|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : Will my hon. Friend advise me as to whether in the financial effects of the Bill, as determined on page v of the introduction to which he is referring, there is likely to be scope for compensation for those thousands of people who during the previous enactments of this legislation--when the provisions were annually re-enacted--were falsely and wrongly detained and who perhaps lost money from employment or from other arrangements such as holidays or other commitments? We know that 90 per cent. of the people who have been detained under the provisions of the previous enactments of the Bill have been wrongly and incorrectly detained. Is there scope in the money resolution for compensation for those who have been affected in that way?
Mr Cryer : My hon. Friend makes an interesting point and I shall seek that information. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has heard the question and I dare say that he will make the position clear. The comment on limited expenditure on compensation is limited to the clauses dealing with terrorist finances and therefore--
Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West) rose
Mr. Cryer : Perhaps I can finish this comment before the hon. Gentleman interrupts me. I should have thought that if compensation is involved for what is in effect wrongful arrest, that would be a general term and, indeed, there is a paragraph on exclusion orders, to which I shall come. I shall be interested in the Minister's reply.
Mr. Ashby : Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to be saying that he does not think that it is right that money should be set aside for a fair hearing in a court and for legal aid for people who might be arrested under the prevention of terrorism legislation? Is that what the hon. Gentleman is saying? Is he denying such people justice?
Mr. Cryer : I wish that the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I have been saying instead of blurting out figments of his imagination which have no connection with my comments. Of course, I am not denying anybody any justice. Indeed I shall come to a point about injustice shortly.
What I am asking for is information about the expenditure. Since the Bill is being put forward by a Government who continually talk about the need for controlling, scrutinising and limiting public expenditure, it seems not unreasonable that I should use the opportunity specially provided by the Standing Orders of this House to raise some questions about expenditure.
What is the section on compensation for? If people are dealt with unjustly, I want to them to be compensated properly. There is no question about that. What does the
Column 277compensation cover? Is it for mistaken forfeiture or is it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) has suggested, for what amounts to wrongful imprisonment? The compensation provisions do not seem to apply to the exclusion order provisions, as set out on page v in the second paragraph under the heading "Financial effects of the Bill." It says :
"Police expenditure will continue to be incurred in connection with the control of travel into and out of any part of the United Kingdom, but the Bill is not expected to lead to any significant increase in that expenditure."
We should like to know what is the present expenditure so that we can judge by how much it is likely to increase.
The exclusion order provisions are among the most objectionable in the Bill. I wonder whether the expenditure can be justified. We ought to be told what justification there is. Sir Cyril Philips and Lord Colville specifically stated in their reviews that the Home Secretary should reconsider these provisions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East pointed out, Lord Colville's views are not particularly radical, but he said that he was not convinced that the ends justify the means.
What kind of expenditure do these exclusion order provisions involve? I remind the Minister of what has happened under them. A former constituent of mine was in a Belfast gaol for a criminal offence. The governor granted him home leave with his family in the Bradford metropolitan district so that he could adjust to life outside gaol as he was nearing the end of his prison sentence. That was an entirely proper and authorised procedure. He was met at Leeds-Bradford airport by armed special branch detectives and was immediately arrested and placed in Armley prison. He stayed there throughout the whole of his seven-day home leave, was served with an exclusion order at Leeds-Bradford airport when he boarded the return flight and went straight back to prison in Belfast. Such arbitrary action was entirely unjustified.
Expenditure of that kind will be involved here. More than 90 per cent. of the people who are arrested and who are made subject to exclusion orders are not charged with a criminal offence. Exclusion orders are an outrage against justice. They mean that people in one part of the United Kingdom are excluded from another part--a part that is continually described as an integral part of the United Kingdom. The only time when that power was exercised was when people such as Willy Gallagher were excluded from Clydeside to prevent them from attending meetings and setting forth their views. It was during a most repressive time under a most repressive Government.
