§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, in asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this rather difficult Bill, I do not propose to attempt the task of discussing its provisions in great detail. Like the celebrated curate's egg, its composition is somewhat complicated. Your Lordships will recollect that parts of it were excellent, and we must infer that other parts left not such a pleasant taste in the mouth. Undoubtedly what one must frankly admit to be the major purpose of the present Bill—which is to extend the powers conferred in the Act 1052 of 1945 up to December 10, 1952—has not been received with enthusiasm anywhere. Although that is the most important of its purposes, the Bill has other purposes of less importance which I am sure your Lordships will agree are the excellent parts. In the first place, it proposes to bring the compensation sections of the Act into relationship with provisions of more recent Acts. That is to say, it proposes to depart from the flat 1939 value which was taken in 1945. It also contains important provisions for the purpose of making permanent the oil pipe-line which, your Lordships will remember, was constructed as one of the great war works during the period of the war.
May I deal with those three major aspects a little more in detail? The Act of 1945 contained various provisions relating to the compulsory acquisition of land. Part II of the Act gave powers for the permanent acquisition of land in certain cases—broadly speaking, for the purpose of preserving to the nation erections which had been in a substantial number of cases placed on land which had been requisitioned during the war. Therefore, if a valuable Royal Ordnance factory had been erected on a piece of land which had been requisitioned, the return of the requisitioned land to the original owner would not carry with it, as it would otherwise have done, that valuable erection. Then in Part V certain powers were conferred upon local authorities about which I do not think I need say more. In Part VI, which was, in some ways, the most important part of the Act, the power to remain in possession was conferred upon Government Departments for purposes of making use of erections which have been placed on the land, or for the purpose of rehabilitating the land, or removing erections which were no longer required. That is the Part which deals with the position of the Government Department in possession of the land where it is desirable for reasons of that kind that possession should be retained.
The 1945 Act, as your Lordships will recollect, fixed a period of two years during which these powers might be exercised, and that period of two years will expire on February 23 next, so that the date is getting rather near. But it does not mean that all the powers of the Act of 1945 come to an end on February 23 next, because it was provided that, by 1053 certification, an extension might be obtained to a date two years beyond the period of the Supplies and Services Act of the same year. That extension can be granted only for the purpose of what has been described as the "transitional economic powers" of the Act. The powers of the Act, broadly speaking, may be divided into two main types: powers relating to military purposes and powers relating to the economic purposes for which these lands might be used by Government Departments during the difficult transitional period. In that particular type of case, by certification, the powers may already be extended up to December 10,1952; so that in this part of the Bill which is before your Lordships to-day we are dealing with the question of extending the other powers which would otherwise expire on February 23 next.
It has been suggested that under the Supplies and Services Act, especially as amended by the Act which was before your Lordships only last year, the necessary powers may possibly exist, and it is possible that that is so. But the Government felt that this was a case where, as the powers had been originally conferred under the 1945 Act by Parliament, it: was right and proper that they should come back to Parliament and ask for a renewal of the powers, so to speak, in terms. Therefore we are asking for an extension of all the powers, both the powers for military purposes and the certificated powers for transitional economic purposes, up till December, 10,1952. In any case it is important that the two types of powers should be extended to the same date, because in actual practice it has been found rather difficult to draw a sharp dividing line between the two. It is pretty clear that if the one set of powers were to lapse and the other set of powers, by certification, were to continue, many borderline cases would arise which might necessitate considerable litigation and would undoubtedly give rise to a great deal of trouble.
Let us look a little more at the actual provisions of Part II of the original Act which gives power to acquire land. It has been thought by many people that the Government's prime object was to enable large areas of land up and down the country to be acquired for military training purposes. That is not the case. The Defence Departments already have 1054 ample powers under the Defence Acts for the permanent acquisition of land. The main reason why the powers under the old Act need to be extended is that the War Department and other military Departments are in possession of tracts of land which were requisitioned during the war, and which they used for training and for other military purposes during that period. It is obviously essential that they should take great care in making up their minds as to how much of that land they need permanently to acquire. The actual acquisition might be under this Act or it might be under the Defence Acts. Actually from the point of view of the people—and they are many—who dislike this acquisition of large tracts of land it is much better that those acquisitions should take place under the 1945 Act as extended, because under that Act there is the War Works Commission to which these cases have to be referred. That is a quasi-judicial and independent body which gives an independent and sound judgment on each case which is referred to it.
