to think that there is a possibility that those living close to the M62 motorway in my constituency will not receive the same financial help to cover the cost of sound insulation. In so far as sound insulation payments may be made under the Bill, is it clear that those who have already spent money will receive compensation for having done so, rather than having to wait until the Bill becomes law?
The Bill refers to other types of public works, and I would like to know how far this goes. I am interested in the question of visual disturbance. The White Paper refers to "visual intrusion" in paragraph 12. Nothing like this seems to have found its way into the Bill. I may be going outside the scope of the Bill in mentioning electricity pylons, but I have a vivid picture in my mind of a pleasant residential area in my constituency where some houses were demolished and, next to those remaining, an electricity pylon was erected. I regard that as a rather serious visual intrusion.
Paragraph 15 of the White Paper mentions good design and says:The Government believe that the principles of good design and careful planning advocated by the Urban Motorways Committee in respect of roads apply also to other public developments.How far can good design improve the appearance of an electricity pylon in this context? I hope that this kind of visual intrusion will be brought within the scope 119 of the Bill. Cannot my right hon. Friend take powers in this Bill to extend its coverage as might be deemed necessary in the light of new developments? Although possible extensions of the Bill by later legislation have been mentioned, we all know how difficult it is to introduce new legislation at certain times. Can we not write into the Bill the power to make extensions, in certain circumstances to cover new developments which we cannot now define?
I add my voice to those who have spoken about noise. I hope that we will not rely too heavily on decibel levels. I know that in the end it may have to be expressed in these terms, but I am a little frightened of a technical committee producing a certain level and it being accepted just like that. What we have to consider in practice is what it is that keeps children awake at night. We have to find a much more home-spun way of defining what is acceptable by way of noise and then, if necessary, translating it into a decibel level. I would rather not do it the other way round and begin with a decibel level, because that might exclude a lot of ordinary human situations.
While on the subject of definition, can my right hon. Friend say how we will define an acceptable level of smell? That is a difficult matter with which to come to terms. My right hon. Friend will help the House, and ultimately the Committee, if the definitions of the terms included in Clause 1 can quickly be known in outline. This will certainly affect the sort of comments which we shall wish to make.
Clause 50 relates to blight, which is dealt with in paragraph 61 of the White Paper. Owner-occupiers of property in clearance areas declared under Part III of the Housing Act 1957 are dealt with here. We are told that in future they will be entitled to require the local authority to buy their houses, and will not have to wait for confirmation of the order. Does my right hon. Friend envisage that this will improve the situation of tenants of houses affected in this way? I know of many cases where tenants living in bad housing conditions cannot be rehoused by a local housing authority because the owner, to protect his own interests, may then put another tenant 120 into the house, who will then become the responsibility of the local authority. This means that people are living in bad conditions for a long time. Often this is very bad indeed, with young children and babies being brought up. I hope that the situation will be improved by Clause 50.
I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would cover at least some of the points that I have made, although I recognise that he may not have time to answer more than a few of the points which have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. With those reservations and Questions, I warmly welcome the Bill.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)
I do not think that there is any hon. Member from either an urban or a rural constituency who does not welcome the Bill. The hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Haselhurst) made two remarks which I cannot help commenting upon. First, I must say that very few people would welcome a motorway at the bottom of their garden. Secondly, the mind boggles at the thought of a dozen high-powered civil servants with a row of sleeping babies in prams testing out some method of deciding noise level that would disturb them.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) referred to the suggestion of a small claims court. It is very important that ordinary people should not have to be faced with employing high-powered lawyers before a tribunal. A small claims court for such cases would be of great help.
Another cause for concern is temporary blight. This can be caused by a major road scheme. In Goldsdon Road in my constituency, the local authority laid a 5 ft. flood prevention pipe. The scheme hit many snags and instead of taking only a few months it took over a year. The suffering of the people along that road was no one's business, and this sort of thing should be included within the terms of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) said that we must look seriously at the amount of land that we have—or, rather, at the amount of land we are 121 taking out of agricultural use each year. We are taking about 70,000 acres of land a year out of agricultural use, and that is a lot of land in a small country. Reservoirs are one case where land could be saved. When I was at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food we did our best but the county must have a better policy for water schemes. For example, we should take desalination more seriously than we do. We could save a lot of land in this respect.
However, we are an industrial country and motorways and roads are an essential part of our life. I am not sure that we can save much land there. But, as the hon. Member for Harborough also said, more use of our railways could help.
I must, of course, declare my interest. I am a farmer and I rent and own land. I am not one of the "slaves of the soil" mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock), but there is the question of compensation when a farm is split in half, for example. Compensation is now based on a figure of four or five times the rental value. In many areas, the average rent of land is £5 an acre but much land in areas of motorways is a great deal more expensive, and compensation could sometimes reach £50 an acre. The compensation for splitting up a farm in such areas, often making it non-viable, is inadequate and I welcome Part III of the Bill which will deal with that kind of situation.
There is much to be done in the Standing Committee on the agricultural aspects of the Bill. If I am press-ganged into serving on the Committee, I may be able to say something further on the subject. I hope I have not irrevocably committed myself.
The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) hoped that capital gains would still apply on the "roll-on" basis. If a farmer sells 50 acres and is paid £50,000 an acre, he should only be allowed to "roll on" into another 50 acres, and not 500. This is one of the major factors creating inflation in land prices. The amount of acreage taken away and paid for should govern the area he can buy covered by relief from capital gains. Provisions in this respect would help to steady the price of land considerably.
122 My main interest here is in the eastern side of my constituency, where we have the M16 coming from the A1 to the M11. It skirts one side of my constituency and cuts across the north-east corner. There has been a great deal of secrecy, and the Minister will shortly be faced with a huge protest by people in the area all the way from Enfield to Epping. The secrecy has cast a considerable shadow for years over the area. The hon. Member for Beckenham mentioned how far back some of the plans went. But now the shadow over my constituency is greater still because it has emerged that this six-lane motorway is to be on stilts over the north-east corner of my constituency.
I want first to deal with the time factor. Paragraph 58 of the White Paper states:One of the special difficulties associated with blight is the very long time span over which it can occur, and the large areas it can affect when a number of options are known to be under discussion.That is the under-statement of the year. This sort of thing has had a tremendous effect over huge areas because of rumours and counter-rumours when people do not know the line that the road is actually to take. For example, in the case of the M16, five years ago I had the example of a couple who were retiring and building a bungalow in Norfolk. They wanted to sell their house in Enfield. Everything had been fixed up when the solicitors for the buyers found out that the road might or might not be a motorway or four-lane highway. No one had any idea of what would happen but the old couple could not sell their house at a reasonable price.