I should like the Minister to tell the House whether this expenditure is justified. I know that he takes a keen interest in money resolutions.
Mr. Nellist : Will my hon. Friend reflect on yet another example during the period to which he referred? During the miners' strike in 1984 and 1985 a large number of people were excluded from entering or leaving the Nottinghamshire coalfields. That was done without legislation being passed by this House, but the inspiration for it was the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Column 278The family to whom I referred had moved away from Northern Ireland so as to be out of the troubles. They did not want to be involved in the activities of the warring factions.
Mr. Cryer : Yes, he was found guilty. He was serving a sentence for armed robbery, but he was not connected in any way with a political terrorist organisation. The governor had given him home leave as a matter of course when he was nearing the end of his sentence. Conservative Members cannot make a case about him being a dangerous terrorist because he was released shortly afterwards.
Mr. Cryer : I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wanted to make it clear that it was a non-political category and that the expenditure of money on the exclusion order was unjustified, even within the terms of the legislation. That is a good illustration of the way in which expenditure can be misapplied because of the terms of the legislation.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : I am listening with interest to my hon. Friend's comments. He has obviously scrutinised the financial implications of the Bill. Are there likely to be financial implications for the state if it is found guilty by the European Court of Human Rights of holding people for long periods? That could involve expenditure on legal costs--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) will not be tempted away from the money resolution. Commenting on the point made by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) would take him outside the resolution.
I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether that phrase includes expenditure on claims made by people because the Government have ignored the decision of the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which would place the legislation outside the normal standard of conduct on human rights.
The last paragraph on the financial effects of the Bill mentions "the fees of persons nominated by the Secretary of State to consider representations against exclusion orders, and in connection with the removal of persons subject to exclusion orders". You will no doubt recall vividly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that exclusion orders can be served when there is no charge, no court hearing and no right to know why they are served, and representations are made about a charge for which no evidence is given. That is an outrage against our civil liberties.
I must make it clear that, although I am raising questions on the financial effects of the Bill, I am not making a case for acts of violence. I am opposed to acts of violence, whether they involve a British soldier serving his time in Northern Ireland who is subject to a terrible and
Column 279untimely death or spending £11 billion on Trident nuclear weapons for the purpose of mass extermination. I abhor and oppose them both. However, I will not go down that road, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was merely using that as an illustration. I would be interested to know what the fees are for the people nominated by the Secretary of State. The last paragraph says :
"A small amount of public expenditure will continue to be incurred in meeting the fees of persons nominated by the Secretary of State". Just for the record, it would be nice to know how much those people are paid. That will give us an idea of whether they are pillars of the establishment, earning perhaps several hundred pounds per occasion, or whether they are just humble folk, drafted in by the Government like members of a jury and paid a nominal fee to cover their expenses. For example, are the fees related to what might be received by somebody on invalidity benefit or unemployment benefit? Are they related to what the mass of ordinary folk can expect to receive from the state if they are in a position to receive money from the state. That would be interesting to know.
I suspect that the people to whom fees are paid are pillars of the establishment and that they receive establishment-type fees, which are in the astronomical category, and which help to ensure that they do not come to a conclusion that is in any way outside the establishment view of the operation of this legislation.
I hope that I have not detained the House for too long, but we cannot let such occasions go by without some scrutiny. Even some Conservative Members take that view. They have listened with interest to my comments. I look forward to the Minister's response. 10.45 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : I am glad that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) spoke to the money resolution. I should have been deeply disappointed had he not done so, because I told my officials that he most certainly would. I was proved to be correct in that respect.
