§ order for third reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time.—(King's Consent signified.)
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I do not disguise from the House the fact that I am glad to have reached this stage of this Bill. I am sure the House will realise that my first thought is to thank my right hon. Friends the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and the President of the Board of Trade for all the help they have given to me in connection with this very complicated Measure. If the House will permit me, I should like to say also how much I have been assisted by my advisers at the Treasury, and to say a word on behalf of the Parliamentary draftsman who, in spite of the fact that we have incorporated many Amendments in the Bill and in spite of the limited time available to draft this Measure, has made a great contribution. I would add at once that this Measure could never have reached this stage in the proceedings — well on its way now to the Statute Book —without the co-operation and the good will of the House. It would have been an impossible task. AH the way through hon. Members have been animated by no other desire than to improve the Measure, and I think we can claim that this Bill, as it now reaches us and as it will shortly go to another place, has received very expert examination in spite of the very short time which has been available. Anyone who said the Bill had been hurried through would be making a great mistake. Nothing is more contrary to the fact. We have been helped very much in the course of the Debates by people who have brought a considerable amount of knowledge and experience to bear on these problems. If we had to look round for a justification for democracy, and for the House of Commons itself, I should point to the proceedings of the House on this Bill.
I have been in the House for many years, and it has been my lot to be asso- 542 ciated with a number of very complicated Bills. I remember one in which I was associated with the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain in connection with a famous formula, when it was suggested that we ought to bring a blackboard into the House and try to demonstrate what we really meant by some means of that kind, but I really think this is the most complicated Bill with which I have been associated. When I introduced it I never contended that it was a perfect Measure. I brought it forward in the hope that I should receive the assistance which, in fact, I did receive. Some of its provisions must obviously be by way of experiment and trial. We are doing what we can, in very difficult circumstances, practically without precedent, and the contribution which the House has made has been given in the hope that its provisions, when they reach the Statute Book, will work fairly and justly, but we may very well have to alter and amend them in the light of experience. We shall have to see, particularly as regards the main principles of the Measure, whether they will in fact work out as we desire them to do. If, in the light of experience of the Measure and its administration, things came to light which demand serious attention, I should not hesitate to come forward with further proposals. But I would suggest that its main principles are right. The Bill was generally demanded and generally approved, and up to this hour we have heard no dissenting voice as to the need for the Measure. The principles on which it is founded are surely right, and they have been carried out to the best of our ability. We have laid down generally the sharing of burdens. We have, at any rate as far as property is concerned, declined to give any preference or consideration to any particular part of the country which might be considered safer than any other, and generally, in the allocation of compensation, we have endeavoured to see that a sufferer may have proper compensation and restoration and reparation.
There are only one or two matters that I would mention as the Bill goes forward. There is a provision relating to public utilities, and I was asked to say a word on the Third Reading with regard to that matter. In moving the Second Reading, I referred to it specifically and explained 543 that what was then Clause 30 meant in effect that provision would be made for the application of a war damage scheme at a later date to railway, dock, gas, electricity and water undertakings. Provision, however, was made for advances to such undertakings in the interim towards the cost of urgent works of repair. I expressed regret that it would not be possible to deal fully with these undertakings in the present Bill, and I promised that we would do our utmost, in consultation with those concerned, to expedite the presentation of proposals to Parliament. Since then the provisions have been extended so that the Clause, now Clause 34, covers undertakings, including mines and other concerns, which, though not public utility undertakings in the accepted sense, are valued in the same way for rating purposes —that is, by reference to profits or output. All these undertakings present special problems the existence of which means that, for one reason or another, the scheme of the present Bill could not be applied to them as it stands. There has, of course, been very little time during its passage for detailed consideration of the further measure regarding these public utility and other undertakings. I repeat, however, the assurance that no time will be lost and that the interests concerned will be given further opportunities of expressing their views to me and that, after full consideration of them, the proposals of the Government will be laid before Parliament. These proposals will involve these undertakings in making suitable contributions as a necessary counterpart to the grant of appropriate compensation. Meanwhile we have taken power in this Clause to make payments towards the cost of works certified to be urgently required, so there will be no difficulty in that respect.
Another matter that I should like to refer to was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb), who asked me to make a statement concerning it, in relation to the business scheme for farmers. My hon. Friend raised some question about the variable values which the farmer has at risk at different times of the year. It has been urged, as is the fact, that in the winter he may have no more at risk than twice the rental value of the farm, whereas during the summer, when the crops are harvested, the insurance value may be many times that 544 amount. My hon. Friend made various suggestions, including one that there should be a three-monthly policies and that farmers should be allowed to take up a voluntary part of the insurance in three or six-monthly periods. I think he was under the impression that a farmer would be compelled to take up this additional insurance for the whole year. I should like to prevent any misapprehension arising in that connection.
The policy, compulsory or voluntary, can be taken out for a period of three months only. In fact, it may probably be for two months, so it is not at all likely that the difficulty which my hon. Friend envisages will arise, as a farmer will be entitled to insure for different amounts in each of the different periods. My hon. Friend and the House may be assured that the Board of Trade are fully aware of the farmer's difficulties, caused by the varying values of his insurable goods over different periods of the year, and it will be their object to adjust this to meet the requirements of the position and suit the farmer's needs. In fact, there is complete power in the Bill to deal with these matters after the Measure becomes law and, in any event, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will be guided by his colleague the Minister of Agriculture, and they will do everything possible to meet the needs of the farming industry.
§ Sir Joseph Lamb (Stone)
My right hon. Friend said that the farmer would be able to insure for different amounts. I take it that the compulsory insurance of twice the rent will be over the whole period as a different amount will be created by the extra insurance which the farmer himself wishes voluntarily to make.
§ Sir K. Wood
I will have that point replied to in the course of the Debate. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) asked me to make a statement on a matter which is important to a large number of people, namely, the position of hire-purchase goods. The position is this. Under the powers contained in the War Risks Insurance Act, 1939, the Board of Trade has declared hire-purchase goods to be uninsurable under the commodities scheme, which means that, automatically, they 545 become insurable under the business scheme unless declared to be voluntarily insurable under the commodities scheme by reason of the new powers contained in the present Bill. It was at first intended and it was set out in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, that goods supplied under a hire-purchase agreement concluded after the passage of the Bill, should be voluntarily insurable under the commodities scheme, that is at £4 10s. per cent, and secondly, that goods sold under an agreement concluded before the passage of the Bill should be voluntarily insurable under the business scheme at £1 10s. per cent. It has been represented that all such goods should come under the business scheme and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is prepared to consider this suggestion sympathetically. In any event, what is clear is that the Board of Trade will have power, first, to maintain the existing exemption from the commodities scheme and, secondly, to bring all such goods within the business scheme, either compulsorily or voluntarily.
Finally, I wish to say some words to the House about the work which lies ahead of us on this matter. I do not disguise from the House that a very considerable task awaits us. This Measure will place great responsibilities and duties upon Ministers but even more upon the War Damage Commission. I have taken steps in the last few days, with regard to invitations and the membership of that Commission. A very responsible task will lie upon it and I am most anxious that it shall command public confidence. I am endeavouring to secure not the representation of interests but the benefit of the experience and knowledge of practical people. That will be my aim. The Commission will, of course, have to face an important administrative problem. I have already told the House that I am arranging for the Commission to decentralise, as far as possible, the settlement of straightforward claims. If this Measure is to operate to the satisfaction of the people, every endeavour must be made for prompt settlement and I would remind my hon. Friends of a very important Clause in the Bill by which immediate grants can be made to people who have suffered at the hands of the enemy and who require advances. There are indications, to-day, that a large num- 546 ber of people will come forward to take advantage of this Clause and to ask for advances, in respect either of their business premises or of their homes, in order that they may be enabled to rent or purchase other property, or in order that they may be enabled to carry on little businesses. Some of these cases are among the greatest tragedies that have happened and it is essential that the Commission should be able to deal properly with these cases.
