HC Deb 11 May 1951 vol 487 cc2303-20
Mr. Speaker

Before we get on to the first subject I wish to warn hon. Members that it is somewhat difficult, because it might involve legislation. I have, of course, ruled before, that statements, even when they themselves do not involve legislation, but involve the Minister speaking about legislation, must be out of order, because it is not fair to rule a Minister out of order while the hon. Member remains in order himself. I thought I would give that word of warning, because it is a difficult subject.

11.10 a.m.

Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)

When I was asked to open this discussion I thought that a Ruling such as you, Mr. Speaker, have now given, might be possible. However, I think it is possible to discuss this matter without getting out of order. This subject was originally in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson). Unfortunately, he is ill and confined to bed, and is obviously unable to start this discussion. I am sure that we all regret his absence and wish him a speedy recovery to full health.

I should like to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to open the discussion on this subject. I hope that the points I wish to make will receive some sympathy from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning, who, I understand, is to reply. In one way or another this question has been raised in this House—either by Question and answer or under the Ten Minutes Rule procedure—in an attempt to secure justice for a number of householders who are affected by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. The problem relates to the assessment of compensation for the compulsory acquisition of owner-occupied dwelling houses under Section 52 of the Act. That Section provides that where a public authority acquires a person's property by compulsory purchase compensation shall not, for the present, include any payment for vacant possession.

Whatever may be the justice of applying that method of assessing compensation to property which is held for investment purposes, quite different considerations apply when it is adopted in the case of dwelling houses occupied by their owners. In that case, it produces a great injustice. In its simplest form, a public authority may turn a man out of his house and may pay him compensation which is deliberately and expressly assessed at a figure which will be insufficient to enable him to purchase another house with vacant possession.

The right of a public authority to acquire property is not new. It dates back to the Towns Improvement Clauses Act, 1845, and the Land Clauses Consolidation Act of the same year. But in those two Acts very great safeguards were given to owners and although some safeguards are allegedly in the present Act of 1947, they are, by the way in which the Act is operated by the Minister, virtually non-existent. It is the manner in which the Minister is operating those safeguards under the present Act which is the main burden of our complaint today.

As is well known to the House, a local authority, in acquiring property, may apply for a compulsory purchase order, and there has to be a public inquiry at which the Minister is represented in addition to the owners of the property. Then, in due course, the Minister either confirms or rejects the application. It is interesting to note that in recent months nearly all applications that have been made for compulsory purchase have been approved by the Minister. Therefore, in my submission, the stage has been reached where a public inquiry really matters little, and the approval by the Minister is now regarded as something automatic within the Department. To that extent the owner of the dwelling house has no safeguards whatever and does not receive the protection under the law to which he is entitled.

In the debate which took place in the House on 28th February my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North, quoted several examples where that had happened. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams), who was presumably replying to my hon. and learned Friend on behalf of the Government, made statements, which in my submission, showed a complete lack of any knowledge of the seriousness of this problem and how it affects the person concerned. Indeed, in one part of his speech he said, or implied, that because only a few people were involved, it really did not matter very much. But it is surely an important part of our Constitution that the rights of even one man should be fully safeguarded if something is done under the law which is contrary to the traditional heritage which an Englishman is entitled to expect that he will enjoy.

This is the position. A house is occupied by Mr. A, who bought it years before the war and paid for it by means of a mortgage. In many of these cases that have occurred, ordinary working men and women have sunk their entire life savings in buying the property concerned in the hope that when they reach their old age, they will have this asset and will not be forced to pay rent or any outgoings of that description, and will have the little income thus saved to keep them going in the declining years of their lives. Then comes the war; no building during war years; heavy bombing destroys a number of houses, and we have a serious housing problem. In consequence of all those facts the house which Mr. A purchased for perhaps £600 or £700, is today worth about £2,400 or £2,600.

