§ 9.10 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Dalton)
I beg to move,That the Acquisition of Land (Increase of Supplement) Order, 1946 (S.R. & O., 1946, No. 1163) dated 22nd July, 1946, made by the Treasury under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, a copy of which Order was presented on 22nd July, be approved.1318 This is a very simple matter in form and also, I think, a relevantly simple matter in substance. I will endeavour to put it to the House as clearly as I can. The Order to which I am seeking to get the consent of the House relates simply to percentage, which I will explain in a moment. It does not raise wider grounds of war damage law or administration, all this will be open for discussion after the Recess. I do not know how narrowly, Sir, you propose to rule on this Debate. My submission is that this is a very simple and restricted matter, and I would say at once that I am not prepared, tonight, to deal with any larger issues about value payments or war damage administration, though I shall be very happy, if it is the desire of the House, to enter into a discussion on these matters in October. Tonight, I am proposing a change which, I hope, will be of benefit to many, and I will seek to explain it as simply as I can.
Under Section 57 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, it is provided that the prices current on 31st March, 1939, shall be taken as the basis of compensation on the compulsory acquisition of land by a Government department, or by a local or public authority within the meaning of the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919. I think I am getting this right. This provision is in force for five years from the commencement of the Town and Country Planning Act, that is to say, from 17th November, 1944. Section 58 of that Act provides that supplementary—and here I approach the exact topic of the Order—compensation not exceeding 30 per cent. can be paid to an owner-occupier in respect of his interest in a building on the land, and that is* what we are now considering, or any agricultural property.
What we are proposing to do tonight is to lift that 30 per cent. to 60 per cent. as a purely temporary measure, as a partial relief to many persons who have a good claim, which we fully recognise, and for the benefit, in particular, of my hon. Friends who come from towns where there has been much blitz and other damage. This is without prejudice to further and wider consideration of the whole matter next autumn. I am not committing myself for or against any other changes; I am proposing this one particular change, namely, the lifting of the 30 per cent. to 60 per cent. as the basis of supplementary compensation.
1319 I do not know whether the House will want further details of the legal background of the matter, but I will endeavour to give a little more now and my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, who speaks with such authority and lucidity on so many legal matters, will, I am sure, be pleased to deal with any points which may be raised by subsequent speakers. As I understand the position, only two points really arise on this Order. In the first place, under the main Statute, to which I have referred, it applies to interests in respect of which notices to treat are served during the period specified in the Order. The increased supplement, therefore, only applies when the notice to treat is served on or after 22nd July, 1946, and not later than the expiration of the five-year period which I have already mentioned and for which the 1939 standard runs.
The Order is not retrospective, and it does not apply where notice to treat was served before 22nd July, 1946. We were advised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General that we could not give a retrospective effect to the Order. We would have been willing to consider such a proposal on its merits, but we were advised that it was not legally possible to give retrospective effect to the Order, and we have respected that opinion. In the second place, the question may be asked why the new figure was fixed at 60 per cent. rather than any other percentage. As I have said, we are proposing to lift the 30 per cent. to 60 per cent. There is at present no very precise basis upon which the appropriate figure can be determined. It is difficult to see how far or how fast prices will move in the future; we are anxious to do something now, and we have, therefore, deter-mined 60 per cent. as a rough shot as an immediate act of substantial justice to those concerned. Looking towards the ranks of Plymouth Hoe, including my hon. Friend the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Mr. Medland) who takes a keen interest, of which I am never left unaware, in this matter, I repeat that this proposal is entirely without prejudice to further proposals that may be made at a later date. Do not let them think that by agreeing to this Order tonight, they are losing any opportunity to approach me and advocate by any proper means, at 1320 which they are very expert, any further advances in the future.
In deciding what the new figure should be, the reason for suggesting 60 per cent. was that in the period since the Act of 1944 was passed, building costs and the values of property have risen rather more than most people expected. When the 1944 Act was discussed in the last Parliament, many hon. Members in different parts of the House took an active part in those discussions. I cannot say that I did, but many of my hon. Friends did, and there was then a rough picture of what was likely to happen to building costs. It is true to say that, on the whole, building costs have risen rather more than was then expected. They have not yet begun to show the fall following the initial rise, which some prophets anticipated. I will not prophecy the future shape of the curve, but we will see how things turn out. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers), who follows these matters so closely, has his own views, and there are some who hope that after this initial rise there will be a peak and that prices will gradually come down as we get what I may call the mass production not only of houses, but of the other elements necessary for building and the repair of damaged buildings. To date, prices have risen rather more than was expected and they have not yet begun to fall, as some people thought they would by now. We, therefore, thought that, as an act of rough approximation, it would not be unreasonable to take a figure of 60 per cent. It seemed to me that it was largely a question for a broad settlement—we have no exact index number by which to measure—at this stage on an arbitrary basis, though seeking to do the right thing, and the Government thought that 60 per cent. was a reasonable percentage to take at this stage in order to do justice to those whose present property was acquired compulsorily and who lose their present interest in occupation.
