HC Deb 06 October 1944 vol 403 cc1299-321

Amendments made: In page 32, line 43, after "who", insert "is displaced."

In line 45, leave out from "Act," to "such", in line 2, page 33.—(Mr. W. S. Morrison.)

Mr. Erskine-Hill (Edinburgh East)

I beg to move, in page 33, line 2, to leave out from "business" to "in", in line 3, and to insert "all expenses reasonably incurred by him."

It might be for the convenience of the Committee if we discussed, at the same time, the two following Amendments in my name—in page 33, line 4, to leave out "may" and insert "shall" and in line 5, to leave out from "such" to "he" in line 6, and to insert "compensation for the loss, if any, which"—because they all deal with the same subject. The main object is to make it incumbent upon a local authority to give the expenses of removal in every case to the person who is compulsorily removed. Where we are compelling a man to leave a house, there might be some excuse for not paying him his expenses in some cases if we were not at the same time removing from him the benefit of the Rent Restriction Act, but when we are removing the protection we must at the same time, it seems to me, see to it that in every case the expenses are paid. As the Bill stands, it is left entirely to arrangements made at the sweet will of the local authority. Having regard to the very large number of small people who will be affected, I do not think the Committee ought to allow the Clause to be left in its present form. It is true that, when a landlord gives a tenant notice to quit, the tenant pays the expenses, but, when we are compelling him to quit when no landlord, because of the operation of the Rent Restriction Act, could give him notice to quit, are we not bound in every case to see that his reasonable expenses are paid? May I read the Clause as it would be, if these Amendments were made: A local planning or highway authority or a Minister may pay to any person who; in the carrying out of redevelopment on land which has been acquired or appropriated by the authority or Minister for the purposes of or under this Part of this Act, is displaced from a building in which he is residing or carrying on business, all expenses reasonably incurred by him in removing, and to a person carrying on any business in a building from which he is so displaced they shall pay also compensation for the loss, if any, which he will sustain by reason of the disturbance to his business consequent on his having to quit the building and in estimating that loss they shall have regard to the period for which the premises Occupied by him might reasonably have been expected to be available for the purpose of his business and the availability of other premises suitable for that purpose. The Clause refers not only to the residential small man but also to all small traders and shopkeepers. The Committee, which has a natural concern for that type of small person, will naturally want to insist that the Government, in giving power to the local authorities, will see that they are reimbursed reasonably for any expense or any disturbance of their business brought about as the result of a planning scheme.

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

I support the Amendment. I do not think it is right that anyone who is displaced from his home or his business premises should be left entirely to the tender mercies of the local authority, and that, as far as I can judge, is exactly what is done under this Clause. I object to the Clause because, in the first place, it seems to me to be purely permissive. Also the local authority is left the sole judge of the reasonable allowance to be made for the expenses of removal, and for loss incurred by the disturbance caused. From what I know of local authorities they are not likely to be over-generous. This type of disturbance is quite out of the ordinary. It has no connection whatever with what happens at the end of a lease. In that case, a person in possession of a house or shop has certain knowledge that he may have to clear out at the end of the lease, and he is prepared to meet that contingency, but here, where a lease may have some years to run, he may be turned out at very short notice and he will have no chance to make any preparation whatever. He is being displaced in the public interest.

11.15 a.m.

That being so, and if there is such a thing as justice, the public ought to pay the fair cost of his removal and a fair sum for any loss that he has suffered as a result of his business being disturbed. It is clear from the Debate which took place last night, that a large number of shopkeepers might lose their entire goodwill, and it should not be left to the local authority to decide what is to be paid in that connection. It is something that should be calculated in accordance with strict accounting principles and the custom of the trade. Reference was made yesterday to the benefits which compensation would give to a person displaced from his business, but if this Clause stands as it is at present, it will not be compensation but rather a mockery. I believe that the Committee desire to deal fairly with all these people, and in those circumstances I would beg my right hon. Friend, either to accept the Amendment, or to see that there are inserted in the Bill words which will ensure, beyond all reasonable doubt, that those who are displaced will receive, as of right, just compensation and shall not be left to the tender mercies of the local authorities.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

I am a little surprised at the Amendment. I have never thought of either the mover or the supporter of it as champions of the tenant against the landlord. I feel that it is only because the landlord in this case happens to be the local authority. All I rise to do is to ask them, if occasion should arise in the future, to seek similar protection for tenants against private landlords.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

May I ask the hon. Member whether he is speaking in support of the Amendment or against it?

