HC Deb 18 June 1942 vol 380 cc1743-67
Sir Harold Webbe (Westminster, Abbey)

I beg to move, in page 21, line 22, at the end, to insert: or (c) the property comprises more than one contributory property, but each of the contributory properties is used, or suitable for use, for residential purposes, and has a contributory value not exceeding thirty-five pounds, and where the advances secured by the mortgage have been the subject of a guarantee under paragraph (b) of Sub-section (1) of Section ninety-two of the Housing Act, 1925, or paragraph (b) of Sub-section (1) of Section ninety-one of the Housing Act, 1936, and the guarantee has been the subject of an undertaking under Sub-section (1) of Section two of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1933, or Section one hundred and ten of the Housing Act, 1936, or where the mortgage is to a bank or other financial institution owned by a municipal corporation.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)

I should remind the hon. Gentleman that there has been a general discussion on the matter of mortgages and this discussion must be limited to the Amendment, from that point of view.

Sir H. Webbe

I know that the matter was considered and discussed to some extent on an earlier stage of the Bill, but, so far, the only reply that we have had from the Chancellor of the Exchequer is that he thinks it impossible to distinguish between housing associations and other bodies. I think the distinction can and should be made. I have deliberately worded the Amendment in the narrowest possible terms because I did not want to touch upon the larger issue, which has already been considered and on which the House has taken a decision, nor did I want even to touch upon the new anomaly introduced in the amending Bill, by which a distinction is drawn between a property-owner who builds houses for working-class occupation, one on top of another, and one who builds them in a much more hygienic way alongside each other.

The work of these housing associations has been welcomed and encouraged by successive Parliaments, and by no one more whole-heartedly than my right hon. Friend himself. In the Act of 1936, for which he was so very largely responsible, the position of these housing associations and their work was summarised and certain very important steps were taken in regard to it. Parliament decided to give them very considerable assistance and translated encouragement into very practical help. They authorised local authorities to use their compulsory powers for the acquisition of sites for the operations of these housing associations. The local authorities were authorised to give them direct financial assistance and guarantees, which were backed up by the Government itself, by virtue of which the associations were able to borrow money on far more favourable terms, both as to interest and as to amount in relation to value, than were available to other bodies.

Naturally, and very properly there was a quid pro quo for this assistance. The housing associations had to build to plans approved by the local authorities and in some instances the rents were actually subject to their approval. Throughout, there was an understanding, which I believe has been honourably observed, that rents would be so fixed that the housing associations would not be left for any margin in their finance other than what was prudent, purely as a safety precaution. In other words, they were intended to function, and have in fact functioned, as non-profit making undertakings. In so far as they are non-profit making undertakings—and I believe that to be generally the case—they are at once differentiated from those ordinarily engaged in estate development. The ordinary property-owner is assumed to be making profits out of his property and to have other funds available to meet his War Damage Contributions. That does not apply to a very large number of these housing associations, which have done such valuable service in the solution of the working class housing problem. If they can get no relief, such as is already given under head (a) many of them will find themselves in an extremely difficult financial position. They may well have to cease their operations and see all the valuable public work they have done stultified, and they may be forced to come upon the guarantees which have been given them with the full approval and indeed encouragement of this House by local authorities.

I suggest that the case of these housing associations is clearly defined. There can be no doubt which of them fall within the terms of the Amendment and which fall outside, and that as a matter of public policy, apart altogether from the question of justice and fairness, housing associations should have the relief as against their mortgagees which is granted under head (a). I am sorry that the effect of this Amendment, if it is carried, should be to place a further burden very largely on the building societies. The building societies have the honourable distinction among the big financial interests concerned in property that they are standing up to their obligations in this matter, and I am sorry to suggest for a moment that a bigger load should be added to those who have already done their duty fully and properly. I feel, however, that from the point of view of public policy the value of the work of housing associations is such that they deserve this consideration, and as a matter of justice I ask the Chancellor to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Silkin (Peckham)

I beg to second the Amendment.

There is little I need add to the admirable statement of the case which has been made by my hon. Friend the Mover, but I want to make two points. Suppose these housing associations had decided to build flats instead of houses, then, under the Amendment which was passed on the Committee stage, they would have had recourse to their mortgagees, which they have not as the Bill stands because they have built houses. If I am right in my interpretation, that is a grave injustice to housing associations which built houses. Circumstances vary and flats may be appropriate in densely populated areas where land is expensive, while houses may be appropriate elsewhere, and it is a great hardship on housing associations which decided to build houses instead of flats. There is no doubt that the effects of the War Damage Act on housing associations have been very serious to many of them. Theoretically they could meet their contributions out of capital, but many of them have no capital. They have expended it in the provision of dwellings, and it is hardly necessary for me to point out what a great contribution they have made towards solving the housing problem during the years since the last war. The more efficiently and effectively the housing associations have worked, the less capital they have and the less they are able to meet these contributions, which are made substantial, out of capital. Therefore, they are driven to meet their contributions out of revenue.