A big authority comes along to acquire that property, and the district valuer assesses it at about £1,200. In the example I have in mind the house is a five-roomed house with two acres of ground. The hon. Member for Wigan set out in his speech to prove that because the owner will get a few hundred pounds more than he paid for it in 1933 or 1934, he is, therefore, better off. In point of fact he is substantially worse off in consequence of the operation of this law.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning (Mr. Lindgren)

In view of your earlier Ruling, Mr. Speaker, while I have every sympathy with the hon. Member in putting his case, the difficulty is that in each of these cases, the law has been strictly and carefully observed, and any remedy would necessarily mean either new legislation or the breaking of the existing law by the local authorities or the Government Departments concerned.

Squadron Leader Cooper

I agree that the law, as the Parliamentary Secretary puts it, is being observed, but it is not necessary, in many of these cases, for local authorities to acquire the property in the way that they have done. There is no obligation in law for a local authority to acquire property compulsorily. There are other ways and means by which local authorities can obtain the property without causing people the hardship that the present system, which is becoming almost automatic, is causing today.

To revert to my case, what is the position of Mr. A? He gets his £1,200; he is probably 60 or 65 years of age; and he has now to seek other accommodation. It is well within the knowledge of the House that it is impossible today for anyone to buy for £1,200 a freehold house of anything like the quality that could have been bought for that sum in 1933, 1934 or 1935, and, for that reason alone, a person is substantially worse off than he was before the war. It may be argued, "Yes all right, but the local authority that acquires the property will re-house the person." Indeed, that has been done in one or two cases. But, again, the person is worse off. It must be remembered that when he is re-housed by a local authority he has to start to pay rent—one of the very things which, by purchasing this house in years gone by, he sought to avoid having to do in his declining years. To that extent also he is substantially worse off.

Some people are worse off in another way, because in some of these cases where there have been evictions they were tenants, and not owners, and were enjoying the full protection of the Rent Restriction Acts. Now that they have been re-housed by the local authority they no longer enjoy that protection, because a local authority house is not subject to the Rent Restriction Acts. So, in every particular, those affected by this method of acquisition are faced with great hardship which should not be allowed.

I would remind the House that in 1215 the barons rebelled against the King for all sorts of reasons which affected the liberty of the subject. Magna Carta was the result of that and everybody in the country was given protection which is our heritage. The whole British Constitution has been built up on this great Charter. The method which is today employed by the Minister under the operation of the Town and Country Planning Act, is, I say deliberately, legalised stealing, and should not be allowed. The fact that there are only a few cases involved does not absolve the Minister from any responsibility whatsoever. Indeed, it makes his responsibility even greater, because he is responsible for safeguarding the rights of every person affected by the operation of any Act he has to administer.

The London County Council are the main authority concerned in this particular matter. It is no part of my case to criticise the London County Council, except to say that they seem to me to have very peculiar ideas of morality. My hon. and learned Friend raised this question in the London County Council and in their published minutes, the Chairman of their Housing Committee is reported as saying: I would express the hope that the owner will co-operate with the council in concluding this purchase. It really means that the London County Council have become the burglar, and invite the co-operation of the householder to leave the front door open so that they can come in and steal his furniture. That may be the Minister's idea of co-operation, but it certainly does not appeal to my idea of British justice.

There is a great difference in the minds of people, between spending their old age in their own home, which they have worked for and given years of their lives to provide, and spending their declining years in a council house. There is in this country still, in spite of everything which the Socialist Government have tried to do over the past four or five years, a great pride in ownership. There is still a great pride in owning one's own home, in building up something over the years that one can leave to one's family. But the action of the Minister, in the way he is operating this Act of Parliament, is contrary to all the best interests of the people of this country. I sincerely hope that at some future time Parliament, in its wisdom, may see fit to amend this state of affairs.

11.25 a.m.

Mr. Braine (Billericay)

There are two reasons why the House should be grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper) for raising this matter. He has laid bare the injustices which have been inflicted, and which will continue to be inflicted upon a not inconsiderable number of people in this country. My hon and gallant Friend may also be congratulated, considering the nature of the offence of which he complains, upon the calm and dispassionate way in which he opened the debate.