I would like to add this further point. Part II of the Town and Country Planning Act, to which I have referred, applies to all compulsory acquisitions for public purposes. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the former Minister of Town and Country Planning, who I am glad to see here, sponsored the Bill, and the Act is, therefore, familiar to him. I hope that in due course I shall have 1321 his support of the Order which I am moving. The Act applies to properties which are intact, and to properties which were damaged in the war and would be eligible for cost of works payments if they were not being acquired. It also applies to properties damaged in the war which were eligible for value payments only. We can reveal, I think, after this passage of time, without any prejudice to the Official Secrets Act that the Debate which took place in the House when this measure was going through was not more prolonged, more animated or more intellectual than that which took place in another circle of discussion, before the Bill was finally produced, as the right hon. Gentleman will recall. It is a very difficult matter on which to be fair, and clear-minded. The provision which was embodied in the Act, provided that there should be a supplement for owner-occupiers in the first two sorts of properties mentioned. That is to say, it excluded properties that were eligible for value payments. What we are doing is proposing to increase the maximum from 30 per cent. to 60 per cent. The third class of case, namely, the war damaged property which was not eligible for a cost-of-works payment, is outside the scope of the present Order I want to make that quite clear, because those who may be inclined to take exception to the Order, may not realise that cases which may legitimately be brought forward are not touched by this Order at all.
I wish to add, in order to complete the picture as I see it, that the whole thing is exceedingly difficult; it is one of the most difficult matters which we have to consider in this Parliament. The thing is legally difficult, and it is also very difficult in terms of practical handling. It is difficult for me, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, because there may be an inflationary danger if we let the thing go too far, if we are too generous or too swift in releasing payments. It is, indeed, what some call "the suppression of inflationary potential." It may cease to be suppressed or potential, and none of us would like that. I am anxious, in order to get general agreement on this particular proposal tonight, to reserve until later, the larger questions, which are of great interest to many hon. Members in all parts of the House, in regard to war damage payment whether they be 1322 cost or value payments. Later on we shall be ready to consider further propositions. In view of the representations that have been made, it seemed to the Government that this particular increase would meet them reasonably, and do something to adjust the supplement to the increased cost. I hope I have succeeded in making the case for this Order clear. In the light of the arguments I have adduced and of the assurances I have given, that this is totally without prejudice to larger matters to be considered later, I hope the House will agree to the proposition.
§ Mr. Dalton
It will be a payment of money, in sterling. [An HON. MEMBER: " By cheque."] An hon. Member says it will be done by way of cheque, and I trust that will be so. I think I know what the hon. Gentleman is thinking about. He is wondering what the value of the money will be at that time, as compared with now. Neither he nor I could answer that. We must wait and see.
§ Sir W. Smithers
What is to stop the Government tearing up the paper when they have acquired the land?
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
Have I understood the Chancellor properly, that where there are more progressive local authorities who have already given notice of compulsory purchase orders, and notice to treat, within their reconstruction areas, the people who have notice to treat will be debarred from this additional compensation because of the fact that the present local authority has got on with the job?
§ Mr. Dalton
I tried to make it clear. The dividing date is 22nd July, and I am afraid we cannot now alter that. It is no good my hon. Friend shaking her head sadly. I have been very kind, and I want to be kind; we all want to be kind to these blitzed areas. Do not let us take it too much in compartments. There were certain parts of the country 1323 which were far more under enemy bombardment than others; they include the great naval dockyards, Plymouth and Portsmouth, and many other towns. [An HON. MEMBER: "London."] London, too; we could all go on adding to the list, but I am talking to a West Country Member. Let us not regard this in watertight compartments. The Government have already given indications— and I repeat them now—that they would desire to go even further in assisting those places which stood up under enemy fire more than the rest of the country. Do not make too much argument on what is a relatively small detail in a large picture. We will consider sympathetically claims from the blitzed areas wherever they may be.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor invited my cooperation in commending this Order to the House, and I certainly give him that cooperation on the ground, as he put it, that it will be a partial alleviation of a temporary character to, I hope, a considerable number of people. I cannot carry my praise of it any higher than that, nor did the right hon. Gentleman make greater claims for it himself, but on the whole I am very grateful to the Government for this Order. I took the liberty, when I spoke on the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill, to invite the attention of the Government and of the House to the provision in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, which renders this Order possible, and I am gratified that some notice has been taken of that and consideration given to it. Indeed, I am heartened by this, and by the properly guarded indications which the right hon. Gentleman gave of further benefits to come for the bombed sites, to ask for more—not in any spirit of ingratitude for what has been given, but in the hope that in this very difficult matter due consideration will be given to what I am now going to say, as it was to what I said on the previous occasion.
The right hon. Gentleman was wise in separating this already difficult question from confusion with war damage payments. Payments under the War Damage Acts, whether they be cost of works or value payments, are in themselves such a tangled subject that to bring 1324 them into this Order now would make the subject almost impossible to comprehend. If we consider it from the point of view of what the Order purports to do, namely, to increase the maximum supplement to owner-occupiers for land that is compulsorily acquired for public purposes, and if we can understand it on that basis, I think we shall have done pretty well at this late stage in the Session. The point about which I should like to remind the House is this. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor and I were Members of the same Government which sponsored the Town and Country Planning Act containing the provision. He has indicated—and I bear him out— that however eloquent the speeches and however violent at times the controversy in this Chamber, there was a faithful mirror of that atmosphere in the inner circles to which he has alluded. It is a very difficult matter, and we were then at the height of a very great war. We had to make some provision for this matter when we did not know how long the war would last, when we did not know, in other words, how long it would be before we could appeal to a stable market, undistorted by temporary wartime conditions, in order to arrive at a just price. I do not for my part condemn the compromise which, in those difficult circumstances, was reached by the Coalition, which, at that time, had much graver matters on its hands than the mere question of land prices. But now, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman and the House, the war is over, and has been over for a year and more; and this very Order we have before us tonight, and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with which he commended it, show how difficult it is to work this system of paying for land compulsorily acquired on anything other than the basis of the Act of 1919, which was the current market value. Difficulties at once obtrude.