I am always struck by the economical use that the hon. Gentleman makes of his time in this place. For example, let us consider this debate and the preceding one. He came into the Chamber to hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary open the debate. That was a jolly wise thing to do. He left before the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke. That, too, was a jolly wise thing to do. He then came back rather late in the speech of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). I imagine that he considered that he had come back rather too soon. Then he heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office. All in all, the hon. Member for Bradford, South makes economical-- not to say sparing--use of his time in this place. I cannot be so complimentary about the substance of the hon. Gentleman's speech on the money resolution. Perhaps it would be helpful to remind the House of the nature of the money provisions in the Bill and the money resolution. The substantive provision of the Bill is clause 25, which authorises the payment out of moneys. Those substantive powers are amplified by the money resolution which, in turn, are clarified by the explanatory memorandum.
Column 280It might be helpful if I were to demonstrate the kind of payments that fall within the scope of the money resolution before I refer to the points raised by the hon. Member for Bradford, South. Good examples of the kind of payments that have to be made and are authorised are payments to the advisers who have been appointed to receive representations against exclusion orders, costs of removing people who are the subject of exclusion orders, necessary expenditure incurred by the courts when dealing with the powers under part III of the Bill, and the compensation provisions that are dealt with in schedule 4 of the Bill.
Mr. Nellist : I do not want to pre-empt the Minister's later remarks, but does he intend to give figures for those examples? He mentioned fees paid to people who are designated to hear representations against exclusion orders. That is one of the main matters about which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) asked. Hon. Members are staying here tonight to hear not just the examples, but the actual amounts of money to be spent on them.
Let me now deal with the various questions that have been raised by the hon. Member for Bradford, South. He began by criticising the compensatory payments provided for under schedule 4 of the Bill. That was a bit peculiar, because, as the House will know, the schedule 4 compensatory provisions are linked to part III of the Bill. It appears that the provisional wing of the Labour party, as represented by the hon. Member for Bradford, South, find themselves in difficulty on that point.
As to what that is paid for, I strongly recommend to the hon. Gentleman as part of his evening reading that he studies paragraphs 7(1), 7(2) and 17(3) of schedule 4. He will find the answer spelt out in considerable detail and it will keep him going for at least 20 minutes. In broad terms, it deals with loss that can be properly be attributed to abuse in the conduct of prosecutions that give rise to the forfeiture proceedings under part III. I may have spared the hon. Gentleman some 20 minutes of homework.
The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) asked whether the money resolution is retrospective in its effect. He knows perfectly well that both wings of the Labour party--the provisional and the official wings --are against retrospective legislation. Therefore, I feel certain that they would not wish to commend that course of action to us.
Mr. Nellist : May I remind the Minister that it was a Conservative Government who, under Lord Soames, when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, passed through this House retrospective legislation to grant an amnesty to those who had committed murder in Rhodesia. Since that precedent was set, I am in favour, for example, of repaying the debts of those who have taken out social fund loans. If a case was made for retrospective compensation for someone who was badly dealt with in the years when this was a temporary measure reviewed every year, I would support retrospective legislation.
Mr. Hogg : The hon. Gentleman is establishing his credentials for the clay cross. That is not an award that I willingly dish out, but I shall certainly dish it out to him along with the rations, if that is what pleases him.
Column 281In reply to the other questions from the provisional wing, if improper use is made of the detention powers, there are the ordinary common law remedies which are called false imprisonment and give rise to a claim for damages. Schedule 4 deals only with the powers under part III.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South waxed fulsome about actions by the police in carrying out the exclusion orders and asked how much it costs. The costs are inevitably subsumed in the general cost of police expenditure, and it is simply not possible to disaggregate one from the other. But every penny spent on combating terrorism is money well spent. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees with that. On the interesting question of the advisers, there are two of them. The hon. Gentleman asked how much they
Column 282cost. They are paid at a rate which is proportionate to their high professional standing and is analogous to that paid to those who serve in judicial roles on a part-time basis, such as recorders and assistant recorders.
I have answered all the questions asked of me, and, as I see that the Whip wants me to sit down, I propose to do just that.
Question put and agreed to.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill, it is expedient to authorise-- (
(a) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of-- (
(i) any expenses incurred under that Act by the Secretary of State or the Lord Advocate ; and
(ii) any increase attributable to that Act in the sums payable out of such money under any other Act ; and
(b) payments into the Consolidated Fund.
