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Clause 6—(Payment Where Land Compulsorily Acquired Or Sold At A Price Wholly Or Partly Excluding Development Value (Case B))

Volume 530: debated on Tuesday 13 July 1954

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3.59 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 8, line 14, to leave out from "the," to the second "and," in line 15, and to insert "said sixth day of August."

The purpose of this and the following Amendment is to permit payment to be claimed under Clause 6 by persons who contracted to sell land privately at artificially low prices before the 1947 Act came into force but in anticipation of the financial provisions of that Act. As the Bill is drawn, no payment can be claimed unless the contract was made between 1st July, 1948, and 18th November, 1952. The Amendment is designed to deal with cases where the parties knew when making the contract that the right to claim on the £300 million fund would remain with the vendor because completion would not take place before the Act came into force, and arranged the terms accordingly. This is to cover that point which is in conformity with the general intention of the Clause as drawn.

We accept the general outline as given by the Minister, but really what this Amendment does is to bring the private landowner into general line with the local authority under compulsory purchase, in the words as set out in lines 9 and 10 of paragraph (a). The date in the Bill originally was given as the sixth day of August, 1947, in paragraph (a), for local authorities. When we came to the exclusion of purchase by local authorities, a different date was deliberately given, and the Minister has not explained why there has been this change between the introduction of the Bill and this stage. This was a point considered in Committee on the Bill.

Those of us who were not present in the Committee but who want to take part in this debate are very surprised at the apparent neglect by the Minister to conform to Parliamentary procedure. These things which we are debating are the remnants of things which should have been dealt with in Committee. Already the Parliamentary time-table is very crowded, and important matters have to be debated late at night, which is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. I think that it would be wrong to allow any one of these Amendments to go by without demanding from the Minister some explanation. He ought to defend himself at least as a Parliamentarian, if he cannot defend himself in any other way, and explain why these things were not dealt with in Committee. Why has the House to be burdened with a series of Committee points? Will the Minister answer that, please?

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page 8, line 18, to leave out "said first day of July," and to insert "first day of July, nineteen hundred and forty-eight."

This Amendment is consequential.

It may be consequential, but it gives the Minister an opportunity to reply to me, which he has not yet had the courtesy to do. Will he not reply this time and explain why this consequential Amendment, as well as the other, had to be made at this stage?

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page 9, line 15, at the end, to insert:

(7) Where two or more persons are jointly entitled to a claim holding, then, for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not those persons are entitled to a payment in respect of the holding by virtue of this section, any act or event by virtue of which the interest of any one or more of those persons in any of the area of the claim holding passed to any other one or more of those persons shall be deemed not to have occurred.
(8) The provisions of this and the next following section shall apply in relation to any interest in land vested in the British Transport Commission by subsection (2) of section forty-five of the Transport Act, 1947 (which relates to the acquisition of road haulage undertakings by the Commission) as if that vesting were a compulsory acquisition of that interest and as if the notice of acquisition served under Part III of that Act by virtue of which the interest was so vested were a notice to treat.
I should like to take this opportunity to say what I intended to say on the first Amendment, and that is how much I regret that it has not been possible to arrange the Parliamentary time-table to meet the convenience of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) who led for the Opposition during the Committee stage. He gave the greatest possible assistance, in the true Parliamentary sense of the word, in trying to help the Committee with his great knowledge. Many of these Amendments, as I think those who were on the Committee will agree, are the results of points which he raised or brought to our attention. I wish that it had been possible to postpone this stage until next week, when he could have been present himself.

This Amendment deals with two points which arise on Clause 6. The proposed subsection (7) is an attempt to deal with a point which was raised by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) in Committee. He instanced a case where two or more persons jointly owned a piece of land on the appointed day and, after duly establishing a Part VI claim, entered into a deed of partition as respects the land, leaving the claim in joint ownership. He pointed out that if subsequently the land was compulsorily acquired or sold privately at a low price, no payment could be claimed under Part I of the Bill because the vendor was not at the time of the sale the holder of the claim holding. The same disqualification would exist in the case of payments under other Clauses.

That seemed a point with which we ought to deal. If the Amendment is accepted, then for the purpose of entitlement to a payment the deed of physical partition will be ignored. Thus, in the sort of case already described, the joint tenants as holders of the claim holding would be entitled to claim as if they jointly had sold the land, and not the individual who became the owner under the deed of partition. I think that this is a point that should be met, although I do not think that it is one which will affect many cases.

