HC Deb 18 November 1949 vol 469 cc2409-14
Colonel Dower

I beg to move, in page 8, line 5, to leave out from "that," to the end of line 6, and to insert: it is not the intention of those owners to carry out such works. This is a rather technical Amendment and relates to the question of cost of works and value payments. Under the Bill as it stands the War Damage Commission are to be given power, where it appears to them that the licence and other requirements would be granted for the rebuilding of the area, but that, after consultation with the owners, the work will not be carried out within reasonable time, to convert the cost of works payment into a value payment.

That might on the face of it seem quite reasonable, but I would like to take the Committee back to the War Damage Act, where it will be found that whenever a cost of works payment is converted into a value payment it is done after agreement with, and at the wish of, the sufferer from war damage. But under the Bill, as I read it, and without the Amendment, the War Damage Commission will be able to enforce a conversion for a cost of works payment to a value payment.

It does not require me to remind the Committee that in a conversion of a cost of works payment to a value payment a very considerable loss may be entailed. A cost of works payment means that one is entitled to reinstate property into its condition before it was damaged by enemy action. A value payment, on the other hand, has been fixed at a 1939 value with certain additions, a procedure which the House has approved during the present Parliament.

The first thing I do not like about the provisions in the Bill is that the value payment can be enforced. My second point—the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have both stressed the undesirability of holding up work, but our proposal cities not do that in any way—is purely a question of whether the payment is to be a cost of works or a value payment. It is rather unreasonable that all that the War Damage Commission should have to do is to have a consultation with the owners and come to the conclusion that the work will not be carried out within a reasonable time.

Under the Amendment, the Commission would have to come to the conclusion that it was not the intention of the owners to repair the property; otherwise, where an owner says that he does not intend to repair the property, he gets a value payment. The cost of works basis has been put upon bomb-damaged property on the ground that its owner might one day hope to be able to repair it. Acceptance of the Amendment will ensure that the War Damage Commission must make certain that it is the intention of the owner not to wish to repair his property, and not merely to come to the conclusion that the work will not be able to be done within a reasonable time.

This proposal does not impede or delay the workings of the Bill in any way and does no harm whatever to any of its provisions. We have argued reasonably, and sometimes a little heat has been engendered, but that does no harm. After all, we are opposing forces and the public like us to fight, as long as we fight above the belt. But the Parliamentary Secretary, as far as I know, has not given way on a single Amendment.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Heston and Isleworth)

That shows how tough he is.

Colonel Dower

He may be tough, but he is not reasonable.

Mr. Sparks

He has been reasonable.

Colonel Dower

If he has been told by the Minister, who really is having a very big lunch—he has been away a very long time—to oppose and not to accept any of the Amendments, I hope that he will send one of his friends to ask the Minister whether on this occasion he can show some kind of amenability.

Mr. Blenkinsop

In spite of the very encouraging words of the hon. and gallant Member for Penrith and Cocker-mouth (Colonel Dower) I fear that we cannot accept the Amendment, for to do so would be asking the War Damage Commission to carry out a job which I do not think they could be asked to undertake. For example, the Commission would have to be satisfied that the persons interested would never reinstate their property to its former condition. It seems to me quite impossible for them to arrive at that conclusion. Obviously, the circumstances of the people concerned might change in course of time. To make the Clause at all workable the Commission must be allowed to look at the present circumstances and to judge what those concerned intend to do within a period that can reasonably be foreseen. It is for that reason—a reason I hope which will appeal to hon. Members opposite—that we cannot agree to the Amendment. I am sure they would be the first to accept that we cannot ask the War Damage Commission to attempt to act in a way which would be impossible. We cannot ask them to judge when it is quite impossible for them to judge. I hope the hon. and gallant Member will not press the Amendment.

2.30 p.m.

Sir J. Mellor

I confess I cannot understand the reasons for the Parliamentary Secretary resisting this Amendment. He says it would not be possible for the War Damage Commission to ascertain what is asked for—that it is the intention of the owners to carry out the work. I should think it very much easier for the War Damage Commission to ascertain whether it is the intention of the owners to carry out the work than to form an opinion whether the works will be carried out within a reasonable time. The question of the intention of the owners is a question of fact.

I hope the hon. Gentleman has obtained some assistance from the Attorney-General on this point. What is the intention of the owners is an ascertainable fact which can be clearly expressed. Whether the works will, or will not, be carried out within a reasonable time is a much more uncertain matter. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will have another try to explain why this Amendment should not be accepted. So far his arguments seem very much to strengthen the case put by my hon. and gallant Friend.