Mr. Dugdale

It seems to me to be on the whole a fairly harmless and reasonable Amendment, and I have no objection to it.

Captain Cobb (Preston)

I am glad to hear the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) express the view that this is a fair and reasonable Amendment, and I hope that the same opinion is held by my right hon. Friend. It seems to me that the principle in the Amendment must appeal to his sense of justice. The people who are affected by the Amendment are, for the most part, small people living in small houses, or carrying on small businesses, and I fail to see how we can possibly excuse any action which will make these people suffer financially in order to make way for some planning scheme. The Amendment will not hold up planning, but it will give justice to the man who is displaced by a development plan. It would be only fair to treat the owners of small residences and shops as fairly as it is proposed to treat those interested in corpses, because we agreed yesterday that anybody who, as a result of a development scheme, has to have a corpse transferred to another burial ground, shall have his expenses paid. I therefore ask for equal justice as between the quick and the dead.

Commander Agnew (Camborne)

This provision is not as strong as I should like it to be, because its operation is permissive and not compulsory on local authorities.

Mr. Erskine-Hill

Among the other Amendments which we are discussing with this one, there is an Amendment to make it compulsory.

Commander Agnew

I am much obliged to my hon. and learned Friend. The Committee ought to indicate to the local authorities and the Minister the lines on which they should proceed. It is not enough to say that an allowance towards expenses should be granted. The implication of that seems to be that in the normal case they would not grant full expenses but only some part. The Amendment makes it clear that where an allowance is to be granted, it is to cover the whole of those inevitable and unavoidable expenses which people have had put upon them, solely as a result of the public policy of the community. Where the public policy affects an individual adversely, he should not be made to suffer but should be properly compensated.

Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)

I wish to support the Amendment, largely because the wording of the Bill puts an unfair burden on the local authority. It puts them in a position of having to discriminate in a way that might be embarrassing. Not only that, but there could be two contiguous local authorities taking different views of what constitutes a reasonable allowance. It was clear from the Debate last evening that, on this side of the Committee, there were wide differences of view on the hardship involved in being turned out of business premises. My Noble Friend the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) took it very lightly, as if there were nothing in it. I think, from practical experience, that it is a severe hardship when a man has his place of business compulsorily closed, and is told to go elsewhere. To leave that to the local authorities will put them in an invidious position. In 99 cases out of 100, local administration is carried on without reference to party politics, but there have been some notorious and conspicuous cases of unpleasant dealings where a large financial power of discrimination has been given to a local authority. It is better for the Committee to say whether we mean that this is to be a chance thing, or whether it should be perfectly clear that everybody concerned should get proper reasonable expenses on a universal scale all over the country. That is what the Amendment means.

The Minister of Town and Country Plannig (Mr. W. S. Morrison)

Perhaps it would be of assistance to the Committee if I were to say a few words about this matter, because this is one of those things which has to be looked at twice, before one is swept away by meritorious sentiment. This is a permissive power as it stands in the Clause, because the whole question of compensation for disturbance of an interest in land is covered by the Lands Clauses Act. That is to say, if a man has an interest of any sort in land and the public buys it, he is entitled under the Lands Clauses Act to the scale of compensation there laid down. The rights as between the owner of the interest [...] is being disturbed and the acquiring authority are all settled by Parliament. When we come to the weekly tenant, which is really the class of case covered by this Clause, the position is as follows. If the property is acquired by the public authority, that authority becomes the Owner of the property. If the owner were a private person, who would have to give proper notice to the tenant—assuming the Rent Restriction Acts did not apply—the tenant would have to go. The public authority would be in the position of having acquired the land, and these weekly tenants, not having an interest in land as defined by the Lands Clauses Act, have no claim at all to compensation. If, in fact, a local authority were to pay the costs of removal, they would be surcharged with an illegal expenditure from the public funds. With this permissive Clause, the local authority in possession of the land deciding to turn out the Weekly tenants may, for the sake of avoiding hardship, pay the cost of removal. On the other hand, the local authority can let them stay there as long as is necessary. This Clause would make the payment of those expenses a legal expenditure from the public funds, for which the authority would not be surcharged.