I do not think that it is any use saying to prospective buyers, "Give the market price for today. If the rate goes over the top because of blight, you will get your money in due course." In agriculture where there is a subsidy on cattle, one cannot claim it when the cattle are too young. But one cannot suggest to the dealer that he should buy at a high price now and wait until he has got the subsidiary. It is absolute rubbish.
Now I have the case of another elderly couple in the same road. They have been told that they must take a bungalow, since they have both had heart attacks. But they are on the line of the motorway 123 and cannot sell their house. All these cases are heart-breaking and it is essential that the line of a road and everything else about it should be cleared up by quick and decisive planning, as the White Paper says.
I turn now to the comprehensive planning of our roads. There is a road planned from the A1 to just north of my constituency on the A10, and then from the A10 across the corner of my constituency to Waltham Cross and then south of Waltham Abbey to the M11 south-east of Epping. The section from the Al to the A10 line is fixed, and I understand the contracts are fixed. But the line to the south has not been fixed, or it has been only vaguely fixed, and the objectors affected by the second section did not know what was happening on the section from the A1 to the A10. The end in my constituency was fixed, however, and this completely inhibited any great alteration in the remaining part, again through East Enfield.
This is a situation which is quite intolerable, but a great number of people are affected in this way, and, in my view, in the very near future they will cause a fair amount of trouble to the Department. Where a roadway is being defined it should be decided all as one, not in two sections. The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Michael Shaw) has had the same experience with two motorways; in that case, he said, the middle was not finished. One must see that situations like this do not occur, because they create a feeling of blight over wide areas, and that should not be necessary.
While on this subject I may mention that I met a deputation from various bodies in my constituency and from other constituencies affected by this scheme. They produced a map of the area and suggested what the line should be for the road in their opinion, and they asked me what I thought of it, and would I support it. It went smack through the middle of my farm, so I do not think I was a very good person to approach.
However, suppose that road did divide my farm, and suppose part of the farm went and I could not use it. What would then be the position of my men? Suppose my stockman were likely to have 124 an increase in his wages based on the amount of work he does with the present capacity of my farm, and that then the capacity of the farm were to be halved and his job not so attractive. This is quite a thought. Does he qualify for compensation for blight?
I also farm right up against the town of Enfield and we are at present developing a dairy herd and my dairyman is paid on a gallonage basis. I have been warned by my landlord, the Church, that it may take 50 acres for building, and who am I to prevent people from getting houses? However, I said to the dairyman that we would not be able to develop to 120 cows, and that affects his earning capacity. So there is blight there already. It is an interesting point—what happens to farmers and employees who have claims apart from the land itself?
Another matter I want to raise has been raised by most people already, and that is noise. In the White Paper there was mention of isolating noise at source. This is something I would rather see done than insulating individual houses from noise. I do not know whether it is possible or not, but I put it as a thought to the Minister, that there is a case for boxing a motorway, as it were, by putting up walls, cheap ones, if he likes, to keep the noise within the motorway. With all due respect to double glazing, some of the noise is so great that it does not keep out all noise, and, anyway, people cannot open their windows. The conditions are unhealthy and inhibit decent living standards.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Keith Speed)
It may help the hon. Gentleman if I tell him that there is an experimental length of noise barrier on the M6 at this moment and we should have some results of the experiment very shortly.
§ Mr. Mackie
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that information. It is interesting, and it will be interesting to get the results.
Of course, a big box on a motorway could spoil the landscape and the importance of that and of views has already been mentioned. A huge motorway, with a complex such as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) mentioned, Spaghetti 125 Junction in his constituency, can have very serious detrimental effects on living conditions in more ways than physical ones alone, and I think we ought to take notice of that.
On this Bill, there is much to be done in Committee, but I commend the general principles of the Bill, and I do not think that we on this side will delay its progress.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Idris Owen (Stockport, North)
I reiterate what has been said in welcoming the Bill. Many property owners and tenants will be more than grateful to any Government and Opposition giving speedy approval to these excellent provisions.
Reference has been made to injurious affection on more than one occasion but the point loses nothing if it is repeated. One of the biggest problems in my constituency is uncertainty. In 1962 the Selnec road planning authority submitted plans for the A6 realignment. A public inquiry was held in 1970. Everybody was under the impression that the route had been determined but recently it was decided, because of the density of traffic, that the highway would have to be of greater dimensions. The matter has been thrown into a state of turmoil and uncertainty.
In my constituency there is a house which has been empty for 18 months. There have been at least six attempts to acquire it. On each attempt the search has revealed this devastatingly serious position, for the owner, of uncertainty. The result is that there is no compensation and the house cannot be maintained adequately. There is no point in maintaining it. It is standing empty and nobody wants it. Even if the house was let on a short term, the position is unsatisfactory. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Sydney Chapman) suggested that it would be a good idea if the local authorities acquired this sort of property and put in temporary tenants who had been displaced.
This morning I learned about a widow who has been troubled by blasting during the construction of a sewer within 40 yards of her house. She was extremely distressed because cracks were appearing in the bedrooms. She was worried 126 about whether she would be adequately compensated.
Local authorities, in pursuance of their objective of maintaining control over the public purse, sometimes get so vigilant that they are cruel in their approach. There is nothing so cruel as an authority which lacks the compassion of human approach.
Immediately the complaint was raised by the widow, technicians visited the house and produced instruments to test the amount of vibration caused by the blasting. But they should have gone to the property before blasting took place to assess the state of the house. However, they went only after the blasting. They are now challenging the widow to prove that the damage has happened.
That situation reveals a big problem for people who do not have the financial resources to engage technical and legal advice. It is vital that we should make some provision for injurious affection so that people can seek compensation from an authority which is not controlling the purse strings. If one goes to the local authority for advice, and it is controlling the compensation which will affect local authority finances, one will not get the completely unbiassed assistance that one would get by going to the legal profession and incurring considerable legal costs. It is vital that we have impartiality from a public authority which is not responsible for handling compensation but merely advisory.
My last point concerns planning blight. We must look at the law on rating, which should take into recognition the advantages of amenity and the disadvantages of loss of amenity. When I have attended rating valuation courts it has been recognised that loss of amenity could not be considered as worthy of a reduction in rating assessment. But there is a clear case to be made for loss of amenity because of planning decisions. Conversely, if people are enjoying a high standard of amenity, that should be reflected in the rateable value of the property.