Therefore, as I say, we shall endeavour to decentralise the administration of the scheme as far as possible and we intend to open offices in the towns in which are situated Civil Defence Regional Commissioners. We have selected those towns because there are already posted there responsible representatives of Government Departments with which the Commission will have to co-operate. We propose to set up four regional offices in the London area. Obviously, it will take time and there will be considerable difficulty with regard to the recruitment of staff, but I am glad to say that much preliminary work has already been done, with my approval, because I thought I might anticipate the leave of the House in this respect. I have been fortunate to obtain an experienced official as Secretary designate and also the voluntary help of a well-known business man, Mr. Graham Cunningham, whose name may be familiar to some of my hon. Friends in connection with the work of the Childrens' Overseas Reception Board. Mr. Cunningham and the gentleman whom I propose to appoint as Secretary of the War Damage Commission, have already begun work and with a staff, which at present numbers 30 or 40, we have established headquarters for the Commission. They have, for some weeks now, been engaged in finding offices in the various towns which I have indicated and in the equally important task of selecting the individuals to take charge of those offices. I cannot conceive of a more responsible task at this time than that of securing the technically qualified and accessible men to place at the head of these offices. They will have to meet people who will often be in great anxiety and trouble and who have to be properly looked after. We have also worked out a scheme for indexing the claims and correlating them with the reports which are furnished by 547 local authorities of damaged buildings in their respective areas.
Next I should like to say a word about the form of claim. I have heard in the course of these Debates considerable criticism of the form of claim known as V.O.W.I. We are devising a new form of claim to replace that. It is designed, and I hope it will achieve the object, to enable an ordinary person to fill it in without professional assistance. This form may be described as giving a notification of damage rather than as a form of claim, and the intention is that when the simple notification has been made it will be followed up with further inquiries and instructions appropriate to the circumstances of the particular case. It is our ideal, and one which I hope we may be able to accomplish in connection with claims, to interpret this complicated Measure in the simplest possible way. As regards those who have already submitted claims on form V.O.W.I to the Inland Revenue District Valuer, arrangements are being made for those forms to be handed over to the War Damage Commission. The claims themselves and the information given on the form do not, of course, fit completely the new scheme embodied in this Bill, but those forms will be regarded as a formal notification of claims. Anyone who has sent in such a form will not be asked to renew his claim, though he may, no doubt, receive from the Commission a request for further information or be given instructions as to his future procedure.
As regards Scotland, I have already stated that two of the Commissioners will be Scotsmen learned either in the law or practice of that country, and I am making that provision because of the difference in the law and practice there. A special office of the Commission will be opened in Edinburgh, and the Department of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is assisting me in selecting a suitable officer to take charge of that important office. Arrangements have also been made for an officer of the Northern Ireland Government to act as a local representative of the Commission in Belfast. And, of course, I have not forgotten Wales. Wales will have a suitable Deputy-Commissioner, with a head office at Cardiff. I can only say in conclusion, in regard to the work of 548 the Commission, that they must of necessity, if they are to make a success of their job, as I have no doubt they will, act in the closest possible consultation with the various local authorities and Departments concerned.
A question was put to me in relation to voluntary hospitals. It will be the duty of the Commission to consult with the Ministry of Health, and I am assured by the Minister of Health that if he is consulted on questions affecting voluntary hospitals, he for his part will consult the various organisations representing the voluntary hospitals movement, such as King Edward's Hospital Fund, and the British Hospitals Association, and, I have no doubt, the particular hospitals concerned. In other words, I hope that one of the bases of the administration of this scheme will be full, cordial and close cooperation with all those who have to share in the duties of the administration.
I thank the House for the care and attention which they have given to this Bill. I feel that we may claim it to be a joint product of the Government and the House of Commons. I believe it will be of great benefit to the owners of both large and small houses and to the owners of businesses and factories. It is a great thing at this time to feel assured that there is on the Statute Book a Bill which is as just and as equitable a Bill as I think we can make it, a Bill containing many provisions which will give immediate help, and I hope satisfaction, to those who are so manfully standing up to the attacks of the enemy. I particularly commend the alterations we have made in the chattels scheme. I am glad to see this morning that the revised scheme has been universally welcomed. I will only claim for this Measure in conclusion that it is one more piece of tangible evidence both of our confidence in victory and of our determination that the enemy shall not be allowed to inflict irreparable damage on the homes of the nation.
§ Sir Frank Sanderson (Ealing)
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down may I ask one question? Will he make some reference to Clause 73?
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
The ultimate issue in the great conflict which is raging around the world is between democracy and dictatorship, and I share to the full the view of the 549 Chancellor of the Exchequer that this Bill in itself is overwhelming proof of the efficiency of democracy when a great task has to be faced. All who have contributed to building up this Measure stone by stone merit a tribute of praise and an expression of our satisfaction. I was delighted when the present Prime Minister told us some few months ago that He and his Government had decided to bring in and to carry through all its stages a Bill of this kind. The Government which preceded the present one had refused to face the hazards of enemy damage which lay ahead, feeling that they were too much. But the present all-party Government has taken its courage in its hands and has faced the business and gone through with it. For that, the Government are to be congratulated.
I would say a word for the Civil Service in this respect. Many criticisms are made of the Civil Service. It is found fault with for all kinds of things, but it is due to that Service that a word should be said in praise of what it has done in regard to the Bill. The major decisions rested with the Government, as they always must, but an immense piece of work is behind this Measure. The Parliamentary draftsmen, who must have the highest meed of praise, and the members of the Civil Service who laid the foundation on which that draft was based, are certainly to be congratulated upon what they have done. Although the House of Commons has made considerable alterations, it remains true that a substantial part of the structure of the original draft is still in the Measure which we are seeing through its last stage in this House. In substance, the Bill as it was originally brought forward still exists.
Having said that, I must add that this Bill is largely a product also of the House of Commons. I am sure that nobody, either on the Government Front Bench or in other parts of the House, will disagree with that statement. The House of Commons has examined with a critical eye all the provisions of the Bill and has suggested Amendments in almost every Clause. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has followed a somewhat novel procedure in the way in which he has considered, with much effect, the criticisms of the House, and he has shown himself a master of House of Commons procedure. He and his colleagues of the Board of Trade 550 and their skilled advisers have had the good sense to meet the criticisms of the House, not in a perfunctory way, but by genuinely making the alterations which the House of Commons, representing the public opinion of the country, has desired. The result is that the Bill emerges greatly improved.