I ask my hon. Friends not to disturb the well-settled code of compensation in these matters. These legal rights for compensation have been established for over 100 years and they are well-known. To disturb them would be to create repercussions far wider than are immediately apparent. Everybody in the Committee shares the sympathy that has been expressed for the weekly tenant and I think everyone would like to see him treated fairly. All I can say is that I will consider in the interval what can be done. I will look into the practice that has grown up. My impression is that the local authority acts very fairly—

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

The slogan of hon. Members opposite is "Do not trust the local authorities."

Mr. Morrison

—towards people when they do turn them out. If anything can be done by way of administrative action, to see that proper consideration is given to cases of hardship, it will be done. I will undertake that inquiry. I ask my hon. Friends not to confound what is an interest in land with what is not, and not to disturb a code of compensation which has grown up in a very just series of enactments over the last 100 years.

11.30 a.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Dower (Penrith)

Do I understand that all other cases, apart from weekly tenants, are covered by the Lands Clauses Act? I think the Committee has got a wrong impression from the words they shall have regard to the period for which the premises… might reasonably have been expected to be available. One comes to the conclusion that it refers to tenancies longer than weekly. I would like to be assured by the Minister that all other cases are covered, for expenses of removal and injury to business under the Lands Clauses Act.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I can answer that point quite shortly. It does not depend upon the actual length of the tenancy but upon the interest which the acquiring authority, in this case the local authority, chooses to acquire. If, for instance, someone has a seven years' lease, then the acquiring authority, be it as here the local authority, or a railway company, or whatever the body, if compulsory purchase is made, would presumably want to acquire that interest, and would serve a notice to treat. The code which covers the cost of disturbance would then apply. If it chooses not to acquire that interest, and is content that the tenant—weekly, monthly, or longer—should remain, the acquiring authority would then merely have the ordinary legal rights of giving notice, and the cost of disturbance, as and when notice was given, would apply.

Lieut.-Colonel Dower

I am very glad to have had those words from my right hon. and learned Friend. I did not think the necessity for compensation would occur on that basis. I took the trouble to inquire from several estate agents before I came here, and I am assured that more than 90 per cent. of tenancies are weekly. It would be grossly unfair for the acquiring local authority, in the case of a weekly shop tenancy, to say that the tenant had only three months to go, so that it had no compensation value whatever. Many tenants would regard themselves as likely to be in possession for 21 years, because these leases are renewed.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

It did not seem to me that the Minister really dealt with the point of the Amendment. It is not a question here of extending local authorities' powers or of surcharging them, so far as I can see. That position is not touched by the Amendment, the only point of which is to provide that, if a person is caused to remove from one place to another, it shall not be left to the discretion of the local authority whether his removal expenses are paid or not. I should have thought this Amendment would have had the support of hon. Members opposite because it may well be, under the Clause as now drawn, that a particular local authority would refuse to pay one man expenses for removal but would pay the whole of the expenses in the case of his next door neighbour. The man who was not paid would feel a gross sense of injustice and he might, if it was a Socialist local authority, feel that he had been victimised because of his political convictions. The same might apply as between a Conservative local authority and a man who is a Socialist—although the local authority might have been acting in perfect fairness and doing the best it could. It seems inevitable, if the Clause is left in its present form, that a lot of people affected by it will feel that they have been victimised, for one cause or another.

