HC Deb 18 February 1948 vol 447 cc1211-5

Amendments made: In page 46, line 42, leave out "and a half."

In line 44, leave out "and a half."—[Mr. J. Edwards.]

5.45 p.m.

Mr. J. Edwards

I beg to move, in page 46, line 46, to leave out from "no," to "with," in line 1, page 47, and to insert: impediment (whether of a legal nature or not) to the use of the site for the construction thereon of a dwelling house of the same general character and dimensions as the existing dwelling house and. This Amendment gives effect to an undertaking given in Committee. An Amendment was moved and it was argued that the matter was not sufficiently clear. The present Amendment makes it clear that the site is available for the construction of a dwelling house of the same, general character and dimensions as the existing dwelling house.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The Amendment certainly clarifies the position. The Minister will agree that this is a complex and difficult matter. The hypothetical house with its hypothetical site will present problems almost as difficult as the hypothetical tenant. We are now narrowing the field of the hypothesis, and the hypothesis means that the house which is being erected thereon is to be the same, or as nearly as can be conceived the same, as the ideal hypothetical structure the Minister has in mind. I cannot feel that the Minister will extricate himself from all the difficulties of the English system by means of these very complicated provisions. I wonder, when we come to the question of the Clause stand- ing part, whether the Minister will be able to clarify the position, because these matters are so very complex. I am sure that if he took the opportunity to give a short survey, it would be very valuable, not merely to Members, but to those outside who look to these debates for the purpose of acquainting themselves with the context of the statutes which they frequently have to interpret. We certainly have no objection to the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 47, line 5, leave out from "provision," to "will," in line 6, and insert: "for that use of the site."—[Mr. J. Edwards.]

Mr. Bevan

I beg to move, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

I do not know whether the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) has any special point he wishes to raise on this Clause. He will remember that it was discussed in some detail in Committee and the reports of the Committee are available. We have to consider, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will remember, not only the local authoritry houses, but the post-1918 houses which lie outside the local authority area. We want to value these houses in accordance with what it would have cost the local authorities to build these houses in 1937–38. It will be recollected that we had to consider the fact that towards the end of 1938, housing costs were already rising. The shadow of the war had already begun to be thrown on the building industry, and housing costs had begun to respond.

We have to consider these houses in relation to prewar costs. There is the difference, which has been brought out before, that in the case of houses lying outside the local authority sector, small dwelling houses, the contemporary site cost is taken into account, whereas in the case of other local authority houses its actual site cost is taken into account. It was explained in Standing Committee that we had the actual site cost of local authority houses. It would be difficulty to ascertain the site cost of the other houses, and no hardship is involved by taking into consideration the contemporary site cost as distinct from the old site cost.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

We are not so happy as the Minister seems to be in thinking that there is no hardship involved in this question of site costs. In the case of local authority sites there is a ceiling which is not present in the case of the private dwellinghouse site. We wondered whether it would not be possible to introduce some election a principle of choice, in the case of the person whose house is being valued under this Clause. We feel that all sorts of rather sharp steps may be created. This matter will be subject to further debate but, speaking from personal experience, I know there is nothing more painful in a Minister's life than to find that a statute which he has passed in all good faith is beginning to bite like an adder.

A number of hard cases are arising, for which we can find no relief within the four corners of the statutes. We hoped that some of our Amendments on this topic would be selected in Standing Committee, but they were not, and, of course, we make no complaint. I do ask the Minister, however, and the Committee in general, to consider whether we have fully disposed of this ticklish and troublesome question within the four corners of this Clause and succeeding Clauses. On Clause 78, which relates to comparable houses, there is a Government Amendment. There is a far-reaching hypothesis in that Clause. If the Minister could succeed in obtaining within the four corners of his Clause a little elbow room, a little more give, I think it would be to his advantage.

As our Amendments were not in Order we can only raise these matters in more general terms, but perhaps between now and the time when this Bill reaches another place we might have some conversations about these marginal cases. On one or two occasions in Standing Committee the right hon. Gentleman suggested that we might be able to have conversations about some of these difficult points, but owing to the pressure under which we all live nowadays that has not been possible. I trust that if the matter is discussed in another place it will be possible for the Government not to stand too much on points of privilege. What we want here is a just and easily working system which will not bring sudden and severe changes to people who are not expecting to find themselves affected in that way.

Mr. Bevan

I do not wish to appear to be discourteous, but our Amendment to this Clause does, in the opinion of those who have had time to examine it carefully, and of the Parliamentary draftsmen, provide considerable additional elbow room and protection for people who might otherwise have been treated more harshly. I hope that the words of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will not provoke another place into putting down Amendments on the assumption that we have already, as it were, paved the way for their reception. We think we have gone a considerable way already; we have reached a considerable degree of amity and have made a number of Amendments to meet wishes expressed on both sides of the Committee.

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

The Minister has touched on a subject which, in my opinion, is of great importance. He is dealing here with the small post-1918 dwelling houses, and examples have been put to me where great hardship may be caused in these marginal cases. I would, therefore, like the right hon. Gentleman to consider putting this matter even more right than it is now. Take the case of a house with a rateable value of £74, which might well have been let in 1938 at about £100 a year, and which would probably have cost about £3,000. If that house is to be valued under the provisions of this Clause it means that the valuation will be £150, and not £100.

Mr. Bevan

I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not assume that these illustrations are irrefragable. I have found that some of the illustrations given to me are based on a misapprehension of the Bill. If I thought that any great disparities would arise I should be alarmed myself.

Commander Galbraith

I have been given a number of examples from the South of England, the North, and also from Wales, and in certain aspects they are very alarming. Take, for instance, the small post-1918 dwelling house which had a rateable value of £44 in the current list. That house cost £2,200, so that it is now to be rated at £110.

Mr. Bevan


Commander Galbraith

Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not contradicting me on that point. It is 5 per cent. on the hypothetical cost in 1938, plus 5 per cent. on the site value for the time being, which works out, in this case, at a gross value of £110 as against a gross value of £55 in the current list. If we compare that with exactly similar houses coming under Clause 78, we find that a house which at present appears at £75 has a gross value, under the Bill, of £95. In the case of the one coming under Clause 76 and the other coming under Clause 78, there is a difference, between the gross value, of £110 as against £95. These are only two examples. I have here a number of them. I think that in dealing with these marginal cases the Minister should look into the matter again. If he had accepted the Amendments which we had down but which have not been called, he would have found a means of getting out of the whole of this difficulty.

Question put, and agreed to.

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