More important than Part II is the right to retain possession under Part VI of the original Act, which we are also asking your Lordships to extend. It has been unfortunate that the necessary decisions could not be reached by this month in connexion with what particular areas it is desired to retain. The Government sympathize with the landowners who have been put into a difficult position as a result. When the Supplies and Services Bill was before your Lordships in 1945, my noble friend Lord Pakenham expressed the hope, which was then the hope of everybody concerned, that it would, in fact, be possible to come to the necessary decisions before the end of 1947. For a number of reasons, however, this has not been so; particularly, I think, because of the great public interest in the question, which led the Prime Minister himself to intervene in November, 1946, to set up new administrative machinery in order that each particular case might be carefully considered. From that time a number of inquiries have been held, and that has been one of (he main reasons why it has not been possible to come to definite decisions by February of this year. Therefore, we have had to introduce this Bill in order to ask Parliament to extend the period. Those 1055 are the main points in regard to this important matter which is dealt with in Clause 1 of the Bill before your Lordships this afternoon, and the effect of which is to grant this extension.
I will turn now to the compensation aspects which are dealt with in Clauses 7 to 11. Compensation in respect of requisitioned land is of two main sorts—the rental compensation which is payable during the period of the requisition, and the terminal compensation which, as your Lordships are aware, is payable for damage done or alteration to the character of the land or building during its requisition. The effect of the present law, broadly speaking, is to establish the 1939 value, whether it is the 1939 rental value or the 1939 capital value, as the ceiling beyond which the compensation cannot go. It might be less but, normally speaking, it would be the 1939 value.
As your Lordships are aware, an attempt was made for a very long time to hold to 1939 values, but it has, during the past year or two, become more and more clear that it is not equitable to hold to those values. In Statutes like the Town and Country Planning Acts the 1939 values have been departed from. Therefore, the Government have taken advantage of the present Bill to go away from the 1939 ceiling resulting from the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945. So far as the rental compensation is concerned, we are taking the current market value, restricted, of course, to existing use. There are other uses that might have a higher value, so the current market value must be restricted to the existing use and be subject to a maximum, in the case of rent restricted properties, of the standard rent.
A substantial number of houses which have been taken over are smallish houses requisitioned by local authorities—for example, for purposes of housing homeless people. There is a substantial number of cases of this kind, and it would obviously be unfair that a greater rent should be obtainable because the houses were being used in that sort of way than houseowners might obtain by letting them in the ordinary way in the market. Therefore, in the case where properties are within the Rent Restriction Acts, the standard rent is the ceiling. In other cases, the ceiling is 160 per cent. of the 1939 1056 value; that is to say, we are allowing an increase, so to speak, of 60 per cent.
This method has been criticized because it is felt that there is a good deal to be said for the view that valuations on the 1939 basis are difficult, and it would be preferable to introduce some other method of assessment. If a better method could be found, we should be very glad. However, taking everything by and large, and considering the very different types of property which are in fact involved in this problem, the Government are satisfied that the method which they are suggesting is the only really practicable one. Turning to the terminal compensation, I may say that here we have been able to depart entirely from 1939 values. The basis in this case is the current cost of rehabilitation, subject to a maximum of the diminution in the value of the property due to such damage as may have been done or such alteration as has taken place. That can be calculated quite simply by taking the difference between the current capital value of the property as damaged or altered and the current capital value which it would have if it were in its original condition and in no way damaged or altered. I am sure your Lordships will agree that that is a very reasonable and equitable basis to take.
The third main purpose of the Bill, as I indicated at the beginning of my speech, is to deal with the oil pipe-lines, that most important war work which was carried through during the war, and which was of such great value. Under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945, power was taken to maintain and use the pipe-line on a temporary basis, and it was then intended that the permanent structures that had been erected here and there for the purposes of effective use of the pipe-line should be permanently acquired under the provisions of the Act, and that easements should be obtained over those parts of the pipeline where it was just going through or under property. Experience, however, has shown that, owing to the very large number of landowners who are interested in this matter, it is a most protracted business to get all the necessary easements, and the Government are satisfied that a much more expeditious and less cumbersome process must be provided. Therefore, they are providing perfectly 1057 simply, by a Clause in the Bill, that the temporary use shall become a permanent use. However, this does mean, of course, that the owners must be told what is happening; they must know where the pipe-line is; they must understand what obligations are imposed upon them, and also they must be granted compensation. Provision is made for the compensation. That is a perfectly straightforward matter, and I do not think it calls for any particular comment.