Where assistance has been granted to associations by local authorities—and as chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council I have had the privilege on many occasions of granting financial assistance to these bodies—a close check was put on the rents which they could charge. They were cut down to a minimum. We went through the accounts and made sure before a contribution was made that they were making no profit as a result of their letting. Therefore, the best of the housing associations have no capital out of which to meet their War Damage Contribution and they are not also to meet it out of revenue. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has placed a heavy burden on the associations and put them in a difficult position. In days to come I believe that housing associations will have an even greater contribution to make to solving the problems of post-war housing, and nothing that we do should have the effect of crippling their potential efforts in the post-war period. My right hon. Friend made very few concessions on the Committee stage of this Bill. When the original Act was before the House I had the privilege of sincerely complimenting the Chancellor and the Financial Secretary on the reasonable way in which they had met many of the Amendments which were put down. I hope I may have the opportunity, again, of complimenting my right hon. Friend on a concession under this provision. I can assure him it would be one of the most popular concessions he could possibly make. It would be a great contribution to the housing problems that we shall have to face after the war.

Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, Southwest)

I want to support my two hon. Friends, with whom I co-operated for many years in the work of housing in London. I endorse everything that they have said about the great value of the housing associations. I am sure that my right hon. Friend does not need persuading, because the housing association is more or less his child. The associations were in the line of thought on which he was working when he was dealing with housing problems as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and afterwards as Minister. I happen to know one association, the Bethnal Green Housing Association, which is, perhaps, one of the best examples. It is associated with my brother and extends its ramifications over Hackney, Shoreditch and the Borough of Stepney. It really achieved remarkable results with practically no capital and it works on very small margins. It tackled problems like most of the associations which local authorities were inclined to avoid. It particularly catered for difficult cases of very poor people and dealt with special problems outside the purview of the ordinary municipal authorities. All three parties in the House are giving their blessing to the Amendment. There was a time when some people did not look with too friendly an eye on what they regarded as private enterprise. Housing associations, however, combine the virtues of private enterprise and public service, and it would be a graceful thing if the right hon. Gentleman took the opportunity to make some special concession to them showing that the State views their activities with special favour. If their work is to continue, they have to attract money from benevolent persons. At a time like this, when taxes are high there is great competition for the limited supplies of money. A gesture from the right hon. Gentleman at this moment would be a great encouragement to the splendid work of these good men and women who gave their services and their cash for these interesting housing experiments.

Mr. Craven-Ellis (Southampton)

I want to associate myself with the remarks of the Mover and Seconder of this Amendment. I do so because I feel that the Government have gone out of their way to encourage these associations, and have framed the financial machinery under which their schemes could be carried out. The rentals were fixed, having regard to what the outgoings Were under the conditions then existing, and at a time when taxation was very different from what it is now. War has brought about a complete change, and I feel that the Government are under an obligation to have some consideration for these associations, which they themselves were largely responsible for creating. Apart from that consideration I have, perhaps, a wider view at the back of my mind. When we were debating the Amendments concerning the mortgagee making a contribution towards the War Damage premiums it was stated by the Chancellor that the Government wanted to encourage financial sources with a view to the future, but financial sources do not matter if there is no building. I hope that we shall frame legislation which, when the war is over, will encourage building whether by societies or by ordinary private enterprise. We do not want to find ourselves in the position in which we were after the last war, when private enterprise had been so discouraged that we had to depend upon local authorities, who were building at a cost of £1,200 houses such as private enterprise had pre viously built for £250. From the point of view of the future, when this war is over and building must start again— and if the war continues for another 18 months we shall be no less than 2,000,000 houses short—I—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I have asked hon. Members to confine themselves to the Amendment.

Mr. Craven-Ellis

I apologise, Sir, if I have gone outside the boundaries of your decision, but I will conclude by saying that I give my wholehearted support to this Amendment.

Major Milner

I wish to support this Amendment very strongly indeed. I ought, perhaps, to declare that at one time I had some direct interest in some of these housing associations, along with other Members of the House, and it is conceivable that some professional and other fees are due to me now from some of them, so to that extent I must declare my personal interest, particularly as any advantage secured to the associations by the action of the Chancellor of the Exchequer might conceivably affect that situation. I want to press this Amendment for another reason altogether, and one which has not been put as strongly as I think it ought to have been. To the best of my recollection the greater number of these associations were created under the provisions of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1933. That was brought in by the then Minister of Health—at that time Sir Hilton Young, now Lord Kennet. My own party were at that time opposed to the proposals in that Bill, because we thought the houses were taken away from public control and were to a large extent handed over to private enterprise. Nevertheless, the Bill received a large measure of qualified support even from Members of the party who sit on this side of the House, qualified support also from the Liberals and, of course, enthusiastic support from the hon. Gentlemen who sat behind the then Minister of Health. He pressed very strongly for the setting up of these particular associations.