I think I can give one conspicuous example, and that is the chattels scheme. Not even those who were concerned with the original proposals will attempt to deny that the scheme which we now have is an immense improvement on the scheme as originally brought forward. Public opinion was that the scheme ought to be compulsory and not voluntary. I dare say a good many people think that we now have a scheme which is neither voluntary nor compulsory, but, in fact, we have a compulsory scheme. What might not be quite plain to everybody is that we have a compulsory scheme of insurance, based on the general level of taxation. We must realise that the people who are likely to have furniture are also the householders of the country, who, the Board of Trade tells us, may number anything from 13,000,000 to 18,000,000, and that that body of persons does not differ materially from the general taxpayers. What we are doing, in effect, is to say that people shall pay contributions corresponding broadly to their general tax liability. That is not very far from the mark of what they ought to pay, in consideration of the chattels which they have. There may be a few houseless people who may have to pay while having no chattels, but, broadly speaking, the chattel owners and the taxpayers of the country are one and the same body of people, and we are imposing a burden on the taxpayers to relieve chattel owners of liability. It seems to be a very sensible way of dealing with the matter.
I will mention only one other alteration, which is important and has been very largely a subject of criticism, and that is with regard to mortgagor and mortgagee. The final result perhaps does not do everything which everybody would wish; perhaps that was too much to hope, but we have come much nearer to what the public considers equitable than we came in the original Bill. Two matters are left, as it were, in suspense. One relates to public utilities, in regard to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already 551 spoken. The other is the relationship of landlord and tenant. I should be out of order to go in great detail into these questions, which do not find expression in the actual text of the Bill, but they do enter it, in a sense. The structure of the Bill will not be complete until the additional building is built alongside it. It resembles those houses and public buildings which are erected with a blank end, which the builders have left for the time being in an unsatisfactory form, till the opportunity arises to build the further part which will make the whole edifice complete. That is the position in regard to these two aspects of the matter. We all hope that there will be as little delay as possible in adding to the structure of the Bill those further matters. They must be dealt with, if there is to be what the public would consider a fair relationship between the different people involved.
That is all I wish to say about the Measure. We have had a remarkable series of Debates and have covered an enormous amount of ground in a very short time. We have seen democracy at its best, and we have seen the Chancellor of the Exchequer at his best. He has met the House of Commons, not perfunctorily, but in genuine sincerity and to the benefit of all concerned.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
Perhaps I am a bad hand at paying a graceful compliment, because of my natural instincts, after years of opposition in politics, but I am sincere in congratulating the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon his skilful handling of this Measure. His methods are his own. No one has been quite like him, either in piloting a Bill through the House of Commons or in handling the House of Commons itself. He does not try to cover up the paucity of his arguments by oratory, or with phrases and words; he attempts to appeal to the common sense of Members. When criticism is made, he never takes the line of stone-walling it or of bureaucracy; he is always courteous and reasonable. Sometimes we have felt that his methods were different from the methods of other Ministers, and did not quite live up to the traditions of the House; but, on the whole, I am of the opinion that I like his new technique of conciliation and respect for the House of Commons. As the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken so well 552 said, the Chancellor has justified, in wartime, the working of the democratic machine. The House of Commons has been, for this Bill, a Council of State. We have been encouraged to make our contribution, and the result is a Measure for which we all have to share responsibility.
I was glad when the right hon. Gentleman said that it was more or less a provisional Measure. It is not the final word. Much of its success, I believe, will depend on the personnel and character of the Commission. To make this machine work fairly and to the satisfaction of the public, it is important that the right hon. Gentleman should take men not of the bureaucratic type but with knowledge of the people and understanding of the difficult economic problems that will have to be dealt with. I was also very pleased when the right hon. Gentleman said that he would decentralise their work. I think that is of great importance. Everybody knows how, even with an ordinary Measure, it is difficult for sufferers in conditions like those which we are experiencing to-day to get in touch with what is called Whitehall. It is not the fault of Whitehall. Whitehall, being in London, and having to deal with so many different areas in varying conditions, must inevitably deal with forms. By having in England, Wales, Scotland, London and all the principal areas local offices, able to act quickly and being approachable instead of having locked doors, will largely help towards the success of this Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman has dealt with various Clauses. I would like to make a reference to what I think is a very far-seeing Clause, Clause 8. I do not know who devised it, but it certainly shows imagination, and it is an augury for the future. We do not want the money of the State —and it is the State which is going to make a very large contribution —to be wasted in bad forms of reconstruction. That would be a disaster. I attach great importance to Clause 8, with its anticipation of replanning and building new cities over the ruins of our destroyed cities, so that the money which the State is to find shall not be wasted in recreating the appalling slums which this war may help to clear. This Bill consists of some 90 Clauses, and even the right hon. Gentleman cannot be familiar with all of its detailed provisions. There are to-day thousands of people who are 553 worried about their future, people who have lost their homes and those who are in fear of losing their homes. One of the first things which the Government or the Commission might very well do would be to publish a popular pamphlet, something like the prospectus of an insurance company, making clear in simple language the provisions of this Bill. The B.B.C. might also be asked to help. In war-time, nothing is better for the morale of the people, not only of civilians but of soldiers who are away from their homes, than to know that the Government and Parliament have made provision to give them some sort of security if and when their homes are destroyed and their furniture burnt out, and that a benevolent State has thought out in detail a scheme to help them over their difficulties. I think that when the provisions of this Bill are made public they will not only be a great heartener to the people of this country but an advertisement to the world that this nation has made provision for its people and is sure of victory.
§ Mr. Hely-Hutchinson (Hastings)
I hope I may not be regarded as being too severely practical-minded if I suggest that the most important feature of this Bill is that part of it which relates to contributions. I would like to echo what the right hon. Gentleman opposite said when he expressed the view that the special taxpayer here named in the Bill practically coincides with the general taxpayer. In fact, in the course of my Second Reading speech, I ventured to suggest that the difference between the two is about the same as the difference between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
As this Bill goes to another place on its way to the Statute Book, I would like to join with others in expressing grateful appreciation of the trouble which my right hon. Friend —our right hon. Friend —has taken, and the patience and resource with which he has sought to meet the conflicting wishes of the House on this very complicated matter. But I suggest that these very complications, these very conflicts serve to show what happens when, one is insurance-minded about a risk which is essentially non-insurable. I hope I am not breaking in too violently on the Symphonie Pathetique with the strains of the Soldiers' Chorus. But as the Town Clerk of Hastings wrote the other day in reply to inquiries as to a possible safe 554 place in these islands to which to evacuate, there is no safe place in a fortress. Why should there be? "So perhaps we may reflect that Moses made us this law — meaning no reflection on my right hon. Friend —that Moses made us this law for the hardness of our hearts, for our little understanding.
For as our thoughts progressed in this matter, the first thing we did was to stop calling it an Insurance Bill and to start calling it a War Damage Bill. And as our thoughts progressed further we realised more and more the truth of what my right hon. Friend himself said when he introduced the Bill, namely, that it would be impossible to relate contribution to compensation with any degree of exactitude. So, being practical men, we concentrated on the immediate problem as to who should pay the contribution rather than on the more remote problem as to who at some uncertain time in the future should receive a still more uncertain amount of compensation. Therefore, in the fulness of our understanding, we may come to look upon this Bill, except in regard to its provisions as to advances and cost-of-works payments, largely as an effective tax-gathering Measure. My right hon. Friend wanted some more money; he saw an opportunity, and, partly, this Bill is the result. That is still further evidence of the practical efficiency of democracy and also of how my right hon. Friend himself improves each shining hour. On this sound basis, that the Bill is an effective tax-gathering Measure, I commend it heartily, and in thus seeking to lay bare its secret, I hope I may not lay myself open to the stricture that the honesty of a cynic statesman is as suspect as the piety of a ribald priest.