We fixed 30 per cent., on the best information we had in 1944, as the supplement. Subsequent events have convinced the Government that this is too small, and they are now doubling it. The whole thing is in a state of perpetual revision, and, as the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton) pointed out just now, there is, inherently, a hardship in this, due to legal difficulties. I understand that persons who have notice to treat served, on them 1325 at one date will be eligible for one payment, and persons who have notice to treat served on them at another date will have another payment. Clearly, this is an untidy, unsatisfactory method of doing business, and may, indeed, be unjust; and that is a thing for which this House must always be on the look-out.
The difficulty of ever fixing the supplement on 1939 prices must be immense. The right hon. Gentleman himself, with all the resources of Government information at his command, sitting in the centre of the spider's web, was unable to prophesy—and I do not blame him—with any correctness, or any attempt at confidence, the course which prices will take here and there. It will be the common endeavour in all parts of the House to maintain the value of the currency and the savings of the people. We are certain we shall accomplish that. I am sure we shall. But there will be rises in costs here and there, and nobody can tell what they will be; and there may be falls in costs, which we cannot now foresee. All these difficulties of trying to prophesy what would be a proper percentage maximum increase would be avoided by a return to the 1919 Act, which was passed immediately after the first World War, and which set as the standard of value, the price that would be given by a willing buyer to a willing seller in the open market. There is, I know, an idea current in some places that, in this, there is a risk of giving a man too much. I would ask the House to consider for a moment how this process of valuation, applied to compulsory purchases, is bound to make it a quite artificial valuation; because it supposes that the man is a willing seller, when, in fact he is not. Therefore, there is, in fact, not the ordinary method of a commercial transaction, in which one says "How much will you take?" and the other says, "How much will you give?" By this artificial method one has to imagine the figure, and the arbitrator has, in the compulsory transaction, to decide, by reference to surrounding voluntary transactions, what is the current market value. There is bound to be some artificiality; but that artificiality is increased when one has to refer to market prices as they were in 1939. Why, with the relentless march of time, and with every year we go further from 1939, that standard becomes more remote and more 1326 chimerical. I have been into cases of this character, and this is the sort of thing that happens. Someone says in his evidence about the price, "An acre of this land was sold for £50 the other day." Then someone else says, "There were special circumstances surrounding that particular sale." Indeed, there often are. Now, consider how difficult it is just to remember all the special circumstances regarding sales of property in 1939. Who will remember them? Every year we get away from 1939, as I say, the more artificial and unreal becomes the computation of the arbitrator.
There is really more in it than that, because there is the justice of the business. What the right hon. Gentleman is trying to do—and I give him credit for it—is to give the owner occupier who is dispossessed of his property a chance to resettle himself somewhere else, and to give him a sum of money which will be sufficient for him to do that. I do not say that we can always resettle a man in precisely the same circumstances, but at least we can give him a fair chance. At least we can give him a fair price which will enable him to resettle himself in the world as it is, and on that ground I would ask the Government to reconsider this matter. One of the main justifications for the 1939 price was the natural desire to prevent persons enriching themselves at the expense of the community due to fortuitous circumstances connected with the war. That was the profound reason which was in our minds, but in peace it does not hold any longer. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that such is the artificiality of this complicated transaction—projecting oneself back to 1939 and adding percentages—that there is nothing in the money which will be paid.
In setting an arbitrator such an unreal and difficult task, we may get a figure which is completely out of relation with current market prices—it may be too low or too high. If it is based on current market values at the time, we shall give a sense of fairness to the person dispossessed, and have a continuous flexibility and natural relationship between compensation and the circumstances of the moment. There is one further matter. We are promised—and I hope we shall see it—legislation for compensation and betterment. If such is 1327 produced, it will do away with the last remaining possible excuse for maintaining this 1939 value. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider all these matters in the. benevolent way he has indicated. It is very hard to maintain benevolence in a Session like this, which has been crowded with Business, with late sittings and weather like this. In the quietude of the country, or wherever the hon. Gentleman is going to deport himself, I hope he will again think out this matter. I ask him to consider the broad point that all these departures from current market values in peace time cannot be justified, and may be very expensive to the taxpayer. It certainly does not leave that sense of satisfaction to the dispossessed person which should be the interest of every wise administrator in these complicated matters to implant in his breast.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
I should like to revert to the question which I put to the Chancellor earlier. The Chancellor made his announcement of the 60 per cent. supplement in reply to my question on 6th June, and in the period which has elapsed since then, such people as were seemingly due to benefit have necessarily, and quite rightly, been assuming that the 60 per cent. supplement will be theirs. Now they are told that this Order does not operate until 22nd July of this year. That is almost two months after the first announcement was made. I imagine that quite a number of other people would have been concerned under this Order had it been operative from the day when the announcement was made. That will be the case, as I suggested in my question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in those areas where the citizens and the local authorities are most anxious to get on with their work of reconstruction and rebuilding. I would appeal to the Chancellor to see whether something cannot be done, even now, to make this Order operative, at any rate, as from 1st January of this year, in order that the majority of these cases to which I have referred may be eligible for the 60 per cent. supplement.