I have had only a short time in which to look up the matter, but I see that in his Second Reading speech the then Minister indicated that he proposed to carry out a vigorous campaign to encourage the formation of these associations, and the whole of his Second Reading speech and some of his Committee speeches are bespattered with urges to the country, to builders, to building societies and others to set up these associations. It must be clear, therefore, that the majority of these associations were created not merely with the good-will but with the very definite encouragement of the Government, of which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was, no doubt, a member, though at the moment I do not recollect what office he ornamented.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)

He was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health.

Major Milner

No, I think the hon. Baronet the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare) was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. However that may be, it is clear that the Government of that day did all they could to encourage the formation of these associations, and for that reason alone the right hon. Gentleman must, I think, accept the responsibility of ensuring to them such benefits as are given to the individual owner-occupier. Very largely these associations were of a charitable or certainly of a public utility nature. It is my recollection that the interest was limited, certainly the rents were extremely limited; and in cases of which I know something the fact that the rents were so limited has been the reason why the associations did not do very well, and why many of them are in difficulties to-day, difficulties which have been added to by the imposition of the contribution which they have to make under the War Damage Act.

There is another argument which I would urge. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has hitherto argued that it was not desired to give the advantages of the War Damage Act to commercial propositions, that he preferred, if possible, to confine to owner-occupiers the assistance in the matter of contributions from mortgagees—for the most part, at any rate. He did not think those who undertook large housing propositions commercially were entitled to the advantage of the mortgagee's contribution. But the hon. Baronet the Member for Norwich, who was then the Parliamentary Secretary, went out of his way to encourage speculators, financiers, investment companies and others to go in for this particular type of housing association. He said the Government were thinking more of applications from investment companies, from builders, from public utility societies and so forth, and that it was not intended that the provisions of the Act should apply only to the private individual. It was specifically hoped by the Government, the building societies, who at that time had large surplus funds to invest, by builders and by all concerned that these associations would be set up on the largest possible scale. The then Minister of Health hoped that 12,000 houses a year would be ereeted under this Act. These associations are mostly public utility associations, and are subject to very definite restrictions as to rents. They are not run as commercial propositions. Surely the right hon. Gentleman cannot refuse to give them the advantages which would be conferred upon them by providing that mortgagees should contribute towards the payments that will have to be made.

I have a considerable interest in building societies and I have done what I could to further their interests from time to time in this House. I believe that they would be willing to carry this obligation. They might not desire it, but if the right hon. Gentleman imposed it upon them they would carry it willingly, I am sure. It was largely the building societies in 1932 and 1933 who prevailed upon the Government to bring forward the Housing Acts, of the provisions of which I have already spoken. They had large surplus funds, and the demand for ordinary housebuilding for individual householders was falling off. It was their desire to set the building industry in motion. They derived great benefit from the encouragement which those Acts afforded. They have the very distinct honour at the moment of accepting responsibilities fairly and equally along with the borrowing individuals. Although the additional burden might be substantial I press upon my right hon. Friend and the Government to give these housing associations advantages in regard to contributions from mortgages which are now enjoyed by other sections of the community.

Mr. Hely-Hutchinson (Hastings)

I would like to bring forward one small point in regard to the Amendment which might commend itself to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On the general ground of excluding mortgages from contributions the House has been much swayed by the argument that there is a distinction between a commercial contract and a contract between lender and borrower where the transaction is for the purpose of assisting in the building of a house. In what respect does this category of house differ from the commercial contract? It differs because houses built by housing associations are much more in the category of houses built by building associations. It is not contended that the promoters of housing associations do not operate for profit, but their prospect of profit was increased by the fact that the Government guaranteed them loans enabling the housing association to borrow at a lower rate.

One would therefore think that if there were any party to whom the owners of housing associations should go for relief, in excess of the benefit which they have already received, it would be to the party who was interested in getting the houses built, which is the Government. Otherwise, the Government would not have given those guarantees. They should not go to the mortgagee because in this case the mortgagee is no longer looking to the house as his security. The mortgagee no longer has what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) described as an interest in the house. His interest is now in the guarantee. The original contract was, from his point of view, for the purpose of making a good investment. His security is now in the guarantee and not in the house. If any relief is to be sought at all by the proprietors of housing associations it should be from the Government which gave the guarantee.

