HC Deb 03 February 1947 vol 432 cc1533-42

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Snow.]

11.2 p.m.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)

The fact that "I am again on my feet so soon after making my previous speech is a sheer coincidence. I realise it is most inartistic and is what is sometimes called" bad theatre, "and I offer my humble apologies to the House.

The matter I wish to raise is the inadequate war damage compensation in the Channel Islands. I will deal very shortly with the general principle involved, and cite one case, leaving time for my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horn-castle (Commander Maitland). Two Parliamentary answers on 5th and 12th December respectively indicate that the Home Secretary is insufficiently aware of the suffering caused to His Majesty's subjects whose property in the Islands has been lost either through Allied or enemy military action. At any rate, if the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the hardship, I submit that the recompense which he proposes does not show it. As the House knows, the United Kingdom war damage scheme provides for full compensation at current prices where a cost of works payment is made. The question of value payments, I believe, is still under consideration, but it seems unlikely that the Government will be able to hold them to 1939 prices. Therefore, those who have been resident in the United Kingdom are virtually assured of full and fair compensation. But that is not the case with British subjects whose property is in the Channel Islands. There the amount of compensation is determined by the terms of a grant made by the Treasury and announced by the Home Secretary to the House in March of last year. Under this grant, according to the right hon. Gentleman, plans for rehabilitation have to be made on what he is pleased to call an austerity basis—a word much in use in these days—and, in consequence, persons who have not, for whatever cause, returned to the Islands have been excluded from the scheme. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State, who is to reply, will tell us whether austerity applies to those who are now resident in the Channel Islands and whether they have been or will be rehabilitated in whole or in part.

I would like to give the House the essentials of the case of a non-resident, which has been brought to my notice. A British-born subject, now living in Ilford, went to Guernsey before the war on the death of his father. He was evacuated in June, 1940, and lost all his belongings. It has since been confirmed by the Island authorities that all his property was destroyed by enemy and Allied bombing. The man has taken up his case with the Rehabilitation Committee at St. Peter Port, Guernsey, and has been told that as he is no longer a resident in the island he has no claim for compensation. He has, I understand, written to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary and has been told that the United Kingdom war damage schemes do not extend to the Channel Islands, and that therefore his claim cannot be allowed.

Now, in my submission the Channel Islands are an integral part of the United Kingdom, and the same treatment ought to be accorded to His Majesty's subjects there as here. The Islands very well may, and I believe do, have their own fiscal systems. But I do not think that that ought to be cited, as it was cited in a Parliamentary answer, as an excuse to override the principle that just compensation for war damage is payable to all alike. I therefore ask for reconsideration of the austerity terms of the present loans, or, failing that, the Channel Islands property owners now resident in the United Kingdom should be called upon to pay their war damage contributions retrospectively to 1939, and should be granted full compensation for loss of their property.

11.7 p.m.

Commander Maitland (Horncastle)

Through the courtesy of my noble Friend and the Home Secretary I have been enabled to raise this question at this time. Whilst my noble Friend has dealt with the matter in general, I should like to deal with one particular case. The story I have to tell begins on the eve of war, when the Rev. Edgar Calvert, a Methodist minister, at present a constituent of mine. took up appointment in Alderney. The House will be aware that in the Methodist Church ministers are sent to places where they stay for an appointed time, and then move on somewhere else. I say this because I want to stress the point that it was for no ulterior motive that Mr. Calvert went to the Channel Islands before the war; there was no question in his case of wanting to avoid taxation or anything of that nature. He went there in the simple performance of his duty. He went there with his wife and his two grown-up daughters; and, because he had been a careful man, getting on towards the end of a longish life, he had-accumulated considerable goods, a large library, and some very nice furniture, and these he took with him. Little did he think when he set out on that journey that he was going to lose everything he had, with no redress.

When war surged up through the Channel Islands, there was very little time to think of what was to be done; everything had to be done in a hurry, and the Government had to take decisions quickly. I want also to stress this point, because it was the Government of this country which took the necessary decisions to evacuate the members of the Channel Islands. They did it in two ways. In the case of the two major islands, Jersey and Guernsey, they gave the inhabitants a choice whether they would be evacuated or not. But the case of Alderney, where my constituent was, was treated in a different way: everyone was taken willy hilly; the total population of the island was removed en bloc; they could not stay, even if they had desired to do so, and all the luggage they were allowed to take was a small suitcase. My constituent came back to this country and carried on the ordinary work of a minister during war time. He paid his English war damage contribution—he was, of course, an Englishman —and he carried on in the usual way until the end of the war.