It is right and proper that my hon. and gallant Friend should have raised this subject, since all hon. Members are concerned to safeguard personal liberty and rights, and to see that justice is denied to none. Clearly, in the modern State there will be occasions when the interests of the community conflict with the rights of individuals, and the great task of the Government, and that of Ministers, is to secure a proper balance between the two. It is not irrelevant to remark that in the heyday of nineteenth century Liberalism, private liberty took precedence over community interests. The view was taken by the so-called progressives of the day that the well-being of the community was best served by allowing private interests to have free and untrammelled rein. In our time the wheel has turned full circle and the self-styled progressives of our day argue that where a clash of interests occurs, individual rights should be subordinated to community interests.

The truth is, of course, that neither school of thought is right and a truly democratic society is one where public and private liberty are brought into balance and harmony; where private interest does not conflict with public well-being and where the State does not ride roughshod over the individual. My hon. and gallant Friend has shown that in one important respect, government, be it national or local, has power to ride roughshod over the individual. I can think of many others. I certainly do not object and I do not think that any hon. Member on this side of the House objects to powers of compulsory acquisition being exercised either by the central Government or by local authorities. Clearly, the needs of the community for roads, schools and, particularly in these days, for housing, are such that private interests must not be allowed to stand in the way. But our position in this matter, certainly the attitude I have consistently taken up since I was elected to this House, is that if the community requires a man's property in order to carry out essential development, then it should not punish him by giving him less than replacement value for his property.

It has been pointed out by my hon. and gallant Friend this morning that under the existing town and country planning legislation something less than the full market value is given for property required by local authorities or Government Departments or new town development corporations. The relevant Section of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, is Section 52. Bearing in mind the Ruling that you, Mr. Speaker, so wisely gave at the beginning of this debate, may I say that that Section was based upon the assumption—I have here the Explanatory Memorandum which was issued when the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, was first presented to the House—that a special scarcity value attached to the right of vacant possession. That Memorandum stated: At the present time a special scarcity value attaches to the right of immediate or early vacant possession. Section 52 provides that an interest which carries with it the right to immediate or early vacant possession shall be valued as if a lease terminating on the 1st January, 1954, were interposed between that and the right of vacant possession. Actually, scarcity value still obtains today, and the housing position is such that it is likely to obtain for a long time. Therefore, it seems to me that the present method of compensation is based quite arbitrarily upon a fiction.

I have a particular interest in new towns, where, of course, to carry out essential preliminary developments, it is necessary for the development corporation to acquire a very large number of properties. Here the problem assumes an acute form. No man willingly sells his house with vacant possession at below the current market price. Agreement to sell at below the current market price is not therefore likely to be obtained, and the first annual Report of the Hemel Hempstead Development Corporation did, in fact, mention that this difficulty was likely to arise. I have here an extract from the first Report of the Basildon New Town Corporation, in which it is stated: In addition, the effect of various enactments governing the compensation to be paid by the Corporation for vacant possession inevitably restricts the sale of houses within the designated area, and in certain cases causes genuine hardship, thus hindering the Corporation's efforts to win the confidence and co-operation of the inhabitants. Here, we have the Minister's own Corporation, a body appointed by him, admitting in its annual Report that genuine hardship is likely to be caused by the existing financial provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947.

Mr. Lindgren

So far as the new towns are concerned, that comes under the New Towns Act, 1946, and the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, does not come into it at all.

Mr. Braine

The Minister must not under-estimate me to that extent. He is as aware as I am that development corporations, seeking to acquire property for the purpose of development in areas designated for new towns, do so under Section 52. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he knows perfectly well that new town corporations acquire property for the purpose of development under the Televant Sections of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. Indeed, had the House known, when the New Towns Bill was being debated, in 1946, and was given full and unqualified support by Members of all parties, of what was to be inserted later in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, perhaps a different view might have been taken of that Measure.