With regard to the other side of the question, the Bill provides that the necessary rights must be endorsed on the title deeds of the property, or else must be entered upon the register of local land charges. It is intended that in the normal case they will be endorsed on the title deeds. Obviously, from many points of view, that is much the more satisfactory way of doing it. It may be thought that it is rather difficult to get hold of the title deeds, and an attempt is being made to get over that difficulty by a provision that the compensation shall be dependent upon the necessary endorsements being made. It is hoped that, by that means, in a comparatively short time all the necessary easements will have been obtained. The Bill provides that all this must be done before the end of 1949, so that a date is fixed.
Those are the main provisions of the Bill. No doubt your Lordships will have a number of points to bring forward in regard to the different clauses. Some of the subsidiary clauses deal with matters which are not without importance, such as, for example, those relating to the stopping-up of highways. I shall be very glad to try to deal with any problems of that kind. I think your Lordships will agree that I have placed the main purposes of the Bill before you. With those words, I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Chorley.)
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ The Earl of MUNSTER
My Lords, I think I should not be exaggerating this afternoon if I said that, throughout the twenty years that I have been a member of your Lordships' House, I have never seen a. more complicated and difficult Bill to decipher. I have always understood that the traditional patience of Job in all his sufferings and maladies must have 1058 been of the highest quality; but he could never have read this Bill! I need not read to your Lordships the whole of Clause 1, but I merely ask you to cast your eye over the first subsection of that clause. He would be a very remarkable person indeed who understood its contents. As I said, this is a very complicated Bill. It refers to other Acts of Parliament which, in their turn, refer to previous or to associa: ed Acts, all of which adds to the complexity of the Bill.
I have tried my best to understand what is intended and, as I see it, he measure is divided into three parts, none of which is dependent upon any other, and indeed none of which bears any reference to any other parts. The first six clauses, is the noble Lord said, amend Parts II, V and VI of the principal Act of 1945; the next little batch of clauses amend the compensation provisions of the Defence Act of 1939, and the last few clauses of the Bill deal with oil pipe-lines. The powers under the three Parts of the 1945 Act expire two years from the end of the war period, as I understand it, but for the purposes of those three Parts the Supplies and Services Act extended the war period to December, 1950, and their validity for a further two years, to December, 1952. Those Parts, if I have understood them correctly, deal with cases where works were performed or where their use was continued after February, 1946, and purely for transitional purposes. Your Lordships will, therefore, observe that in cases where the land was held or the works were used for economic purposes, as mentioned by Lord Chorley, the powers expire in 1952. But the powers which are exercised over land requisitioned for war purposes, and which has not been used for any other purpose, expire in 1948, and it is with these points that this. Bill deals.
I would agree, on the facts of both cases, that perhaps there would be little to say if it were not for the fact that procrastination is made possible after the Bill becomes an Act. By its very terms it seems to me that it must encourage the Service Departments to postpone or delay reaching decisions over land which has been requisitioned and which was needed for war purposes until almost February, 1952, four years hence. We all know that any amount of land was requisitioned for war purposes and is now no longer used. 1059 In many cases it has been abandoned to neglect and decay. And, quite apart from the heavy loss of agricultural land, there are any number of persons with small means who have had their land and buildings taken and have no idea when their property will be returned to them. The noble Lord says that he and the Government have sympathy for them; but sympathy is not enough. In many cases they have had their only assets taken and they can find no redress or information whatever from Service Departments as to when these assets will be returned; and now it is intended to prolong this delay for a period of four years. I believe that it is contrary to public interests to leave these persons of small means in a state of constant uncertainty.
None of us on these Benches, and I am sure none of your Lordships on the Government Benches, wishes to leave the Service Departments without sufficient land to meet all their requirements. But what is the real reason for authorizing so long an additional period? The noble Lord gave us no indication of that in the course of his remarks. Is it a fear of war? Is it the lack of knowledge and decision by Service Departments as to their real requirements? Or is it—as I believe it to be—a delay on the part of His Majesty's Government in presenting a proper and comprehensive defence programme to the Service Departments? We have had many debates in this House on the subject of requisitioned land. My noble friend who leads the Opposition has raised this question before, and I think I am correct in saying that members upon all sides of the House were somewhat critical of the Government's lack of decision. In passing from that I would ask the noble Lord this: What guarantee can he give to your Lordships that when we approach that date in 1952 we shall not suddenly find this Act further extended for another period of time?