Since I came to this House, I have visited practically all the blitzed towns and cities of this country. Tonight, while 1328 I speak more especially for my own constituency, I can claim to have met, with my colleagues in the Labour Party, representatives of local authorities and local government officers in all the towns and cities which I have visited. I am sure that unless we can get some greater assurance than the Chancellor has given us tonight that those cases will be taken into consideration, where there is at least an equal claim if not a greater claim for consideration than the class of cases he has mentioned, and unless we can get that assurance before this Debate finishes, the reputation of the Government will have gone down considerably in the blitzed areas by tomorrow evening. May I illustrate a point from my own constituency?
§ Mr. Speaker
May I ask whether the hon. Lady's constituency comes under the Town and Country Planning Act? This Order deals with that, and with that alone, and not with war damage.
§ Mrs. Middleton
Yes, Sir. In my constituency we have, at the present time, a compulsory purchase Order operative. In the area covered by that Order there are several classes of property. There is the former householder whose property was blitzed to the ground during the assault on Plymouth. Under this Order that person gets no benefit whatsoever. On the other hand—and it can happen within the same street with identical properties—where those properties have not suffered from the blitz, under this Order, if that property is to be compulsorily acquired, the person who will get the 60 per cent. supplement to compensation—
§ Mr. Speaker
I am afraid that we cannot discuss what is not in this Order. We can only discuss what is in the Order under the Town and Country Planning Act. I am sorry that this is not a case in which we can discuss war damage in blitzed towns.
§ Mrs. Middleton
I suggest that what I am discussing is covered by this Order. I am discussing property that is standing and which has been, or will be, acquired by the local authority under its reconstruction scheme, and, being so acquired, the owners of which will be entitled, if they are owner-occupiers, and if the house is acquired after 22nd July, to 1939 values plus a supplement of 60 per cent. 1329 The point which I am making is this: In the case which I have given of a house destroyed by the blitz, there is no 60 per cent. supplement. In that case, the owner-occupier simply gets the 1939 value payment. In the same street, in the same reconstruction area, where a house is standing, the owner-occupier will get by way of compensation the 1939 value plus something up to 60 per cent., and that seems to me to constitute a gross inequality which is quite intolerable.
One other point is the question of who is to pay this additional supplement. If I understand the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, and this Order correctly, the responsibility for this additional supplement will rest upon the local authority. I would like to be corrected if I am wrong. The Exchequer bears no part of this additional cost, and the whole extra burden is being thrown on local authorities. While I know that the Chancellor has been generous to local authorities with regard to their reconstruction loans, yet I am certain that a very considerable part of this additional 60 per cent. will, finally, have to be borne by the local authority. I hope I am wrong, but perhaps we may have an assurance on that point.
In conclusion, I should like to say that we must all welcome anything that brings a large measure of justice even to a minority, and for that reason, one cannot oppose the Order. But I do beg the right hon. Gentleman with all the power at my disposal, to consider, when the Recess is over, together with those of us who represent the blitzed areas of this country, the very grave problems that arise as a result of compensation both under the Act, a part of which we are now considering, and also under the War Damage Act, and to do something to secure a greater measure of justice for all those who have suffered through war damage and because of compulsory acquisition.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter(Kingston-upon-Thames)
The right hon. Gentleman, in asking acceptance of this Order, said that it amounted to a rough approximation justice in this matter. The speech of the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton), to which the House has just listened, has, I think, accentuated the impression that there is more roughness than approxima- 1330 tion in the effect of this Order. While I welcome it as far as it goes, as an attempt, however inadequate, to deal with the muddle and, indeed, the gross scandal of compensation, I would, if I may do so, reinforce the plea of the hon. Lady to the effect that it does not go anything like far enough. The position, as amended by this Order, will still rest, fundamentally, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, on the assessment values of 31st March, 1939. It is becoming increasingly impossible for any valuer, however expert or however intelligent, to form a really accurate assessment of those values. It may be that such a valuer, having to transport himself to those blissful days of March, 1939, may have to bear in mind that this country was to be faced with a war, and was to have a Socialist Government. I do not know whether the hon. Lady was bearing either of these grave misfortunes in mind, but it does illustrate the artificiality in August, 1946, of asking any man whether a valuer or not to base any assessment upon the standards of March, 1939.
The Order accepts that wholly fallacious basis, and makes it a 60 per cent. supplement, and not 30 per cent. It only accentuates the unfairness of the present position. May I put this illustration to the House? Let us assume that there are three houses in a row, which are taken over by a local authority, or the Minister of Town and Country Planning under his New Towns scheme. One of those houses is not occupied by the owner. It represents the savings, perhaps the life savings, of the individual who has let it. The second house, occupied by the owner, is taken over on 21st July, 1946, and the third is taken over on 23rd July, 1946. Assuming that the 1939 value of each house was £1,000, the compensation payable for those three houses would be, respectively, £1,000, £1,300, and £1,600. [Interruption.] It may well be that that is too much, but assuming that those houses are of equal value, is it not wholly inconsistent that there should be three different assessments of compensation upon them?
It is logical to take the attitude which the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) might take, that no compensation should be paid. That is logical, possibly reasonable, but once you assume compensation—as I think most Members 1331 do-surely it is fundamental that that compensation should be fairly and equitably assessed as between the different owners. Is it really possible to defend an Order under which three houses of identical value can have three different figures assessed for compensation? That is the inevitable result of the attitude of the Chancellor in trying to patch up the now quite unworkable system brought about by the 1944 Act, instead of dealing with the matter as one which calls for fundamental overhaul in the light of circumstances in 1936. It is a very stimulating example of the results of that Socialist planning which, we were told, would have such beneficial results for the country. The only possible fair basis for compensation, once you accept the justification for having any compensation at all, is the market value of the property which is taken over. I put that to the House as not only an elementary consideration of justice, which I think it is, but also from the point of view of making an appeal, particularly to the Minister of Town and Country Planning.
