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New Clause—(Provision Of Information As To Unexpended Balance, Etc)

Volume 530: debated on Tuesday 13 July 1954

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

(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, the Central Land Board shall, upon application therefor being made to them at any time by any person, and may at any time, if they think fit, without any application being made therefor, issue a certificate in the prescribed form with respect to any land stating whether or not any of that land has an original unexpended balance of established development value and, if it has such a balance—

  • (a) giving a general statement of what was taken by the Board for the purposes of Part VI of the principal Act to be the state of that land on the first day of July, nineteen hundred and forty-eight; and
  • (b) specifying (subject to any outstanding claims under Part I or Part V of this Act) the amount of that original balance; and any such certificate may. if the Board think fit, contain additional information with respect to acts or events in consequence of which, by virtue of any provision of this Act, a deduction falls to be made from that original balance in determining the unexpended balance, if any, of established development value of any of that land at any time thereafter.
  • (2) Where, after the commencement of this Act, a notice to treat has been served with a view to the compulsory acquisition of an interest in any land by any public authority possessing compulsory purchase powers, being such a department, authority, person or body of persons as is mentioned in subsection (1) of section thirty-four of this Act, that authority may apply to the Central Land Board for, and shall be entitled to the issue of, a certificate showing the unexpended balance of established development value, if any, of any of that land immediately before the service of that notice.

    (3) Where the issue of a certificate under this section with respect to any land involves a new apportionment, then—

  • (a) except in the case of a certificate under the last preceding subsection or of a certificate which the Board propose to issue without any application being made therefor, the certificate shall not be issued otherwise than on the application of a person for the time being entitled to an interest in the land;
  • (b) before issuing the certificate, the Board shall give notice in writing to any person entitled to an interest in land which it appears to the Board will be substantially affected by the apportionment, giving particulars of the proposed apportionment and stating that objections or other representation with respect thereto may be made to the Board within thirty days from the date of the notice; and
  • (c) the certificate shall not be issued before the date of expiration of the said thirty days, and, if at that date an objection to the proposed apportionment has been made by any person to whom notice has been given under the last preceding paragraph, or by any other person who establishes that he is entitled to an interest in land which is substantially affected by the apportionment, and that objection has not been withdrawn, the next following subsection shall have effect.
  • (4) Where by virtue of paragraph ( c) of the last preceding subsection this subsection is to have effect, then—

  • (a) if within a further period of thirty days the person by whom any such objection was made requires the dispute to be referred to the Lands Tribunal the dispute shall be so referred and the certificate shall not be issued until either the Tribunal has decided the matter or the reference to the Tribunal has been withdrawn;
  • (b) the certificate may be issued before the expiration of the said further period if every such objection has been withdrawn; and
  • (c) the certificate shall be issued at the date of expiration of the said further period, notwithstanding that every such objection has not been withdrawn, if no requirement has by that date been made under paragraph (a) of this subsection.
  • (5) Where, on a reference to the Lands Tribunal under this section, it is shown that a new apportionment relates partly to the same matters as any previous apportionment and is consistent with that previous apportionment in so far as it relates to those matters, the Tribunal shall not vary the new apportionment in such a way as to be inconsistent with the previous apportionment in so far as it relates to those matters.

    (6) An application for a certificate under this section shall be made in such form and manner as may be prescribed, and shall be accompanied by sufficient particulars, including a map if necessary, to enable the land to be identified and, where a new apportionment will be involved, particulars of the nature of the applicant's interest and such information as to the nature of any other interest in the land and as to the name and address of the person entitled to that other interest as may be known to the applicant.

    (7) On any application under subsection (1) of this section the applicant shall pay in the prescribed manner a fee of five shillings and, if the application involves a new apportionment, the certificate shall not be issued until the applicant has paid in the prescribed manner a further fee of fifteen shillings.

    (8) In this section, the expression "new apportionment" means an apportionment which relates wholly or partly to any matters relating to which there has not been a previous apportionment.—[ Mr. H. Macmillan.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

    The Clause is introduced in pursuance of an undertaking which I gave in Committee during the long discussions which we had on Clause 19. I think it was the hon. Members for Pontypool (Mr. West) and Clapham (Mr. Gibson) who raised the question of how, by what machinery, the necessary information about unexpended balances can be made available. If I recollect the matter aright, the hon. Member for Pontypool was concerned that information should be available to private people who were interested in transactions in land; whereas the hon. Member for Clapham was speaking rather more from the point of view of public authorities as purchasers.