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
The hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Hely-Hutchinson) has, with a witty turn of phrase, poured some cold water on our efforts, but I think that he is right in so doing. After all, things never turn out as well as one hopes they may. On the other hand, of course, they are never as bad as one is afraid they may turn out, and I cannot be dissuaded from offering my meed of congratulation to all concerned with this Bill. For some years I have had the opportunity of seeing the right hon. Gentleman's action on the opposite side of the House —in the strict sense of the term —and according to our particular tempera- 555 ment during that time we have either admired, envied or resented his Parliamentary skill. But on this occasion we can all congratulate ourselves that the House has had the benefit of it, as well as of the great tact which he has displayed. I think those to whom we are responsible —the householders of the country—will generally feel grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, to his assistants and, indeed, to the whole House for passing this Measure.
The right hon. Gentleman dealt quite shortly with one or two practical matters, and we must all be glad that he takes the view that the Commission must be composed of practical men who know something about the requirement of the people and the great necessity, which I think is almost paramount in this matter, to consider the human needs of those concerned, and above all to ensure at any rate prompt assessment if it is not possible, as we know it may not be, to ensure the prompt payment of claims. I spoke on this subject before, but we all know there is a great deal of congestion in Government offices with regard to claims of various kinds, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, having made a fair start, maybe able to keep up with the claims, although we must not forget that a year and a half have gone in which claims have accumulated, with the result that there is a great amount of work with which the Commission must concern itself.
I was glad to hear what my right hon. Friend below the Gangway said about the desirability of making the contents of this Bill clear to the general public. There are many things in which one would like to see them advised at once. It would quite obviously be very wise if every man and woman would at once make an inventory of their furniture and personal belongings, together with such proof of value in the form of receipts, etc., as may be possible, and keep a copy with that proof in some place separate from their own household. There is quite a number of practical suggestions which would simplify the operation of the Measure and would promote a prompt and satisfactory settlement of claims. I hope these matters will have the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman and that he will endeavour to put them into practical shape.
556 Having said that, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not weary in well doing. There is quite a number of cognate matters which it will be well to look into and to deal with as soon as possible. We all know the multitude of cases of people who have had to leave evacuation or protected areas, who are still in law liable to pay rent but who are perhaps unable to pay it, and to whom no relief in the way of postponement of their liability is, as far as I am aware, available. Similarly, on the other side, there are many landlords and others who are entitled to consideration and help in some form. There are many mortgagors who are quite unable to pay the amounts due on their mortgages and for which they are liable. Consideration is, of course, given to them by the building societies and other bodies, but that consideration is at present limited to a mere postponement of liability, and there is no provision for any modification or relief. There is quite a number of similar cases of which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is well aware and of which the Law Officers of the Crown are certainly aware. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to devote at any rate a little of his time in endeavouring to bring into some complete and comprehensive form all the various types of help in so many directions—personal injuries, disablement allowances, pensions to civil workers, the provisions of the War Damage Bill and so on—which might be put into some complete code, covering, so far as is humanly possible, all the ills to which the civilian is heir in this war. If that could be done, it would be a very remarkable achievement, and I venture to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he might give some thought to it.
I would join with all those who have spoken in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman, and I agree that this Bill is certainly evidence of our strong confidence in a victorious and not too distant conclusion of the war in which we are engaged. It is also very clear evidence of our determination to share in common and to relieve where possible the sufferings of those less fortunate than ourselves. Also, I may add, it is one of the fruits of National Government.
§ Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)
I must say that when I read this Bill when it was first introduced I thought the Chan- 557 cellor of the Exchequer was going to have a very difficult task. To-day, however, he can certainly congratulate himself; I cannot remember since I have been in the House ever having heard a complicated and important Bill so much welcomed, nor one whose conduct has been praised so highly as that which we have before us to-day, I will not say by the Opposition but from the Front Bench opposite. In his speech to-day the Chancellor of the Exchequer expressed his thanks in various directions. I could not help wondering when I looked at the printed Bill—it came out of Committee only yesterday, and we have it in our hands to-day, reprinted in its altered form —whether some thanks were not due on this occasion to the printing office, unless perhaps the right hon. Gentleman's intelligent anticipation had eased their way for them.
§ Sir I. Albery
The Chancellor mentioned the desirability of sharing the war burdens. If I had a fault to find with this Bill, it would be that I do not think it goes far enough in that direction, and to that extent I think the same criticism can and must still be applied to most Government legislation. I know it is a difficult problem, but in view of the fact that a certain section of the community is being gradually ruined by the war, while another section of the community, in spite of all the precautions which have been taken, is profiting by the war, not enough is yet being done to share the burden, although that has been the express desire of the whole nation, the declared policy of the Government, and, if it were fairly carried out, would meet with universal approval. The part of the Bill which, to my mind, fails in that direction is that which deals with the cost-of-works and valuation payments and, still to some extent, the part which deals with contributions. I rather think that I approach this matter from a point of view different from that of the right hon. Gentleman. War damage would, if there were no War Damage Bill, put in jeopardy a very considerable amount of property in this country, and it seems to me that under circumstances of that kind the steps taken to protect that property in some cases give too much protection to credit. It 558 seems to me that, in that case, when a third party goes to the help of the debtor, there is a duty to demand that the creditors also shall make some concession. The Bill fails to some extent to take that into account.
Here is another point, about the valuation payments. I should have liked some more definite provision for the man who wishes to rebuild his premises, and is not going to have it done for him on the ground of the national interest. When a man is not going to rebuild, he is only in a similar position to a man whose securities are requisitioned by the Government: he can have no very great cause for complaint. But there is cause for complaint when a man needs his premises, for instance, in order to earn his livelihood. With regard to the chattels scheme, I held the view, because I thought that a contribution should be drawn from all persons, that a compulsory scheme for chattels should be included in this Bill. However, I was not tied to compulsion; the point was that I thought the scheme should be universal. The Chancellor has succeeded in making it universal. Earlier in the Debate he pointed out how little revenue would be received under the scheme if insurance were made compulsory. Anyone who wishes to insure now, up to £2,000 at any rate, is offered insurance on very favourable terms; and if he does not take it, he has only himself to blame. Therefore, the criticisms put forward about that matter have been fully met. In conclusion, I would only say that while I admire the Parliamentary skill with which the right hon. Gentleman has carried this Measure through the House, I hope that it will not be allowed to become a precedent. We have had only a purely formal Report stage, and now we are discussing a Bill which has been materially altered. While that may be justified by the circumstances in this case, I hope that it will not become a habit.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
To save time, I will not add my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman to the congratulations of others, who have expressed theirs very well. I rise only to bring forward again a matter which I raised on the Committee stage. I want to deal with a very important institution 559 which is peculiar to the North of England —our Aged Miners' Homes Association in Northumberland and Durham. Clause 29, which deals with property used for charitable purposes, lays it down that only institutions for the relief of poverty shall come under the Clause. These homes, were originally conceived for the relief of aged miners, who could retire to them at a certain age. We have gone on building these homes, until there are now about 6,000 husbands and wives living in them. They are entirely maintained by the pennies of the miners and the donations of well-wishers. The occupiers pay no rent or rates; they get coals free, and in many cases light free, These homes are a tremendous benefit to the local authorities, because we meet the rates on them, and in many cases the occupiers would otherwise have had to go on public assistance. We should not like them to be designated as almshouses, but they are certainly for the relief of poverty. It was because of the privations that aged miners suffered that these homes were founded 45 years ago. As the years go by, the cost of maintaining these cottages has become heavier, while the income is not increasing proportionately, owing to the limited field from which we are able to draw our income. If we have to pay the insurance premiums, it will be a crushing burden upon us. If our position can be met by administrative methods under the Bill, well and good; if not, I would ask whether something cannot be done, when the Bill goes to another place, to ensure that this magnificent effort by the miners to assist their aged fellow workers, who get to these homes only after they have borne the heat and burden of the day, shall be brought within the scope of Clause 29.