When land is taken over under the provisions of Section 57 of the Act of 1944, in a variety of ways, by town planning schemes, and Private Bill legislation, for instance, it is the experience of the right hon. Gentleman that there is a great deal of opposition on the part of the owners concerned. I am sure that it is, particularly, the experience of Members of the House who have sat on Private Bill Committees that the basis of a great deal of that opposition is the feeling that the property taken over will not be fairly compensated. The right hon. Gentleman will find that under this Order there will be no diminution of that opposition, but that if he were to deal with the matter root and branch, and provide a fair basis of compensation, the opposition would gradually disappear, and time, trouble, and expense would be saved to the Government and everybody else. I hoped that in moving what he called this " rough approximation justice " the right hon. Gentleman would have held out some precise and specific hope that this approximation would not be left where it is. It is manifest to hon. Members on both sides that the present 'position is a crying scandal which does no good to anybody, and which causes a great deal of ill- 1332 feeling. I hope that before the Debate is concluded we shall receive a definite assurance from the Government that, if the House accepts the Order as an interim measure, as a condition of that the Government will undertake to introduce a new Measure for compensation and betterment before the end of the current year.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
I think the whole House will welcome the proposal which the Chancellor has put before us. More particularly, hon. Members on this side of the House will welcome it. The Chancellor talked rather glibly about the interest of the present Socialist Members of the Government in this matter now and in the Debate which took place in 1944. I remember that Debate very well. The introduction of the 30 per cent, differentiation between owner-occupier and owner-investor came as the result of a sharp conflict which took place on the benches opposite, when we occupied them, and when a group of hon. Members in the Tory Reform Committee made proposals rather contrary to those of the Coalition Government, who were only too anxious to keep the level between owner-investor and owner-occupier where it was.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft) and my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) were particularly prominent on that occasion. We had a fierce battle with my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester (Mr. W, S. Morrison) as a result of which this new principle was introduced into English law for the first time, and the differentiation between owner - occupier and owner - investor emerged. Therefore, it is with particular gratification that we on this side see the Chancellor raising it to 60 per cent.
I think the House is entitled to some further elucidation of the reasons behind the Chancellor's statement that the Law Officers have thought it wise to put in the date of 22nd July. It is a curious date. It is not even today's date. Why, as the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton) asked, should it not be made retrospective to 1st 1333 January of this year? Indeed, I would go even further, and say that it might be made retrospective to the end of the war with Japan, or some other date approximating to that, from which time it may be supposed that certain Orders acquiring land began to be instituted. I cannot see why the Chancellor should not be prepared to make it retrospective to such a date. After all, he will be looking for things to put in the record of the Government when the next Election comes, and it would be very much better for him to be able to say that the Government did this as soon as they got into office, in order that people might benefit, rather than to allow it to be said by hon. Members on this side, as undoubtedly they will say it, that the Government waited a year and did nothing until some obscure date in July, 1946. I hope the Chancellor will think again about this matter. The hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth cited an instance in her constituency—and no doubt there are many other cases—where land has been acquired before now. Why should not the people concerned benefit from this increased amount?
The matter in which the House is fundamentally interested in this connection is war damage. I hope that the 60 per cent. is some indication of the kind of level to which the war damage payments will be raised. I hope that when the Chancellor is framing legislation or proposals for the Autumn, he will take into account both the 60 per cent. figure and the fact that hon. Members have tonight pleaded for this Order to be made retrospective, and that we shall not find in the Autumn, in legislation on war damage, that some date in November or December is fixed.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
It gives me particular pleasure to be able to follow the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) in this Debate and to approve what he has said. It is not often that I can do that but I do approve what he says and I approve this Order although, like the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton), I should like to see the date changed, which is a very natural desire on all our parts. I was very astonished at some of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cirencester (Mr. W. S. Morrison) and 1334 other hon. Members who have spoken from that side of the House suggesting that the Chancellor should make the current market value the assessment for these compensations. At this date, what valuer of any experience is to decide what is the current market value? In my view, one of the most important things that this Order can do is to stabilise the present position to some extent. The runaway prices which we have had for property during the past two years are due entirely to the great necessity of the nation and the real need for houses, that has forced people to buy houses and property at absurdly inflated prices, far and away beyond 1939 levels plus either 30 per cent. or 60 per cent. Sometimes the difference has been 100 per cent. and sometimes as much as 150 per cent. Does any hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House consider that that is fair or right?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
May I put this position to the hon. Lady? Someone whose house is taken for purposes of a public scheme has to live somewhere else; is it fair that that person should not be able to get similar accommodation on payment of the compensation money for his or her existing house?