Adjustments in that respect can bring some degree of equity. We adhere religiously to the theory that a view is never acquired, as the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Terry Davis) said, and, therefore, the loss of it should not 127 be compensated. Amenity is worth something and it should be reflected in the rateable value. Consequently, its loss should be reflected in the rateable value.
I have nothing but praise for the Bill. It is not beyond improvement in Committee, where I feel sure it will be improved, but it is the most progressive piece of legislation presented by the Government for a long time.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)
I join other hon. Members in welcoming the Bill. I also join in making suggestions for improving it. The opportunity should not be lost to make improvements in compensation law since, in view of the complicated nature of the subject, further legislation on it is unlikely for some time. My constituency is one of those most affected by compensation matters as its inhabitants are mucked and messed about continually by the question of clearance, road projects and other developments such as the freight liner terminal in Ardwick. I wish to suggest three ways in which the Bill can be improved, all of them based on cases in my constituency.
One arises from an area—the New Bank Street area—which has been greatly affected by the noise of traffic travelling to the freight liner depot. I have pressed for compensation to be paid to people affected by that traffic and for sound insulation to be provided for them at public expense. I have been unsuccessful, and I fear that it is uncertain whether those people will qualify under the Bill for being injuriously affected because of the definitions of change of use in the Bill. Clause 1 is too loose and Clause 9(7) may be too exclusive. What is a change of use? If a road is unchanged in its character, if it is not built on or altered, but a totally new kind of traffic, such as freight liner traffic, travels on it, I submit that that is a change of use and that the people who live by it should be paid compensation for injurious affection and should be provided with sound insulation.
I should like the Minister to tell us whether a change of use of an existing unaltered road as a result of a new kind of traffic travelling on it is counted as a 128 change of use under the Bill, and, if it is not, whether he will amend the Bill appropriately. Also, will he consider giving earlier retrospection than 1969 so that people like my constituents whose lives have been made hell by freight liner traffic and to whom no financial assistance for the provision of sound insulation has been given may at last have their living conditions improved?
I greatly welcome the home loss payment. However, I join hon. Members who have questioned whether the seven-year period is too long. Should it be an unbroken period of seven years? Will the Minister allow discretion under Clause 23? Cases can arise, and in my constituency have arisen—I have the correspondence here—in which a householder, knowing that his home will be affected by development, decides, ahead of dispossession, to move and to find fresh accommodation before the final date. He does that so that he is not in a hurry when the time comes and, in these days of enormous escalation of property values, to buy fresh accommodation before the price is beyond his pocket.
This kind of providence by one of my constituents, far from being rewarded, has been penalised by loss of compensation because the householder was not living in the house right up to the date of compensation. Under this provision he would be deprived of the home loss payment. I therefore ask the Government to look again, not only at the seven-year period, which I regard as too long, but at the other circumstances and whether someone who gives up his home earlier for the reasons I have given should nevertheless qualify for both compensation and home loss payment.
The third case to which I draw attention concerns the right to advance payment. Clause 40 imposes it at the rate of 90 per cent. when dispossession has taken place, and that is a considerable advance. But the Government should go further. Instead of just recommending up to 90 per cent. compensation ahead of possession, as specified in paragraph 3 of the White Paper, they should make that obligatory, in the same way as Clause 40 imposes an obligation.
I have a vivid, current and poignant example in the case of a constituent of mine. This is a Mr. Smith of 9, Elgin 129 Grove, Longsight, in my constituency. He lives in a house scheduled for clearance and he needs to move quickly because of the state of his wife's health. The corporation does not dispute that it is a hardship case. He has found a new home in a satisfactory district at a price within his pocket at the moment.
But he cannot get advance compensation ahead of dispossession to help him to buy that house. Negotiations are taking place with Manchester Corporation and the matter will be considered by a sub-committee on Wednesday and I trust that it will be sorted out satisfactorily.
If there were such a provision in the Bill as an obligation, the case of Mr. Smith and similar cases would be put beyond doubt and from Mr. Smith's life and from the lives of many others in similar circumstances there would be removed the nerve-racking anxiety to which they are now subjected. While the Minister is doing this job, I hope that he will do it thoroughly and iron out as many as possible of the enormous number of anomalies now existing in this respect. I ask him to take the opportunity to remove burdens that have been clouding the lives of my constituents and many others for years on end.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
I would particularly like to endorse the plea made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) and others for the Government to take a fresh look at the possibility of assisting not only those living alongside new roads or roads that are to be improved. Major changes can take place which result overnight in existing roads becoming for example feeder roads for a new motorway, so that the nuisance to the people living alongside them becomes as great as that to those who live alongside a brand new road.
I recognise that this concept could produce considerable difficulties, but it is a real case for compensation. At the very least, the Government should consider making available, insulation grants, perhaps through the house improvement scheme, so that, with Government help, persons living alongside such roads can install double glazing. That would go some way to help areas which are suffering intolerable noise from large lorries 130 and from changes in the use of roads which cause considerable damage, sometimes in areas quite distant from new developments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Haselhurst) mentioned the decibel level to be taken as the criterion for noise nuisance, and the figure of 70 PNdB has been quoted. I understand that the Urban Motorway Committee recommended a decibel level of 65. I accept that any such statistical criteria are dubious, but why is the figure set at 70 and not at 65?
I endorse what has been said by several hon. Members about the temporary disruption of people's lives by construction works. There might be no disposal of property, but domestic householders nevertheless suffer considerable disturbance. Also, there is no provision in the Bill to help a trader who suffers a loss of trade through construction works. The construction works may not be long-term, but the argument applies equally to a small road scheme that prevents vehicular or even pedestrian access to a small retailer's premises. Some traders are unable to sustain the loss of income which this could produce, even over a few months. I mention this because I can think of constituency and other cases where people have suffered considerably from loss of income for this reason. I cannot see any difficulty in putting into the Bill a provision that where financial loss can be proved it should be accepted as eligible for compensation.
Having made those two pleas for improvement, I say, as every other speaker has said, that I welcome the Bill. It contains an unusual feature, namely, what might wrongly be called generosity in the home loss payment. It must be the first time that the Government have gone beyond the question of pure financial loss to what can only be called sentimental loss. If the Government concede that a person who is deprived of his home should be entitled to an additional payment simply because the Government are taking this step of compulsory purchase, why cannot they apply that principle equally to other forms of compulsory purchase? For example, one hears many complaints from farmers who are severely upset because only one field has been 131 taken and they receive a very low price for that plot of land. Is there not a case for saying that wherever the State steps in with a compulsory purchase order and uses its might to invade the privacy and rights of an individual, that invasion warrants an additional percentage being placed on the valuation of the property?