The effect of this is to deprive a man who has invested his life savings in a small house—and the majority of the houses concerned in the Basildon area are small—of the opportunity of going somewhere else and buying a property of equivalent value. This is, indeed, depressing to those who dreamt of ending their days in their own homes, and it is galling to those who wish to bequeath something of value to their children. I say again that the framers of the New Towns Act, 1946, certainly never intended to make it the instrument of robbery—I am encouraged to use that term after what my hon. and gallant Friend has said—that it has, in fact, become. Surely the House realises that compensation which falls short of enabling a man to replace what is taken from him through no fault of his own, but merely through the geographical accident of being in a certain place at a certain time, is unjust.

There is another aspect of this problem as it affects the new towns. The mere fact that a development corporation may acquire properties at less than replacement value means that all properties within the area designated for the new town have that shadow hanging over them. I have repeatedly sought, first from the Parliamentary Secretary and later from the Minister himself, an assurance that the owners of properties unaffected by the development proposals of a new town corporation shall be left secure in possession of their freeholds.

In the House, on 1st May, I asked the Minister whether he appreciated that the effect of his policy so far, in respect of Basildon, was to cause a slump in the value of properties never likely to be acquired by the development corporation, thus causing financial loss and anxiety to innocent people and what were the reasons for the Minister's refusal to give the assurance for which I asked in my Question. He replied: If there is a slump, it is largely due, as I have said before, to the continuous activities of the hon. Gentleman in his own constituency."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1951; Vol. 487, c. 1002.] That was a most offensive remark to make. The Minister misjudged me if he thought that I would leave the matter there. That statement, of course, was not true, and the Minister knows it is not true. The proof lies in what is happening, not only in the Basildon area but in other new towns, where such views as I have expressed on the subject are not likely to have been heard.

I have here a letter which was published in the "Daily Telegraph" of 16th June, 1950, from a leading surveyor in the Hemel Hempstead new town, and this is what he said: Values of owner-occupied houses within the designated area are fast diminishing, due to the unfair basis of compensation prescribed in the Town and Country Planning Act, and the understandably cautious attitude of building societies in granting loans on property. What I said is taking place in Basildon now, has been taking place in Hemel Hempstead for some years. While, in 1948, houses on the Belmont Estate at Hemel Hempstead sold with vacant possession for £1,800, in the following year identical properties had fallen in value to £1,400, and, by the time at which the letter which I have just quoted was written, building societies were restricting their advances, having regard to a compensation value estimated at £1,200.

In other words, the mere fact of a man living in an area where large scale acquisition was likely to take place meant that he suffered a capital loss on his house property. It is no use the Parliamentary Secretary shaking his head; these are the facts. This is the sort of thing which has been happening, and, as development gets under way in areas where new towns have been planned in already inhabited districts, it is likely to increase in intensity.

I am well aware that it is not in order to ask for amending legislation, but I think it is a good thing my hon. and gallant Friend has raised this matter so that the Minister can have an opportunity of thinking about the subject. Man-made laws are not immutable. If they are found to be oppressive and unjust, they should be changed. Justice is not some favour that the law of this country confers. The law itself must be an agent of justice.

11.41 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning (Mr. Lindgren)

May I first of all join with the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper) in expressing regret at the absence through illness of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchison) who was to have opened this debate. We all appreciate the very great interest he takes in these matters and particularly in local government, and it is unfortunate that on this occasion he is prevented from taking a part in the debate. We all hope that he will speedily recover, and that he will be back with us when we resume after the Whitsun Recess.

Normally this debate would have been taken by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, because the points raised are financial rather than those of policy in development under the two Acts mentioned. I am sure, however, that the House will agree with the Financial Secretary in his natural desire to be at the Battersea Park ceremony this morning, inasmuch as Battersea Park is in his constituency. That being so, he has asked me to reply to this debate, and I hope hon. Gentlemen will be satisfied with the substitution.