§ Mrs. Manning
But does not the hon. Gentleman agree that if we can have a stabilising influence like this 60 per cent. supplement, prices will eventually tend to evolve about a new stabilised position as the result of this Order? The real reason I rose to welcome this Order was because I see that it is going to ease enormously the passage of the New Towns Bill in which the noble Lord and I and other people in this House are so interested. The. difficulties which have arisen at Stevenage and other places have been mainly due to the fact that the 1939 prices plus 30 per cent. compensation offered to owner-occupiers have created a great deal of bitterness and difficulty. I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), who is waiting to speak and who is so interested in Stevenage, will agree with me when I say that the 60 per cent. supplement is going to ease the position in all the new towns. Whenever I have spoken of the 30 per cent. supplement in connection with the question of new towns, it has been regarded as totally unsatisfactory, but when I have mentioned 60 per cent. views have 1335 changed entirely. Everyone thinks that reasonably generous and, above all, that it will tend to stabilise prices. I welcome the Chancellor's Order but I hope that wherever he may disport himself during his holiday, and however happily he may return, he will not be in such a mood of extreme benevolence as is suggested by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, which would have a very grave effect upon the taxpayers of this country.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
One would be either more or less than human if one did not wish to agree with the hon. Lady my political neighbour, the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning). So first may I say that there is one point in which I do find myself able to express unqualified agreement with what she has said? That is that the 30 per cent, supplement which has been offered for owner-occupancy is totally inadequate in present-day conditions and, like her, I welcome anything which improves that position. But there my agreement with her must stop, because I do not think that this doubling of the supplement is either a correct or a courageous approach to this problem. The hon. Lady queried the proposition put forward by my right hon. Friend as to the return to a market value of assessment as prescribed by the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act 1919. The hon. Lady asked how we were to assess market value if we returned to that principle. The answer is very simple. The hon. Lady should look at the Act, and I think at Section 6, which prescribes the test of a willing buyer and a willing seller.
§ Mrs. Manning
There are no willing buyers in these days. All buyers are unwilling. They are forced to buy, and they buy with the deepest resentment and reluctance.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I have no doubt that what the hon. Lady means is that there are willing buyers, but not at the present inflated prices. Of course, that is so. What is the position to which the hon. Lady's argument takes us? A person who sells his house by way of ordinary private conveyance is enabled to get the enhanced price, based on present market values, for he is a willing seller. 1336 The person whose house is taken over on a Compulsory Purchase Order, under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, is not a willing seller and is put in a much worse position than the ordinary individual. I do not think the hon. Lady can agree that that is a just proposition. If she does, I do not think that Epping will agree with her on that point.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer walked, like Agag, very delicately in this matter. When you walk delicately you can take only very short, halting steps forward. This is a short and halting step; indeed, it may be a retrograde step. It alleviates the immediate hardships to some extent, but it may, by so doing, postpone the radical approach to the problem which is required. I can quite understand that there was some object during the war in anchoring compensation to the 1939 value, because nobody could foresee at the time of the passage of the Act how long the war would last. There was also the special consideration of trying to adjust the values of one part of the country with the values in another. The values in the war-hit areas were unduly depressed while values in the comparatively safe areas were unduly inflated. It was necessary to create an artificial index in order to try to anchor those values to a common standard. That situation has now gone, and values in one part of the country are not inflated as against values in another part of the country. Values are universally inflated. By the proposed Order we are limping haltingly in pursuit of those inflated values. My recollection is that the right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that building costs are higher today than were contemplated in 1944. They are certainly very high. I would like to remind the House of one or two yardsticks by which we can measure those differences.
Let us look at the limit of financial advance under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act. That limit has gone from £800 to £1,500, which assumes practically a double rise in values. Let us compare the prices of a local authority council house. Under the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1938, they were £400. The price today is just about £1,200. Those values have trebled. We therefore have the position that all that the Order proposes to do is to give a 1337 supplement of 60 per cent. upon the 1939 values. Quite clearly the rise in prices is somewhere at least between double and three times. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has pointed out, there is a necessity on the part of the people who have been displaced to reaccommodate themselves and if they are to do that—
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Is the hon. Gentleman in Order in dealing with this involved problem on this Order?
§ Mr. Speaker
We are dealing with the price of land under the Town and Country Planning Act and an Order which increases the differentiation in price from 30 per cent. to 60 per cent. under that Act. The hon. Member is in Order.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I am obliged for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I do not think the matter is particularly involved. Many hon. Members have assumed that it is involved, but I believe that these matters are fundamentally simple. We have a rise in housing costs and prices, and it is not at all met by the rise given under this Order. The question the House must ask itself is this—When does the 1939 standard of values become totally inapplicable? First of all we raise the compensation by 30 per cent. and then by 60 per cent. This is the situation. In theory we are anchored to the 1939 price. We take first one jerk at the anchor and then another jerk. One more jerk and, quite obviously, the anchor will be up and the barque will be on the sea of inflation. The point is quite simple—.When are we going to recognise that that anchorage is unsound and that the anchor is up? When are we going— I will not say, to face the future, because some hon. Gentlemen opposite find that too difficult and complicated an exercise— to face the facts in this matter? When we face the facts in this matter we shall return to the proposition put forward by my right hon. Friend and depart from the 1939 anchorage which we now find is unreal and cannot be held, and return to a market value, which is the only just way of compensating the householder whose property is compulsorily acquired if he is to reaccommodate himself elsewhere.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Pargiter (Spelthorne)
It is time we understood where we are and where hon. Members opposite want to go. They have not always shown a very great tenderness for the owner-occupier. In the period of development in the greater London area when owners of land were increasing their prices and increasing the cost to the owner-occupier, there was no tenderness on the part of the Tories for the buyer who was going to be the owner-occupier. The landowner was doing very nicely out of the increased value which he had done nothing to provide. They are extremely keen to get back to that free market when the value of land will be on the up and up, and the tenderness they have always shown to the landowners will reap its just reward to them but its unjust reward to us. If we had some system of taxation or rating of land values, some of us might be more happy to get those increased values and tie some of the hon. Members opposite to those' values and reap the advantages which would accrue to public enterprise, and it is time we made it perfectly clear. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) made his position perfectly clear. He wants a free market in land. He is not concerned about the owner-occupier who wants to place himself in another house—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am sorry if I failed to make myself clear. My main concern was for the owner-occupier who desired to reinstal himself in a similar house. It was for that reason that I suggested to the House that he should be compensated at a rate which would enable him to do so.