I add my voice to those who have already said that they cannot understand why the seven year provision has been put into the Bill. Seven years is a long period of residence to justify a home loss payment. One thinks that a period of perhaps five years or three years would be fairer, but then one asks why there should be such a period at all. A person who, three months after moving into his home, is told that it is to be compulsorily purchased, will have spent a great deal of money and effort on the creation of his new home. Has he not incurred a similar expense to that incurred by a person who has been in his home for several years? Could there not be a simple home loss payment to all persons who are deprived of their homes through compulsory purchase?
Although the Bill allows a generous and fair principle in this respect, I wonder whether three times the rateable value, with a maximum of £1,500, will be adequate. The White Paper later deals with the low-value properties and the problems which arise there. It must be remembered that many low-value properties which will earn fairly low sums in terms of compensation will also have low rateable values. Therefore, a person who is dispossessed from a low-value house will face a terrible problem in finding a similar property, and in view of current market values of property a few hundred pounds will not be of very much help. I hope that the Minister will consider this aspect in more detail in Committee.
I had intended to deal with a number of other points, but in view of the pressure on time I shall conclude by dealing with just one other major point, aircraft noise. My constituency will be very much affected by aircraft noise from the new Maplin airport. We are 10 or so miles across the estuary and will get all the noise and very little of the economic advantages, unless the Government are wise enough to build the proposed third Thames crossing from my 132 constituency. That would be an extremely good move, and it would certainly mean that some of the points which I am about to make will not be so valid.
I am sorry that nothing in the Bill gives me any hope that my constituents will receive any benefit in the way of insulation grants. Since other areas have regarded only those living within the 55 and 45 NNI as being eligible for grant, the Bill could do nothing for us. There-fore, I hope that in later stages of the Bill's progress the Government will make some statement to give some encouragement to my constituents who will suffer the very real threat of aircraft noise that they will receive some help from the Government.
Having made these few points, I should like to join in the general welcome which has been given to the Bill, and also in the congratulations which have been extended to the Secretary of State for the Environment on his success in getting this measure past the Treasury. Although I hope the Bill will be improved in Committee, I should like to see it reach the Statute Book within a very short time.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydvil)
I think when we have the opportunity to read tomorrow's HANSARD we shall all realise that certain aspects of the Bill have been the subject of formidable challenge and I believe that this Bill has been criticised a little more than any individual hon. Member has been willing to admit. I am sorry to inject a slightly jarring note into this consensus debate, but I suggest that in one or two major respects the Bill has been under a considerable attack tonight.
The basic new statutory obligation placed upon local authorities by Clause 18 does not go to the heart of the matter in respect of planning blight. The real need is for the individual householder to have a statutory right to be able to serve a notice on the local authority if there is a planning blight problem. The individual should be able to serve that notice at the earliest possible stage.
I remember in my earlier days in this House joining with the Minister for Local Government and Development upstairs in Committee in an all-party revolt against the Government to try to obtain that sort of provision. However, I do 133 not now see anything of that nature in this legislation introduced by a Government of which the right hon. Gentleman is now a member.
The second aspect of the Bill with which I should like to deal concerns home loss payments. If the House believes that such payments will solve both financial and social problems faced by those who are displaced by motorways and the like, it is in for a rude shock. I believe that the home loss payment is hopelessly inadequate.
One hon. Gentleman said, first, that the Bill was generous, and then proceeded to prove effectively that for low-paid people living in modest homes—like most of those in my constituency, where rateable values may be £24 or £25—seven times the rateable value is next to nothing, and will not help to compensate those on modest incomes for the loss of their homes.
Regarding the use of the Lands Tribunal, I recall my sympathy for the Minister for Local Government and Development whenever we debated this issue in the last Parliament. The Lands Tribunal is not the place to take disputes of the kind that will be involved in the Bill. We must have rating or valuation tribunals at local level which are cheap and effective. This is especially important where people seek compensation in slum clearance orders. There are often disputes about the amounts required, and the solicitors acting for householders cannot advise their clients to go to the Lands Tribunal in order to resolve those disputes. Many times in the past the Minister has joined us in expressing sympathy for the idea of establishing a local form of machinery to resolve such disputes. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take the view that this work should be undertaken not by the Lands Tribunal but by some form of local valuation court or small claims court. In many cases of slum clearance orders and in compensation cases arising from these new provisions people will be scared to go before the tribunal. What is more, they may be blackmailed into accepting lower figures than they should because of the formidable situation in which they find themselves.
The Bill has arisen as much as anything from the fact that urban motorways 134 are proposed for many of our cities, with the blight and danger to homes that they cause. I believe that it was Professor Peter Hall who said that the Luftwaffe would have been greatly surprised by the amount of damage which is now proposed by planners in most of our cities. I should not like the message to go from this House that the proposals in the Bill, many of which are welcome, will sweeten the sour pill created by building urban motorways into the fabric of our towns and cities. I hope that we shall see to it that whatever decisions are made to assist those who are affected by proposals about which there can be no argument, when it comes to major controversies about how we solve our transport problems in cities and towns, it is not argued that somehow this Bill will solve all the problems. They will not be solved by these or any other proposals. They are not the answer to many of our problems.
I hope that we shall do a constructive job in Committee and be able to improve the Bill. Any improvement will have to be rather more fundamental than many right hon. and hon. Members have admitted if we are to make it effective. However, unlike many other Bills which have come before this House recently, I hope there is to be no guillotine to stop the constructive debate continuing.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
This has been a fascinating debate in which we have dealt with the helplessness which so many of our citizens feel when they are faced with the paraphernalia of modern society such as the driving of motorways, the building of reservoirs, sewage farms, schools and the rest which are necessary but which affect adversely the lives of so many people.
While contributions to the debate have dealt with great principles such as the effect of planning blight on the values of houses and the injurious affection resulting from works which are undertaken, the general principles which have been raised by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have been based on a series of constituency experiences which are obviously very real.
Important principles and considerations have emerged from the speech of almost every hon. Member, showing the inadequacy of the present law. For this 135 reason, the Bill has been widely welcomed on both sides. It is a useful step in the right direction, but it does not justify the euphoria with which some hon. Members have greeted it, particular the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen), who waxed eloquent, as he always does about these matters. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join us in Standing Committee in an examination of the Bill's many shortcomings.