We have heard a lot this morning about private ownership but very little about the public good. Although there has been a lot of talk it has been very barren and not a single case has been produced to demonstrate that the hardship is as has been stated. It is perfectly true, as the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) said, that in the heyday of private liberty there was a great deal of public fleecing. When it was known that a public authority wanted a building or a piece of land the word went round. Somebody purhased it and, of course, the public purse was fleeced for the benefit of the private owner.

It is correct that the public should be protected. Every building which has been acquired—and the emphasis this morning has been on the acquiring of dwelling-houses within the relevant Section of the Act—has been acquired for the public good. No one has ever suggested that local authorities are acquiring property just for sheer "cussedness." They are acquiring it for the public good, and to protect the public. They acquire such property because the public good necessitates it, and, where there are objections, there is a public inquiry or a private hearing into every aspect of the matter, so that the interests of the Department or the local authority concerned are safeguarded as well as those of the person who owns the property.

The hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South, mentioned that in practically every case where there is a public inquiry or a private hearing, the Minister concerned confirms the order. That may be true, but it is not true to suggest, as he does, that Ministers are rubber stamps for local authorities or for their own Departments. A public inquiry is usually demanded in accordance with the intentions of Parliament, and local authorities or a Government Department will think twice when they want to acquire a property if they know that they will have to justify it before a local inquiry. They will ask themselves, "Is it really necessary that we should have it? Are we satisfied that we will be able to justify it at a local inquiry and show that it is necessary for the public good?"

Every effort is made by local authorities and Government Departments to avoid unnecessary interference with somebody's private desires when acquiring property in the public good. If it is possible, by an alternative arrangement, to get a building then, of course, everything is done by the local authority or the Government Department to do it. I would not say there never has been a case in which the local authority could not have made some other arrangement because that would be untrue, but in 999 cases out of 1,000, as is proved by the inquiry and the Minister's sanction after it, the local authority has made every attempt to get alternative accommodation before acquiring private property, and has explored every avenue to see that no unnecessary injustice should be done to anybody.

Squadron Leader Cooper

Up to this point my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) and I have no quarrel with anything the Parliamentary Secretary has said. We are hoping that from now on he will say something with which we shall disagree.

Mr. Lindgren

That is an invitation which might lead me out of order, for if I said certain things with which the hon. and gallant Member disagreed, you, Mr. Speaker, would rule that I was out of order. Whilst I do not want to displease him, I would go to even greater lengths not to displease you, Mr. Speaker.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to a statement made in open council by the Chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council when he expressed the hope that the owner would co-operate. Surely that is a correct thing for a representative to say in open council. The L.C.C. were acquiring the building for public purposes. It is not unnatural that the owner should not want to give it up, but having been satisfied that it was required in the public interest, surely it was appropriate for the Chairman of the L.C.C. Housing Committee to say, "We do not want to get at cross purposes over this. In the circumstances, can we not co-operate for the public good?" I am sure that hon. Members opposite will not say that the public good should be ignored in the interests of private vested interests.

Mr. Braine

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I went to great lengths to say that I felt there had to be a proper balance between the public good and private rights. What my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper) and I are hoping the Parliamentary Secretary will do is to explain why it is necessary today, when the public good must take precedence over private rights, for the community to impose an injustice on the person concerned.

Mr. Lindgren

I do not admit that there is a general injustice at all. Sometimes there is a particular injustice, and in legislation and the application of legislation it is simply impossible that there shall not be some slight injustice at some time to someone. But in these circumstances, I do not admit there is any injustice at all. Section 52 of the 1947 Act is intended to prevent the public from being fleeced by public bodies having to pay large sums of money for what is called scarcity value. Section 52 says that in the event of the local authority or a Government Department acquiring a building for public purposes then it shall be deemed to have a notional lease continuing until 1954. That is not unfair, to the owner, but it prevents the public from paying far more than the real value of the property.