§ Mr. Pargiter
Exactly what the hon. Gentleman referred to was the person who gets nothing and thought it quite inequitable that one person, not an owner-occupier, was tied to 1939 values. I think the hon. Gentleman said that specifically. If there has been a failure in policy it was not to have prevented the speculation that is going on in owner-occupied properties. I think it is a great pity that that has been allowed to go on at all, and it is at least desirable to have some sort of anchor. We have price control working in this country today throughout all necessities. Is there any logical reason, therefore, why it should not apply to land equally with other commodities? 1339 If the law of supply and demand works so inequitably as far as the average member of the community is concerned, it is obviously the duty of the Government to do something to prevent him from being exploited. That has been done by the Government with regard to general commodities to prevent him being exploited to too great an extent.
With regard to this question of land, I hope the Order will be passed as it is, but I would have preferred to have had something which would completely anchor land prices to 1939 because of what this really means from the point of view of the redevelopment of many of our areas at the present time. The price of 1939 plus 60 per cent. is already far too great a burden in many of our areas for the local authorities to contemplate in their re-planning and redevelopment. That may not be a reason for not adopting the 60 per cent. but there is certainly a very good reason why that burden should not be increased so far as the public values are concerned.
§ 10.17 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General (Major Sir Frank Soskice)
The discussion this evening has travelled over a wide range. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have addressed themselves to the question of whether the values should be based on 1939 prices or on current prices. They have asked a number of other questions, such as whether the amount for which this Order provides is adequate, and so on, and in asking those questions they have taken into account general considerations relating to compensation for the acquisition of land compulsorily. Now my right hon. Friend in proposing this Order for the approval of the House pointed out and I desire to point out again that the Order is of necessity limited in scope. We are exercising a very limited power given to us by Section 60 of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1944.
I can express no opinion on the general matters that have been raised, but my right hon. Friend made it clear that they were matters which he would consider carefully, and that they would come up for discussion next Session. What we are discussing this evening is simply whether or not the House should approve this Order made under the very limited terms of Section 60 of the Town and Country Plan- 1340 ning Act of 1944. What did that Section enable one to do? Sections 57 and 58 of the Act provide that where interest in land is acquired, the compensation shall be based on 1939 prices, and Section 58 goes on to provide that where you have an owner-occupier and the interest in land acquired consists of a house of which he is in occupation, then you can add 30 per cent. on to the amount of compensation then, and only in that case. When we look at Section 60 we find that where circumstances have supervened since the date of the passing of that Act, namely since November, 1944, which seem to justify an increase of that 30 per cent., then such increase can be made as seems proper. In other words, for the purpose of this particular Order we have to start with the assumption that the 30 per cent. was the correct increase in November, 1944; we have to start with the assumption that the system of assessment of compensation provided for by the 1944 Act is correct and appropriate, and that in November, 1944, proper compensation should have been based on 1939 prices plus the 30 per. cent. increase. All one can ask oneself is, has there been since that date, anything which would justify an increase?
What my right hon. Friend said in proposing the Motion was that, since November, 1944, there has been an increase in prices. It was still hoped that prices would in due course fall, but the increase in prices seemed to justify some limited advance on the figure fixed by Parliament for 1944. There has been an increase in prices; therefore, what we are given power to do, and all we are given power to do, under the terms of Section 60 of the Act, is to bear in mind that new circumstance which has supervened since November, 1944, and ask, Should the 30 per cent. be increased? We must ask, Has anything new happened to justify an increase? The extra 30 per cent., raising the limit to 60 per cent., has been fixed by the Government as representing, approximately and fairly, the increase commensurate with the increase in building prices, materials, labour and prices for the sale of property. That is all we have done, and all we can do. For that reason, I submit, arguments as to the Tightness or wrongness of the principles on which the 1944 Act is based, have no bearing on the question of whether or not this Order should be approved.
Mr. Gammons (Hornsey)
May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman a question? I rather gather from what he has just said, that the Government realise that this Order is only part of a much wider matter. I understood him to say that the Government propose to deal with it in the near future. Did I hear him aright; and will he give any indication of when the Government propose to face the anomalies, not only in this Act but in the War Damage Act?
§ The Solicitor-General
I do not know whether the hon. Member was in the House when my right hon. Friend intimated his views about the matter. He said that there was a much wider question, but this Order was limited in scope. He said he would give consideration to the wider question, but made it perfectly clear that the wider question was not, in his view, within the scope of this Order. This limited Order is a completely different thing. That is what I was pointing out, when I said that we had a limited power given by Section 60 of the Act. That was to look at what had happened since November, 1944, and ask ourselves. Should we increase the 30 per cent.? That is what we are doing. The hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton) was anxious with regard to the date from which the Order would operate. There, again, our hands are tied. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) has always, in discussions in this House, shown great anxiety, and very proper anxiety, with regard to retrospective Orders. In this case, the Government were advised that the terms of Section 60 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, would not enable the Government to make an Order retrospective in this respect. The Order is dated 22nd July, 1946, and so, willy nilly, the Government have only power under the provisions of Section 60 to make it operative from that moment. That is why it would not operate, in the case of notice to treat, given before 22nd July, 1946.