When the end of the war came, he found that all his goods and chattels, his library of 3,000 books, and all the things he had spent his life in trying to get together—his home, in fact—had all vanished. There is the case of an Englishman who, through no fault of his own, finds himself in this position. Therefore, I am taking advantage of my privilege to bring this matter to the sympathetic consideration of the House. In this country justice is built up on justice to the individual and not on mass justice. It must always be that the spirit of Justice transcends the letter of the law. That is why I bring this special case with confidence to the Home Secretary, in the hope that he will find himself able to reconsider this matter and clear himself of any charge of meanness. Meanness is a thing that no Englishman will ever forgive; and I am perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary and the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary do not wish to be mean. This is a peculiar case; I know of possibly two others, but no more, who are in this special position. Therefore I ask the right hon. Gentleman with some confidence to deal with this matter as it deserves.

11.11 p.m.

Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)

I rise to reinforce the arguments of the two hon. Members opposite. I have a constituent—a lighthouse keeper—who was directed by Trinity House to the Channel Islands. He went there with his wife, and built a home which he values at £300. When the evacuation order came, he had to leave his house and come back to this country. Today he is in another lighthouse; his wife is living with her mother, and they are now starting to buy a second home on hire purchase. They have had a small grant, but Trinity House has been very, very slow in trying to alleviate the position of this lighthouse keeper, who has lost his all. I have put the facts to the Home Secretary, and a considerable time has been taken in trying to get this matter settled. I appeal to the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary most particularly for my constituent, who did not earn high wages as a lighthouse keeper when he bought his first house, who does not earn high wages today, and who has to start in middle age to set up a 'new home, having had a home which he valued at £300 destroyed by the enemy when they took the Channel Islands. In reinforcement of the plea made from the benches opposite I ask the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary to give these men something for what they have lost and they have suffered. I hope the Home Secretary or the Under-Secretary will give us some information that will, at least, ease the worry and anxiety which this man has undergone during the past five years.

11.14 p.m.

Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)

I, also, have a case exactly the same as those mentioned by my noble Friend the Member for Southern Dorset (Viscount Hinch-ingbrooke), by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) and by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton). I, too, have a constituent who lost everything in the Channel Islands through no fault of her own. She has tried to get redress, but has been referred from one Department to another without success. I have put the case myself to the Home Secretary, and have received no satisfaction of any sort or kind. I was referred back to the Channel Islands. It cannot be argued that we should not take responsibility for those who depend on us. The Channel Islanders depend on us, as we depended on them during the war, and it is up to us to see that their need is met.

11.16 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State far the Home Department (Mr. Oliver)

I should like to say that we have great sympathy with the individual cases which have been cited here tonight, but the difficulty of course is obvious I will first answer the question of the noble Lord about contributions under the British war damage scheme. I have not had an opportunity to refresh my memory, but I think it is right to say, in regard to war damage contributions for property situated outside the United Kingdom, that it would be impossible in the instances which have been cited, for these people to go back to 1939, in the hope that they might be brought within the terms of the statute. Therefore, as they do not come with the terms of the War Damage Act, we are in a difficulty in respect of the claims of these people.

For the purpose of giving the fullest information to the House, I have had a detailed note made, so that the exact position may be known. When the Channel Islands were liberated, and the first urgent steps had been taken of providing essential public services and food, and attending to trade, a detailed inquiry was made into the financial position of the Islands because of the extraordinary expense in which they became involved during the occupation. The Islands had to face expenditure of the order of £13½ million. Some £10¼ million was for the debt incurred through the German occupation on the many measures taken to safeguard the civil population. such as subsidies on foodstuffs, social' services, and so on, and to pay for the German garrison for which the Germans made a charge. In addition to the £10¼ million, the Islands estimated that the cost of claims to assist persons who had lost property through looting, and from other causes, during the occupation, would be £3½million. It should be remembered that the prewar budget of each island was in the region of £500,000 a year, and it was, therefore, clear that substantial assistance would be required to restore the financial position of the Islands. But it was thought proper that the over-burdened British taxpayer should not bear this debt, unless the islanders bore burdens more in keeping with those in the United Kingdom.

