HC Deb 15 July 1930 vol 241 cc1148-54

I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 16 to 18.

In Standing Committee an Amendment was moved to delete this proviso, but at that time we could not accept the Amendment because there were cases where there was a multiplicity of owners. One case was mentioned of 30 proprietors in one building. We had no machinery in the Bill at that time for dealing with a large number of owners. If a large number of owners did not develop the site the local authority was left helpless. Frequently it might be impossible to induce the 30 proprietors to co-operate in a common purpose for the future development of the site. Since Clause 2 was discussed in Committee we have added Clause 5 to the Bill. Clause 5 gives the local authority power to purchase after 18 months have elapsed; if after 18 months have elapsed no development has taken place on the site, the local authority is given power to purchase. Now that Clause 5 is in the Bill there is no further necessity for including the proviso that it is now proposed to omit.


I am not at all satisfied with the explanation of the Under-Secretary. I am certain that this Clause was well considered by those who drafted the Bill. I am equally certain that there will be administrative difficulties which cannot be properly met if this proviso is taken out. It was pointed out in Standing Committee to the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. J. Welsh) who moved that the proviso should be left out, that there would be considerable administrative difficulty if it were omitted, and that was the reason why the Amendment was not carried. It was suggested that there might be 30 proprietors of one building. Suppose that some of theme were owners of the ground floor, and some of the middle floor, and some of the top floor, and that they had common property in certain parts of the building and common interests in other parts. The Local Authority call upon the owners to demolish. Suppose that one owner is quite willing to obey the order, and is prepared to demolish, and he is the owner of the bottom part of the building. Is he entitled to pull down irrespective of the other proprietors?


The local authority can come in.


That is my point. It means that the ordinary provisions of the Bill cannot apply to the case. The primary provision in this Clause is that the owner is to demolish. It is quite clear that the Under-Secretary thinks that the owners cannot be forced in any proper way to do it, and that there are bound to be difficulties. An order is given for 30 different owners to demolish. Some of the owners may not be there, and so on. Therefore, the result would be that the local authority would require to demolish. Take a case where you have 10 good owners and one bad owner, and you have one house which has been left in a bad condition. That particular case will fall under this Bill, I understand, because there is one house that is affected. If there were no dwelling-house defective in the building the question would not arise, because the building would be outside the scope of the Bill. But if you find one owner who has neglected his particular dwelling-house, you are going to force all the other good owners, who have kept their dwelling-houses up to scratch, to demolish, or the local authority will do so. You are going to interfere in that way with the good owners and leave them, it may be, with their site value. But what is the site value of the man who is on the top floor? How can you ascertain it?

The problem is really a very difficult one. You will have the greatest difficulty in finding out what the compensation will be as regards the different owners. There is no necessity for leaving out this proviso, because there is nothing to prevent the local authority from buying. If it is necessary for the good of the community that this particular part of the ground should be taken by the local authority for improvement, the authority can purchase it. After all, in purchasing it there is not going to be any extravagant compensation, because that is safeguarded by Act of Parliament. Therefore, they would only require to pay what would be a proper price in the circumstances. But if the local authority is not going to purchase and if the property is to be demolished I cannot see how the question of compensating the different owners and all the different people having interests in the property is to be dealt with. I am perfectly certain that reasons such as that induced the framers of this Bill to include this proviso originally, and I think that the first thoughts of the Government on this matter were sound. I see no reason why these words should not be retained. I do not think that they will prevent the general purpose of the Bill from being achieved. The local authorities have the power to purchase. They have also the power of demolition without purchase. If a condition were made that in all cases where there were several owners purchase would be necessary I would not object to the omission of these lines. I do not see how you can possibly compensate a man for taking away his house by giving him the site value, particularly if he is the man who lives on the top flat. In his case the compensation would be very much in the air.


Where it deserves to be.


I do not see how that question can be dealt with unless a provision is made that in cases where there are several owners, the local authority will be required to purchase. There are provisions not only in this Bill but in the general Acts of Scotland to prevent an extravagant figure being given to a particular owner and if a particular owner happened to be one who had allowed his dwelling house to fall into disrepair and become unfit for human habitation, that person would be dealt with accordingly in the purchase price. There is no difficulty in that respect and I do not see any reason for this change of mind on the part of the Government. Although anything which comes from Paisley must command my respect I do not think that the Government ought to have been influenced by the arguments of the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. J. Welsh) and I think that the administrative difficulties, which must have been in the minds of those who framed the Bill when they inserted these words, are insurmountable.

