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Acquisition Of Land

Volume 411: debated on Tuesday 29 May 1945

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10.42 p.m.

I beg to move,

"That the Acquisition of Land (Valuation for Supplemental Compensation) Regulations, 1945, a copy of which was presented on 10th April, be annulled: "
With so many new faces on the Government Front Bench, I would say that this is not an unfriendly Prayer—not in all respects at any rate. I regard it as a legacy which has come to the new Government from the old Coalition Government. I understand that the Select Committee which was appointed by this House to investigate, to "vet," all Orders in Council has reported unfavourably about this Statutory Rule and Order. I understand further that the Department concerned furnished the Select Committee with an explanatory memorandum and that the Select Committee could not understand the explanatory memorandum. How is this House to understand an Order in Council which is not intelligible to the Committee specially deputed by this House to deal with such matters? No explanatory memorandum has been produced in this House and I would like to ask my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasnry why it is that with such a complicated Order, no explantory memorandum has been supplied.

Reading the Order, I find in paragraph 2 that for 28 lines there is no full stop. We all like a breathing space, and a full stop, I was told when I was at school, is a breathing space. I would challenge my right hon. Friend to read paragraph 2 without drawing a breath and, having read it without any full stop or breathing space, to tell us what it meant. Paragraph 3 is not very much better, because there are 19 lines without any full stop. For a small fee—I am probably out of order in saying "a small fee"—but for a kindly smile, or little encouragement, I will guarantee to redraft paragraph 2 with six and probably 12 full stops—provided the Minister will tell me what it means—so that Members will be able to understand it. I have read it very carefully and at the moment I cannot conceive what it means. Far be it from me, of little intelligence, to complain about the wording of an Order in Council. But I have discussed this with various of my hon. Friends and they have fortified me. They also cannot understand what paragraph 2 means, or indeed several of the other paragraphs. Unless we get some reasonable explanation from my right hon. Friend to-night, I suggest that he should withdraw this Order in Council; that he should see to it that those who are intended to be benefited by the quite unintelligible provisions contained therein shall not lose by the withdrawal of the Order and that he should reintroduce the Order written in good honest English language.

10.47 p.m.

I think that the House should consider this document very carefully. It starts off:

"The Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury in exercise of the powers conferred on them by subsection (2) of section sixty of the Town and Country Planning Act, and of all other powers enabling them in that behalf"
—words which incidentaly have no significance at all. It is the practice of draftsmen to put in words which have no meaning of any kind whatever, to imply that they have powers that they do not really possess. May I repeat those words:
"Of all other powers enabling them in that behalf."
These words ought not to appear in any Order of this kind. It is only the Ministry of Food which uses these words—plus the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. These are perfectly stupid words which appear in a great many documents, because unless they come under the Royal Prerogative and not in a Statute, they have no meaning of any kind whatever. The Ministry of Food stick them into every Order they produce. I asked Questions when I sat on the now totally unoccupied Bench opposite—I assume that the Opposition have gone off electioneering. I think I had better go over there and take their place.

The hon. Gentleman cannot leave his place in the middle of a speech. I should have to rule him out of Order.

I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I thought it a good opportunity, as we have no Member of the Labour Party present. I should have thought that they would be interested in the acquisition of land; they used to be interested in that subject. I am very grateful to see that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) has now returned because we used to fire watch together. But he decorates the benches opposite entirely alone. I agree that he decorates them, but it is unfortunate that the rest of his Party are not present when we are discussing a document which socialises the land of Britain. Apparently, however, his Party are no longer interested.

The real reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Taylor) moved this Motion is this. Here is a document which is so unintelligible that the Select Committee on Statutory Rules and Orders came to the conclusion that they could not understand it. Acting in accordance with their powers they asked for an explanation from the Department concerned. They could not understand the explanation. Now this has the effect of an Act of Parliament. A Select Committee of this House have said they did not understand this document. A Select Committee of this House after receiving the evidence of the Department concerned still say they do not understand this document. Is this document to go out to the world to be interpreted, I do not know by what court of justice—it may be the county courts, it may be the High Court, it may be the Court of Appeal, it may be the other place in its judicial capacity—on the basis that a number of Members of this House drawn from all political parties have reported that they could not understand it? Do I understand that the Financial Secretary is going to ask us to accept this document?