Mr. Bellenger

I concede the point that has just been raised that housing associations are commercial undertakings. They are not entirely charitable organisations and I would not wish to put forward my case on that basis. They are, however, commercial undertakings of a particular nature, much of which is benevolent and part of which is for commercial reward. I have yet to hear that mortgages are not in the nature of commercial undertakings. Therefore we say, where there are two commercial undertakings, one for a consideration of money lent at interest, and another to build houses for a special purpose, why not spread the burden equally and make the "equality of sacrifice" slogan something real? Many housing societies raise their money entirely by charitable appeals, but when there was a boom in property, the type of housing association referred to in this Amendment might just as well have built houses for owner-occupiers as many builders did. In the main, these housing associations did not put up houses to reap big capital rewards as was done by many builders in the days of the housing boom, but in order to meet the demand of the rent-paying tenants with limited incomes. Surely the right hon. Gentleman ought not to turn these associations down without deep and serious consideration.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of this matter upon a wider issue during the Committee stage, as if the case had not been proved. In fact, he told those who were moving the particular Amendment concerned that he could see no considerable evidence for a concession, even in this House, yet when the matter went to a Division the result was only 8 to 5 against the Movers of the Amendment. That ought to show the right hon. Gentleman that there is substantial opinion in this House on the matter. It there were no better illustration of how some of these housing associations have fared there is the fact mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), that some of these associations had come to him for advice yet had not been able to pay his costs. That fact may be due to other causes than those which we are advancing in this Debate, but it shows that some of the housing associations are not having too rosy a time when they cannot even pay the fees of their solicitor.

There is only one other argument I would put to my right hon. Friend and it is something in the nature of a personal one. The right hon. Gentleman brought forward the argument that solicitors have advised their clients to put money into mortgages and therefore he did not want to do anything which would affect the security of mortgages. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman, at some time in his capacity as a solicitor, has advised his clients to put their money into mortgages, but let him clear his mind of this argument. It is not a question of affecting the security of mortgages in which clients of solicitors have been advised to put money, but purely one of spreading the burden—and only that, so far as I am concerned. We ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to reject this Amendment.

Sir K. Wood

May I just make one or; two observations on the last matter which my hon. Friend mentioned, because I noticed that it was referred to in a circular which has been sent round to some Members of the House?

Mr. Bellenger

I have not seen that circular.

Sir K. Wood

What I stated, and what other hon. Friends of mine stated, was that one of the reasons against the contribution of mortgagees was not that certain professional people had advised other people what they should do, but because we thought that it would threaten the future of lending money on this particular class of property, often by small investors, and therefore would have a detrimental effect in the future. That was the only argument I endeavoured to make.

This particular Amendment is an endeavour—not a successful one, I may say—to limit the contribution which should be made by mortgagees to housing associations. I shall show in a minute that in fact this Amendment does not do so, but rather opens the door very wide indeed—but I will now deal with the matter on the basis on which my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment has put it. It is no doubt perfectly true that at any rate a great number of these housing associations are doing very useful work, and that those who were associated with the idea of bringing housing associations into this kind of work have not regretted the attitude they took. It shows how we live and learn. My hon. Friend who is speaking to-day in support of their cause was, I think, among those who in times past bitterly opposed the housing associations' entry into this arena. They opposed it, as far as I remember—and probably from this point of view not on incorrect grounds—because in fact housing associations were not absolutely and precisely charitable organisations. My hon. Friend is not often in error—because he is always very careful in what he says —but he was in error in stating that there was no question of any capital, or interest, or anything of that kind, in the working of these associations. For if he looks at the Housing Act itself, he will see that they are in fact permitted to have an interest or dividend, subject to the limitation that it shall not exceed a certain sum prescribed by the Treasury. That limitation was, of course, imposed because a guarantee was being given by the Government. It is not right to describe these housing associations as associations which are formed without any idea of profit or dividend at all. They are nothing of the kind. In fact, I may go further and say that this Amendment would include other associations, which are subject to no profit limits at all. While I am glad to have been associated with these associations, and with the work they are doing, I am anxious that we should not be under any misconception of exactly where they stand—and do not let us put them in the same category as charitable associations—to which they do not belong.

When my hon. Friends say I ought to make this distinction, because these housing associations are doing such good work, and are making or have made in the past such a contribution to the housing effort, that they should be allowed to be exceptions to the rule the House has laid down, I may equally reply that so have a large number of private builders made a considerable contribution to the housing effort. Immediately you say that, you admit a very wide exception to the rule that we have laid down, and open the door very, wide indeed. I do not know whether my hon. Friend intended it or not, or whether he was aware of it, but under his Amendment, any builder who operated under the 1933 Act would be able to come in and obtain the same advantage as my hon. Friend wishes to give to the housing associations. Whether he intended to do that I do not know.

Sir H. Webbe

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but may I draw his attention to the fact that I wanted to limit this to cases where mortgages have been the subject of a guarantee under a certain paragraph of the Act, thatis, a guarantee by the local authority? It certainly is news to me that there are any organisations in this country whose capital and borrowings are guaranteed by a local authority or by the Government whose profits are completely unrestricted and outside any control by the State.