All that the Amendment seeks to do is to provide that where a tenant has had to incur expenses in removal from his house, of which he may be the tenant or the owner, all reasonable expenses so incurred shall be paid by the local authority. I should have thought that that proposal would have been welcomed by everyone as only fair. My right hon. Friend referred to weekly tenants as subject to the Rent Restriction Acts. They have a great deal of security. One of the consequences of removal can be that they have to go into houses at higher rents, which are not subject to those Acts, and incur considerable expenses in order to move from a house in which they might have lived for many years, because of the action—I am not saying that it is not a very proper action—of the local authority. The Minister should reconsider this matter most carefully from this point of view. I am afraid I did not fully appreciate the application of his observations about the effect of the law of compensation for disturbance. The Clause, as it now stands, makes provision for paying compensation for disturbance in respect of business premises, but, again, it is a matter of discretion and not a matter of right. We should make quite sure that the matter is transferred from the realm of discretion to the realm of right, and that anyone, whatever his business, be it small or large, who has incurred expenses in transferring, shall be entitled to all the expenses which he has reasonably incurred. That seems to me to do justice to all concerned and I hope that the Government, after reconsideration, will accept the Amendment.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)

Neither the learned Attorney-General nor the Minister made any reference to the Landlord and Tenant Act, which I think has some bearing on this. It is about 10 years since we passed that Act for the purpose of protecting shopkeepers whose lease had run out and who had created a goodwill which made it important to them that they should continue business at the same premises. Without the Act the landlord had a whip hand over the shopkeeper. We sought to protect such a shopkeeper by the Landlord and Tenant Act, which I think is a very good and fair Measure. No reference has been made to the relation of that Act to this Clause. There is a further point about the mysterious words "may" and "shall." There are two Amendments down about "may" and "shall." I know, in the ordinary way, "may" has the operative effect of "shall," because what an Act of Parliament does is to enable someone to do something he was not able to do before, and it also casts upon him the obligation of doing it. But there are times when "shall" is necessary instead of "may,' and I think it is necessary in this case. If hon. Members look at page 33, line 5, they will see the words "such reasonable allowance as they think fit." I do not think you can go to court and have an examination of the state of mind of the local council. These words give them a discretion so wide, that they can claim that what they think fit is nothing, and that cannot be challenged in court. I think we should go further than the words of the Clause as they now stand because a biased local authority—and they are not all perfect, as the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) would agree, because no doubt an authority with a Conservative majority would be regarded by him as a biased body—

Mr. Gallacher

I want to know what the hon. Member and the others are after. Does he say that the local authority cannot be trusted to deal properly with those who are moved? Is he arguing that the private landlord who dispossesses such shopkeepers, in order to let his property to the big multiple firms, should give compensation to the shopkeepers?

Sir H. Williams

This has nothing to do with multiple firms. The trouble with the hon. Member is that he will not read the Clause before he makes his speech.

Mr. Gallacher

I have read it.

Sir H. Williams

The hon. Member has not understood it.

Mr. Gallacher

I do not trust the hon. Member.

Sir H. Williams

I do not ask the hon. Member to trust me. I am only asking him to read. It seems to me that any local authority can, if they wish, and if it is to their advantage, say they do not think any allowance is reasonable. Here is a case in which we are seeking to protect not landlords but tenants. We think the tenants ought to be treated properly.

Mr. Gallacher

By the landlord?

Sir H. Williams

Certainly, by the landlord who bought the property, that is to say, the local authority. When the local authority become the landlord they should treat these people fairly. There are provisions for fair treatment but they are so permissive that any local authority which wishes to get out of its obligations can do so. The tenant will have no right to sue the local authority for this "reasonable allowance" because the local authority can say "We do not think there is a case for an allowance." It is like the "genuinely seeking work" provision. You have to examine the mind of the authority concerned.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)

I wonder whether the Members who have spoken in support of this Amendment have tried to understand the practice that obtains among local authorities when they have to dispossess an unfortunate local shopkeeper. I am not a lawyer, but what happens in relation to shopkeepers on a town council? In Sutton and Cheam, the next parish to the constituency which the hon. Member represents, tens of thousands of pounds have been paid out, not to the landed aristocracy who own the shops, but because of the harm done to the actual trade, that is to the shopkeeper. For example, I remember in connection with a town planning scheme or road development scheme, off the High Street in Sutton, a shopkeeper had a piece of land in front of his shop where he displayed hardware, buckets and odds and ends. This occupied probably 2 ft. of the pavement, but the shopkeeper said "That is my property, whatever use you make of the land. It is my pavement." The corporation had to pay in compensation the equivalent of £150,000 an acre to get that 2 ft. of land. There is no question that was compensation for harm done to that particular business.