Squadron Leader Cooper

It is that very fact that creates the injustice, because by 1954, under the operation of the notional lease provisions, the owner will get what one might call perhaps a respectable price for his property, but that does not deal with the problem of a person's property acquired in 1950 or 1951.

Mr. Lindgren

Even if I admitted, which I do not, that there was an injustice, surely that injustice is diminishing. Parliament agreed in 1947 that in acquiring properties there should be a notional lease until 1954. I agree that that meant at that time that a local authority acquiring a property would get it at about 30 per cent. less than the actual price it would have fetched on the open market if the house had been vacant. But the public were protected against inflated value prices.

Mr. Braine

The individual was robbed.

Mr. Lindgren

No, he received far more than he ever paid. The hon. Member cannot justify the way in which the public has been fleeced over the last few years through scarcity value. A house costing about £500 in 1935 being sold for £2,000 in 1948, 1949 and 1950 is what I call robbery, not what the hon. Member calls robbery. I think the Government are correct in maintaining that the public shall not pay these scarcity values, and in so far as that tends to reduce the current exorbitant prices that are being paid in the open market, it is a protection for the public as a whole.

Mr. Braine

The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that the rise in the price of house property is not an isolated instance. We now pay more for food, coal and everything else, including daily newspapers. The point at issue is that if a man is paid something less than that which is necessary for him to replace his property, then to that extent he has suffered a loss. Will the hon. Gentleman address himself to the questions my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilford, South, and I have asked? Does he think scarcity value justifies the community robbing a person of something which was his?

Mr. Lindgren

This is a matter of difference of definition of terms. The hon. Gentleman says it is quite correct that a person who paid £500 for a house in 1924 should fleece the community for £2,500 in 1950. That is what I call robbery. The price paid by a public authority works out at five-sixths of the existing market value, so the person would still get somewhere about £2,000. It does not seem to me to be much of a robbery if a man paid £500 for something and then receives £2,000 for it. The average worker in industry would be glad if he had four times what he had pre-war in wages.

Squadron Leader Cooper

The hon. Gentleman said these values were five-sixths of the market value. Where does he get that figure? I have a specific case where the market value of property in the neighbourhood was £3,000 which the owner would secure in the open market. The compensation offered to him was £925. My arithmetic is not so bad that I do not know that that is not five-sixths.

Mr. Lindgren

The hon. and gallant Member is quoting a case where something is obviously wrong—either the £3,000 or the £925.

Squadron Leader Cooper

The figure of £925 is correct.

Mr. Lindgren

Then the £3,000 the other man thought he ought to have is wrong. Where the district valuer, in the light of the Act and taking the value of property on a short-term lease, says a property is worth only £925 surely there is something wrong if the other fellow tries to get £3,000.

Squadron Leader Cooper

Not "tries to get." He can get it.

Mr. Lindgren

He may think he can get it. The hon. Member for Billericay quoted figures, which at the moment I am not in a position to challenge, on values in new towns, but surely they show that the Acts of this Government have protected the public against inflated values. He said that a property worth £1,800 fell in value, after the introduction of the New Towns Act, to £1,400.

Hertfordshire is my adopted county and I know Hemel Hempstead and the properties there fairly well. The properties he talks about were bought for £750 or £800 in the inter-war years. Some of them are even pre-1914, and the 1948 values were out of all proportion to the real value of property. Poor people forced into these properties because of the scarcity of houses generally, and being willing to pay anything to get a roof over their heads and to live on their own, were being robbed. I have not heard the hon. Member for Billericay talking about the robbery of the general public by property owners because of their privileged position as a result of scarcity value. Our legislation has protected the public against undue exploitation by these people in a privileged position.

I think that in the main I have dealt with the position, except for this point with regard to Hemel Hempstead. The hon. Member for Billericay referred to the loss of capital value. Again, I think that here it is perhaps not only a difference in terms, but a difference in the conclusions one draws from arithmetic. A man in Hemel Hempstead or Basildon has bought a house pre-war for £500 and he thinks that but for this legislation he could have received £2,000 for it on the open market at the present time. Now, because of our legislation, he can get only £1,500 for it, and the hon. Gentleman is saying that he has a capital loss of £500.