There has been only one jarring note. The hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) injected into this bipartisan debate the thought that the only Government who had done anything about these matters were this Conservative Government. That is not so. The problem has been with us for many years. I shall spare the House quotations going back to 1845 when Parliament started trying to deal with the problem of blight and injurious affection. I shall certainly spare the House an excellent quotation from the report of the Scott Committee which in 1917 laid down some excellent Socialist principles about the rights of land.
The 1947 Act of the first Labour Government had much to commend it. Perhaps we should have been getting back to that Act and its principles which dealt with the possibilities of comprehensive development of areas by local authorities. That Act might have been fairer in terms of financial provision. The 1968 Act was another example of provision in respect of blight.
In a speech in February, 1970 which I made when I was Minister of State I gave a clear undertaking that the committee my predecessor had established would report as soon as possible but that meanwhile we would issue circulars urging local authorities to implement proposals in respect of blight. That was done in Circular 46/70. I am glad that the White Paper which the Government have introduced and on which the Bill is based makes it clear that part of that Circular is enshrined in the blight provisions of the Bill. That should give us cause for approaching the Committee stage with a degree of harmony.
The Secretary of State, whose appearance at the Dispatch Box we welcome, 136 appears to have mastered this complex subject rapidly. I do not agree with him that most people are more concerned about compensation and that the Bill will help to allay their fears. It is an encouraging sign that more and more people are not concerned so much about financial compensation as about the quality of the environment in which they live and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) said, about the divisive effects upon society of motorways being driven through the hearts of cities and towns. As we all know when it is proposed to build a reservoir, people are concerned about the effect on the landscape and the countryside and on the possibilities for enjoyment of life.
One matter on which I congratulate the Secretary of State is the extraordinary announcement that amendments to the Bill will be taken. That will be a great change from the last Bill that he introduced into the House. It is nice to know, before we start the Committee stage of this Bill, that we shall also have a Report stage—as distinct from the European Communities Bill. I can only suggest that the civilising effect of the Department of the Environment, and especially the local government branch which I know so well, is having a profound effect upon him, and that is very much to be welcomed.
The Secretary of State also referred to the provision for well-maintained payments which, as he told us, the House dealt with a couple of weeks ago when the Minister for Local Government and Development and I took part. Since then, two questions have been raised with me, and I should like to deal with them in Committee. Although we have increased the payment for well-maintained unfit houses when they are due to be cleared under a slum clearance scheme, I think I am right in saying that we have not even yet got that right. I understand that there is a ceiling in respect of houses with short leases, and, although we have increased the market value, I do not think this will materially affect the value of houses with short leases; at least, so I am advised.
There is a second question with which the House will have to concern itself. If we are making well maintained payments 137 in respect of unfit houses, why do we not do so in respect of fit houses? It seems to me illogical that we make this provision in respect of unfit houses which are cleared, but we do not do it in the case of fit houses.
Clause 12 is a very odd clause dealing with ecclesiastical property. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman can answer this question which has been put to me. The clause states:Any compensation payable under this Part of this Act in respect of land which is ecclesiafice, or being or forming part of a church Commissioners …and then subsection (2) defines what is meant by ecclesiastical property and says:… land belonging to an ecclesiastical benefice, or being or forming part of a curch subject to the jurisdiction of a bishop …Why is this clause in the Bill? Does it affect Methodists who have no bishops, or Baptists? What about the Roman Catholic Church? Is this provision specifically for the Church of England? This point has been taken up with me, amongst others, by the Opposition Chief Whip, who has declared an interest. I cannot imagine that the Government are trying to discriminate against the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodists, the Baptists or the Quakers. I should like confirmation that that is not the intention.
I turn to Clause 23 which is the home loss payment clause. It appears at first sight to be something of a disincentive because it deals with the situation when a home loss payment is to be made when a house is compulsorily acquired, and it seems to be a disincentive to people trying to get an early settlement. I also confirm a very strong view on these benches that the minimum provision of seven years' occupation before the home loss payment is made is totally unsatisfactory. We shall certainly refer to that in Committee.
I tend to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) and the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) that any period of time has got to be justified. After all, the house is there; somebody is in occupation when it is sold; the situation is reflected in the price. I cannot for the life of me understand why there should be that provision, and we shall take it up in Committee.
138 Finally, on detailed matters, I refer to Clause 37, which deals with compensation for disturbance payable to a man or women over the age of 60 in respect of any trade or business carried on. I think that the Government have got this wrong. As I read the clause, it means that if a man and woman are both over 60 they may enjoy the benefit of the clause, but if the man is over 60 and the woman is under 60, they may not.
This will cause enormous difficulty. In the course of preparing my early retirement Bill, which I presented some time ago, I discovered that, as a general rule in this country, men marry women five years younger than themselves. Indeed, our superannuation provisions are based on that understanding, and it is one of the reasons why we pay the retirement pension to a woman five years earlier than we pay it to a man. If my interpretation of the clause is right, there will be great difficulty, and I hope that, between now and the Committee stage, the Government will give the matter further thought.
The Secretary of State made a great point of public participation in planning. Here, I remind the House again—I am sure that the hon. Member for Northants, South will not mind—that it was one of my colleagues, the late Arthur Skeffington, who served with such distinction in the Labour Government, who did such a magnificent job in presenting his report on the whole question of public participation in planning. We have learned a great deal from it.
The Secretary of State said that he would give urgent attention to the matter and I am delighted to hear it, because I have had some experience of what is involved. I ought to declare an interest here, because I have been advising the objectors in the Tapster Valley on how to go about making their objections more effective. The story of the Tapster Valley scheme is worth a moment's attention. The road proposal has just been announced, but at an early stage, through an article in the Birmingham Post, the residents there got wind of the idea that this beautiful valley near Birmingham was liable to be desecrated by a motorway.
The Birmingham Post had traced a large number of boreholes all the way 139 down the valley, and, by following them along, had very intelligently reached a conclusion about where the line of the motorway would be. In fact, when the proposals came out the other day, that conclusion turned out to be 100 per cent. right.
The residents of the Tapster Valley, now put on their guard, wanted to be consulted. They wanted to participate. They were not allowed to do so. The Secretary of State's predecessor stopped them from going to meet the Midlands Road Research Unit. In fact, the road research unit, through the good offices of the Member of Parliament, was ready to meet them, but the suggestion was countermanded, presumably on ministerial direction. I very much welcome what the Secretary of State said, therefore, and I am glad to know that he will have a completely new look into the whole question of public participation.