The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. Craigie Aitchison)

I do not think that any real difficulty will arise if effect be given to this Amendment. It is true that, as the Bill was originally framed, this proviso was put in of set purpose, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Renfrew (Mr. MacRobert) must bear in mind that at that time Clause 5, Sub-section (1) was not in the Bill. The real reason for inserting this proviso in Clause 2 was the difficulty which was anticipated as regards the use of the land after demolition had taken place. That difficulty has now been removed by Clause 5, Sub-section (1), which gives power to a local authority at any time after the expiration of 18 months from the date on which the clearance order becomes operative, to purchase any part of the land which has not been or is not being used for building purposes or otherwise developed. Accordingly, if a clearance order has been made and if the various owners fail to agree as to the proper use to be made of the site, then the local authority can come in and purchase. No difficulty arises on that score, and that leaves only one other matter.

It is said that if this proviso were taken out of the Bill there would be very great difficulty in the case of the tenement buildings with which we are familiar in Scotland, where there are a great many owners in one building. I think the answer to that Objection is that in Scotland the tenements which are owned by several owners are in fact being abolished and that no difficulty arises. If a clearance order is made directing the demolition of a building, then, of course, it is quite obvious that the owners concerned in that order are compelled to put their heads together and to decide—it may be after consultation with the authority making the order—as to the best way of carrying out the order that has been made. I cannot help feeling that as regards the question of demolition, my right hon. and learned Friend is conjuring up difficulties which are not likely to arise in practice. We know from the experience which we have had that there are no difficulties at all in practice in this connection, and this is a Measure upon which the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. J. Welsh) can speak with first-hand knowledge. I hope that the House will accept the Amendment.


The speech of the Lord Advocate would have been more convincing were it not for the speech which he made in support of this proviso in Committee.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman must remember that at that time Clause 5, Sub-section (1) was not in the Bill.


The House will perhaps allow me to read one or two sentences from the Lord Advocate's speech in Committee on this subject which seem to be still applicable: The purpose of the proviso is to facilitate development. As the Committee know, under the tenement system in Scotland there may be in some cases as many as 20 or 30 different owners in one tenement all with interests more or less undefined in the site. Suppose you made a demolition order with regard to that tenement how is it to be carried out? Are 20 or 30 people to take picks and shovels and set out and do it? It seems to me that practical difficulties would arise. The hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. J. Welsh) then made an interjection, and the Lord Advocate continued: I do not suggest for a moment that it is beyond the wit of man to devise a method of dealing with it. But it seems to me that the method would be cumbrous and if applied generally that it would be unworkable, because, remember, this Bill will apply for the most part to tenement property, and, accordingly, I think it, is absolutely essential to hvae this proviso if the Bill is not to be unworkable in a most important respect."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee on Scottish Bills), 13th May, 1930; cols. 95 and 96.]


Second thoughts are best.


Perhaps in this case, third thoughts may be three times as good. I suggest that the Lord Advocate having devoted the whole weight of his study to the proviso and having defended it on the ground that if it were not in the Bill the Bill would be unworkable in a most important respect, we must leave Cæsar to reply to Cæsar in this matter.

Mr. JAMES WELSH (Paisley)

I wish to thank the Secretary of State for Scotland for dealing with this point and I think I can assure him from practical experience that he will find no difficulty in making this Clause workable without the proviso. My main objection to it was that I thought it wrong, when a clearance order was made, to draw distinctions as to whether property had one owner or more than one owner. I may remind the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot) of the fact that he furnished a most substantial argument in favour of the deletion of this proviso when he mentioned the fact that any proprietor who wanted to evade the inclusion of his property in a clearance order had merely to convey half of it, even for a temporary period, to someone else.


May I point out that the Lord Advocate dealt with that point also and proved that it would be impossible to defeat the intentions of the Bill in such a way.


I think we had better leave the lawyers out of this debate. I think we can get on better by treating it as a matter of common sense and I put it to anyone, with any knoweldge of the working of slum clearance schemes, if it is not an unjustifiable proposal to say that under no conditions must property with more than one proprietor be included in a clearance order. We have had considerable experience in dealing with these schemes; we have come across quite a number of properties held by more than one proprietor and we have never yet had any real difficulty in dealing with the matter.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 3, line 38, at the end, to insert the words Provided that where the building belongs to more than one owner any sum recoverable or payable by the authority under this sub-section shall be recoverable from or payable to the several owners in such proportions as the authority may determine. Now that provision has been made for including in clearance orders properties held by several different owners, provision has also to be made in cases where the local authority steps in and demolishes the building for the apportionment of the expenses of the demolition among the several owners, and also the apportionment of such sums as may remain in the hands of the local authority in respect of the proceeds from materials and so forth. This Amendment is consequential on the Amendment to which the House has just agreed.


I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to leave out the words "authority may determine," and to insert instead thereof the words: parties may agree or, failing agreement, as shall be determined by an arbiter nominated by the parties or, failing such nomination, as shall be nominated lay the sheriff. I understand that the Secretary of State for Scotland is prepared to accept this Amendment to his Amendment.

Amendment to proposed Amendment agreed to.

Proposed words, as amended, there inserted in the Bill.