Column 283Home Loss Payments
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : I am delighted to have the opportunity this evening to raise a constituency case, but first I should like to say how grateful I am that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has come to reply to this debate tonight. I am grateful, too, for the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), who I hope will catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am immensely pleased to see on the Front Bench my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State for Transport. The House, as is its wont and tradition, each day covers a wide range of national, international and sometimes regional issues; but it is always possible for a Back Bencher to seek an opportunity to present to the House the needs of an individual and his family when events outside the control of the individual and his family threaten his peace, security and calm. This, as the House knows, is one such case which deserves the attention of the House and a radical urgent response from my hon. Friend the Minister. The case presented is as follows.
My constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Michie, have resided at their home, 7 Rose Villas, Watling street, Dartford--a quiet cul-de-sac off the old Roman road of Watling street--for many years and their house has always been their home. Now retired, Mr. and Mrs. Michie planned to see out their days in their home. I repeat that it is not a house but a home.
Some years ago, between 1984 and 1986, as a result of necessary road widening changes, part of the rear of No. 7, along with neighbouring properties, was taken over from Mr. and Mrs. Michie. As a result, the traffic noise and nuisance is now 70 ft nearer to the house than was originally the case. Authority required the land and authority took the land. Now authority requires their home as a consequential result of the construction of the new Dartford bridge. Mr. and Mrs. Michie, through no fault or decision of theirs, are to lose their home. The severing of emotional links and the effects of anxiety and stress can never really be quantified. But under section 30 of the Land Compensation Act 1973 Mr. and Mrs. Michie will be entitled to a home loss payment. I am advised that such a payment is made in recognition of the inconvenience and personal distress undergone by people who have become closely and emotionally attached to a home and who are displaced from it at the behest of a public authority.
On 27 November 1972, on Second Reading of the Land Compensation Bill, the then Secretary of State for the Environment said : "Home loss payments are provided for in Clauses 23 to 25 and will be made as of right to occupiers who have been living in a dwelling as their main residence for at least seven years before the date of their displacement".
He went on to say :
"In England and Wales the amount of the payment will be seven times the rateable value if the displacement occurs before 1st April next year, and three times if it occurs thereafter. In Scotland it will be six times the rateable value. In all three countries the upper limit of the payment will be £1,500."--[ Official Report, 27 November 1972 ; Vol. 847, c. 45.]
Column 284The House recognised that the problem existed and it tried to find a solution. But the range of payments for those who lose their homes through no fault of their own, fixed in 1972, is neither realistic nor fair in the circumstances of 1988. I believe that I am not alone in the House or in the other place in expressing that view. As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, Mr. Michie, along with a neighbour, petitioned the House and another place in an attempt to have their views addressed. It took them a great deal of courage to take on Parliament, and their actions should be commended. In a debate on 10 May 1988, when considering the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Bill, Lord Underhill said :
"I hope that there will be some quick action regarding the home loss position. I do not know whether it can be made retrospective in this case. But one must also recognise that the compulsory acquisition leaves these two individuals in a sorry situation". The Minister, Lord Brabazon of Tara, went on to say :
"As our response says, my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for the Environment is looking at the whole question of the home loss payments system, which has to change in accordance with the Local Government Finance Bill, which we debated yesterday."--[ Official Report, House of Lords, 10 May 1988 ; Vol. 496 c. 1041-42] I recognise that my hon. Friend the Minister may be a little reluctant to reveal how the formula for assessing the award under the home loss payment scheme might be dealt with following the abolition of the domestic rate. Of course, the formula for assessing the award currently--and this will exist for some time--is simply to apply a multiplication, by a factor of three, of the rateable value of the house concerned. Therefore, my constituents will expect to gain just over £300.