I realise that the problem of blight and the extent of it is a serious matter in these cases, but I tend more to agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North and with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie), who talked about the dangers of secrecy among our planners. In my view, the dangers of secrecy and keeping lines secret far outweigh the dangers of extending blight.
The period of six weeks in which people in the Midlands have to object to these new motorways is totally inadequate, and I hope that the Government will take that into account. The ordinary citizen, the amateur, when faced with the line of a motorway, must decide whether to object within six weeks. He must employ consultants, carry out alternative surveys if he wants to produce a new idea and to suggest an alternative route, and he has to try to decide about research costs. It is totally impossible for an ordinary citizen, faced with the whole panoply of the state, local government and central government, to be able to do anything like a professional job, and in my judgment it is a gravely unfair situation.
There is the question of the new valuations. I interrupted the Secretary of State to say that there was growing concern about the new valuation lists which 140 are now coming out. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) also touched on this point in his speech. The Secretary of State denied that there was any cause for alarm although it is quite clear that the Government are expecting a very considerable increase in the valuations of property under the new valuation proposals.
On Saturday the Birmingham Post detailed information of six of the 25 rating districts, four in the north and two in the city. They appear to indicate that the domestic element is being multiplied by three whereas the industrial and commercial element is being multiplied by less than two and a half. That is not speculation. That has been revealed by an examination of the actual valuation lists that have come to hand in the last week in Birmingham. In simple English, that means not only that the ratepayers will face a massive increase in their rateable value—it should not mean an increase in the rates but inevitably it does, and inevitably rates creep up to keep pace with the new rateable values—but that there is to be a redistribution of rateable values in favour of industry and against the domestic ratepayer.
The most important subject today is that of motorways and transport and the noise and fumes, filth and dust that come from them. While a great deal may be said about the visual effects, it is the noise of the motorways which causes the greatest difficulty. I have a great deal of sympathy for the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston and others who, faced with Spaghetti Junction are now told that they will be compensated and can insulate their houses. They are entitled to say that even if they insulate their houses, which is almost impossible as past experience has shown, what happens to the fellow who wants to spend a pleasant hour in his garden? The garden is of considerable importance. Surely we have not yet got this aspect of the problem right.
I would have thought that within a reasonable distance of any motorway any owner-occupier who wanted to get out of his house should have the right to compel a local authority to buy that house and I hope that we shall be able to put down an amendment on Committee to explore that possibility. There are those who want to get out and who 141 after their life has been disrupted are entitled to expect something of that sort from society.
On noise, I have not heard what 70 decibels sounds like. My hon. Friend the Member for Aston has. From the advice that I have been able to take since the Secretary of State made his announcement 70 decibels seems a totally unsatisfactory level of noise on which to regulate. It might be helpful if the Minister could arrange for us to listen to 70 decibels before the Committee Stage in order that we can form much more objective judgment.
§ Mr. J. R Kinsey (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I shall be pleased to let the hon. Gentleman sleep in a house in Perry Barr to hear that level of noise, if he is prepared to take advantage of the offer.
§ Mr. Howell
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the terrible noise, particularly on the Beeches Estate in his constituency, which I know is a tremendous hazard to the people living there.
The noise level that the Secretary of State has fixed is too high. I think that he agrees, because he said that he would keep it under constant review. I hope that it can be reviewed before we reach the Committee stage.
We need a much greater degree of transport co-ordination. We must transfer a great deal of traffic, particularly goods traffic, from the roads to the railways. I am delighted that only yesterday at the first meeting of the Labour group of the new West Midlands Metropolitan Area its first policy decision was to have absolutely free public transport in that area. That was a very courageous decision, and I am glad that it was supported in the editorial in the Birmingham Post this morning. We must have such incentives to get people off the road and on to public transport where possible.
I turn to the question of land prices, about which very little has been said in the debate. When it was mentioned in an intervention, the Secretary of State brushed it off, saying that in the Bill we are concerned only with land compensation and not with land values. Local authorities in the Midlands are paying £20,000 and £40,000 an acre for what is virtually scrub land on which to build 142 houses. The Government have totally failed to do anything to control land prices.
If the Government cannot control land prices, if land prices continue to spiral, that will make nonsense of the financial provisions of the Bill as well as of the prospects of home ownership for so many people. The £65 million in a full year that the Secretary of State believes will be needed to pay the compensation to which people are entitled under the Bill will prove to be chicken feed unless the Government can keep land prices in check. Local authorities and their associations in particular are extremely concerned on this count.
The Bill is a useful but small measure, one that will give relief to many people and should therefore be welcomed. It will be supported on both sides of the House, but this is not an occasion for a general expectation and belief that once it has been passed we shall have solved all the problems that face so many hundreds of thousands of our citizens.
In many respects the Bill begs some of the major questions of our time—land values, spiralling prices and land exploitation. It also begs many of the questions of the co-ordination of transport policy.
The Bill will not stop thousands of our citizens having their peace of mind and the peace of their homes shattered, and indeed having their homes destroyed, which we know to be inevitable in a modern society if we are to build the major public works that are so necessary.
There is a great deal more work to be done. I hope that in giving general support to the Bill the House will regard it as only a beginning in the attempt to solve those questions, and not the end.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Minister for Local Government and Development (Mr. Graham Page)
May I first pay tribute to the previous Government for the exploratory work which they did prior to this reform of the compensation code. I know what a pleasure it would have been to the late Jim MacColl or Arthur Skeffington, or to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) to be at this Dispatch Box presenting the Bill. I know what a lot of work they did. If I 143 mention the second row of the Ministry it is because that is where all the chores on this compensation code were done under the previous Government—and perhaps under this one.
I had the advantage, two-and-a-half years ago, of taking over in the department a report and recommendations which, if I had sent them off there and then to the parliamentary draftsmen, would not have made a bad Bill. I know that my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for the Environment said in answer to a Parliamentary Question on one occasion that he thought the report was highly unsatisfactory. Indeed, it was in the context of the comprehensive review which we wanted to carry out, but I readily admit that it was the foundation on which we have built to get a good compensation Bill.
For various reasons we have made substantial improvements on those first ideas. I pay tribute to my hon. and right hon. Friends who constructively urged this reform when in opposition and, since then, from these benches. I thank them for their patience in waiting two-and-a-half years for this Bill to be presented, under this Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Good-hart) asked how long the Bill will last. Its period of pregnancy has been nearly as long as that of an elephant and I hope that it will last for the lifetime of an adult elephant at least. We will add to this measure as the occasion arises, but I would hate to start all over again on a comprehensive review before a considerable time has passed.