The other subsection is concerned with cases where the property of a road haulage undertaking vested in the British Transport Commission by reason of a notice of acquisition under Part III of the Transport Act, 1947. Under Section 47 (2) of that Act, compensation was payable on the basis of market value at the date of transfer. Where the property included land which was not fully developed, the price obtained may have been depressed because of liability to pay development charge. In such a case, the previous owners, if they had retained the claim on the £300 million fund, should be entitled to any payment under Clause 6 which they could have claimed if the land had been compulsorily acquired at the same figure in pursuance of a notice to treat. This puts right a number of cases brought to our notice.

May I take the opportunity of thanking the right hon. Gentleman for the reference he made to my hon. and learned Friend? I feel that my regret at his absence is even greater than that of the Minister. I would ask the Minister, in view of his words of appreciation of my hon. and learned Friend's work during the Committee stage, to be a little lenient with me during the Report stage of the Bill, because my legal knowledge may not be even as great as that of the Minister, who has the learned Attorney-General at his side to jog his memory.

I should like also, on behalf of my hon. Friends, to express our thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for his sympathy to us in our fortunately rather temporary bereavement. It would not be proper to say that we are playing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, but we are playing without the grave digger. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will avoid interment in the muddle and obscurity of his own Bill through the absence of my hon. and learned Friend.

There is one point which is indicative of the many which we raised during the Committee stage, and the justification for which I should like the right hon. Gentleman to explain. It is one of those excursions into metaphysics of which the right hon. Gentleman is so fond and of which we have had so much. The Amendment states:
"…any Act or event by virtue of which the interest of any one or more of those person's…passed to any other one or more of those persons shall be deemed not to have occurred."
That is a bad beginning to an afternoon's work. I know that Parliament is sovereign, and that if it wishes to amend the Bill it can do so; but it seems a bad beginning to say that an act or event which has in fact occurred should be deemed not to have occurred. A statement like that shakes the average person's confidence in the sanity of Parliament and the clarity of our law. Therefore, is it really necessary that we should have such an obviously untrue statement made in this form? Is there no other way of getting round it?

The other question I wish to ask is whether this may in some way alter the charge on public funds. I am not conversant with the rules of order, and why we suddenly go into Committee on these matters; but if the effect of the Amendment is a change in the charge on public funds, why should that be so? It is not clear from the explanation which has been given by the right hon. Gentleman. If this means that more money is to be paid out, I think it important that that should be considered.

I wish to express my gratitude to the Minister for solving the problem which I raised in Committee. In the wording of the Bill, as drafted, there was undoubtedly great difficulty in the case of the dissolution of a partnership or of partition. This Amendment vindicates the Minister against the charge made by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) who, I notice, has now left the Chamber. In Committee I put forward an Amendment, but after discussion it was found that my form of words was not entirely satisfactory. Now, after consideration, the Minister has found a completely satisfactory solution.

Before the Minister replies to the questions which have been put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), I wish to raise an additional point which perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will deal with at the same time. The reference to the British Transport Commission will have a somewhat isolated appearance, because there is no reference anywhere else in the Clause to any other public corporation or body; although there must be many in whom land has been vested since the appointed day in a fashion similar to that contemplated in this Amendment.

May we have an assurance that that aspect of the matter has been investigated, and if so, may we be told why, of the many public bodies and corporations which one would expect to be affected by this matter, the British Transport Commission is the only one deserving of mention in the Bill?

With regard to the last point raised by the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine), I asked that question of my advisers, because it struck me in exactly the same way as it has struck the hon. Member. I am informed that, so far as is known, no similar provision is called for in connection with any other nationalisation Acts. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), who feels that we have done our best to meet the point which he raised.

Two main points were raised by the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl). He asked, first, why it is necessary to recommit the Bill in order to discuss this Amendment. After a long period in this House I am bound to say that I sometimes find it difficult to understand exactly why it is necessary to re-commit a Bill in regard to particular Amendments. The line is often a very fine one; very delicate and refined calculations have to be made. But I think it is clear in this case, because under the existing Bill a man might be kept out of a right to claim merely because of the chance of the breaking up of a partnership, and that obviously would be unfair. By this Amendment he will be brought into the field of claim and, pro tanto, it must increase the charge if such a case should occur.

I do not think that the hon. Member for Widnes was quite right in his reference to the language. He stands very high as a metaphysician and a scholar—much higher than I do and nearer to his studies in point of time. But I do not think that he was right in saying that an untruth is stated. What is said is that something that has happened should be deemed not to have happened; in other words, that the effect which would normally flow from something shall not flow in this particular case. That is all there is to it. I have seen words of that kind included in Acts of Parliament over many years. Although I admit that it is rather legalistic, it would seem to me a not unreasonable way of stating exactly what is intended.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.