§ The Solicitor-General
That may or may not be so, but we are bound by the terms of the Act and if we sought to do something other than what we are doing, it would be ultra vires. Our hands are 1342 tied; it is a question of the plain terms of the Act.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
While agreeing; with what the hon. and learned Gentle-man has said, may I point out that that does not preclude the Government, if they see fit, from untying their hands by introducing legislation?
§ The Solicitor-General
Legislation is one thing, but the exercise of this limited power under Section 60 is completely different. It is the exercise of that power which we are at present discussing; it is only that power with which we are concerned at the moment.
The hon. Lady was also concerned with what she regarded as the injustice of the differentiation of treatment between a blitzed house and a non-blitzed house, and she said it was unreasonable that an undamaged house could qualify for the 60 per cent. increase, whereas a blitzed house could not qualify in the case of a value payment. All I can say is that there is, in point of fact, power also to increase values in respect of blitzed houses under Section 11 of the War Damage Act, 1943. But we are not, of course, discussing that. We are discussing houses which do not fall within the purview of that Section. That is the answer to the point which she made. Hon. Gentlemen opposite said that the proper principle was to give to a person whose house was acquired at least as much as would enable him to find accommodation elsewhere, and pay the price neccessary to buy a house. There, again, that is something which, whether it would be right or wrong, we have no power to do under this Section. We have to start with the assumption that the scale of compensation fixed in November, 1944, was the correct scale. We can only look and see what has happened since then, and we can only increase that scale in proportion to anything that has supervened since then. Therefore, if all that has intervened since then is the increase since November, 1944, in building costs and the costs of property and so on, we can only increase the scale commensurate with that increase in costs. That is what we have done. That is all we can do under this Section, and it is all that we are purporting to do. Therefore, I ask the House to say that, whatever the rights or wrongs of the general position are, whether or not further steps should be 1343 taken—as to which I say nothing whatever—it would be right that the House should approve this limited Order, giving, as it does, a measure of justice, which at any rate goes some way to meet the case, and which, for that reason, should commend itself to the House.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Devonport)
I apologise for detaining the House at this late hour on this subject, but it is a matter which affects a great number of poor people who, I believe, are suffering from a real grievance and injustice, and I think it right we should debate the matter fully. It is right also because we have really had no opportunity of debating this subject on previous occasions. I would like, as briefly as I can, to make some comments on the Solicitor-General's answer to the case which has been presented. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it was an exceedingly difficult and complicated matter. We all agree with that, but if it is exceedingly difficult and complicated for us, it is also exceedingly difficult and complicated for the victims of the blitz, who have to fill in the forms, and who do not know whether they are to get their payment, and who do not know what their situation is. It would have been wiser if the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have dealt with this whole matter together—
§ Mr. Speaker
We cannot discuss the whole matter. We must discuss this Order, and nothing else. The question is whether the percentage should be 30 or 60. That is really the whole point, and the Solicitor-General has put it clearly.
§ Mr. Foot
I would like, with respect, to put this point. The hon. and learned Gentlemen's answer was that we must concentrate on the limited scope of this Order. This matter was originally raised, in an answer given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, owing to representations made from this House—representations to which the Chancellor referred in his speech.
§ Mr. Speaker
It does not matter whether the Chancellor referred to it or not. All we are concerned with is this Order, which is very limited. I was not here at the time, otherwise, I should have restricted the Debate more tightly on this matter.
§ Mr. Foot
We are in the unfortunate position that we are not able to discuss some of the things which the Chancellor said. I therefore, turn to the next point, raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Sutton (Mrs. Middleton) The hon. Lady put a specific question to the Government, and we have had no reply to it. I think it is only right that we should have the most definite assurance from the Government that this extra 30 per cent. shall be paid by the Exchequer and not by the local authorities. We have heard many congratulations to the Chancellor this evening on his benevolence and generosity, but it is at the moment, under a strict reading of this Order, benevolence and generosity at somebody else's expense, and at the expense of the local authorities. I hope we shall have a specific statement from the Government that the local authorities will not have to bear the burden of this extra cost. This is relevant, I think, to the remarks made from the front Opposition bench.
The whole argument in 1944 was between those who were concerned with the interests of the local authorities, and those who were concerned with the victims who were going to lose their property. It was a very serious argument, which raised most important issues, and, unhappily, the Act of 1944 was not an Act which dealt with the problem properly. There was an attempt then to define an owner-occupier, but, unhappily, the definition was made so that it did not concentrate on the householder who suffered the real grievance. It went much wider, and, in my view, it would have been very much wiser, and more just to those people who are really suffering a serious and long-standing grievance, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had attempted to deal with the whole problem which affects this type of victim, instead of dealing with one small issue now and the rest later on. I hope we may depend on the statement made by the Chancellor—which was a most important statement—that he would consider the whole question in October; I hope that we may therefore assume that there will be for owner-occupiers, under the War Damage Act, the 60 per cent. payment, or value payment, just as there is this 60 per cent. payment under the Town and Country Planning Act. I ask for that further assurance from the Chancellor.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the Acquisition of Land (Increase of Supplement) Order, 1946 (S.R. & O., 1946, No. 1163), dated 22nd July, 1946, made by the Treasury under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, a copy of which Order was presented on 22nd July, be approved.