What the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) and the others who support him are trying to argue is the principle they would not themselves apply because of the ruthlessness of private enterprise. Do Boots, if they exterminate a chemist in a village or town, pay over enormous sums of compensation? It is not done under the capitalist order. [Interruption.] Salmon and Gluckstein if you like. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or the Co-operative.") Or the Co-operative, because the Co-operative Society must compete with the rest of the social order. If Nature is "red in tooth and claw," do not complain if we beat you at the game. I wonder whether hon. Members are sincere in wishing to apply this principle today, or whether it is only propaganda for the "Daily Express"?

The Chairman

The hon. Member is not entitled to reflect on the sincerity of other hon. Members.

Mr. Walkden

The sincerity may be there all right, but the other intentions are well reproduced by the "Daily Express" as propaganda.

Mr. Erskine-Hill

On a point of Order. Will the hon. Member withdraw what he said?

The Chairman

I indicated to the hon. Member that it was not in Order for him to make reflections on other hon. Members and I think he would be well advised to withdraw.

Mr. Walkden

If anyone feels injured at the suggestion that they are insincere I withdraw without any reservation whatever, but the intentions are, undoubtedly, reproduced in a manner entirely different from those which have been expressed in this Committee. I am arguing, in regard to local authorities, that if every Member who has spoken will go to his town clerk he will learn that under the code of law as it now stands, local authorities treat the small shopkeepers where they are dispossessed, or are caused to be removed through any circumstances whatever, far more reasonably and equitably than they could expect to be treated by their friends of big business, who come along with their multiple shops. This elimination process is something that has to be faced. If we are to make Parliament responsible for eliminating the small shopkeepers, I can see us paying out, in the years that lie ahead after the war, tens of thousands, indeed millions of pounds.

Commander Agnew

Does the hon. Member want the small shopkeeper eliminated or not?

11.45 a.m.

Mr. Walkden

Being an old grocer myself, and recognising that the small shopkeeper is being bamboozled by the Tory element in this Committee—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]Yes, indeed, bamboozled—I maintain that it is far better to be honest with the small shopkeeper, and to say, "If you want to compete with private enterprise and the co-ops, you have to be efficient first." If a small shopkeeper wants to exist, he must be efficient; he must deliver the goods; and I am sure it will not be argued that they are all efficient, because they are not. But this Amendment will impose on local authorities a perpetuation of something which will be a menace to the small shopkeeper, a menace to the local authorities, and a menace to the existing code, which undoubtedly guarantees people compensation to-day if they are dispossessed. I ask the Committee, therefore, to consider all its implications; not merely the sentiment which has been expressed here, but the honest approach to what is involved.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I ask the Committee to allow us to get on with this matter. It is difficult, but not so difficult as it looks. The rights of landlords and tenants, in relation to each other, are settled by the law. In answer to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), whether the Landlord and Tenant Act applies, I would say that it applies to the local authority just as to anybody else. These rights are all settled by a code of law. A private landlord, if he bought a piece of property for redevelopment, would have his obligations to those whose interest he acquired. He would not be required to pay costs of removal in a tenancy of this character; but a good landlord, a man who wanted to act fairly and justly, would see that the strict exercise of his legal rights did not inflict unnecessary hardship; and in a hard case he is at perfect liberty to pay, out of his own pocket, the cost of removal. If the tenants had no legal rights against him, he would, in order to mitigate hardship, go beyond what the law enjoins on him, if he was a good man. A local authority, on the other hand, is strictly chained down by Parliament as to what sort of disbursements it can make. On its tail the whole time is the district auditor, ready to surcharge the members if they make any sort of payment in excess of their strict legal obligation. The purpose of this provision, which has been common form in all Acts since 1936, is to enable the local authority, if it is in the position of a landlord, to act as a good landlord would do in exercising its rights. I ask the Committee not lightly to alter the code of legal injunction as between landlord and tenant. I am not trying to do that in this Bill. What I can promise is this. The purpose of this permissive Clause is to enable the local authority to act like a good man. I will make further inquiries into this matter, to satisfy myself that it is being properly applied; and I hope that, with that assurance, my hon. and learned Friend will permit us to pass on. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friend is going to complain that I did not reply to his point, he will find that the Clause is precisely drafted for that purpose. Sub-section (5) says that: they may pay also such reasonable allowance as they think fit towards the loss which, in their opinion, he will sustain by reason of the disturbance to his business consequent on his having to quit the building, and in estimating that loss they shall have regard to the period for which the premises occupied by him might reasonably have been expected to be available for the purpose of his business and the availability of other premises suitable for that purpose. That is wide enough for me to take into account that sort of purpose which my hon. Friend urged upon me.