Sir K. Wood

I am glad to hear what was my hon. Friend's intention, but that is what I am advised. Indeed, I thought at first that this Amendment was designed to bring in other people besides the housing associations. There is, for instance, a large firm, which has circularised Members of the House pointing out the difficulties they are now in; and, as I understood this Amendment, it would not only cover the housing associations, but other people as well. At any rate, that is what I am advised; and it seems pretty clear that this Amendment would operate much more widely than my hon. Friend anticipated, or, as I now understood, much more widely than he intended. Several of my hon. Friends who have spoken have welcomed the Amendment just because in fact it goes further than to cover simply the housing associations themselves; just because it will bring in other people as well. Having said that, I am bound to say that I cannot advise the House, simply because associations of this kind have done good work—as indeed many others have done in housing—to make an exception to the general principle which we laid down on the Second Reading of the original Bill, which was confirmed in the Committee Stage of the original Bill, and was confirmed again only last week when this subject was discussed in Committee.

Moreover, when we consider the difficulties of the housing associations at the present time, I should expect—as I daresay many of my hon. Friends who have heard this Debate would expect—that a good many of these difficulties are not solely, and may be not mainly, due to the matter of this Bill. I have studied the effect of the war, as it is my duty to do, upon various companies and people who are associated with property, and there are a number of other factors which affect their financial position. I regret that this contribution, this additional factor, has borne very hardly upon them, and I have said and say again to my hon. Friends that, in cases in which difficulty is experienced, it is the practice—thoroughly and properly carried out, I believe—of the Inland Revenue Department to give the greatest consideration where the person charged is unable, out of income or other resources, to meet the liability as it falls due. In those cases we have to be reasonable, and the Department is prepared, on being furnished with the facts of the particular case, to consider any proposals for the extension of the time of payment in order to relieve the people who are experiencing difficulties at present, and I would invite those concerned to consider that statement of mine. But I cannot begin to open this door. Under this Amendment it would not be confined to the associations concerned; it would extend to any builder who might have built under the Act of 1933, and my hon. Friends will see that directly I open the door as widely as that, we are departing from the principle, rough and ready as it-was, but at any rate giving the best measure of justice We could—admittedly creating cases of difficulty m some instances—and affirmed by the House on several occasions. I would ask my hon. Friends not to press the Amendment.

Mr. Spens (Ashford)

The remarks which my right hon. Friend has just made will be encouraging, I think, to those of us who are very much concerned with the situation which is arising in connection with certain of these estates. He is quite right in saying, that it is not only the obligation to pay the war insurance premium which is causing the trouble. The trouble is that a great number of the houses on these estates are empty at the present time, rents are not coming in, and the finances of these companies are very largely dependent on the money they have borrowed. They have very limited capital resources. They can neither keep their property in decent current running repair, nor can they pay their war damage premiums. It is true that the Inland Revenue is indeed tender-hearted to those who can make a good case, but the Chancellor used some such words as "where there is no income or capital resources." Income available to pay the war damage premium is not available to pay for running and current repairs to these properties.

I ask him somehow or other to look at the physical side of a great number of these working-class properties at the present time. I am glad that the Minister of Health is here. The situation is deteriorating rapidly month by month, and in my view, I would press upon my right hon. Friend, something has to be done to prevent that situation continuing. I share my right hon. Friend's views that the person to be called upon is not the mortgagee. I emphatically share his views as to the advantage to property owners and others of keeping mortgagees free from this sort of calls. I feel that this Amendment is before us simply because there was no other party to whom recourse could be had. Underlying this Amendment is a great potential national evil unless something is done, and done quickly, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will see that what he has said will be carried into effect in some form or other very shortly.

Mr. Craven-Ellis

I understood the Chancellor to say that any of these associations could only pay any dividend by agreement with himself. So that the House may have some idea of their financial position, could the Chancellor say how many associations have applied to him to pay a dividend?

Sir K. Wood

If my hon. Friend puts down a Question, I will endeavour to answer it.

Sir H. Webbe

As the mover of this Amendment, may I say that if my right hon. Friend would be prepared to indicate that he will endeavour to find a form of words which will limit the Amendment to what was my clearly expressed intention, I shall be glad, and I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree, to withdraw this Amendment? But if we can have no assistance of that kind, I feel it my duty to my hon. Friends to press the Amendment to a Division.

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

I am very much interested in this from a personal point of view, and I would like to support the attitude which the Chancellor has taken up and to point out to my hon. Friend that every differentiation that is made, every divagation that is made, from the main principle makes it harder to carry out the principles of the Bill. It is all very well to ask for benefits for particular sections, but I say that if benefits are to be given there must be benefits all round.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 43; Noes, 98.