I now pass to Clause 3 of the Bill, which regularizes any illegalities which may have occurred over the permanent stopping-up of highways between a period in 1939 and February, 1946. The second purpose of that clause, as I understand it, is to extend the validity of the powers, which are at present held under the 1945 Act, to close permanently any highway which has been used continuously for any war purpose. As the noble Lord must 1060 know full well, this is a direct contradiction of the undertaking which was given by the Home Secretary in another place in presenting the Supplies and Services Act of 1945. It is quite true that these same powers were in the Act of 1945 when it was a Bill, but they were withdrawn after considerable pressure in another place; and in withdrawing them the Home Secretary stated that from the passing of the Act of 1945 there would be no power to make any new decisions or closure of highways except in the three ways well known to the law—by a special Act of Parliament, under the orders of justices or under a town and country planning scheme. What has changed since that guarantee was given by the Home Secretary?
From the speech which the noble Lord made in introducing his Bill, I have been unable to appreciate why it is necessary to obtain these autocratic powers and to close existing highways which have been used by the general public for years. Let me give the House an indication or explanation of what I mean. Let us suppose that the Pilgrims' Way—a well-known highway in this country—or perhaps a portion of it, was closed continuously during the war; under this clause, as I read it, that closure could become permanent and for ever. Let me ask the noble Lord this: What would be the position if, in regard to land acquired by the Government, it appeared that after a certain length of time it was no longer required, and it had a famous highway running through the area? If the Government sold that land would the highway then be open again to the public, or would it remain closed for ever to the inhabitants of that locality and other people who might go there? Those are questions that I ask on this first Part of the Bill.
I turn now to deal with even more complicated matters—rental compensation and terminal compensation. It is true, as the noble Lord says, that under the terms of the Bill, rental compensation is to be adjusted to the current value for existing user, subject to the ceiling of the 1939 values plus 60 per cent. Why, when we endeavoured so laboriously, with the help of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, to get rid of the 1939 standards from the law of compensation for the acquisition of land, is it necessary in 1948 to introduce it for the first time 1061 into the law of rental compensation? The Government may defend their action by referring to the prevalence of scarcity values. We have never regarded this as an excuse, because the owner turned out by the Government has to re-accommodate himself at present-day values. If the Government insist on eliminating this element, I cannot for the life of me understand why they have not applied to the problem in this Bill the ingenuity which enabled them to escape from the 1939 standards under the Town and Country Planning Act of last year. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, said that only small homes had been taken to accommodate the homeless. But these are the very people for whom I am appealing; these people who have had small homes—
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I was referring to the standard rent restriction, which I said was an important restriction because a substantial number of small properties which came within the Rent Acts had been requisitioned.
§ The Earl of MUNSTER
The noble Lord says that a number of small homes have been taken, I think by the local authorities, to house the homeless. These people have to find other accommodation. Why in the world they should be tied down to the 1939 values, plus 60 per cent., puzzles me. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell me the reason when he replies. Anyhow, I certainly intend to put down an Amendment on this for consideration at the next stage of the Bill, and we can then thresh the matter out.
I now wish to refer to the provisions in Clause 8 which deal with rent-restricted land. I do not think that we on these Benches would argue that the owner of rent-restricted property which was held on a tenancy when the requisitioning occurred should receive any higher rent merely because the Government have become his tenant. The case, which seems to me so utterly unjust, however, is that of property which comes within the rent-restricted limits of value and which, at the time of the requisitioning, was not and perhaps never had been, subject to any tenancy. As I understand it, the effect of this case is that the owner-occupier who but for a requisitioning would now be able to let his property at current values, is even excluded from the measure of justice which is dealt out under the pro- 1062 visions of Clause 8. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, knows as well as I do the views which we hold on the whole question of rent restriction. Will he, between now and the next stage of the consideration of the Bill, look at the definition of "rent-restricted land" as drawn in Clause 8. This again we should like to discuss on a future occasion, and We shall put down an Amendment dealing with the point.