As far as I can understand it—and my understanding of it is not too good—certain people in whom I am interested may be prejudiced if it is not carried to-night. But that is no reason for bad legislation. It is monstrous that the people responsible for drafting documents should be incapable of drafting documents in language which can be understood, not by the mass outside but by whom? By 12 of our colleagues—and we are not too unintelligent in this House. Twelve of our colleagues have said that they do not understand what this means and after having had the explanatory memorandum from the Treasury or from the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, they have said they do not understand it either. I think it absolutely monstrous that Ministers should be willing to put forward documents which they do not understand, and which a Select Committee of this House fail to understand, even after they have had an explanatory memorandum from the officials concerned. This document is dated 31st March, 1945, and is signed by L. R. Pym and William John, two Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury. One of them has been sacked since he signed the document. After all the other Pym had a good name. We walk along the corridors here and see a reminder of the occasion when the then Speaker addressed certain words to his then Majesty, when Pym, Hampden and the others escaped by boat—

After all, I am entitled, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I find a document signed by certain names, to consider what is the reputability—I think that is the right phrase—of the signatories to the document.

Yes, but the hon. Member cannot go back to the time of Charles II.

I do not know whether it was Charles II or Charles I. I think it was Charles I. However, I leave out Pym, but as I say William John has been sacked since he signed the document. He did not resign; his boss resigned and he was sacked in consequence. Here is a document which the Select Committee of this House of Commons have said they did not understand. Here is a document which is completely unintelligible. It has been submitted to a Select Committee of this House on which all Parties were serving. What was their report printed in our Proceedings the following day? We did not understand it; we have asked for an explanation. This is the last occasion on which it will appear before us because, automatically, it comes into operation to-morrow. It may be a good or a bad Order. I am not concerned with that. But should we consent to the passage into law of Statutory Rules and Orders which nobody understands? I hope my right hon. Friend, the Financial Secretary, can explain what it is all about.

10.57 p.m.

I am not altogether surprised that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Taylor) has raised this matter, because these Regulations undoubtedly are of a very complex nature; but the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) who followed him fell into more than one error in the course of his remarks. He said, for example, that these Regulations would come into force to-morrow unless the House did something about them. The fact is that these Regulations have been in force now for 39 days.

What I said was—or what I implied was—that they would have effect of law to-morrow. I hope I am not wrong, because if we carry the Prayer to-night, they will not be law to-morrow morning.

If we were to carry the Prayer to-night it is perfectly true they would no longer be law; but they have, in fact, been law for 39 days, and this is the fortieth day—

This is the fortieth day since they were laid before the House. The hon. Member said the Select Committee whose duty it is to scrutinise all Regulations and other instruments which come before the House, or which may be prayed against by the House, had stated that they could not understand these Regulations. I think that is putting it a little too high, because the report of the Select Committee was that in their opinion these Regulations called for elucidation.

I think there is probably a Member of the Select Committee here. If there is, perhaps he could enlighten the House on what the Select Committee thought about this Order?

I believe I am the only member of the Select Committee present. I think my right hon. Friend is quite correct in saying we did not report in the words used by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), because our terms of reference would not allow that. But I think it can be seen that the effect was that it was extremely difficult for the members of the Select Committee to understand the wording, and we did feel it needed the attention of the House, accordingly.

Perhaps I may explain that the powers under the Town and Country Planning Act for the making of these Regulations is contained in Section 60 (11), which says the Treasury may make regulations

"prescribing the manner in which any evaluation required for the purpose of the determination of a claim for the payment of a sum under either the last preceding sections has to be made."
Parliament, I think, must take some responsibility for the form in which the legislation is pased. There is not the slightest doubt that Sections 58 and 59 of the Town and Country Planning Act are of an excessively complicated nature. Let me explain what these two Sections were intended to do. They were intended to give something over and above the 1939 value to the owner-occupier who is compulsorily expropriated. The House in its wisdom determined that the proper supplement to give to owner-occupiers compulsorily expropriated under the Act was something not exceeding 30 per cent. of the 1939 value. But the House decided this: that the owner-occupier should get 30 per cent. in excess of the 1939 value on the value of his building, but excluding the value of the site, and it therefore becomes necessary to make two valuations before you can ascertain what the owner-occupier's interest is. You must make a valuation of the building plus the site and then of the site by itself, and then subtract the latter valuation from the first.