    The new Clause provides for public authorities in subsection (2), which requires the Central Land Board to supply, on request, a certificate showing the unexpended balance of any land in respect of which notice to treat has been served That information will be up-to-date, or as up-to-date as it is possible to make it. It will be complete, and it will deal with the authority's liability for compensation under the Bill; it will include the result of any necessary apportionment and take into account the value of development already carried out on the land or any other item which has to be "debited" against the balance. Therefore, when the notice to treat has been served, this special, highly detailed information will be supplied to the local authority. I think that was the chief anxiety of the hon. Member for Clapham.

    Now comes the problem raised by the hon. Member for Pontypool about the case of private people. I say rather regretfully that we cannot supply everyone with the up-to-date information which we shall do, under subsection (2), in the case of local authorities. The information is to be given to the local authorities only when notice to treat is served. That is an important distinction. It was at one time thought that a register of unexpended balances could be established, which would be open to search by those interested.

    That would obviously be ideal, but we found, on closer examination, that an up-to-date register would involve a volume of work out of all proportion to the benefit to be derived. After all, a great deal of the land in respect of which a claim on the £300 million was established has already been developed, and there is, therefore, no purpose in all this detail; and a great deal more will be developed.

    The balance attaching to such land is largely a matter of academic interest, because there is no risk of compensation ever becoming payable. Yet if a register were set up the value of each development carried out would have to be carefully assessed and recorded. All to no purpose, because even if a question of compensation did arise the amount to be debited against the balance because of development already carried out might be a different amount from the amount assessed at the outset.

    Therefore, so far as private people are concerned, the new Clause provides for information of a rather more modest order to be provided on request. We believe that from this information anyone concerned with buying or selling land will be able to make a quite sound assessment of the price which he ought to ask or to offer, having regard to the compensation likely to be payable in the event of a planning restriction or a compulsory acquisition.

    People buying or selling land, with planning permission, for immediate development will not necessarily feel a very close interest in the precise state of the balance. There will be some cases where the information may be material, but, in general, that will not be so.

    So we are trying to meet the point, as I have indicated, by providing full information for local authorities where notice to treat has been served; and to provide for everybody, including the local authorities, if they choose to use it, rather less than full information over the whole field.

    Much of the Clause is concerned with the special machinery which is required in the event of apportionment. As so often throughout this Bill, that represents a good deal of the problem for which we have to provide. A very heavy volume of work will fall during the first months after the Bill comes into operation, both on the Valuation Office and on the Central Land Board. I am very anxious, as the House knows, to try to secure that the Bill should become law before the end of this Parliamentary Session—I mean in the late autumn.

    There will be a very large volume of work. Nevertheless, we feel that that work can be done, if, as I hope, the House will be content with the giving, to the local authorities, of what they really need—up-to-date information when notice to treat is served—and the making available to the general body of the public of information which will give them sufficient knowledge to fix what should be the right price to offer or take in a deal. I hope that meets what hon. Members were anxious about, both in regard to the public authority and on private account.

    I am grateful to the Minister for having gone as far as he has with the new Clause. It meets, by a slightly different method to that which was suggested in Committee, the claims made on behalf of local authorities to obtain sight of documents. The Amendment meets fairly reasonably the claim made by local authorities that when they have served a notice to treat they should be able to get the information that is available so that they know exactly the unexpended balance, and so on, in connection with the land with which they are concerned. I thank the Minister for having taken this action.

    I understand that the Amendments to the new Clause in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) and myself are not likely to be called. I should like, therefore, to refer to subsection (7) of the new Clause, which lays down the fees to be charged when information is requested and given. I am not sure whether the fee applies only to the private individual who requests the information, or to the local authority also.

    To a large authority, such as the London County Council, it could be an expensive business during the year to pay out 5s. whenever it asks for information which everybody agrees it should have in order to do its job efficiently and well. I am not clear from the Clause whether this fee of 5s., and the charge of 15s. when a new apportionment is involved, applies only to individuals and not to local authorities, and I shall be glad to have an answer from the Government.