Next, I come to the matter of terminal Compensation, which I am told is legal terminology for compensation for damage done during the period of requisitioning. That is subject to a ceiling which is the pre-emergency value of the property. Terminal compensation, which is dealt with Under the Bill, alters the maximum compensation from the 1939 value of property to the difference between the present compulsory purchase value in a damaged state and the compulsory purchase value in a prerequisitioned state. It is difficult to follow, I know, but the proposal at its face value seems fair and equitable. But in certain types of case it is bound to bear very heavily. The cases I am thinking of are commonly those of agricultural land, where; the costs of restoration are extremely burdensome, and are generally incurred over long periods following derequisitioning. We all know that the total of those costs may—in fact they always must—greatly exceed the difference between the purchase price in an undamaged condition and the purchase price in a damaged condition. Let us take the case of agricultural land which, undamaged, is worth, say, £50 am acre. Even if it is seriously damaged it has obviously some value; let us put it at £10 an acre. Now to put that land back into good heart is bound to take some years. It cannot all be done at once, and it is going to cost a gnat deal more than the difference between those two sums. Where there has been open-cast mining, I am told that it takes a vast number of years and the cost is in many cases quite prohibitive. The Government—although the noble Lord did not do so to-day—admitted this problem in another place, and they gave statements of a somewhat reassuring nature. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, will be able to give these definite undertakings in this House, even if it is not possible to insert some Amendment in the Bill.
1063 There is one other problem which relates to terminal compensation and the question of leasehold property which has been requisitioned. There may well, in these cases, be a single dwelling house which is under lease, and which the lessee covenants to keep as a single dwelling house. The local authority may have come along and requisitioned the house and turned it into flats for housing the homeless. In that event, the market value of the house is, of course, considerably enhanced, but the leaseholder will receive nothing. On the other hand, the freeholder can enforce the covenant, and the leaseholder will bear the whole expense and cost of converting the house back to a single dwelling house. I am well aware that when the lease expires before the end of requisitioning this problem is already dealt with, and is covered by, the Landlord and Tenant (Requisitioned Land) Act of 1944. But the case is not covered, and never has been, when the lease expires after derequisitioning has occurred. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give us some information on that point.
I turn, finally, to one brief point on the Government's intention regarding oil pipelines. As the noble Lord rightly says, compensation is provided for owners of land through which the pipe-lines are laid, and the existence of these pipe-lines must be registered in the local land charges register or it will be endorsed, as the noble Lord has said, on the title deeds. I am told that in a number of cases this pipeline runs underneath the property of innumerable people, in most cases of very small holders. I think it should be laid down quite plainly in the Bill that they must be advised that they have a claim for compensation to make and that if the pipe-line runs underneath their ground that fact should be either endorsed in the title deeds or inserted in the local land charges register. So many people fail to understand what the local land charges register does, and still fewer understand a title deed dealing with land. I think the Government should make arrangements for people to be informed. I am going to put an Amendment down on that clause of the Bill and I trust that it will have at least the sympathy of the noble Lord.
I have been much too long in dealing with the Bill, which is very important, 1064 but I have given the House an indication of the Amendments which we intend to move at the next stage of the Bill. I know that the noble Lord and his colleagues are extremely anxious to obtain this measure and to give it the Royal Assent. We on this side shall do nothing to retard the progress of the Bill, so long as we can have proper discussion during the Committee stage to deal with the Amendments that I have suggested. When all is said and done, it is no fault of ours that so little time is left for consideration of this very important Bill by (as we so frequently describe ourselves) this competent revising Chamber.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, I do not want to add more than a few sentences to what my noble friend has said, but I must say that although the noble Lord who introduced this Bill did it with great clarity, I thought he did not do it with a great deal of enthusiasm. He said the Bill was like the curate's egg. I understand that was only good in parts, and I can very well understand the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, thinking in his heart that this Bill is not very good in, at any rate, that part which allows the military to retain some of the pleasantest beauty spots in this country. I regret that very much. I do not know whether the blame lies with the Government. I do not know whether the Government have yet laid down a proper policy for the Armed Forces. If they have not, the blame lies with them; but if they have, it lies with the Service Departments.