After examination of the resources of the Islands. it was agreed by His Majesty's Government that it would be equitable to pay £7½million from the Exchequer in order to liquidate some of the indebtedness. A scheme of rehabilitation must be framed on a realistic basis, and with the object of restoring the economic life of the islands so that they should pay their own way and not be further dependent on the United Kingdom. It was stipulated that the scheme should not be framed as one for compensation for loss sustained. To assist them in dealing with claims under the rehabilitation scheme, His Majesty's Government loaned to the Islands teams of experienced assessors, who had been advising the Board of Trade on war damage claims in the United Kingdom. These assessors received instructions, both from His Majesty's Government and from the Islands, as to the principles to be adopted in considering applications; and they made their recommendations to the Island authorities, who alone are responsible for decisions in individual cases. It was, however, a general understanding between His Majesty's Government and the Island authorities that they would not depart from the advice given by these expert assessors, save where there were very good local reasons for doing so. I understand that this practice has been adhered to. The sum of £7,500,000 was used by the Islands to defray their indebtedness in 1946, and the money required for the Property Rehabilitation Scheme has been raised by the Islands themselves by borrowing. In these circumstances, the Home Secretary is not in a position to represent to the Islands that the scheme does not go far enough, and that in particular cases they should pay a higher grant than they are doing, as any additional expenditure which would be incurred by increasing the payments, would be borne by the Island authorities, without the assistance of His Majesty's Government. I think the noble Lord referred to claims which had been made by residents. Here are a few of the figures. In Jersey, 3,625 claims, totalling £2,200,000, were received. The assessment by the individual assessors is £750,000. In Guernsey, 6,168 claims, totalling £3,000,000, were received, and the individual assessment is £880,000. It will be seen from these figures that the grants which are being made in the Islands are on a somewhat modest basis.

Commander Maitland

Will the hon. Gentleman give the figures for Alderney?

Mr. Oliver

I have not got the figures for Alderney—only those for Jersey and Guernsey.

Commander Maitland

Will the hon. Gentleman send them to me if he cannot give them now? I did give notice of this question.

Mr. Oliver

If there are figures, I will see that the hon. and gallant Member gets them. In view of the outstanding indebtedness of the Islands and the fact that their normal prewar revenue was in the region of £500,000 a year, it would have been impossible to suggest that compensation, as such, should be paid to persons who had lost property in the Islands. The expense would have been beyond the resources of the Islands; ft could only have been met by cutting down some essential expenditure, such as that on food subsidies, and on social services on which the Islands still have considerable leeway to make up. The alternative of giving it from the Exchequer is not one that we can contemplate. The losses incurred in the Islands, including a wide range of possessions from pleasure yachts, sporting guns, cameras, radio sets on the one hand, to essentials, such as houses and furniture, on the other. It was necessary to take some realistic basis, and to exclude all items not really essential. The case of Mr. McBean, in which the noble Lord was interested, was a comparatively straightforward case—the loss of household chattels to the value of £5,124. That is, of course, Mr. McBean's own assessment. As Mr. McBean has no intention of returning to Guernsey, no payment will be made. That procedure is in common with other cases of a similar nature. We cannot press the authorities in the Islands to depart from their normal course. As the noble Lord will appreciate, it would be a question of asking the Islands to depart from the system which they have established, unless, of course; a contribution were to be made from the Exchequer of this country.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Will the hon. Gentleman bring the situation to the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with a view to having something done in this matter? Further, in view of the fact that a war damage amending Bill, dealing with the value of payments, is now in course of consideration, would the hon. Gentleman raise this point with the Chancellor in the hope that a Clause might be inserted in the Bill to deal with it?

Mr. Oliver

I can assure the noble Lord that the Chancellor's attention has already been drawn to this matter. This is not a new issue. Many cases have been raised concerning it. As the point has been raised, I will see that the Chancellor is informed that it is the desire of the noble Lord that he should look into this matter once again.

Mr. Oliver

The case of the Rev. Mr. Calvert, which was referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horn-castle (Commander Maitland), is somewhat different. Mr. Calvert was in Alderney in 1940. The scheme in Alderney differs from those in Jersey and Guernsey. In Alderney, financial aid is not given. Instead, issues in kind, of essential furniture, are being made at the expense of His Majesty's Government. The Alderney authorities are not in a financial position to make grants from current funds, or to raise money for the purpose. There is no ground whatever, in the case of Mr. Calvert, for a departure from the general rule that issues can only be made to enable persons to carry on with a reasonable standard of accommodation and amenities—

Commander Maitland

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that Mr. Calvert is not able to return to Alderney to take advantage of that, even if he could get it?

Mr. Oliver

Unfortunately, that is the point. If Mr. Calvert could return to Alderney, he would receive some slight indemnity for his losses. We cannot place a charge on the Islands without their consent. I will see that the attention of the Chancellor is drawn to this matter, in the hope that provision may be made in the amending Bill.

Mr. Blyton

Does the hon. Gentleman not think that people who were directed to the Channel Islands are in an entirely different category from the others who have been mentioned?

Mr. Oliver

I am merely referring to the local scheme. There may be obligations upon Government Departments who sent their servants there to facilitate their public duties, but that is an issue apart from asking the Channel Islands authorities to make some contribution.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Eleven o'Clock.