    The hon. Member asked about the Amendments to the new Clause. The position is that none of them has been selected by Mr. Speaker, but that if a Division is wanted he is agreeable that one should be taken on the last Amendment but one, in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. UngoedThomas), after the first "apportionment," to insert:

    "decided upon by the Lands Tribunal."

    I, too, express my thanks for the new Clause, which goes some way to meeting the defect in Clause 35 which we pointed out to the Minister in Committee. As far as local authorities are concerned, however, the Clause does not go far enough. It certainly does not go as far as the Amendment which we moved in Committee and which the Attorney-General promised to consider.

    In Committee, we moved an Amendment to add:
    "In any case of compulsory acquisition of land to which this part of this Act applies an acquiring authority shall be entitled to inspect and take copies of any documents or other information which may be in the possession of the Central Land Board or other authority or person to whom such documents, etc., may have been transferred on the dissolution of that Board.…"
    The reason for our Amendment, which we made very clear, was that the local authority should know the basis on which it had had to pay compensation, and on what facts the Central Land Board determined the established claim.

    Unfortunately, subsection (2) of the new Clause limits considerably the information which a local authority may obtain. It may obtain a certificate, but the information is limited only to facts about the unexpended balance and would not include information as to what the Board considered to be the state of the land on 1st July, 1948, for the purpose of determining its Part VI claim. This seems to me and to many local authorities an important point. It is necessary for them to know the facts about all the elements taken for compensation and not merely the amount of the unexpended balance.

    5.15 p.m.

    It may well be that an original claim submitted in 1948, was for residential use under the 1947 Act for loss of development value use, but that a more expensive claim has been put in later for loss of, for example, development value as a commercial user. That might be the case in which a shop and a residence had been combined on a site now cleared. The owner might have claimed originally on a basis of loss of residential use, but now claims for existing use value of a shop. It seems only right that if a local authority is required to pay compensation, it should know the conclusion reached by the Central Land Board at the time of the Board's determination. It is precisely this additional vital information that a local authority must have if it is to arrive at a just figure of compensation. One of our Amendments, which, unfortunately, is not being called, was designed to deal with this defect.

    It is surprising to find, from subsection (7) of the new Clause, that a charge of 5s. is to be made to local authorities and, I presume, to people who apply for a certificate. In the case of many large authorities a great number of cases will arise, and it seems peculiar and unfair that an acquiring authority must pay a fee to ascertain the proper compensation which it has to pay. That is not the kind of treatment that is meted out when the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Horobin) moves Amendments. I am quite sure that if Amendments of his were accepted, fees would not be attached in this way. I should have thought it was too trivial an item for the Minister to include in the Clause.

    Subsection (2) deals with the case in which a notice to treat has been served but not with the case where a notice has been deemed to be served. This was a point that we raised in Committee. There are a number of cases under Section 19 of the 1947 Act in which everything has taken place except the concluding stage. To all intents and purposes they are cases in a similar category to that which I have described, but no information will be available. Subsection (2) does not cover the case of a local authority which, although possessing compulsory powers, is able to come to satisfactory terms with an owner and purchases his land by agreement. It is strange that there should be the right to inspect documents in cases of compulsory purchase, but not when agreement is reached.

    For these reasons, although the new Clause is an improvement on the original omission of Clause 35, it falls far short of what it should be. It would have been easy for the Minister to satisfy local authorities, to ease their task, and to provide a proper safeguard that they should not pay out money in excess of the proper compensation. If in a large number of cases they are denied the right to know on what basis the value of the land was originally determined by the Board, the local authorities and other acquiring authorities will be put in a very serious position. Unless there is a technical reason, which does not seem obvious to me, I cannot help regarding this weakness of the new Clause as being somewhat sinister.

    I hope that I can disabuse the mind of the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) about any sinister purpose. Although the Amendments have not been called it might be convenient if I deal with the points which they concern. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) asked a question about subsection (2) and the case where notice to treat is deemed to have been served. As emerged from our earlier discussion when the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) was here—I am sorry that he is not here now—the expression is one with which we are familiar.