§ Sir Harold Webbe (Westminster, Abbey)
As one who has been something of a critic of this Bill, I feel it is incumbent upon me to thank my right hon. Friend for the consideration which he and his advisers have given to the points which I have ventured to raise, and for the way in which he has met some of the points. My right hon. Friend has very skilfully put all his critics, including myself, under an obligation of gratitude for small mercies, without, perhaps, offering 560 us very much hope of big ones. I also would like to join in the congratulations which have been offered to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The more one studies this Measure, the more one appreciates the care and thoroughness with which a most difficult problem has been tackled and the skill with which the decisions which the Chancellor has taken have been expressed in the terms of this Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer can at least have the satisfaction of feeling that a very difficult task has been well accomplished.
I would like to say a word or two about the Bill as it is now before us for the Third Reading. We all feel—and I am glad to know that the Chancellor himself feels—that the Bill as it stands to-day is, in many respects, a better Measure than it was when it first came before the House. We were glad, too, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should make clear that he does not regard it as necessarily the last word, and that in the light of developing circumstances he will keep many of the provisions of the Bill under observation and reconsideration.
I want to draw attention to three points which seem to me to require that further consideration. The first is the much discussed question of value payments. We could not but expect—indeed, we all share the view which the Chancellor expressed yesterday—that it is impossible at this stage to foresee exactly what will be the effect of the provisions of the Bill when those provisions come to be applied, and we therefore welcome all the Amendments which were moved which ensure that when the time comes this matter will be very fully reconsidered. But I confess that I am a little doubtful whether the machinery which the Bill now sets up for that reconsideration will in practice prove to be workable, and I would ask the Chancellor whether in this waiting time he will perhaps look at this whole question of compensation for total loss from a rather different angle. He reminded us yesterday that the purpose of the Bill was two-fold. It was not merely intended to compensate those who had suffered loss, but it had a second, and perhaps even more important, purpose of securing the restoration of those national assets which are destroyed by the war. Obviously the simple way of securing that result would be to say to everyone, "Your building or property has been 561 destroyed; we will give you the cost of restoring it." In other words, the simple cost-of-works payment. But clearly, such a simple solution of the problem would lead to many property owners receiving benefits to which they had no right and greatly in excess of anything to which they were entitled.
I would ask the Chancellor whether, in these cases of total loss, he would consider giving to the owner the alternative right of taking, instead of a value payment, as provided under the Bill, a cost-of-works payment for the restoration of the property, subject to deduction from that payment of the capital value of any betterment which results from that reconstruction. That seems to me to be essentially just. It would, I think, go a long way to remove the anomalies which seem to be inevitable under the present proposals. I do not believe that it would involve the fund in a substantially greater burden than is likely at present, and it would, I think, have the merit of considerably greater simplicity. I therefore ask the Chancellor whether he would consider that suggestion. It would have one other very great advantage, that by securing the reinstatement of the property, it would keep in their more relative positions all the proprietary interests which now exist, and it would prevent, what might well happen under the present arrangement, a mortgagee from receiving the valuation payment or a substantial part of it and taking the money out and investing it in some other direction. Therefore, I ask the Chancellor whether he would consider that alternative approach to this whole question of the value payment.
The second point to which I want to refer is the rate of contribution. On that I know that at the present moment the Chancellor of the Exchequer is adamant, but I do ask that he will keep his mind open to this extent at least, that, if the happy event should prove that the damage involved is much less than at present is anticipated or feared, he will consider, when he knows the position and when the position becomes clear, in some way reducing the contribution or spreading it over a long term of years and so relieving many property owners of a burden which is likely to prove extremely difficult to bear.
562 The third point, and the one to which I attach most importance of all, is the question of the obligation of mortgagees to bear their share of the burden which is imposed by this Bill upon all those who have interests in property. The provisions of the Bill in this regard have, I think, attracted more public notice and more criticism than perhaps any other part of the Bill, except possibly the value payment. I have waited through all the discussions which have taken place in Committee to hear from someone in charge of the Bill what were the reasons which induced them to limit the liability of mortgagees to contribute to those cases covered by Clause 20, to the acquisition mortgage on small property. I have had, and, I think, many Members of this House have had, considerable correspondence in regard to this matter, and I, personally, am glad to see from that correspondence, and from other correspondence, leading articles and other articles in the Press, that there is a large number of people who feel that the limits set in Clause 20 are not only quite illogical, but are extremely unjust.
I am glad, therefore, that when the provisions of the Bill in this regard are more fully understood, there will be a growing public feeling that it is wrong that mortgagees, save only for this limited purpose, should escape any liability or contribution under a Bill from which undoubtedly they stand to derive substantial benefits. And on this particular matter I hope that the fight will be continued, and that the Government will be pressed more and more to consider this particular provision. At least, I think the House and the public have the right to expect from the Government some statement of their reasons for the very remarkable position which they took in framing Clause 20. Although the matter has been touched upon in Debate, I can find no word from the Chancellor or from his colleagues of the reasons which have led to this limitation of the liability of mortgagees.
I will conclude, as I began, by congratulating the Chancellor on the great skill with which he has handled a most complicated problem and for producing a Measure which will not only afford great reassurance to thousands of people throughout the country, but will stand as a symbol of our readiness to face facts and of our confidence in ultimate victory.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)
Although I have not taken any part in the proceedings of this Bill in Committee, I take it that that does not preclude me from saying something on the Third Reading. Many of my hon. Friends and myself have been intensely interested in the passing of the Bill, and sometimes one is able to help a Measure along by keeping quiet rather than by taking an active part in discussions in Committee. However, I wish to associate myself and my hon. Friends with the compliments which have been paid to the Chancellor on the way he has handled the Bill during its passage through the House. I would also say the same of his very able lieutenant, my right hon. and gallant Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who does not get many compliments in this House but who works exceedingly hard in his very onerous office. We hope that he will get his reward for the work which he has done.
I followed this Bill closely in the OFFICIAL REPORT. For many hours, night after night, after I got home from the House I read the Debates. In that way I think that one can perhaps learn a good deal more about the matter than one can during discussion. I would like to emphasise two or three points. The way in which my right hon. Friend has met the House has given cause for universal approbation in the country. Apart from the war itself, there is no subject at the present time which touches the lives of the people so much as this particular Bill. No single house in the land is not affected by it, and the concessions made by the Chancellor to enable people to secure fresh homes after bombing, the extra concession of £200, the addition for man and wife, the way in which he dealt with goods and chattels on the revised basis of premium, and his extension to a very much higher figure to enable a larger number of people to come in, have commended themselves to the majority of people in the country. No doubt the Bill and its administration will involve immense difficulties. The names of the Commissioners have not yet been announced. They will have a very big responsibility, and I am sure the Chancellor will se that they are men who will command the confidence of the people by reason of their expert knowledge of property, with its many legal ramifications. I also hope that the Commission 564 will have a judicial aspect and will have as chairman someone who will command universal respect for his experience, legal knowledge, and administrative capabilities.