Sir John Mellor (Tamworth)

Having the strictest regard to what my right hon. Friend has just said, is not this Amendment abundantly justified? The effect of it will be to ensure that the local authority comes up to the standard of the good landlord. Whatever protection and rights existing Statutes provide it still remains the case that a large number of people who suffer injuries as a result of this Measure will get nothing better than a possible, or even probable, ex gratia compassionate allowance. That is a different thing from compensation. We should bear in mind the attitude adopted by my right hon. Friend yesterday in resisting a demand that displaced persons should be reinstated in new premises. His attitude then was that th[...] proper way to deal with it was not by reinstatement, but by compensation. He expressed the view that if they were offered the option, they would prefer to take the compensation, assuming the compensation to be fair. That is the really important thing. We cannot assume that compensation will necessarily be fair unless the local authority is required by this Clause to come up to what my right hon. Friend has referred to as the standard of the good landlord.

Mr. Lewis (Colchester)

The Minister has undertaken to look further into this matter. I want to ask him, when he looks into it, to pay proper regard to this point. The Clause, as has been pointed out, is permissive. It gives permission to a great number of different local authorities. The trouble, when you give permission to a great number of different people, is that some may avail themselves of it and others may not. It seems to me that this position might arise. Take the case of two badly-damaged towns, Plymouth and Coventry. Suppose the municipal authority in Plymouth were to say, "We have the power, and we are going to compensate these people generously for the expense of moving and to compensate these traders for the loss of business." Suppose the local authority in Coventry take the contrary view, and say, "We do not think that public funds should be used for this purpose." Surely, in those circumstances, the inhabitants of Coventry would have a reasonable grievance against Parliament, because, by our legislation, we had made it possible for one authority to act in one way, and for another authority to act in another way. I put it to the Committee and the Minister that either these payments are payments which it is proper to make out of public funds, in which case they should be made, or they are not payments which it is proper to make out of public funds, in which case they should not be made. I hope the Minister will face this difficulty, and will try to secure that, whatever the principle laid down, it shall have reasonable uniformity in application.

Mr. Silkin (Peckham)

I suppose that it is something more than a coincidence that those hon. Members who sincerely do not like this Bill are also doing their very best to-day to obstruct it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]I know this is an important point, but even important points can be threshed out ad nauseam. I thought that everything that could possibly have been said on this matter, both for and against, had been said more than half an hour ago. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why get up?"]In order mainly to make that comment but I want also to associate myself entirely with what the Minister has said, and to assure the right hon. Gentleman that, as far as I am aware—and I have had some experience, not only in London, but outside—every single local authority has taken advantage of this permissive power and has paid compensation and reasonable expenses. Hon. Members may say "Then why not make it compulsory and insert it in the Bill?" From my point of view, it would be disastrous if every person who was removed, and who claimed expenses, could go to arbitration against the local authority and allege that the compensation or expenses were inadequate. The Bill would become administratively impossible, and the local authority would be inundated with applications for arbitration because, once a legal obligation is conferred upon a local authority, machinery is created by which disputes would be settled. The local authority as I say would be inundated with applications for compensation, and the whole machine would be clogged up. I think it is wise to trust the local authorities and to leave it to them to do what is right.