The matter is even more complicated than that. If all these owner-occupiers owned the freehold of their houses the matter would be comparatively simple. But the House went further and said that leaseholders must be compensated also on the basis of getting the 30 per cent. increase on the 1939 value of their leasehold interests. Therefore, of course, a much more difficult complication is involved, because the leaseholder's interest depends upon the amount of rent he is paying and the relationship of that rent to the annual value of the house. If you occupy a house at a rental of £20 a year and the annual value is £100 a year, you have a very substantial interest. If, on the other hand, you are paying £100 a year by way of rent and the annual value of the house is £80 you have, in fact, got something which looks like a liability. With regard to these leasehold interests you have to take into consideration the term of years for which the tenant is entitled to hold the premises.

The Treasury were confronted with an exceedingly difficult task in drawing up these regulations. As a matter of fact this is a case where the matter is of such complexity that rather than put it in the Statute itself, the House decided deliberately that it should be left to the Regulations to provide for it. We have done our best to make these Regulations as clear as possible, but we were confronted with these difficulties which I have described to the House, and which, I am sure, the House will appreciate. I have myself read through these Regulations more than once. I agree that they are difficult to follow, but I do not believe they are in fact unintelligible. I believe that after three or four readings it is possible to master these Regulations, and I believe that they state the position clearly and definitely. I am fairly confident that expert valuers and people of that sort who have to operate these Regulations will be able to interpret them.

It is true that we furnished an explanatory memorandum to the Scrutiny Committee. I should have thought that that memorandum would have been of substantial assistance to them. I am prepared to make this offer to hon. Members who raised the matter that I will supply them or any other hon. Member interested with a copy of the memorandum.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he understands the memorandum he has offered to supply to us, having regard to the fact that the Select Committee could not understand it at all?

I will confess that, in one particular, the explanatory memorandum rather baffled me, but I will see that in the copies furnished to my hon. Friends a further notice is appended dealing with this rather baffling point and I am quite sure that anything which is intelligible to me, will be equally intelligible to my hon. Friends who have raised this question.

May I in conclusion say that it would be a pity for the House to annul these regulations? These are the regulations which enable these small people, these owner-occupiers, to get something over and above the 1939 value. These regulations have in fact been operative already for something like six weeks, for 39 days, I think, excluding Sundays, and if we were to annul the regulations we would be prejudicing for the future the rights of owner-occupiers to the supplements provided for by the regulations. From all aspects, and particularly from the electoral aspect of the matter, it would be a pity, I think, to give large numbers of owner-occupiers a serious grievance at the present time. I, therefore, hope that my hon. Friends will not press their Prayer to the point of prejudicing the position of these owner-occupiers at the present time. I will, however, furnish them, as I have promised, with the explanatory memorandum.

11.8 p.m.

It is always a difficult matter at a late hour in the evening, to make a speech on a document which is said to have no meaning at all. It is also difficult to say whether an hon. Member is relevant or not when he is speaking on a document which calls for elucidation, but I really think with the best will in the world towards my right hon. Friend that he is not to be congratulated either on these regulations, or upon his attempt to explain to the House that which he ultimately admitted is incapable of explanation. I rise only for the purpose of registering a protest—which I know will be disregarded—against the form in which legislation and Statutory Orders which deal with the question of valuation of land have come to be cast. My right hon. Friend was anxious to persuade the House that there was some peculiar mystery about the valuation of land. I challenge that view of the matter.

There is peculiar mystery in this case because this is the first time Parliament has ever said "You must try to value a building apart from the value of its site."

I took down what my right hon. Friend said in his first speech about this. What he said was that we have decided that the owner-occupier was to receive 30 per cent. on the building, but excluding the value of the land. I should have thought that that, in itself, was a comparatively simple proposition. I am not prepared to accept that a competent surveyor cannot say what is the value of the building and I am equally not persuaded that he is unable to say what is the value of the land.

I believe the surveyors are quite able to perform these operations of valuation, and I cannot see why it is necessary to produce a document of this nature in order to tell an expert valuer how to carry out these two perfectly simple forms of valuation. That is exactly the point on which I desire to protest. We have got into a bad habit in this House—or the Departments have got us into a bad habit—of trying to lay down in terms which are much too precise, exactly how a particular valuation is to be made. I believe that is unnecessary, and I believe that it needlessly complicates the whole business of arriving at these valuations. After all, the person who has to make the valuation is the expert valuer appointed by the Treasury itself, and I am sure we shall never get ourselves really free from this sort of Statutory Order, until we are prepared to leave a great deal more to the discretion of the official arbitrators than we are prepared to do at the present time.