As some recompense for the delay in bringing this Bill forward, I offer two benefits. First, the Bill is more retrospective in its benefits than anything the House has seen since the Declarations of Indulgence in the 17th century. I have always been a great purist in my views on anti-retrospective legislation but not so pure that I oppose the benefits given retrospectively to individual citizens in a Bill of this sort. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) asked for it to go even further back, but we have been fairly generous. The provision was taken three years back because 144 the Bill provides for a settling down period of 12 months, followed by a claim period of two years.
This could mean that the claim period in respect of a scheme opened up three years before the date of the White Paper, might still be open. It seemed right to allow these claims to be made. A special extension of the period has been provided to ensure that where it expired on the date of the White Paper or soon after, claims should not fall because of lack of time in which to prepare them. I do not think that we can be more generous than that and I doubt whether we can go as far as the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) suggested and give the Secretary of State discretionary powers to go even further back than that.
Clause 1(8) which gives this retrospective right is unique. If the motorway passing a person's bedroom window opened three years and six weeks ago, he can claim this new right to compensation. This is a statutory tribute to those whom I have mentioned, to hon. and right hon. Members who have pressed for this in the past, and to the many professional bodies, associations, societies and local authorities who have urged this reform. What we are saying in this subsection is, "You were quite right over three years ago and we will allow claims back to that time".
The other recompense for having waited for the Bill is that by doing so we have been able to include the valuable recommendations of the report of the Urban Motorways Committee and to create an entirely new right—the right to a home loss payment which that Committee recommended.
Once again I pay tribute to the Labour Government for setting up that committee. I cannot pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park because I believe that he just missed setting it up. But he urged it as Minister. It was Mr. Richard Marsh who set it up, and I have no doubt that the hon. Member for New-castle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Robert C. Brown), who was then Parliamentary Secretary, had a lot to do with it.
As I have said, the home loss payment is a new right—indeed, an entirely new kind of right. The Urban Motorways 145 Committee said in its report that this right should be given… in recognition of the real personal disturbance which is inflicted upon the occupiers of dwellings when they are required to move. … To attempt to tailor such payments to individual circumstances would be a matter of considerable complexity for which no sufficient basis of relevant evidence at present exists … the amounts will at present therefore have to be set by some general and fairly arbitrary formula. …No one is going to make a fortune out of the home loss payment. But I hope that our effort to recognise that there is a value in a home beyond the value of the bricks and mortar will make people feel that the machine does care. It is certainly not intended as complete compensation.
One must work this on a type of formula, but for that very reason I do not want to spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar. I admit that the tar offered by many hon. Members in the debate today is worth more than just a halfpenny, and it is very easy to spend other people's money and say, "We want more". I cannot remember where it was that Oliver Twist lived, but I am sure that many of those who have spoken today represent that constituency, because almost all of them have asked for more.
We are not dogmatic about the details of this scheme. There have also been protests about our choice of seven years. They were made by the right hon. Gentleman, by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath and by many other hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is a formula. We think that we have struck the right balance between the public payer and the individual recipient. But let us talk about it again in Committee, when I shall be able to explain the considerations which we applied—for example, whether we should do it on a graduated basis or reduce the seven years to five, or even three. We considered various alternatives, and came down in favour of seven years.
On the other side of the formula, the rateable value has been questioned. Here again it is a matter of devising a formula, and this one seems to be the most appropriate. The right hon. Gentleman thought that this was a new disclosure, but it is an old one, because the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath and I have discussed it late at night with no one else in the Chamber at the time, not 146 even the Press reporters, because it did not reach the newspapers the following day.
Our information discloses that when we have the new list we shall see that over the whole country rateable values will increase by about two-and-a-half times. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath has said that in the sample taken in Birmingham the figure is three times. My advice is that over the county as a whole for domestic properties it is two-and-a-half times. Although commercial and industrial property may be either side of that level we are taking here a figure for the whole country which we are advised as being two-and-a-half times. I stress again that an increase in rateable value does not mean an increase in the rate poundage or the rate payable.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
The right hon. Gentleman says he is advised that the average increase is two-and-a-half times over the country as a whole, which seems to confirm the worst fears of some people in the administration of our large cities that the increase in the cities is to be much higher than in the country areas, in which case it is a further burden on the city dweller.
§ Mr. Page
No, it is not a burden. This is achieving a fairness and justice between ratepayers. It does not mean that by revaluing property the rate one pays on it is going to be increased. On the previous occasion when it took place only in one or two cases was there an excessive increase in rates. However, I think I am straying from the Bill. I shall be happy to debate this on another and more appropriate occasion.
The home loss payment is closely associated with the farm loss payment, and I will come on to that in a moment. In dealing with the home loss payment we are not going to spurn any helping hand pointing to a good path to take which, up to the present, we might have thought a wrong path. One path I am already satisfied we must explore is that of the furnished tenants. My hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) raised this point.
It would be desirable to include furnished tenants for home loss payment, particularly in view of the fact that we include service tenants, but I must warn 147 the House that I cannot at this stage make a promise about this because it raises enormous complexities, and there will be a lot of involved cases and difficulties of definition. I can assure the House that we will try to find a solution to this, because I think it is desirable that we should include furnished tenants, if that is possible by way of definition. It will only be a small number—I am advised, 500 a year—who are likely to claim. So I think we can provide for them.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rowlands) raised the question of home loss payment in the case of the service of a blight notice. The point is that home loss payment is based on one's being forced out of the house. The payment is designed as a solatium for the grief of compulsory dispossession. In blight cases the purchase will be at the behest of the owner. It may be considered blight because he foresees what will happen, but it is at his request and behest because he wants to leave the premises. Immediate and compulsory acquisition is, therefore, absent in these blight cases. That is the reason why we do it this way in the Bill. Again, we shall be happy to argue it over in Committee.
This leads me to a major principle in the Bill. I readily admit that, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Sir F. Corfield) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) said, we have not really tried to apply in this Bill the principle of putting a deprived person in the same position so far as money can do it. To some extent, the recent case of the West Midlands Baptist church, in which it was decided that compensation was payable on entry and not on notice to treat gives some relief.