For two-and-a-half years vast areas of land have been taken up for practice grounds and ranges. Some of that land, and perhaps the greater part of it, ought by now, in my view, to have come back into use for producing food. Every single acre in this country that is food producing land ought to-day to be producing food. That land is now merely producing a crop of thistles, briars, and nettles. The longer it goes on doing that, the more difficult it will be to get it back into food production. That remark applies equally to buildings on the land. Farm buildings and cottages for the workpeople, when left as part of a derelict ex-Army range, deteriorate every month and every year they are not lived in, and by 1952 those buildings will be quite uninhabitable. Then we will need more 1065 labour to build new cottages, and that will put back for another year the time when these farms will return to production. For those reasons I deplore giving the Service Departments another four years in which to make up their minds. I always think it a jolly good thing to follow up any decision by saying, "Come back in a fortnight's time and show me what has been done." In this case, we are saying," Come back in three and three-quarter years' time and show what has been done." That is too long. I hope that pressure will be brought on the Service Departments to see that that land is released at the earliest possible moment.
If the noble Lord had said that they wanted another year to get things straight, everybody would have considered that in the circumstances it was quite reasonable. It seems, however, that the period of four years was taken merely to make this uniform with the supply side of the requisitioning of land. I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us that pressure is to be put on the Service Departments to make up their minds to release a great deal of this land earlier, in spite of the fact that they may be given these powers for three and three-quarter years. That is the reasonable thing to do. I hope instructions will be given by the Cabinet to the Secretary of State for War, because it is the War Office which is the biggest holder of land, although I do not entirely acquit the Air Ministry, which is retaining quite a number of airfields which could easily be turned back to the farmers.
It is not necessary to dig up the concrete runways; they can be left down. In a market garden area a runway would make an extremely good road. Many people would like to have such a road through the middle of their farms. I plead with the Government to put pressure on the Air Ministry to allow all parts surrounding the airfields not in present use to be rented and go back to food production, even if, in the event of another war, the tenants have to be turned out. I should like the House to get it impressed on the minds of the Service Departments that it is unpatriotic to keep out of cultivation a single acre of land which they are not using because they cannot make up their minds whether or not they want to use it.
1066 The only other thing I would like to lay stress upon is that I did not quite understand the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, when he said that we have got away from 1939 values in this Bill, because what we are doing is getting back to 1939 values plus something. We got rid of the 1939 value in the Town and Country Planning Act, but in this Bill, or, at any rate, in one part of it, we are getting back to it, though it is true we are adding "plus sixty" to it. I thought that old controversy had been amicably settled once and for ail on the Town and Country Planning Act. It is extremely loyal of the noble Earl, the Under-Secretary of State to the Ministry of Agriculture, to come and sit next his colleague, but I am sorry he was not here a moment or two ago when I was criticizing the noble Lord for asking power to occupy agricultural land for another period of four years. But if the noble Earl will look up what I have said and kindly add to the pressure I am trying to put on the Service Departments to give the land up, I shall be extremely obliged to him.
On the question of the oil pipe-line, let me say this. I think it is perfectly right for the Government permanently to take over that line. It took an immense amount of trouble to instal, and required a large amount of steel. At that time I was allocating steel, and I had to allocate it for that pipe-line. I believe it is one of those permanent measures which may well be used in peace time, and which certainly ought to be used in war time. It was a great relief to our railways, under the pressure of war, that we had not to use tank wagons but could get the oil by pumping it through under the ground. I would reinforce what my noble friend Lord Munster has said. You are putting an obligation on the owners of the land through which the pipe-line passes. That is contained in Clause 12 (6), which says:If without the consent of a Minister any building or structure is erected over a Government oil pipe-line or work-; accessory thereto or the site of such a line or such works, or so near thereto as to obstruct the use of the line or works or access thereto or to the site thereof, a Minister may cause the building or structure to be removed and may recover the cost of the removal from the person by whom the building or structure was erected.I do not know whether any noble Lord has tried to trace the drains that go from his house, but I have always found it 1067 an extremely difficult thing to do. Even if they have been down for only a year or two, the exact course which they take is very difficult to follow. What in reason ought to be done, and can easily be done, is at any rate to give notice to the occupier. My noble friend has mentioned an Amendment which we may put down, providing that owners and occupiers should be given notice; but we are very reasonable people, and if the "and" should be changed to "or" it probably would meet the case. It may, of course, be difficult to find the owner. It seems to me that it ought to be pointed out to the occupier that the pipe-line goes through the land he is occupying. The course of it should be shown to him on a plan, so that he may put it on his estate plan, if he has one, or on the plan of his field. He will then have adequate notice that he can claim compensation. As my noble friend has said, there are few people who go and look at land registers; and very often those registers are kept quite a long way from the place where the occupier is working. We shall press the Government to ensure that these people are given notice of the exact location of the pipe-line by those who know where it runs, so that afterwards labour and material will not be wasted in erecting some barn or other building over it that eventually has to be pulled down. I think that is very reasonable. I, too, deplore the fact that we have not much latitude in regard to time for consideration of this Bill, but I can assure the noble Lord—I say this most handsomely—that if he will meet the three simple Amendments which we propose to put down, the Bill will go through in double-quick time.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I should like to express my appreciation for the comparatively cordial welcome which your Lordships have given to this measure. If I may, I will deal first with the points which have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. I think his main anxiety—and it is certainly one which I myself feel—is that these areas, whether they are beauty spots, areas over which people take their exercise, or areas which have been taken away from agriculture, should as soon as reasonably practicable be returned to their owners. I can assure 1068 the noble Lord that His Majesty's Government have these matters very much in mind: indeed, it is partly because of that that this protracted period has resulted.
