Skip to main content

Clause 51—(Payments For Depreciation Of Land Values)

Volume 437: debated on Monday 12 May 1947

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move, in page 57, line 20, at the end, to insert:

"(d) for including in claims made under this part of this Act the costs reasonably incurred by the claimant in relation to the preparation and making of such claims, provided that no payment shall be made in respect of costs in a case in which it is ultimately decided that the development rights are of no value."
I think I can explain this Amendment in a very few words. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that the preparation of claims under this Clause is a highly technical matter and that very few property owners will be able to submit their claims without obtaining some technical assistance. The Amendment proposes to allow the cost of the preparation of such claims to be included. There is an additional reason for this proposal. The right hon. Gentleman knows that it is very unlikely that more than a very small part of those claims will be paid, in the vast majority of cases, and therefore it is only equitable that people who are suffering under this Bill should be allowed to charge the cost of the preparation of the claim. But for the Bill, they would be left in undisturbed possession of their property. It seems just as reasonable to make an allowance or as unreasonable not to make an allowance as it would be to make a conscripted man pay for his own medical examination. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to grant this concession.

Whatever may be the intention of this Amendment, I doubt whether it really achieves the purpose the hon. Gentleman has in mind. He is asking that the payment of costs should be made five years after this claim and should be paid in stock. I am sure he does not intend that. I realise that the Amendment merely asks that the costs should follow the event and that if it was ultimately decided that the development rights were of no value, there should be no compensation. That might only be decided after a very long time. Some cases will go to arbitration, and in respect of those the arbitrator can award costs. That is in his absolute discretion. In so far as he does, they will be paid by the Central Land Board out of their ordinary funds. That will be in a limited number of cases. This Amendment is intended to cover the general case where people put in claims and have to get professional assistance. I should be the last person in the world to say that they ought not to have professional assistance. Probably most people, owing to the complexity of the Bill, will need such assistance.

5.30 p.m.

The question is, What is the best way of dealing with the costs? Is it better that they should come out of the £300 million which would mean a general reduction in the amount available to payments; or is it better that people should pay their own costs? I suggest that this is a matter which can be dealt with by the regulations; for obviously the regulations will have to take the question of costs into consideration. I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that the question of professional costs will be considered seriously. I can give him a further assurance, that the regulations can deal with this question. Of course, I cannot give him an assurance as to what the regulations will contain, but I can promise him that consideration will be given to this question of costs and as to the proper method of dealing with them. If he chooses in his wisdom to withdraw this Amendment, the question will in no way be prejudiced.

Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that he really accepts the principle that there is a just claim for costs being asked for in these circumstances?

No, I accept the principle that there is good reason for people seeking professional assistance—

The question is whether it should be paid for out of the £300 million, or whether they should pay for it themselves. I would like to give it further consideration and, moreover, it will be considered in relation to the regulations which will be made by the Treasury. I am suggesting that the question of costs should stand over pending consideration as to what goes into the regulations.

I am alarmed that the Minister should say that the question is whether the costs should come out of the £300 million or whether the individual should pay for them out of his own pocket. I suggest that the issue is not whether they should come from one source or another, but whether the Government ought to meet them. I should have said without hesitation that if a man is the owner of a piece of property which the State, doubtless for good reasons, desires to acquire, and the individual is put to various costs in the shape of surveyors' fees, legal fees and what not, solely as a result of the decision taken, not by himself but by the acquiring authority, there ought to be no question whatever but that those costs should be met by the acquiring authority. There is abundant and ample precedent for this. In the Defence (Compensation) Act, 1939—a Coalition Measure—under which the State took power to acquire all sorts of things in the form of land, buildings and chattels, provision was made in that Act under which any costs to which the person whose property was taken was subjected, either by way of legal fees or surveying costs, was entitled to be refunded without any question.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman wants to get at the truth about this Amendment, which is an Amendment to the suggestion that there should be a further provision in the regulations to be made by the Treasury. These are regulations only for the purpose of laying down how the £300 million should be distributed. There is no question of requiring the State to pay—that is not in the Amendment at all; it is merely as to how the £300 million should be distributed so that in any case the claimant's claim will either come out of the £300 million—and therefore the claimant will get, proportionately less—

That is what the Amendment is—or he will pay directly out of his own pocket and get a bigger share in the £300 million.

With great respect, this Bill is not yet through. The £300 million is not through. The giving of power to the Treasury to spend £300 million is not through. We may yet reject this Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I have not made up my mind on this issue, and I am suggesting that it is perfectly within the competence of the House of Commons, if it so decides, to provide that there should be expenditure from public funds, or from some other fund quite apart from the £300 million, to meet a claim for expenses incurred by virtue of a decision by the acquiring authority.

Maybe not. I am not asking for the Attorney-General's opinion. If I require the assistance of the Attorney-General in this matter I shall be the first to seek it, and I hope that I shall get completely unprejudiced advice on the matter. I put it to the Minister with great respect that he ought to agree in principle that the individual should not be damnified in one way or another. He ought neither to pay these costs out of his own pocket nor to be subjected to a limitation of what he can claim in respect of development values out of the £300 million. I would suggest to the Minister, as a clear way of meeting this, that he should agree at once in principle to meet the point, whether he accepts the Amendment or not, and should undertake to bring before us at a later stage proposals for giving effect to the principle that the individual ought to be able to recover his costs.