Some time ago I asked my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary what the level of award would be today if since 1972 there had been regular updating. He gave me not the answer that I wanted, but the factor that should be used taking account of inflation in that time, which was 4.5. Consequently, the level of payment today should be within a scale of £700 to £7,000, which is quite different from a level rising from a minimum of £150 to a maximum of £300.
In a letter to me on 11 November 1988, my hon. Friend said : "As you know, the Government, in its formal response to the Lords Select Committee Special Report on the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Bill, has already acknowledged that the value of the home loss payment has declined since its introduction in 1973."
Of course, I recognise that, and I am glad that that statement has been made.
Something needs to be done, and done quickly, because we in Kent are faced not with the case of just one family--and the case of one family is important to any hon. Member--but potentially many thousands of families, who, if a rail link is chosen to cross the county of Kent, will be affected by the loss of their homes, which will be taken from them by public authority.
I need to know from my hon. Friend the Minister why he cannot advise the House that it is possible to adjust the level of award before the introduction of the community charge. Secondly, when will he announce the formula that will take effect after the introduction of the community charge? Thirdly, will he accept a plea from me--and, indeed, from many others--that, because of the peculiar position in which my constituents find themselves, this
Column 285should be made retrospective, because, after all, this problem has been with his Department and the Department of Transport for some time?
I make one final plea for urgent action. In the main, hon. Members representing Kent constituencies are opposed to what may happen to our county if British Rail gets its way with the provision of a Channel tunnel fast-rail link. I am totally opposed to all four routes, but I must stress that my constituency is adamantly opposed to routes one and two. I shall not do as others have done and point to the other routes that might be acceptable. That is not the way that I go about things. However, I register my concern about the possibility of one route or another being chosen. In that context, the question of compensation must be cleared up and the home loss compensation scheme must be made clear, relevant and realistic. I hope that my plea on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Michie will not be in vain. They have suffered hard and long in pursuit of their case. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister, who is a personal friend as well as a parliamentary one, will do his best to ensure that matters are put right at the earliest opportunity.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) for allowing me to participate in this debate on a subject of considerable interest to my constituents.
In our part of Kent, my hon. Friend is well known for the considerable care and interest that he takes in his constituents. That has led him to raise the case of Mr. and Mrs. Michie, which clearly exemplifies the considerable difficulties that we face. We believe that, should routes one and two of British Rail's current proposals for a high-speed rail link cross our constituencies, considerable difficulties will arise. We are vehemently opposed to those proposals.
In my constituency, hundreds of households face the prospect of demolition or being affected by the passage of such a high-speed train. The villages of Istead Rise and New Barn in my constituency would like to be reassured that the House and the Government have paid attention to updating the home loss payments scheme. Not much time is left and our constituents are extremely worried about their future environment and, above all, the value of their homes should they have to leave their villages.
I warmly support my hon. Friend's plea and hope that the Minister will offer the prospect of early progress in this matter.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Chope) : It is one of the most important responsibilitieof a Member of this House to promote fearlessly the cases of individual constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) has a fine reputation for speaking up on behalf of his constituents. Tonight is another example of that put into practice. I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and also on ensuring the attendance of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, whose attendance
Column 286demonstrates his interest in the matter. My hon. Friends the Members for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell), for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) and for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) are also here to listen to this important debate. More hon. Members are present than one might expect at this time.
This debate is about one individual couple, Mr. and Mrs. Michie, but it also has a wider application. Mr. and Mrs. Michie are unhappy about the amount of home loss payment that they will receive when their house is compulsorily purchased by the Department of Transport. That compulsory purchase is necessary for road widening in connection with the new Dartford -Thurrock crossing.
It is correct to say that Mr. and Mrs. Michie are among the better-known constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford. They certainly left a lasting impression upon the Select Committees in both Houses when they petitioned against the Bill authorising the construction of the crossing. My hon. Friend has also kept up steady pressure on their behalf through correspondence and questions in an effort to seek to resolve the issue of compensation.