§ LORD CHORLEY
They have to be borne in mind in order that they may be dealt with; and the more constantly they are borne in mind the more rapidly they will be dealt with. I can assure the noble Lord and the noble Earl that it is not a question of the fear of imminent war, or anything of that kind; or, indeed, that the Government have not been working hard upon the requirements for military training and military matters generally. Obviously, the problems of making provision for military training in the conditions of modern war are quite different from those which existed before the recent war. With the test will in the world—quite apart from anything else—it would have been impossible for those responsible for military training, and for the other aspects of this business, to complete the job in two years.
As noble Lords are aware, the Departments concerned have indicated in the recent White Paper their global requirements; but those requirements have got to be broken up and the detailed work of dealing with them will obviously be very substantial. Quite apart from the possibility of doing it within the period in question, the intense interest shown by the public in the preservation of all these different areas, led, as I indicated in my opening speech, to the intervention of the Prime Minister himself and to the setting up of new machinery. This has been working well, but it must obviously take considerable time, because a careful hearing on the spot has to be taken; all sorts of interested bodies and people have to give evidence; and then reports are made. In those circumstances, clearly it would be impossible to get this thing done in the short period which has been available—and it has, after all, been a comparatively short period.
Moreover, the labour situation has become even more difficult during this period. A great deal of this land has been retained, as your Lordships are aware, in order that the problem of clear- 1069 ing up may be more effectively dealt with. From the landowner's point of view, if much of this land were returned to him, it would be impossible for him in the present situation to take effective steps to rehabilitate it. The Government's object was that the rehabilitation should be carried out, and the Government are in a better position to carry it out than the landowner. The labour position has grown worse and worse, and that is another reason why, in the cases of the smaller areas, where it is a question of rehabilitating the land, it has not been possible to get the job finished.
From the point of view of agriculture, if the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, will look at Clause 2 of the Bill he will find a provision, the whole object of which is to enable those lands which have been cut up by airfield runways to be acquired for the purpose of dealing with them more efficiently as agricultural units.
The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, then dealt with this question of the 1939 values. It is quite true that in respect of the rental compensation we are tacking a percentage on to the 1939 value, but in regard to the terminal compensation we have been able to get away from 1939 altogether. Of course, 60 per cent. on to 1939 is a substantial advance on the position as established by the Act of 1945. The noble Earl, Lord Minister, asked: "Why cannot it be dealt with in the same way as it is dealt with under the Town and Country Planning Act?" I think if he would consider the matter in a little more detail, he would see that the two cases are not in any way on a par. What we are dealing with under the Town and Country Planning Act is the capital value of the land, and not the rental value. In that Act we assumed a notional lease which would not be a practicable method of dealing with rental compensation of this kind. Moreover, very many of these requisitioned properties are parts of buildings, single floors or something of that kind. I do suggest that the method used in the Town and Country Planning Act would be quite incapable of application in this sort of case.
Both the noble Earl and the noble Lord said: "What sort of guarantee have we that if we grant this extra period of four years it will not just be frittered away, and that in 1952 the situation will not be just as bad as now?" A great deal of progress has been made. Much the largest 1070 proportion of the lands which were requisitioned have, in fact, already been returned, and derequisitioning is going on the whole time. The Service Departments are under constant pressure, and I think they are only too anxious to get this problem effectively dealt with, because they want to know where they are for the purposes of their own training programmes; they want to make their own arrangements. Noble Lords may be quire satisfied that this matter will be continually under review and that every pressure will be brought to bear upon the Departments to see that the necessary arrangements are carried out as promptly as possible.