There is only one other point to which I wish to refer before I sit down, and that is the relationship between mortgagor and mortgagee. As it was originally in the Bill, it led to a great deal of correspondence to Members of the House from people who did not know what their position would be. Mortgagors and mortgagees thought that one or the other would be subject to hardship, and I think the concession given by the Chancellor in that respect will meet with a great deal of approval. At a time when we are vitally engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the greatest enemy this country has ever faced, I think this Bill will demonstrate once more to the world that by a process of discussion and compromise we can pass such a Measure. With the exception of the India Bill, which was one of 400 Clauses, it is the largest Measure to come before the House. I do not think there has ever before been a Bill of such immense ramifications and complications which has had so many repercussions on the life of the people in this country.
§ Sir Joseph Lamb (Stone)
I do not wish to stand, except for a very short time, between the Financial Secretary and the concluding stages of this Bill. I know that not only this House but the country itself is anxious to see the Bill become law. I want to refer particularly to Clause 35, Sub-section (5). Under it, schemes may be made and the Ministry of Transport may make contributions towards the amount paid by local authorities to ensure recompense in the case of damage done to roads. The limitation as put down is 50 per cent, of the charge which the local authority may have to pay. I admit, quite frankly, that I had an Amendment down to deal with this point, but as I was taking the chair at another meeting in this building, I could not, unfortunately, be here to move it had it been called. I think it is a defect that this 50 per cent, should remain in the Bill, and I would like to see it come out. I can visualise clearly cases in which a great deal of damage may be done in a rural area or an urban area— for this provision applies not only to 565 county councils but to borough councils that have control over roads—where there is a very low rateable value. I consider it is a mistake to have in the Bill a limitation concerning the contribution that may be made by the Ministry of Transport from the Road Fund towards the expenses of such an authority. It would be an advantage when the Bill is in another place, to take away this limiting power, so that the Ministry of Transport could make a larger grant in cases where it is desirable owing to the low rateable value in an area which has suffered a considerable amount of damage, and which has to make a large contribution —because it is not yet clear whether the rateable value or the amount spent on roads is to be the basis on which the authorities will have to make their contributions. A decision has yet to be made whether it will be the rateable value or some other basis of calculation that will determine the amount of the contribution which the authority has to make. If, in another place, it were possible to amend the Bill so as to leave with the Ministry of Transport discretion as to the grant that should be made, it would be a great addition to the advantages of the Bill.
I cannot conclude my remarks without thanking Ministers for the undertaking that was given yesterday that the definition of "damage" would be considered in another place and that in the Bill itself there would be inserted a definition of what is to be considered damage. I feel that there are certain cases where unavoidable damage may be done, damage which is not actually attributable to enemy action but which will mean a loss to the individual, and I consider that such damage should be taken into consideration. I wish to express my thanks for the undertaking that has been given in this matter. I want generally, not only on my ownbehalf—in the Debates I have spoken for agriculture—but also on behalf of the County Councils Association, for whom I have put forward many Amendments, to thank Ministers for the manner in which they have met these Amendments in most cases and the attention they have given to them. I shall support the Third Reading of the Bill in the sincere hope that the damage which has taken place, and which will take place, will be in some measure alleviated by the compensation that may be paid under this Bill.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Captain Crookshank)
On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself, I wish to express thanks for the kind things that have been said about our conduct of the Bill through the House. As the Minister more particularly responsible for their activities, I want also to say how glad I was to hear the right hon. Member opposite refer to the work of the Parliamentary draftsmen and of our advisers on these very technical matters. It is one thing for hon. Members or for Ministers to suggest doing something; it is quite another thing for those who have to decide exactly how it has to be done.
I have been asked one or two questions to which I will now reply. My hon. Friend the Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) harked back once again to his old love, the problem of the mortgagor and the mortgagee. I do not think he was quite right when he said that my right hon. Friend has never said anything much about that matter. If my hon. Friend will look at the Chancellor's Second Reading speech, he will see that my right hon. Friend explained the general ideas in his mind about the Clause dealing with this problem. In fact, the only exception to the general rule that has been made is that my right hon. Friend felt justified in making an exception from what was and is the long-established practice as between mortgagor and mortgagee only in certain types of housing and agricultural property where the relationship more resembles that of landlord and tenant. I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) was going to ask me something about the insurance of farms, but lo and behold, it was about roads that he spoke. Earlier in the Debate he made an interruption concerning farms. I will answer that interruption, unless he was satisfied—
§ Captain Crookshank
My hon. Friend, in his speech, raised a point concerning roads. I should have been more ready to deal in detail with that matter yesterday than I am to-day, but I can say this. My hon. Friend is anxious about the grant towards the contribution not exceeding 50 per cent. I think that some of the confusion, not I am sure in my 567 hon. Friend's mind but perhaps in the minds of people with whom he has been in contact, is caused by the fact that they do not understand that this has nothing to do with the compensation. The compensation is quite another matter and is not related to the grant. We shall discuss the whole highways scheme later on. This small point deals only with the amount which the Road Fund is to pay as its share of the contributions of the highway authorities. When my hon. Friend says that it might be unfair to some authorities because of their low rateable value, I ask him to remember that in the Committee stage we left open the question as to what was to be the method of calculating the share paid by the different authorities—whether it should be the rateable value, mileage or any other kind of arrangement which seemed fair as between authorities for making up the sum total that would be required from them by way of contributions. For the rest, I think we can only say that any points concerning the future must lie with the future. As hon. Members know, there has to be further legislation on a number of matters, but I should imagine that this legislation will be largely based and moulded on the provisions of this Bill.
The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) asked a question about which I have written to him already, although he may not yet have received my letter. He asked about miners' homes. Like any other institutions or organisations which think they are covered by the charitable clause, the position of miners' homes will be decided by the wording of the Measure. If the charitable purposes are charitable purposes for the relief of poverty, they will get the advantage of Clause 33, and if not, they will not get that advantage. It is merely a question of fact that will have to be decided in each case.
I always think that the most valuable final speech that can be made by the Minister on the Third Reading is a speech that tries to put in a very succinct form, for the benefit of hon. Members who have not been able to attend the Debates, what the Bill is about, and for some of those who have been present, to clarify what has been very much confused by a mass of sometimes contradictory verdicts—in fact, to have a place where a vade mecum 568 can be found of what we have been trying to do. I want briefly to give two or three instances of what will happen to people in certain circumstances, so as to give hon. Members a better picture of what we have been doing in the debates in Committee. May I take first the case of a man who has a factory? What does he have to pay under the Bill? He pays contributions at the rate of 2s. in the £ on the building and some of the plant in it. A bomb hits his factory, leaving it too badly damaged to repair. What happens then? He will receive for his factory a value payment fixed in relation to 1939 prices. That will cover some of the plant, but what will happen to the movable plant which has been insured under the proposals of this Bill? The movable plant will have been insured under the compulsory business scheme at 30s. per cent., and compensation will be given in respect of the damage done by reference not to 1939 prices, but by reference to the state of the plant at the time the bomb dropped. That case will, of course, be fairly common. The time of payment will be when it is to the advantage of the nation, subject to the important principle that payments may be made forthwith in certain cases where it is necessary that reinstatement should be made immediately for reasons of war production.