Before I deal with the details of the case, I shall outline a home owner's entitlement under the land compensation Acts when a home is subject to compulsory purchase. First, the law provides that the owner should receive the full market value of his or her property, disregarding the effects of the proposals that necessitate the compulsory purchase. The market value is assessed by the district valuer. If there is a dispute about the valuation, the owner may take the matter to the Lands Tribunal, which decides the matter. Secondly, the owner is reimbursed costs incurred because of the necessity of having to move to another property. For example, he may have to pay for altering carpets and curtains. The acquiring authority also meets legal and other fees incurred in connection with the move.
An owner receives the full market value of his home, plus actual costs of disturbance. In addition, if he has lived in the house for at least five years he is entitled to receive a home loss payment. That payment is made in recognition of the personal distress and inconvenience suffered by people who have been forced to move out of their homes. The payment is three times the rateable value of the property, subject to a minimum payment of £150 and a maximum payment of £1,500. It is the adequacy of that payment that my hon. Friend has raised tonight and that Mr. Michie raised in his petitions about the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Bill.
The Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Bill received Royal Assent on 28 June. Construction of a new bridge across the Thames to relieve the traffic congestion, which has become a serious problem at the Dartford tunnels, has already started. The tunnels are a vital link on the London orbital motorway. I do not think that my hon. Friend's constituents question the necessity of that link ; they are concerned about the amount of compensation to which they may be entitled. It is important to recognise that the bridge and tunnels will together provide a great improvement in traffic flow. On the Kent side of the river, the A282 passes through the town of Dartford. It was inevitable that, in the construction of the crossing, the widening of the road in that corridor would be necessary and that nearby properties would be affected. I am pleased to inform the House that, in fact, it will be necessary to acquire only nine
Column 287properties--far fewer than is often the case, and certainly far fewer than would need to be acquired if there were a new rail link for the Channel tunnel. However, that is obviously not much consolation to Mr. and Mrs. Michie.
The properties and other land will be acquired using the established compulsory purchase powers under section 2 of the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Act. Among the nine properties to be acquired are two pairs of semi-detached houses known as Rose Villas, and it is in one of those houses that Mr. and Mrs. Michie have made their home for many years.
Shortly after the proposals for the approach road widening works were made public at exhibitions early in 1987, the occupiers of one of the properties at Rose Villas served a blight notice on the Department of Transport. The effect of a blight notice is to require the Department to buy any property that will be required for future road works and which, for that reason, cannot be sold on the open market. The blight notice was accepted and the occupants received compensation for the purchase of their property by the Department based on its open market value as assessed by the district valuer at that time. They were also reimbursed their expenses incurred in moving to a new property. They moved out in October 1987. Mr. Michie and his two other neighbours decided that they would petition against the Bill when it came before the House of Commons Select Committee at the end of October 1987. Mr. Michie presented their case in person. He made it clear to the Select Committee that he and his neighbours accepted that it was impracticable to change the proposed widening works so as not to affect Rose Villas, but said that they were concerned about the arrangements for the award of compensation.
In its report in December 1987, the Select Committee recognised that there was an established system for the award of compensation in which it could not properly intervene, but it expressed the hope that the system would acknowledge and provide compensation for such disruption and anxiety as had been caused to Mr. Michie and his neighbours. In January 1988, one of Mr. Michie's co-petitioners decided to serve a blight notice on the Department of Transport to acquire his property at Rose Villas. That was accepted and the family finally moved out in August. Again, he received compensation under the established arrangements.
Mr. Michie and his remaining fellow neighbour Mr. Waddington decided that they would petition against the Bill before the Select Committee in another place, which they did in April. Again, Mr. Michie and his neighbour made the same points as before. At the same time, Mr. Michie disputed the informal valuation of his house which the local district valuer had recently given at a meeting arranged by the Department of Transport.