§ Viscount BRIDGEMAN
May I interrupt the noble Lord? Surely this was not a question only of bringing pressure to bear, but of letting the Service Departments know what their commitments are to be in the future. The reason that the land is retained is not out of malice or ill-will, but simply because they have not yet been told what their commitments are to be. Until they know that they do not know what land they can spare and what land they must retain.
§ LORD CHORLEY
I cannot accept the noble Viscount's view of the matter. According to my information the Departments in question have, to a very large extent, worked out their training programmes.
§ Viscount BRIDGEMAN
I apologize for interrupting once more. I never suggested that the Departments in question had not worked out their programmes. I suggested that those programmes had not been finally accepted or approved.
§ LORD CHORLEY
The difficulty about the final acceptance and approval of the programmes is that one element in them is the question of this land being available, which involves the consideration of all these important tracts of land—Dartmoor and the other places—where local inquiries have in fact been held over the last few months.
May I now pass to the question of highways? It is perfectly true, of course, that the provisions in the Bill before your Lordships depart from the undertaking of the Home Secretary in another place in 1945. It was then hoped that 1071 it would be possible to bring this matter of stopping up highways to an end; but obviously there are two matters here which made it impossible to leave the situation as it was. In the first place, it has been found that quite a number of highways have been diverted or stopped up, and at the time it was not realized by the people who stopped them up that they were highways. Therefore, the arrangements which were provided for under the 1945 Act could not be put into operation. The Bill is necessary, therefore, for a case where there is a highway going across a field upon which a factory or some other building has been erected, but where it was not realized at the time there was in fact a highway, and where the provisions of the Act could not be complied with. Obviously it would be absurd to extend until 1952 the period for remaining in possession of the land, and not to give the powers in respect of the footpaths until the same period. I am sure that the noble Earl will realize, if he looks at it in the light of those considerations, that the proposals in the Bill relating to highways are perfectly reasonable.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
May I interrupt the noble Lord? Is it not a fact that once these powers are used in regard to a footpath it is extinguished for ever?
§ LORD CHORLEY
Of course that is so. Like any other footpath which is stopped up, whether it is stopped up by Quarter Sessions, or whether it is stopped up under the provisions of this Bill, it is, of course, clearly stopped up; if it is to become a footpath again it must be re-dedicated. That is an answer to a question put to me by the noble Earl. The noble Earl is aware that a departmental Committee has dealt with the whole question of footpaths in the country, but that is a matter which is rather apart from the purposes of this particular Bill. The noble Earl raised questions on both aspects of the compensation and indicated that he was intending to move Amendments with regard to both those matters on the Committee stage. In those circumstances, I think it will probably be more convenient if we discuss these matters in detail when that stage is reached; similarly in regard to the oil pipe-fine, about which the noble Earl was 1072 so anxious—and properly anxious—that the owners of the land across which this pipe-line goes should be made aware of their responsibilities under the Bill. I doubt at a first sight whether the particular method which he suggested for dealing with the problem was the best possible one, or indeed a practical one, but obviously we shall have an opportunity of looking at that more in detail when the Amendment is put down.
§ The Earl of MUNSTER
I never made any proposition except broadly that the Government should see that these people were advised that the pipe-line runs across their land. If the noble Lord has any other suggestion, I shall be only too delighted to listen to it.
§ LORD CHORLEY
Possibly I misunderstood the noble Earl. I thought he was suggesting that at the time of registration there should be some compulsory notification from the Registry to the owners. It was that which at first sight struck me as being possibly impracticable. I would not like to give any categorical answer at the present time, but I can assure the noble Earl that the Ministry of Works are already aware of almost all of these owners, and in many cases, where they are aware of the owners, have already taken steps to bring the position to their notice. Indeed, negotiations have been going on with the vast majority of them. It is a separate negotiation in each case. It leads to very protracted delays, and involves an enormous amount of work at a time when solicitors and members of the legal profession are very much overworked. Therefore the Bill seeks to avoid these individual transactions in connexion with each small plot of land across which the pipe-line goes. I suggest that this matter can be gone into more effectively during the Committee stage. In these circumstances I hope that your Lordships will now give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.