Another thing about which I desire to say something in relation to this type of Order, is the method of arriving at a value by stating that the value shall be the difference between two hypothetical values.

My hon. and learned Friend is really quite wrong. This is the basis laid down by the Statute on which the Treasury had to take action.

I really must interfere. The hon. and learned Member and the right hon. Gentleman are going very wide of the Order.

I hope that I shall remain in Order. I had been pointing out that under two of the sections of this Order, the valuations are fixed as to the difference between two theoretical values and the most complicated language is used to express how these theoretical values are to be determined. It was against that method of legislation that I was endeavouring to make my protest. I do not intend to detain the House unduly at this late hour and I know that the protest I make will probably be unavailing. I had better be brief.

The only other matter to which I desire to call attention is the matter which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr.Taylor) referred to—the number of lines there in paragraph 2 and I think in paragraph 3, in which no full stop is to be found. I do not complain so much about the absence of full stops, but I complain much more about the absence of any punctuation at all.

May I ask whether the hon. and learned Member means the absence of any Member of the Labour Party except one?

He is a full stop. I am dealing with commas and semi-colons and dashes and dots. In paragraph 4 I counted up at least 14½ lines containing about 168 words with no punctuation of any kind, I spend a very large part of my life in reading Acts of Parliament and Statutory Orders. I cannot recall having read any paragraph or section of a Statutory Order of that length, in which no punctuation of any kind occurs. But when I find it, I cannot resist the conclusion that the draftsmen, for whom I have the greatest respect, as we all have in this House, have perhaps been suffering from the consequences of great strain at present placed upon them. But I am by no means convinced that we ought not to look into this matter again and see whether we cannot sent out instructions from Parliament to have these documents drafted in a more intelligible form.

11.15 p.m.

Before we part with this matter—and I do not know whether those responsible for the Prayer intend to withdraw it—I think we are entitled to say to the right hon. Gentleman who explained this Order that we are indebted to him for making the position clear. My regret in connection with his explanation is that not one word of it was heard by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) who was engaged in conversation with other Members during the whole period when that explanation was being given, notwithstanding his simulated indignation about the matter which caused the Prayer to be put down—

May I ask whether the Labour Party could be in conversation with anybody else?

The hon. Member for South Croydon has made a charge against a number of my friends for having had the good sense to leave the Chamber rather than listen to what he had to say. I think the discourtesy of being absent from the Chamber is less than that of failing to listen to an explanation which has been asked for, and which has been given by a Minister.

I have allowed these conversations about absent Members to go on for a long while. I think it had better not go any further.

I am glad to have had your Ruling in that matter, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. But I did want to say that I think we are indebted to the Minister for the explanation he has given which allows us with a perfectly clear conscience to set aside the Prayer that has been moved. I have got from the exchanges that took place a clear impression that the complaint was not so much about the Order itself as about the explanatory memorandum which sought to explain the Order.

11.17 p.m.

I think we are indebted to the hon. Member who raised this question. No one objects to the Order itself, but I think there is real ground for objecting to an Order being unintelligible even after very careful examination, and unintelligible even to some members of the legal profession with great experience. We have had a delightful speech from the Financial Secretary in which, with remarkable lucidity, he has explained the extreme lack of lucidity of the basis of the complaint. I do hope he will go a little further than the generous promise he made that he would supply a number of Members with a copy of this memorandum. A great mass of the British public are interested. All those persons who have land or houses, or who are tenants of houses, who may have compensation, ought to have an opportunity of getting the explanation that is promised to a few. I ask my right hon. Friend whether he would not consider making available, either the memorandum in question or the further memorandum he has promised to explain that memorandum, or some alternative memorandum, which would make a little more intelligible to the ordinary man an Order which is no doubt entirely right in its intention, but exceedingly difficult to understand.

11.19 p.m.

I make no apology for having raised this question to-night. I would draw the attention of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers)—the only Labour Member present—to the fact that it is the duty of individual Members to scrutinise Statutory Rules and Orders in this House. They have the force of law. I have two complaints to make. One is that there was no explanatory memorandum furnished to the House; and the other is about the drafting. I hope to-night's Debate will be a lesson to the draftsmen of the Treasury who drafted this particular Order. We did have an explanation—I cannot say it was a lucid one—from my right hon. Friend, and as it is so late, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.