The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), who always runs away after he has spoken, made the point that it would be in the interest of local authorities to pay as little as possible. I deny that. My hon. Friend is quite capable of saying the reverse on another occasion —that it is in the political interest of local authorities to pay out as much as they possibly can. I have heard him say it. But, in fact, could any local authority—could Coventry?—face up to displacing a large number of its citizens, and not paying their legal expenses? Could they really face up to it from a political point of view? If it should happen to political friends of mine, they would be committing political suicide if they tried anything like that, and I cannot conceive that any local authority will attempt to deal with a provision like this in an arbitrary way. To give people a legal obligation in what must be a relatively small matter, would make the machine unworkable, and I think the Minister is quite right in resisting this Amendment.

Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)

I am very much concerned with the position of the small trader under this Clause. I have just listened to an hon. Member talking about the small trader, and the point of his speech, so far as I understood it, was that he would like to do away with small traders—which class, as the Committee is fully aware, includes a great many ex-Service men, who have taken up small businesses. Everything possible should be done to help these people, and give them every assistance. On a previous occasion, the President of the Board of Trade stated how vastly important it was that the small trader should continue in business. Now, the tenure of the small trader is being compulsorily cut through, and, on that account, I consider that special consideration should be given to the question of the expenses of his removal to another place. Providing him with other premises is not quite the same thing, as his tenure is being terminated compulsorily, and he should be given special consideration. Presumably, the local authorities are going to give him reasonable expenses. If so, what is their objection to having it stated in this Clause that the man shall receive such reasonable expenses as will be incurred by him? I hope the Amendment will be accepted.

12 noon.

Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)

May I refer for one moment to a remark, made by the Minister a moment ago? I think myself that the Minister's remark helped the case of the mover and sup- porters of the Amendment. He told us what a good landlord would do, in the payment of compensation and so on; he made the qualifications of a good landlord very clear. According to the Clause, permission is only given to the local authority to become a good landlord. It is only permissive. The Minister cannot compel the local authorities to be the good landlords he spoke about, or, indeed, to be model landlords, therefore why not accept the Amendment and be quite sure about it? Along with, I am sure, many of my colleagues on this Bench, I feel that I must whole-heartedly support the mover of the Amendment.

Mr. Erskine-Hill

I have listened with great interest to the remarks from the other side, which, roughly, boil down to this: that although we are charged, as a Committee, with looking after the interests of all these people for whom we legislate, rather than say to the local authorities that they must protect those interests, we are to say to them "Please will you, in such cases as you think proper, do what you think fit?" I do not think that is the proper answer for this Committee to give. An attack was made on hon. Members on this side by more than one hon. Member on the other side, and objections were raised to my hon. Friends and myself. Although one hon. Member did withdraw his remarks, he repeated them a couple of seconds later. That being so, I think it incumbent upon us to show the sincerity of our views in the Division Lobby.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Henry Strauss)

I should like to say a few more words on this Amendment, because I honestly believe that there is still some confusion of mind in certain quarters. May I say, at once, that, though I am most anxious to make progress with this Bill, I am not complaining of obstruction from any quarter at all? I believe the Amendments, and the opposition to them, have been entirely sincere, and this is, admittedly, a difficult Bill. I wonder if hon. Members, including the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill) have really got distinctly in their minds the distinction between what it is proper to do when one is acquiring an interest, and what it is proper to provide in regard to the exercise of one's rights in that interest, when one has acquired it. Regarding the first question—the compensation payable when acquiring an interest—that exists under the Lands Clauses Act, quite independently of the Sub-section which we are discussing. We are, therefore, concerned in this sub-section only with what a landlord does, after he has acquired the interest, in the exercise of his legal rights.

Commander Agnew

If in the Lands Clauses Act the tenant or displaced man has had a proper amount of compensation, it is not necessary to pay any more money.