The right hon. Gentleman's argument is not clear to me. He professes sympathy with the object of the Amendment, that a person should have proper legal advice, or whatever advice is necessary to deal with this complicated Measure, and that his costs should somehow be met, but objects to this Amendment on the ground that, if it is put into the Statute, the sum will come out of the £300 million. But at the same time he contemplates it being put into the regulations. Does that mean, if it is put into the regulation, that it comes out of some other sum, or does it still come out of the £300 million? If it still comes out of the £300 million, I cannot see any objection to it being put into the Statute, because it still comes out of the global sum whether it is in the Statute or the regulations.

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I rise to reinforce what has been said by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown). Despite the intervention of the Attorney-General, I consider that the argument put forward by the hon. Member has a direct bearing on this Amendment, particularly having regard to what the Minister has said. As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman was suggesting to those responsible for putting this Amendment on the Paper, that it might be prudent, having regard to certain considerations which he put forward, to withdraw the Amendment. The argument which he put forward was at first sight reasonable. He said that these costs were perfectly proper costs to incur, but that it might be argued reasonably that they ought not to come out of the global sum of compensation payable to other persons who might be entitled to compensation under this Bill. So far I follow the right hon. Gentleman. I see that is an objection to the Amendment. It was at the stage immediately following that that I became confused as to what the right hon. Gentleman was asking us to accept as an alternative. I can see the argument that there is a valid objection to paying costs out of a global sum of compensation, because that would reduce the amount of compensation payable to other owners who might not have incurred like costs and whose case might be of a similar kind or who might have foregone the advantage of professional assistance.

That is sound, but then the right hon. Gentleman goes on to say that the alternative is that owners should pay their own costs. That is what I cannot see—if I may use an ungrammatical phrase—the justice of. I can understand the right hon. Gentleman advancing to the Committee an argument which says, "We do not want people to incur a lot of unnecessary professional costs. We do not want them to secure the very best legal assistance, or the most expensive and most fashionable silk of the moment, whoever it may be, to advise them." That may be a reasonable argument, but the right hon. Gentleman is not putting that forward. He is frankly conceding what I think he will have to concede, that the matters in this Bill are of so intensely complex and technical a character that nobody, probably even those who might be themselves professionally qualified, would want to advise themselves about it. They would want to seek outside advice.

I concede at once that there are arguments in favour of the acquisition or extinction of proprietary rights in the interests of the public, but if that is done, and if the result of that is to involve persons in such a complex series of regulations and enactments that they are driven thereby to seek professional advice to guide them through the labyrinths that Parliament has itself created, then it does not seem to be arguable that those costs ought to be borne by the people who incur them. They ought to be paid by those who put them in that position. If there is a reason of public policy, as there may well be, for extinguishing private rights, then the public ought to pay for the extinction a proper sum, and that proper sum ought to include professional costs, because, if it is wrong—as hon. Gentlemen opposite never tire of reminding us—for the individual to exploit the public for the sake of profit, it must be equally wrong for the public to exploit the individual. Surely it must be obvious that the alternative which the Minister is trying to put before us is Hobson's choice. Then why cannot he be a little more forthcoming and do what I think, apart from party differences, all of us in this Committee would think to be the honourable thing if the matter were put to us—

No, I was trying to quieten hon. Members at the back of the Chair.

I am glad you think I was not responsible, Mr. Beaumont. I was drawing my speech peacefully to a close. It seems to me an opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he is taking an objective and just view of these things. I do not believe there is a Member of this Committee, who, left to himself and apart from party pre-conceptions on one side or the other, would say that these costs were not reasonably incurred. Will not the right hon. Gentleman make, as he often does make, an objective and a just approach to this matter?

Surely the issue is not whether costs are reasonably incurred or not, but whether they should come out of the £300 million. It has been decided—not without some reluctance on the part of some hon. Members who supported this Bill on Second Reading—that the sum of £300 million be paid out as compensation, but the amount payable is limited to that figure. The issue before the Committee on this Amendment is whether individual claimants should be able to add to the amount of their claim a sum in respect of professional costs. If they are allowed to do so the global amount available for distribution will be diminished. I should have thought that, in view of the fact that there will be a large number of claims, some more serious than others, and that some will require more professional assistance than others, considerable difficulty will arise if professional costs are included, and that both in the interests of the State and of the claimants themselves considered collectively, it would be best if individual claimants were not allowed to add professional costs to their claims. I hope therefore that the Minister will resist the Amendment.

5.45 p.m.

I am sure the Committee as a whole are of the opinion that as this Measure imposes on the citizen the cost of obtaining this sort of professional advice, some provision should be made to defray the cost being put upon him. As the Minister points out, the costs themselves will be extracted from the already exiguous £300 million, and will have the effect of diminishing that inadequate sum for compensation. The Bill says in Subsection (4), when speaking about the scheme the Treasury is to make, that the scheme

"may contain such incidental and consequential provisions as appear to the Treasury to be necessary or expedient, including provision—"
Then there are three cases set forth, and we seek to add this fourth. The Minister said that he thought he could give further consideration to the question of costs. I say there should be some provision, "incidental and consequential" to this scheme. for defraying costs properly incurred by the applicant, and I do not think it should come out of the global sum. Some provision should be made in the expenses of the Central Land Board so that justice is done. If in all cases the costs were in direct proportion to the size of the actual claim for loss of development rights, the matter might, to some extent, be left to look after itself. But that will not always be the case. There will be cases where a relatively small amount is claimed, small in relation to others, but big from the point of view of the claimant, where the particulars will be so complicated as to involve the claimant in higher costs than a simpler though larger claim would necessarily incur. I think there are ample grounds for the Minister's promise of consideration of how this shall be met I am prepared on that assurance to allow the matter to go just now, but we shall expect him to do something about it in the future.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.