Now let us take the case of what will happen to a warehouse where, instead of movable plant, commodities are stored which come under the commodities scheme. What happens with regard to contribution and compensation in that case? The warehouse will have been covered by the 2s. in the £ arrangement, and so far as the commodities are concerned, which we will call rubber for the sake of argument, they will pay contributions under the commodities insurance scheme at 4½ per cent. The warehouse is damaged, and the rubber not unnaturally is destroyed. The warehouse can be repaired in due course, and the Commission will probably come to a decision to make a cost-of-works payment. The rubber is covered by the Commodities insurance scheme, and payment will be made on its value at the time the bomb fell. Those are two cases in the industrial world.
May I now take two ordinary cases of house property? Let us take the case of 569 a single man living in a house in London, with a lease with 40 years still to run. In his house he has his furniture, and the house and the furniture are both destroyed. What will be paid in contribution, and what will that man receive in compensation? He will pay 2s. in the £ on the house, but as he is a tenant with 40 years to run on his lease he will not bear all that burden. His rent is three-quarters or more of the property value. He will recover, in this case, 87½ per cent, of the contributions from the landlord. The damage will not be made good as a cost of works payment, but value payments will be made after the war. It will have to be divided between the tenant and the landlord, because there is a tenancy with 40 years outstanding. The capital interest of the landlord in the property is so very much more than that of the tenant, that he would receive the greater amount of it. On the furniture side the tenant would have insured under the chattels scheme, if the value was over £200, and he would receive the value of his property in its state when the damage occurred. Let us take now the case of a house in the country situated in a park, and the park is damaged by a bomb. Contributions will be paid at 2s. in the £ on the value of the house and of the park. Presumably the owner would also have insured his furniture, but that is not damaged. What compensation would that man receive for the bombs in the park? That man would have paid on the park, because it is part of the curtilage of the house. Actually the damage to the park valued on the basis of depreciation is so negligible that he would receive practically nothing.
Now let us take the case of agricultural property. These are common cases which may occur, and they show what we have been trying to do. Let us take the case of a small tenant-farmer whose cowshed has been destroyed by a bomb, and who has had 20 bombs on his best pasture-land. What does he pay in contribution, and what does he receive by way of compensation? The contributions on the farm and buildings would have been paid at the preferential rate—that is, 6d.—and, as the farm is held on an annual lease, the contributions would have been paid by the landlord. The cows have been insured, together with his 570 other stock, under the Business Scheme so that if a bomb falls on the shed and the cows were killed, he would be able to receive the value of the cows at the time the bomb fell. As the cowshed is an essential building for the production of food the landlord would, in that case, probably receive a cost of works payment so that it could be reinstated as soon as possible. The bombs on the pasture-land would depreciate the property value very much, and the landlord in that case would receive the amount of depreciation, but the War Damage Commission might very well attach to it a condition that the money must be spent on bringing the pasture-land back into cultivation.
I will pass over what happens in the case of charities and damage sustained to churches and hospitals. I shall also pass over the case of the local authorities, because they are more accustomed to dealing with these problems and are better able to find out for themselves what is necessary. May I take as my last example the case of the house on a housing estate which has figured very largely in our Debates? A man buys his house through a building society, perhaps four years ago, and it is slightly damaged to the tune of £10. Let us add to that some damage to his furniture. Who has contributed in that case, and who is going to get what? The contributions would have been at the rate of 2s. in the £, but again I must emphasise that the 2s. in the £ is not the whole payment under this Bill. The whole payment is 10s. in the £ spread over five years at 2s., and it deals only with the damage to property up to and including the end of August this year. This 2s. that we talk about is not really 2s. It is only a form of paying the full contribution by instalments.
To get back to the house, the contribution was at the 2s. rate, and, if the mortgage has only run for four years, and the outstanding mortgage is more than three-quarters of the price of acquisition four years ago, the building society will have paid two-thirds of the contribution which has to be found at the rate of 2s. The house is slightly damaged and the amount of the cost-of-works payment is what is going to be paid to put it right. That means that the actual cost of putting the building into order will be found on the presentation of the bills. Who is to get that? Whoever paid the bills. It may 571 be that in this case the building society said "We will ourselves deal with smaller damages, and we will collect the money." It may be that some other property owners may say it is more convenient to do it themselves, but whoever has done it is the person who is to get paid. As far as furniture is concerned, it is very likely that the furniture amassed by a young couple who have bought a house only four years ago would not be such as to make it necessary to insure it at their own expense at all. They probably would not have got very much more than is covered free by the Bill,
Hon. Members will realise that we have not exactly wasted our time during the Committee stage. My right hon. Friend is most grateful for the assistance that he has received in all quarters.
§ Mr. Doland (Balham and Tooting)
Regarding the Schedules, there seems to be a very great divergence of opinion as to the matter contained in them. Will there be some explanatory pamphlet, or will it be made a little more simple to ordinary folk interested in the Bill as property owners? It Is very complicated for the ordinary person to understand, and, though I have heard in the last 10 minutes something appertaining to the method of payment, and who is to receive the benefits, I do not think it is sufficient explanation in regard to these Schedules and tables.
§ Captain Crookshank
I do not doubt that the necessary information will be given at all stages by appropriate persons and bodies to make clear what are the obligations that anyone is under. In particular, the Schedules are bound to be in rather difficult language, and one does not expect the man in the street to be able to understand every word of the Bill straight away. I doubt whether the hon. Member himself or all the Ministers in charge of the Bill are prepared to answer offhand questions about everything. My hon. Friend can be certain that the Bill will not be thrown at anyone who has to deal with it. There will be certainly be an explanatory memorandum. The suggestion has been made that we should have a lot of propaganda on the subject, but I do not know that that is necessary.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
Although much praise has been justly given to the Bill—
572 I have given some myself—I feel it necessary to strike a jarring note. I think the Measure is one on which we can all congratulate ourselves. It is a very much better Bill to-day than it was when introduced, but there is still a number of points on which I am sure there will be general dissatisfaction. I refer particularly to the position of mortgagor and mortgagee. That is one of the matters upon which there has been less discussion than on any other major matter. There is still considerable inequality in the relations of mortgagor and mortgagee. As regards contributions, it has never been made clear why one particular type of mortgagee should make a contribution and another should not. As the Bill stands, it is only in cases up to a certain limit where a contribution is expected from the mortgagee. In cases above a certain annual value—it has been changed now— no contribution is expected. Again, there is one particular type of mortgage for which a contribution is to be given by the mortgagee, and that is the case where the mortgage was granted for the purpose of the acquisition of the property. I have never been able to understand why, seeing that the principle was conceded that the mortgagor and mortgagee were interested in the property and in the amount of compensation, there should not in all cases be a contribution to the payment by the mortgagee.
Another point on which there will be considerable dissatisfaction is the case where a property is mortgaged and there is practically total destruction; the whole compensation will go to the mortgagee and the mortgagor will probably get nothing. There has been some discussion on that, and I cannot complain that the matter was not properly considered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the grievance remains. This is a risk which was not contemplated by either party at the time of the contract. If the mortgagee had imagined that there was a possibility of destruction by enemy action, he would not have advanced the money. Nor did the mortgagor anticipate such destruction, but the position remains that, while neither party to the contract anticipated this as a possibility, the mortgagee is paid in full and the owner of the property gets nothing. That is not a fair distribution of the risk. I feel that here again there will probably have to be some reconsideration of the question.