On the points which my right hon. and learned Friend raised, elsewhere in the Bill, by provision of the duty to rehouse and the provision of 100 per cent. mortgages, we have partially met this case, but home loss payments are not the value of some property interests acquired. The acquiring authority does not acquire a home. It destroys it. The home loss payment is, therefore, damages for the destruction of something the value 148 of which cannot be assessed. The reasoning is this: one should receive in compensation what a reasonable stranger would pay one for one's property if it were not needed for public purposes. And that, indeed, is market value, and that has been and will continue to be the fundamental principle of the compensation code.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central said that we ought to move to equivalent reinstatement. He said that where property was taken from a person, he should be paid what it would cost to get another property of the same age and the same character, and in the same place.
The trouble is that there are not houses of the same age and the same character in the same place. The unfortunate deprived person has to look for a house—and not necessarily an old house from which he may have moved but something for which he has to pay a great deal more. We have tried to meet that situation by realising that there are cases in which the act of compulsion causes hardship, as regards value, which it is practically impossible to assess but to which one must give recognition by some sort of universal formula.
The home loss payment and the farm loss payment are on much the same basis. In both cases, as with any formula, it is easy to argue that we have not been compassionate enough. I take some of the points which have been made on the farm loss payment, particularly those made on behalf of the tenant farmer.
It is difficult to distinguish between the owner-occupier farmer and the tenant farmer because owner-occupier farmers includes tenants whose leases have three years to run. But, generally speaking, the farmer receives market value for his land. He receives disturbance payments, the value of growing crops, loss on forced sale of stock, and so on. In addition to the compensation to which he is now entitled we shall be adding both the home loss payment and the farm loss payment, as appropriate.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South had a sound point when he said that the compensation paid to the tenant farmer of four times the rent—which is intended 149 to represent the fact that we do not pay the tenant farmer the good will of his farm, although the good will is paid to the owner-occupier to some extent by being included in the valuation of the land—is not the way we deal with the ordinary business person. We pay him for good will on the basis of his property. We shall look at this again to see whether we can meet the point which my right hon. and learned Friend raised.
§ Mr. Page
The tenant can get a reduction of rent on the fair rent basis for injurious affection. That is the compensation which he would receive if a motorway injuriously affected his home. The private tenant would see at once that his landlord was getting compensation and he would be entitled to claim a reduction in rent because it would be proved that his tenancy was of less value because his landlord received that compensation. Any tenant not having three years to run would seek to get a reduction in his fair rent. If he has three years to run, he comes in as an owner.
I have innumerable points to try to answer and if I am piecemeal for the next five minutes in answering them as they are on my notes, the House must forgive me. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock) asked about district valuation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State established earlier this year a committee which is investigating the rôle of the district valuer and the local authority valuer in relation to land transactions of local authorities. I look forward to receiving its report in the near future.
I turn to the question of noise and entitlement to sound insulation. There is at present no entitlement to, or discretion to pay for, sound insulation. Therefore, the right in the Bill is new. The entitlement in respect of new or improved roads open to traffic on or after 17th October 1972 is to cover 100 per cent. insulation. There is a discretion in respect of new or improved roads open 150 to traffic between 17th October 1969 and 16th October 1972. Therefore, in that discretionary power we would include—for the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman)—Spaghetti Junction. There is no provision in the Bill for what I am saying, because it will be included in regulations made under it.
It is open to argument whether the discretion should be made an entitlement, so that occupants of houses who suffer noise as a result of examples like Spaghetti Junction, which has been completed, should have an absolute entitlement. In the Bill there is only discretion for the local authority to pay. I should have thought that that was sufficient, and that any local authority would ensure that its citizens were protected when the road was built. However, let us talk about that matter in Committee.
§ Mr. Mackie
Suppose that a road which carries very little traffic is turned into a one-way system. Will what the Minister says apply in that instance?
§ Mr. Page
All the rights to injurious compensation under the Bill apply to new roads or enlarged roads where there is some alteration in structure. I take the point mentioned by some hon. Members that in the case of feeder roads which may not themselves have been altered, the great increase in traffic is due entirely to a new motorway or trunk road. I admit that that point is not covered in the Bill. Therefore, let us consider it again, and what it will cost to cover it.
I come to the question of decibels. I have not a clue what a decibel is, except that it is a measurement of noise. We do not merely call it a decibel; it is a db(A) and it is on the basis of a scale L10. The Building Research Station suggested 70 dB(A) as a starting point for discussion of remedial measures to protect people from traffic noise. It was not simply a theoretical, academic discussion. The social studies which were undertaken showed that half of those exposed to that level were not dissatisfied.
Although that was a practical exercise, there is no doubt that we must consider this matter again. The Noise Advisory Council supported what we have proposed but recommended that in 151 no circumstances should existing residential development be subjected by an act of conscious public policy to L10 levels in excess of 70 dB(A) unless some form of remedial or compensatory action was taken by the responsible authority. We have started with the figure which the practical researchers found half the people they asked did not object to. Now we had better consider the level at which people do object. It may well be lower than 70 decibels. We shall take further advice from the experts and carry out more practical experiments.
A number of hon. Members have raised the "room-with-a-view" question. The compensation given under the Bill will be compensation for a legalised nuisance. The law of nuisance has never protected a view.
Generally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Sydney Chapman) said, "If you can see it, you can hear it and smell it". Compensation would be payable under the Bill as it stands, and giving compensation only for legalised nuisance is a principle of the Bill. I was asked whether compensation would be given for opencast mining. That is a public works not protected in any way and to which the law of nuisance applies. From what has been said, it may well be that we should amend the law of nuisance to make it easier for people to claim in all the circumstances.
I finally come to the simplification of claims. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South mentioned this subject, as did many others. We are discussing with my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor what form of court should be set up, or what use of existing courts could be made, in order to prevent delays and to make it easy for claims to be heard. Perhaps we should have a registrar of the Lands Tribunal, rather as one has a registrar of a county court to deal with small claims, and perhaps we should set up a small claims court. I am certain that legal aid should be provided for these claims, and that they should give a speedier remedy than at present. I hope that we shall be able to sort that out with 152 my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor.
I wish that I were Father Christmas, with a bottomless sack, and that I could increase the compensation in all the ways suggested this afternoon. But I hope that the House will think that this is an acceptable hamper of goodies to present as Christmas approaches. We have some new goods in the hamper—compensation for depreciation by proximity of public works, home loss payment, farm loss payment, advance payment of compensation, and many improved things such as sound proofing, disturbance payments, rehousing obligations, and so on.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said that this was a new outlook—and certainly it is—to ensure fairer compensation and to reduce damage to the environment. It contains the most extensive reforms of the law of compensation in favour of the individual that have been put before Parliament for more than a century, and I hope that the House will accept it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).