Mr. Strauss

I am sorry if my hon. and gallant Friend—it may be my fault—has not followed what I have said, and perhaps he did not follow my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. If a man's interest is acquired the whole scheme of compensation exists under the existing law independently of this Clause. This Clause is required mainly in the case of the weekly tenant for the reason, that the local authority would never propose to acquire the weekly tenant's interest. It would acquire the interest of the superior landlord and then exercise the right of that superior landlord against the weekly tenant—I do not know if my hon. and gallant Friend follows the distinction—

Commander Agnew

indicated assent.

Mr. Strauss

Therefore, when you are acquiring an interest, you have to pay compensation independently of this Clause. We now come to what happens when you exercise your rights as landlord under the interests that you have acquired. This Clause is to enable the local authority in such a case to make a payment which it is not under any legal obligation to make, and which the landlord whose interest the local authority has acquired is also under no legal obligation to make. The hon. Member for Southampton (Dr. Russell Thomas) asked, Why not make it obligatory? It would be improper, in my submission, to make obligatory on a local authority what is not obligatory on a private landlord. After that explanation and the explanations that have been given by my right hon. and learned Friend, I am sure that my hon.. Friends behind me do not wish to go into the Division Lobby in defence of a principle which cannot be that which they thought they were supporting.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

Is there not a great difference in breaking a tenancy by compelling removal from one place to another?

Mr. Strauss

The only other point to which I did not refer was that made—and it is very germane—by my right hon. Friend before he had to leave the Committee, namely, that a provision in this form has been the operative law under the Housing Act. He said since 1925, and we corrected him and said "since 1936," because Section 44 of the Act of 1936 is that which I know contained it. That was a consolidating Statute and the power has actually existed a good deal longer, I rather believe since 1925, though I am now speaking from memory. In all that time I am not aware that a local authority has acted wrongfully in the matter. I cannot conceive that a local authority given this power is likely to risk the extraordinary unpopularity, which it would incur if it did not exercise it properly. I really think, in spite of the sincere feelings which I know prompted the putting down of this Amendment, that my hon. Friends were under the erroneous impression that there would be no legal rights apart from this Subsection if an interest was being acquired. I hope that I have made the distinction clear.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

Will my hon. Friend consider between now and the Report stage, whether some provision could be inserted in the Clause to give some additional safeguard to the man who is dispossessed in the case of a refusal, which he thinks is wrong, of payment of compensation for removal? If he would consider that between now and the Report stage it might assist considerably. The argument has been that we should not impose upon local authorities higher standards than upon private landlords. I should have thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite would have expected local authorities to set an example.

Commander Agnew

As the Parliamentary Secretary was good enough to refer to me, I wish to say that I did appreciate entirely the points he was making, but I still think that this one is not covered. Whereas the private land- owner is not legally required to do what this Sub-section will empower the local authority to do, in the case of the private landlord and the tenant, the two parties respectively know what their agreement is, and the tenant has an absolute legal and reasonable expectation of the whole currency of his lease. But Parliament has now intervened arbitrarily to break and render invalid that lease and, when a local authority or indeed a private landlord is empowered by Parliament to break a lease like this, they ought to be made to give this compensation.

Mr. Strauss

My hon. and gallant Friend is really mistaken. The planning authority steps into the shoes of the owner of the interest it is acquiring, and has no more and no less right as against the tenant than the private landlord. It simply steps into his shoes.

Mr. Erskine-Hill

I am impressed by what my hon Friend has said, but I still think that the matter requires some consideration. I said at an earlier stage that it would perhaps be necessary to press this Amendment, but in view of the fact that the Government recognise our sincerity, it would be out of all proportion to the unworthy remarks from hon. Members opposite, if we allowed that to affect what we have decided to do. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he will give further consideration to this matter before the Report stage.

Mr. Strauss

I will certainly examine. everything that has been said, but as at present advised, I am bound to say to the Committee that I think the Subsection is quite right as it stands. I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend; I am myself convinced that these Amendments were put forward with perfect sincerity, and I believe that we shall make greater progress in this Committee if we all credit each other with sincerity.

Mr. Erskine-Hill

In view of what my hon. Friend has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.