Mr. Walker-Smith

As far as the manner of his reply was concerned, the Parliamentary Secretary was much more disarming than his right hon. Friend and to that extent he has proved himself a much more effective debater, at least in the limited circumstances with which we are dealing today.

This Amendment deals with a simple, but important, point. It is not clear at first flush why the Clause is in the Bill at all and why this special provision for converted value payments in these circumstances falls to be dealt with under the War Damaged Sites Bill at all. Since it is being dealt with it is right that the Committee should see that the Bill provides a reasonable solution to the case with which it deals. Under the Clause as drafted the owners, willynilly, after consultation, though not necessarily after expressing agreement, have to accept converted value payment if the works will not be carried out within a reasonable time.

What was clear on the Second Reading Debate perhaps to all other than to the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), although I think he is clear about it now, was that in many cases the time within which such works could be carried out was not within the option of the owners of the property and that there might be all sorts of considerations whereby they would be prevented from giving effect to their intentions. All the Amendment seeks to do is to make the criterion of whether or not the owners shall be forced to accept a converted value payment instead of a cost of works examination the question of their intention. That seems reasonable. Here we are only dealing with questions of war damage compensation and none of the considerations introduced in arguments on previous Amendments is germane to this matter.

So far from being less easy to ascertain than the requirement in the Bill, this is more easy to ascertain. What the Amendment seeks to do is, first, to provide a right and, secondly, to make the provision whereby it seeks to do it more practicable and easier than that at present in the Bill. In those circumstances, it would seem that if, as I hope, the Parliamentary Secretary has been given a discretion in this matter, it is because there is some reason to hope that he would exercise his discretion rather more objectively than his right hon. Friend. I reinforce the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) that he should think again on this question.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill

Colonel Dower

I think the reply of the Parliamentary Secretary is unfair. The Amendment does not affect the working of the Bill but, without it, many small owners will be forced to accept value payments instead of cost-of-works payments and I do not propose to withdraw the Amendment.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 109; Noes, 36.

Division No. 288.] AYES [2.38 p.m.
Albu, A. H. Haire, John E. (Wycombe) Ranger, J.
Austin, H. Lewis Hastings, Dr. Somerville Rees-Williams, D. R.
Ayles, W. H. Herbison, Miss M. Ridealgh, Mrs. M.
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B. Holman, P. Robens, A.
Barton, C. Houghton, Douglas Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)
Berry, H. Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Beswick, F. Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.) Royle, C.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Scott-Elliot, W.
Binns, J. Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.) Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (St. Helens)
Blenkinsop, A. Janner, B. Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.
Bowden, H. W. Jenkins, R. H. Skinnard, F. W.
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Jones, Rt. Hon A. C. (Shipley) Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)
Bramall, E. A. Leslie, J. R. Solley, L. J.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Longden, F. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T. McAdam, W. Sparks, J. A.
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) McEntee, V. La. T. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith
Chater, D. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Symonds, A. L.
Coldrick, W. Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield) Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Cove, W. G Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping) Turner-Samuels, M.
Daines, P. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Vernon, Maj. W. F.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Mellish, R. J. Viant, S. P.
Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.) Middleton, Mrs. L. Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
de Freitas, Geoffrey Mitchison, G. R. Warbey, W. N.
Delargy, H. J. Morgan, Dr. H. B. Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Dodds, N. N. Morley, R. Weitzman, D.
Driberg, T. E. N. Morris, P. (Swansea, W.) Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Dumpleton, C. W. Moyle, A. Wilkins, W. A.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Nally, W. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Edelman, M. Naylor, T. E. Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel) Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford) Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Evans, Albert (Islington, W.) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby) Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Field, Capt. W. J. Oliver, G. H. Yates, V. F.
Freeman, Peter (Newport) Orbach, M. Zilliacus, K.
Ganley, Mrs. C. S. Pargiter, G. A.
Gibson, C. W. Parker, J. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Guest, Dr. L. Haden Parkin, B. T. Mr. Richard Adams and
Gunter, R. J. Pearson, A. Mr. George Wallace.
Guy, W. H. Pursey, Comdr. H.
Amory, D. Heathcoat Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge) Ponsonby, Col. C. E.
Baldwin, A. E. Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V. Renton, D.
Bower, N. Hogg, Hon. Q. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G. MacAndrew, Col Sir C. Strauss, Henry (English Universities)
Carson, E. Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight) Teeling, William
Crowder, Capt. John E. Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley) Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith) Maitland, Comdr. J. W. Wakefield, Sir W. W
Fox, Sir G. Manningham-Buller, R. E. Walker-Smith, D.
Gage, C. Mellor, Sir J. Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok) Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead) Mott-Radclyffe, C. E. Mr. Studholme and
Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley) Noble, Comdr. A. H. P. Colonel Wheatley.