The Committee noted that under the Bill compensation would be payable in accordance with the land compensation code and that Mr. Michie would be entitled to a home loss payment under section 30. The Select Committee acknowledged that the amounts payable under the 1973 Act are relatively small and noted that they had not been increased since the Act was passed. My hon. Friend stressed that point. The Committee drew the attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment to the apparent inadequacy of the maximum amounts payable under the home loss payment scheme. The Committee noted that under the terms of the Land Compensation Act 1973 the maximum figures payable
Column 288generally can be increased by an order made by the Secretary of State and subject to annulment by resolution of either House of Parliament.
The Committee recognised the disruption and distress which had been caused, but took the view that it could not intervene in the well established procedures for the award of compensation. The Committee expressed the hope that, when the district valuer came to a final valuation of the property of Mr. Michie and his fellow petitioner, full account would be taken of the current escalation in the price of property, particularly in the south- east. My hon. Friend did not make an issue of that.
In its response to the Lords Select Committee, the Department of Transport noted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment had the system of home loss payments under active consideration in connection with the community charge proposals, but that the Government were not yet ready to announce their proposals. It recognised that the real value of home loss payments had declined since they were first introduced. My hon. Friend has elicited, through a question that I answered, that the extent of that loss of value amounts to about four and a half times the value that would have applied in 1973.
Since the Act was passed, formal notices to treat for the acquisition of their properties have been served on Mr. Michie and Mr. Waddington and negotiations between the district valuer and the agent acting for Mr. Waddington have reached a successful conclusion. The Waddingtons moved out of their house and received a home loss payment of about £390 as a result.
Assuming that the outcome of the negotiations between Mr. Mitchie and the district valuer are satisfactory, it is likely that Mr. Michie will have his property possessed by the end of February next year. The home loss payments were introduced in 1973 as a solace for the distress and upset experienced by people who have formed an attachment to their homes and are displaced. They are paid over and above compensation for property and for disturbance.
The statutory provisions for home loss, both as to who qualifies and to the sum payable, are very clear and there is no room for argument, but Mr. Mitchie has argued that the home loss payment is too small to recompense him for his loss. That is the main issue that my hon. Friend has asked me to deal with this evening. I cannot dispute that the level of home loss payments today is far lower than it was in 1973. There has been a substantial decline in real terms. My hon. Friend says that the levels are neither realistic nor fair. There is no such thing as a right level of home loss payment, however. It is an additional solace rather than a reimbursement of financial loss.
The Government are actively considering this issue. I know it will be extremely frustrating for my hon. Friend to learn--although he may not be surprised to hear it--that I cannot announce the Government's final conclusions about this. It will be a little while yet before we can announce the changes we have in mind as a result of the abolition of domestic rates and the consequent abolition of domestic rateable values. My hon. Friend makes the fair point that it would be possible to adjust the rates before those changes come into effect. That point is well taken by the Government and is being considered. It would be wrong of me to say to my hon. Friend that that has been excluded by the Government as a possible interim solution.
Column 289My hon. Friend asked whether it would be possible to backdate any award as soon as the Government make an announcement about the proposed change. Although the power contained in section 30 of the 1973 Act enables my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to prescribe by order different multipliers and a different minimum or maximum payment from time to time, like most other order-making powers it cannot be applied retrospectively. It is a legal principle that subordinate legislation cannot be applied retrospectively unless express powers are given. Parliament is loth to give Ministers such a wide discretion except in exceptional cases, and the 1973 Act contains no such express power. Therefore, it would not be possible legally to make any order retrospective.
Column 290It is for the Government to reach a conclusion, and I know that my hon. Friend hopes that we will do that as soon as possible. I am sorry that I cannot announce anything now, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue in the way that he has and for drawing the attention of the House to an anomaly that must be resolved. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham for pointing out that this matter has implications for other people whose properties are subject to compulsory purchase. That is another good reason for the Government to reach a conclusion at the earliest possible opportunity.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes past Eleven o'clock.
|Written Answers Section