Division No. 14.] AYES.
Barnes, A. J. Harvey, T. E. Sloan, A.
Beaumont, Hubert (Batley) Headlam, Lt.-Col. Sir C. M. Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)
Bevan, A. James, Wing-Comdr. A. W. H. Sorensen, R. W.
Bossom, A. C. Kirby, B. V. Southby, Comd. Sir A. R. J.
Bower, Comdr. R. T. (Cleveland) Lloyd, Major E. G. R. (Renfrew, E.) Stephen, C.
Bowles, F. G McGovern, J. Stokes, R. R.
Butcher, Lieut. H. W. Mack, J. D. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Challen, Flight-Lieut. C. Mainwaring, W. H. Tasker, Sir R. I.
Chater, D. Maxton, J. Walkden, E. (Doncaster)
Cove, W. G. Montague, F. Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Craven-Ellis, W. Reakes, G. L. (Wallasey) Wootton-Davies, J. H.
Entwistle, Sir C. F. Roberts, W.
Gallacher, W. Selley, H. R. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Gammans, Capt. L. D. Shakespeare, Sir G. H. Sir Harold Webbe and Mr. Bellenger.
Groves, T. E. Shinwell, E.
Hardie, Agnes Silverman, S. S.
Albery, Sir Irving Henderson, J. J. Craik (Leeds, N. E.) Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Russell, Sir A. (Tynemouth)
Beattie, F. Hopkinson, A. Sanderson, Sir F. B.
Beaumont, Maj. Hn. R. E. B. (P'ts'h) Hurd, Sir P. A. Savory, Professor D. L.
Beechman, N. A. Jagger, J. Scott, Lord William (Ro'b'h & Selk'k)
Bevin, Rt. Hon. E. Jennings, R. Shepperson, Sir E. W.
Blair, Sir R. John, W. Smithers, Sir W.
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. (Stl'g & C'km'n) Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir D. B.
Brass, Capt. Sir W. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Spearman, A. C. M.
Brocklebank, Sir C. E. R. Lamb, Sir J. Q. Spens, W. P.
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Little, Dr. J. (Down) Storey, S.
Cadogan, Major Sir E. Lloyd, G. W. (Ladywood) Sutcliffe, H.
Campbell, Sir E. T. MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G. Tate, Mavis C.
Cary, R. A. MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Thorne, W.
Colegate, W. A. Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight) Touche, G. C.
Colman, N. C. D. McEntee, V. La T. Tufnell, Lieut. -Comdr. R. L.
Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L. McEwen, Capt. J. H. F. Viant, S. P.
Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir Stafford McNeil, H. Ward, Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Martin, J. H. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Culverwell, C. T. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Waterhouse, Captain C.
Denville, Alfred Mellor, Sir J. S. P. Watson, W. McL.
Digby, Capt. K. S. D. W. Mills, Colonel J. D. (New Forest) Wells, Sir S. Richard
Donner, Squadron-Leader P. W. Molson, Capt. A. H. E. Westwood, J.
Dugdale, Major T. L. (Richmond) Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester) White, Sir Dymoke (Fareham)
Ede, J. C. Nicholson, Captain G. (Farnham) Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Petherick, Major M. Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Etherton, Flight-Lieut. Ralph Peto, Major B. A. J. Williams, C. (Torquay)
Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) Plugge, Capt. L. F. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Foot, D. M. Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir K. (W'lwich, W.)
Gates, Major E. E. Pym, L. R. Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Grimston, R. V. Raikes, Flight-Lieut. H. V. A. M.
Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H. Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Haslam, Henry Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead) Mr. Boulton and Mr. J. P. L.
Hely-Hutchinson, M. R. Reid, W. Allan (Derby) Thomas,
The Lord Advocate (Mr. J. S. C. Reid)

I beg to move, in page 21, line 32, to leave out "rateable," and to insert "contributory."

This Amendment affects the Scottish application Section, and was originally put down by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd). We considered the matter, and decided to adopt the Amendment. I can explain the point very shortly. In the original Act there was provision whereby in Scotland blocks of flats—tenements, as we call them—were treated as single contributory properties, if the rateable value of each flat was less than £35. When a similar provision came to be incorporated for England, the figure taken was a contributory value of £35. In Scotland there is a very considerable difference between the rateable and the contributory value. In order that the incidence of the Act should be approximately the same on both sides of the Border, it was decided that contributory value should be substituted for rateable value in Scotland.

Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)

I appreciate the action of my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, and of the Government, in bringing forward an Amendment which I originally moved in Committee. My right hon. and learned Friend has explained briefly the object of the Amendment. I have a feeling, which I suspect he shares, that if the Parliamentary draftsman had realised that there was a statutory difference between rateable value and contributory value in Scotland, the matter might have been dealt with before. The Scottish system, however, is not generally appreciated in England. I am grateful to the Lord Advocate for his understanding of the position, and to the Government for having adopted my Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[King's Consent signified.]