    The purpose of putting the word in one place in an Act is to ensure that in other places we treat the situation as if that which is deemed to have taken place had taken place. I assure the hon. Member that, as I understand it, the case where the authority is deemed to have served notice to treat is included.

    There was also the question about the general purpose of subsection (2). It might be convenient to say something about that. The object of the subsection is to provide for the case where a local authority is about to acquire land. It is recognised that it ought to be put into a position to ascertain just what is the unexpended balance which attaches to the land in question at the date of the service of notice to treat. That is the date which determines the amount of compensation payable.

    That information cannot be supplied in advance because the unexpended balance at any particular date is affected by the value of development which has been carried out up to that date, and any earlier assessment would be incomplete if not misleading. For that reason, the information which is to be given to private individuals is not to be up-to-date information. It can only be information about the balance as it stood at the commencement of the Act—that is what one might call the original balance—coupled with information about the state of the land at 1st July, 1948. With information on these two points, the private individual will probably be able to make a fairly good assessment of his own of the effect of development already carried out. He would also be able to know from the register of local land charges what compensation if any has already been paid in respect of planning restrictions.

    He will be, or should be, in a position to calculate for himself the likely amount of the unexpended balance at any date in the future. Where a public authority is merely considering whether it should acquire a piece of land, it will be in no different position from a private individual, and the Clause leaves it open to the local authority to proceed in precisely the same way, by making application under subsection (1).

    The hon. Members for Clapham and Hayes and Harlington raised the question of payment. Again, perhaps it might be convenient to state the principle. As I understand, the suggestion was that there should be no charge for the provision of information, certainly in the case of local authorities.

    As hon. Members will see, the proposed charges are not exorbitant. Indeed, it might be said that they are not really calculated with reference to the cost of the work, which will be considerable. Clearly, it would also be reasonable that frivolous or unnecessary applications should not be encouraged; but when we come to the suggestion that there should be no charge at all that is a different matter. It may be argued—and this may be what is behind some of the thought on the subject—that the State should provide information of this kind, but the service is really in the equivalent of a form of search such as purchasers commonly undertake before committing themselves to land transactions, and the cost has to be paid by someone. There are normal charges. The Law Society have been consulted and they regarded this as being on all-fours with the existing charges which arise in the ordinary course of business.

    I ask the House to consider the matter from that point of view. In the end, we come down to the same point, whether the local authorities or somebody else have to pay. The information that the Clause provides for will not be of much significance to a great many purchasers, who know that they at once intend to consume the whole of any unexpended balance the land may have by developing it, by building on it. Therefore, this is not a matter of much concern to them. Many purchasers may very well see no advantage in having the information.

    The justification for the charge is to ensure that the prospective applicant and his advisers should not merely ask for information, but that they should have to consider whether it is of any value to them, just as they would in any other transaction in their own affairs. That is the basis on which the charge has been decided and I hope that the House will agree with it.

    I cannot allow this discussion to close without expressing the gratitude of solicitors to the Minister for this new Clause, and especially for subsection (1). Most solicitors, when they first read the Bill, resigned themselves to an endless sort of cross-examination between prospective vendor and prospective purchaser with interminable time passing between the date those two were brought together by an agent and the time when they signed the vital contract.

    Now, under subsection (1), the purchaser, or his solicitor, has merely to inquire of the Central Land Board, and, gradually, a complete register of original Part VI claims will be built up. Further, the certificate which the Board is to issue will form a very useful document of title. It will undoubtedly cut down the time required for getting the parties together to sign a vital contract.

    I am a little disappointed that it has not been possible to include in the certificate some information about assignments. Assignments had to be registered with the Board, and I should have thought that the Board would have had information about them. Perhaps the Board will stretch the wording of the latter part of subsection (1), which gives it power to include certain additional information in the certificate, and perhaps it may be able to include information on assignments of the Part VI claim.

    I do not ask for an answer now to this question, but it will be recalled that provision is made in the Bill for the ultimate winding up of the Central Land Board. The need under this Clause will continue for ever. I do not know whether any provision is necessary now, but the position should be considered so that we may ensure that when this is all that is left, at some other time, we do not have to have another amending Bill in order to give these powers to somebody else.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.