Mr. Braine


Mr. Lindgren

I should say that he has got an appreciation of £1,000.

Mr. Braine

Yes, but the Parliamentary Secretary must appreciate that money is unimportant. What matters is a roof over the man's head. If, as a result of action taken by a new town corporation, a man's home is taken away from him, and he is thereby put in a position where he cannot go anywhere else in the country and buy a similar property, then I say that an injustice is done. We pay more for everything. Would the hon. Gentleman agree that because we pay four or five times more for our coal today, the public are being robbed in that case?

Mr. Lindgren

No, Sir. The hon. Gentleman is standing very near to hitting the headlines. There was a colleague of mine who once said that £ s. d. were meaningless symbols, and it took him a long time to live that down. Now the hon. Member for Billericay is saying that money is unimportant. All I can say is if the poor fellow who is trying to buy a house, and has £1,000 in the bank or can get £1,000 mortgage, finds that the owner wants £1,500, that extra £500 is very important to him. The question is one of attitude to the situation, and what the hon. Gentlemen opposite would call a capital loss is to us, on the other side, a capital appreciation. On that basis, I do not think we can get very far.

I put these two points. First of all, this was a question of a short notional lease—not a question of a long lease. Parliament, in 1947, accepted that. It was very fully discussed in Parliament. The Opposition moved an Amendment to the Bill which would have excluded the owner-occupier from the provisions of Section 52. That was debated, and there was a Division on that Amendment. What we are now doing, in fact, is carrying out the intentions of Parliament. What the hon. Gentlemen are really asking is either that we should have amending legislation—and to ask for that would be out of order now—or that we should avoid the implications of existing legislation that Parliament has said we should carry out.

I cannot accept the proposition that we should avoid these implications. Equally, I do not accept the suggestion that there is any great hardship at all. I repeat what I said at the beginning, that not a single case has been brought forward. This is a matter which affects my Department and a good many other Departments——

Squadron Leader Cooper

The hon. Gentleman is rather unfair to say that not a single case has been brought forward. Had we so desired we could have been very tedious and have wearied the House by giving 270 cases for which we have chapter and verse here. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would have wanted us to quote all those. If he is really interested in the matter, and if he is giving the House the assurance that the Government's policy of confiscation as compared with compensation is to be reviewed, then I should be happy to send him chapter and verse of these 270 cases, in the hope that he will consider them.

Mr. Lindgren

First, let me refute the statement about confiscation. It is not a policy of confiscation. It is a policy of compensation. What we are doing is to protect people against what the hon. Gentlemen would like to do—to give a glorious opportunity to the landlords and the property owners to make hay while the sun shines, as they did in the old days. If there is anything to the credit of this Government it is the way in which they have considered the general public, and the interests of the general public over those of the private vested interests of the landlords, industrialists, and property owners.

I have gone into this question because a number of cases at various times have come before my own Department, and I can say that we have had practically no complaints whatever from persons whose property has been acquired, or from solicitors, surveyors, or from anyone else acting on their behalf. I have made inquiries at the Treasury, because obviously, as I was taking over this brief from the Financial Secretary, I wanted to be sure that the Treasury's general experience was similar to that of my own Department. The Treasury assure me that the number of complaints that they have had because of the operation of this Section has been very, very few indeed. In fact, in the reply I was given, the words used were, "Over the last 18 months barely a single case has been represented to us at all."

I suggest that what the hon. Gentlemen opposite are really asking for it that we should go back to the old days when the public purse was exploited to an undue extent for the benefit of the private landlords. Our legislation on this matter is good legislation; it has been operated in a very humane and proper manner; there is no evidence of its causing undue hardship; and so far as the L.C.C. is concerned—I know it has special powers, and that, therefore, all the cases do not come to us—and my own Department, there has not been a single case that I know of in which any hardship has been reported.