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)

I have no wish to detain the House at any length, but I think a few words ought to be said on this Stage. So far as the limited character of the Bill goes, it is an improvement on the existing law, and I am very glad it has been brought in. The Third Reading has the blessing of myself and of those associated with me. Some of us are rather sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not see his way to make certain Amendments that commended themselves to a considerable number of Members. He took the view that the main principles of the Act were, if not sacrosanct, at any rate immovable this year. The fact is that we did not know how long the war will last, that the Act was passed in a very great hurry, and that we were all under the impression that an opportunity would be provided later in that year for Amendments if defects showed themselves. It was partly under that impression that we passed the Bill— although I would not like to fail to put it on record that in some respects, certainly in the later parts of the Act, the Government did meet a great deal of the criticisms of the House of Commons. Nevertheless, the Government have taken the view that they were not prepared to alter the main part of the structure, certainly of Part I, of the Act. Some of us regret that, but, in view of the decision of the Government, we have not felt justified in opposing their wishes on the matter.

Having said that on the larger issues of the Bill, I want to refer to one small matter, which came to my notice only to-day, and on which, therefore, I have not had the opportunity of putting down any Amendments. In fact, I do not know how far the law is what my correspondent represents it to be. But it is a matter of some small importance for certain people. I propose to read a few passages from this letter, and then to make one or two short comments. My correspondent says: When our Trustee Savings Bank here was destroyed, in February of 1941, I lost the deeds of my six-roomed house, together with my life insurance policy, which has not been replaced owing to the cost involved in lawyers fees, stamp duties, etc. Last June I paid my first compulsory contribution towards our national war damage insurance, which I am informed does not cover the loss of one's, house deeds and life policy. This I contend is most unreasonable and unfair to the contributors. To accentuate matters, the insurance company insist that, although the loss of my policy was through no fault of my own, I must pay the stamp duty of a new policy and the company reserves the right to ask for an indemnity from the person who receives the policy money, adding that, although the loss of the policy may appear certain, it may have escaped destruction and got into the hands of a third person, hence the indemnity. I should point out that the Post Office Department of the State have readily issued new life insurance policies and new certificates of War Stock free of cost to their holders, and, if they have done that, why not in these cases. Whether the insurance company insists upon an indemnification has nothing to do with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I would like to ask him whether it is the law that no account is taken of the value of the actual deeds or of fire insurance policies when the War Damage Commission are assessing the compensation due to any individual. In the case that this man describes, it is not his own house that has been destroyed; it is the bank where his deeds and his policy were placed. If my correspondent is entirely wrong—and, as I say, I only received the letter this morning and have not had time to verify the facts, as I should have done if I had the time—and the War Damage Commission do indemnify, then the whole case falls to the ground. But if he is right, it does not seem to me to matter whether a man had deeds in his own house which had been destroyed or whether he had put them in a place that would be considered safer than his own private house, at least from burglary and fire. If he is right and in certain cases there is no compensation for that, I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have the matter looked into to see whether the point cannot be met. It is an aggravation of the action of the Government if it be true that not only is the man not compensated at all for the loss of his deeds, but that the Government take a further contribution from him in the shape of stamps on his policy and his deeds. I ask, therefore, that the point may be cleared up either by saying that the facts are not as this correspondent states them to be, or, if they are, that the matter will be taken into account with a view to some remedy being found. I have no other remarks to make of a general character with regard to the Third Reading of this Bill, to which I give my entire support.

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

I should like to support what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the Bill and as one, as was indicated by my Amendment on the Report stage, who has had considerable experience of matters affected by the Bill, to thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for bringing in this necessary amending Bill in order to round off certain corners that were discovered in the Act. I would take the opportunity of paying a tribute—one which, I am sure, will be very cordially received by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health—to the local authorities for the most valuable assistance they have given in many directions under the scheme for first-aid repairs and cost of works. The result of their action, working under the machinery of the Bill, has been to make available for the wage-earning population in various parts of the country houses on a very large scale which would not hitherto have been available. The Bill and the principal Act are a very good illustration of the excellent war-time method of the co-ordination of public and private resources under the aegis of the Government. I think I shall be speaking for every Member in this House, however much hon. Members may differ from the right hon. Gentleman on particular points, when I say that we are all grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he has conducted this Bill as we were for the way in which he conducted the proceedings on the principal Act.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Kingsley Wood)

I am indebted to both my right hon. Friends for their observations, and I would like to say once again, on this Bill, which has been a very complicated and difficult Bill, how much I am personally indebted to the Financial Secretary and the Attorney-General for all the help they have given me. It is obvious that I could not have surmounted the difficulties of the Bill without their help.

It can be said that the preparation of the Bill, like that of the previous Act of Parliament upon which this Bill is founded, has involved some difficulty, and even a certain amount of perplexity. I suggest to the House that these two measures, while not containing everything that every hon. Member would have desired to have seen in the Bill, provide when taken together a solid and well-devised foundation upon which we can deal with the damage that our fellow countrymen have sustained, and continue to sustain, to their buildings and goods at the hands of the enemy.

I would, in asking the House to take leave of this Bill, emphasise that this Measure does in fact contain a real and substantial benefit to the contributors. It will be remembered that their present contributions were originally imposed in respect of damage occurring before 31st August, 1941, and that the prospect of additional contributions for damage done in the current and in future years certainly lay before them. By extending the risk period indefinitely, without making any immediate addition either to the amount or the number of instalments of contributions, we have been able to ease their minds considerably. I was very glad on the Committee stage also to be able to make one or two other concessions, which were designed to meet cases where the contribution provisions of the original Act threatened to operate harshly.