573 Among other problems which arise, which may be outside the scope of the Bill but which are very important to the people for whom we are legislating, is the question of a property, destroyed or rendered uninhabitable by enemy action, which is leased, or upon which mortgage interest is payable. The owner of the property gets no use of the property at all. The Bill does not provide compensation for loss of use. Possibly for a long period he will have no benefit out of the property, but he is still compelled to pay the rent. I realise that perhaps the Bill could not have provided it, but at any rate it has served a purpose in enabling some of us to ventilate these difficulties. The same position arises with regard to mortgage interest. A person may be in the position of having to pay both rent and interest in respect of a property which has been totally destroyed and for which he will get no compensation until after the war, and he may not get anything for himself. The whole of the compensation may go to the mortgagee. I am sure the matter cannot be allowed to rest where it is. It may be that it could not be dealt with in the Bill, but we are all expecting that the matter will receive the urgent attention of the Government and that further legislation will be introduced in the near future to deal with these problems, which are almost as important as the question of war damage itself.
And so I will leave it, except to express my personal appreciation of the way in which the Chancellor of the Exhequer and the Financial Secretary have dealt with the undertakings they gave me. I was induced to withdraw a substantial number of Amendments on the undertaking that they would be carefully considered, and I would like to say publicly that I am satisfied that they have been given consideration. Not all of them were met, but where they were not met I am satisfied that they have had sympathetic consideration, and a reason has been given for those Amendments not being met. That is, I believe, unique in the history of British legislation, and I hope that it will be a precedent for the future.
§ Mr. Robert Gibson (Greenock)
In parting with this Bill, one would wish to pay a tribute to the various Ministers who have applied their minds to its provisions and have adjusted it very materially from time to time. There is, however, one point on 574 which I fear that I must express disappointment, and that is with regard to the Amendment which I moved yesterday. What I have to say follows on the remarks which have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin). It is very unfortunate that the Government have not seen fit to put into the hands of the Commission a discretionary power to make some payment to the owner-occupier of the value payment which the Bill provides. I cannot see that the matter is unworkable, as the right hon. and learned Attorney-General said yesterday.
May I crave the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the procedure that is adopted when a company goes into voluntary liquidaton for the purpose of being wound up? In such a position the preferred shareholders have such a claim that in general they would be entitled to take the whole of the assets, but in order to effect a fair reorganisation of the company the preferred shareholders limit their claim so as to leave something over to the ordinary shareholders, and in the reorganisation the ordinary shareholders still have a stake in the concern as reorganised. There is something approaching that position in the corresponding situation of the owner-occupier as against the person whom we call in Scotland the bond-holder. The bond-holder approximates to the position of the preferred shareholder while the owner-occupier approximates to the position of the ordinary shareholder. In ordinary daily practice we find that in the reorganisation of a company the preferred shareholders limit their claim in order to leave something over to the ordinary shareholders. Why, in the working of this Bill, should not there be a similar limitation of the claim of the bond-holder in order that the owner-occupier may take something in equity?
Take another instance. Parliament has had before it in recent times the position of the purchaser under a hire-purchase agreement. Before Parliament sought to limit the Common Law position the purchaser did not have the ownership of the article that was the subject-matter of the hire-purchase agreement until the last instalment had been paid. That worked out to the very great hardship of the purchaser. He might pay up till the last instalment was due and then be defeated at the end of it and lose everything. Par- 575 liament, in its wisdom, stepped in to safeguard the purchaser, so that he had some kind of right. That was an innovation on the Common Law. Why could not we in this Bill have a similar innovation on the Common Law in order that some kind of equity might be left to the owner-occupier, and the bond-holder, or mortgagee, as the term is south of the Border, restrict his claims. After all, are we not dealing with a very special matter? As my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham says, we are dealing with something that was not in the contemplation of the parties to the bargain when it was entered into. It is something new. It is fundamental in our legal conception that when something new enters into a contract—out-with the contemplation of the parties and arising from the outbreak of war—so as to upset the basis of the contract, it is right and proper that Parliament should step in and do something to redress the balance. I hope that it may yet be possible, during the further course of this Bill, that the right hon. Gentlemen who have got these many problems at heart and are very anxious to do justice as between the parties, will not leave the owner-occupier unprotected but will look with a kindly eye upon what is the everyday practice where a company is being reorganised. I am not without hope that something may still be done to remedy the very unfortunate position in which the Bill leaves the owner-occupier.
§ Mr. Selley (Battersea, South)
I want to pay my tribute to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for this Bill, but I cannot let it pass without adding my protest to that which was made by my hon. Friend although I did not hear the whole of his speech. It is all very well to talk about our having given £500, now raised to £800, to someone who is dispossessed to enable him to start his home afresh. How is any man whose property is mortgaged either to a building society or to a private mortgagee or to his bank to go to the Government and ask for a penny to re-establish himself in that home unless that mortgage is paid off? I put another point to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The whole idea of this War Damage Bill is to repair the damage. I suggest that it will be impossible for any owner-occupier who has an equity of £200 or £250 in his house to re-build it. The Chancellor 576 of the Exchequer ought to be seized of the difficulty such a man is in.
First of all, the building society is bound to see that the money they have lent comes back to them. The man whose house has been wholly destroyed is supposed to get 2½ per cent, on the value while the house is totally demolished, but at the same time he is paying the building society 5 per cent., and that interest may be accumulating for three or four years. I suggest that a man in that position will lose heart; he will feel that he will never be able to rebuild his house and will "give up the ghost," and building societies will be left with hundreds of sites up and down the country and nobody but themselves to step in and do the work. I feel that the Commission should try to see whether they cannot make some arrangement whereby those equity owners shall not lose everything. There should be an attempt on the part of either the Government itself or by means of some corporation to put those houses into the condition in which they were before the damage was done, in order that the owner-occupier may not lose an equity which represents his hard-earned savings. Otherwise, there will be a good deal of disappointment in the country.
There is one other point. We have talked of equality of sacrifice, but in this case there is no equality of sacrifice. There are all the big mortgagees in the country who have lent money on property. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has had to say: "Up to £150, unless it is for acquisition, no contribution is to be made." His postbag must have been a very heavy one. As a private Member I have had scores of letters, showing the injustice, and I say without hesitation that capital in property to-day and the property itself should be synonymous. It may not be possible for them to pay the whole amount. Take, as an example, the money that has been lent by banks. I have been a bank borrower for 40 years and I have never had difficulty in getting a certificate from my banker showing how much of that money was on property paying Schedule A tax. The certificate was given, and it was passed over to the Income Tax authority. To say that it is impossible to deal with banks or with the big money is unbelievable. I shall not believe it, and until this matter is rectified there will be such an 577 agitation that property will be thrown into chaos.
I know a case within half-a-mile of this House where an estate has been damaged to such an extent that £40,000 a year has been lost to the company concerned. At that time, they had been asked to pay 2s. in the £, amounting to something like £10,000 a year, in order to insure against damage. On the other hand, their mortgagees will be able to come in and foreclose, not only on that property but on any other asset that the company may possess. Needless to say, these points will have to be considered seriously, otherwise the whole of the property-owning and money lending interests will be badly involved before we get through with this terrible business.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.