A further question was put to me to which I undertook to reply on the Third Reading, namely, whether the payments of contributions were greatly in arrears. I endeavoured to show in my speech on the Second Reading that this was not so, when I said that of the assessments for the first instalment, which amounted in all to a little more than £40,000,000, about £35,000,000 had already been collected. I am glad to say now that the figure is £36,000,000. My hon. Friends will appreciate that the collection of part of the balance remaining will be deferred by reason of the provisions for deferment of collection in certain circumstances, as for instance, where a value payment is likely. I suggest that the burden of the contribution has been accepted and shouldered by those upon whom it has been placed; and that it is now recognised as a reasonable price to pay for the benefit which these Measures provide.

I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) pay a tribute to local authorities. Undoubtedly, they have done magnificent work. A great deal has fallen on their officers. I am sure everyone is greatly indebted to them. I would like also to say a word or so about another body of people who have been helping us, and of whom little criticism has been made in the course of our Debates on this Bill, namely, the War Damage Commission. We have shown that we are prepared to trust the Commission with even wider and more important discretion than appeared in the original Bill. I would like the House to feel about the Commission that they are not there at the instance of my particular Department, or of any other Department. They hold a semi-judicial position, and it is their business—as I am sure they recognise and appreciate—to hold the right balance between public and private interest. Up to the present their duties have been largely confined to the day-to-day work of passing for payment a number of claims, most of them small, for temporary or partial repairs. This has been a big task, but I am glad to tell the House to-day that the dead weight of arrears has been largely overtaken. Even so, the checking of claims must take an appreciable time, particularly if the claims have not been properly documented.

I am also glad to say that only some 2 per cent. of the total number of payable but unpaid claims have been in the Commission's office for more than three weeks without any work having been done on them. This small number is confined to one or two offices, and for special reasons. No one can say how long this satisfactory position will continue, but I think we can rely on the Commission working just as vigorously and ably as they have done in the past, whatever amount of work may have to be faced.

Sir Percy Hurd (Devizes)

Can my right hon. Friend tell us how much of the £36,000,000 has been paid out for first-aid repairs?

Sir K. Wood

I made a statement on the Second Reading, a copy of which I will send to my hon. Friend. I would now like to mention the Christian Churches War Damage Committee, which sits under the chairmanship of the Bishop of London. This Committee is composed of representatives of the various Christian denominations, and plays an important part in resolving, in consultation with the Commission, difficult problems arising out of Section 39 of the original Act, which, in effect, leaves to the Commission full discretion as to the nature of payments to be made in respect of war damage to properties held and used for charitable or ecclesiastical purposes. I would like to say how much the Commission appreciates the helpful spirit which has been shown by the Bishop of London's Committee, and how, by the close association between that Committee and the War Damage Commission, a good many of the difficulties which must naturally arise from the Measure of this kind have been overcome. I hope and believe that that relationship will continue.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) referred just now to the case of a correspondent who had lost his trust deeds. I will make further inquiries, but on the question whether deeds lost are covered it is stated clearly in the first War Damage Act, 1941, that the term "goods" does not include: money, negotiable instruments, securities for money, evidence of title to any property or right or of the discharge of any obligation, or any documents owned for the purpose of a business. At the beginning of this legislation we had to continue our obligations under this Bill to property and goods, as defined in the Measure. What I will make inquiry about is the suggestion, made in the letter which he read to the House, that if these deeds were lost Stamp Duties in respect of them—in the event of further evidence being required as to title—should not again be imposed. As I understand it, if you take a matter of this kind to the court and are able to furnish satisfactory evidence as to the originals, and how they were lost, by documents properly authenticated, that would be sufficient for the purposes of the court.

Earl Winterton

Has it not been agreed by the courts that a photostatic copy which is made and tested at the time is sufficient evidence of the existence of a deed destroyed by enemy action?

Sir K. Wood

That may be so in certain cases, but it seems that my right hon. Friend's correspondent did not have a copy made. What my Noble Friend has said is, I believe, true. In conclusion, I hope it may be possible to have a consolidated Measure to cover the principal Act and the Bill we are now passing. I think that would be extremely helpful to everybody who has to consider war damage to-day. I would like to thank the House again for the help which has been given to me and my colleagues. We have done good work on this Bill, which, I am sure, will confer great benefit on our fellow countrymen who have suffered as a result of enemy action.

Sir Robert Tasker (Holborn)

Would my right hon. Friend give the widest possible discretion to the War Damage Commission to determine between temporary and permanent repairs and between Part I and Part II of the Bill? They are all important to the victims of enemy action.

Sir K. Wood

I will certainly bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.