§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I should like to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill because it does not include any proposal on the general point of transferring out-county London County Council estates to the local authorities within whose boundaries they happen to be, and, in particular, because it does not include provision for transferring those L.C.C. estates, especially a large part of the Becontree Estate, which happens to be in my constituency, to Dagenham Council.
This matter has been raised before and there have been discussions between London County Council and Dagenham and Barking Councils. We have had talks, but no satisfactory conclusions have been reached on this important issue. There was an earlier debate on this matter in this House this year. I apologise to the House for being unable to be present on that occasion as I was on a Parliamentary delegation abroad. This is a matter of great importance to my constituency. That is why I am raising it today.
On that earlier occasion, and on various others on which this matter has been raised, the answer was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), speaking on behalf of London County Council. After reading his answer on that earlier occasion and discussing it with various friends of mine in Dagenham, I have to say that we feel that it does not take the matter further at all. Therefore, from our point of view, it is a thoroughly unsatisfactory answer.
We feel that it is high time that some progress was made in this matter. The Becontree Estate, the larger part of which is in my constituency, was begun by London County Council in 1920 and was mainly built between 1925 and 1933. In other words, most of it was finished over twenty-five years ago. Of the 26,000 houses on the estate, 16,000 are in my 105 constituency of Dagenham. We have also other L.C.C. estates in Hainault and a West Ham Estate. In other words, taking all the municipal estates not belonging to Dagenham Council which happen to be within Dagenham's boundaries, two-thirds of the houses in Dagenham belong either to the L.C.C. or to West Ham.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
I hope that my hon. Friend will spare a moment during his speech to express gratitude to London County Council for having built all those houses, which probably were a material element in enabling him to become the Member of Parliament for Dagenham.
§ Mr. Parker
I am fully prepared to acknowledge that, but that was over twenty-five years ago and we have to deal with present and future issues and not merely with the past in this matter.
It is very important that in one municipal area two-thirds of the houses should belong to other local authorities outside that area. It is important because it means that the vacancies in housing accommodation in two-thirds of the area are not filled from our Dagenham housing list but are filled as the L.C.C. or West Ham may decide. At present, on the Becontree Estate about 240 vacancies occur every year. When a son or daughter lives with the parents and the parents die or want to pass over the tenancy, that tenancy is normally passed over to someone who is living in the house at the time of the death or the transfer of tenancy, but there are an increasing number of cases where there are no resident relatives and so, when a vacancy occurs, the house passes to the L.C.C., which decides how the vacancy may be filled, and tenancy is not given to any member of the family at all.
By arrangement between London County Council and the Dagenham and Barking Councils, 100 vacancies a year, up to 1960, are given to people on the Dagenham and Barking Council lists, in the proportion of 68 and 32. That still leaves 140 vacancies a year on the estate which are filled by outsiders from our point of view. In fact, rather more than 140 are filled by outsiders, because all the houses allocated to the two councils are not necessarily within the boundaries of Dagenham or Barking. Therefore, a larger number of houses on the estate 106 are filled yearly by people from London than the 140 I have mentioned.
As to Dagenham's own housing, 3,500 houses have been built by the council inside its own boundary, of which 2,500 have been built since the war. A further 641 are being built. We are in negotiation for building an estate in Canvey Island to take a number of our people. But our waiting list of 2,500 is increased by at least 200 a year by the sons and daughters of tenants of the L.C.C. estate, although our own housing list has dropped recently because so many local people have given up all hope of getting any kind of house in our area. If we in Dagenham were able to have all the vacancies occurring on the estates inside our boundaries which belong to the L.C.C. and West Ham, the larger part of the present yearly increase could thus be met.
As to the estate in Canvey Island, we have made sensible arrangements with the local authority there that when the houses are built they will be transferred to Canvey Council in due course which will then fill the vacancies. That is the kind of arrangement that ought to be made by the London County Council when it builds houses outside its own boundaries, because it is undesirable that when an area grows up and becomes mature it should remain dominated by the authority which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) has said, helped to bring it to life originally.
A very big social problem arises when there is a community of the type we have in Dagenham, because a very large number of people there, know that they cannot live there permanently and will have to go out to find homes in the new towns and on other housing estates. A large part of the population is continually turning over and the community cannot grow roots. I think that all would agree that in the outer suburbs a large proportion of the population will in any case move out in search of jobs, and housing, but in our estates an abnormally large proportion has to move out because the London County Council fills up its housing vacancies with people from London.
The local people cannot remain, with the result that churches, clubs and other institutions are not built up. There is 107 no real opportunity to create a community life and to provide a tradition and a sense of belonging to a place which is so important. In the new towns every effort is made to build up that community spirit. The corporations responsible for initiating new towns will hand over their houses to the local authority, and it is the local authority which will run the housing and fill vacancies as they occur.
This problem not only confronts Dagenham and Barking but will, sooner or later, affect all the areas where there are London County Council estates. It is beginning to have an effect everywhere, but in those areas the issue is nothing like as live an issue as it is in Becontree, because most of the estates are fairly new, a high proportion of them having been built since the war.
However, in areas like Harold Hill, in Romford, resentment is caused because when a vacancy occurs it is filled from London and not from the local area. The Becontree Estate was largely completed twenty-five years ago. Many of the people now wanting houses in Becontree were born there or were small children when they first went there; they feel that they are citizen of Dagenham and Barking and should have a chance of having a home there. They resent the houses being given to "foreigners" from London rather than to themselves.
I agree that London County Council has very great housing problems, but I do not see why it should try to solve its serious problems in clearing slums at our expense. That is what we resent. That is what causes strong feeling. While everything should be done to assist London County Council to solve its housing problems, through the expanded towns policy, and so on, we do not see why efforts the L.C.C. makes to try to solve its slum problems should be at our expense. I understand that in all its present negotiations the L.C.C. proposes ultimately to hand over houses in the expanded towns to the local authority there. Why not in Becontree?
It is high time that a national policy was adopted for the L.C.C. and other authorities which have estates outside their own boundaries. Those houses should be handed over after a certain time, say ten years, to the authority on the spot, which would then fill all future 108 vacancies. Financial problems will arise, but we suggest that the present debt outstanding on the Becontree property should be passed to the Barking Council and the Dagenham Council, thus following the precedents adopted when the health services, fire services, electricity and gas undertakings were taken over.
That would be a reasonable way out of the difficulty. The L.C.C. takes the view that that would not be reasonable in this case because different ratepayers would benefit. The L.C.C. has benefited its ratepayers by finding them houses outside its boundaries, but the responsibility for those ratepayers has then been handed to some other local authority. The L.C.C.'s attitude is no excuse for not being prepared at a later date to hand over the houses as well to that authority to be part of the community there, that new community having the responsibility of looking after the new ratepayers and providing for them in future.
Many of the services which were transferred in the past are now used by different ratepayers than was previously the case. One important hospital in Dagenham belonged to the West Ham Council. It is now used by a fairly wide area including West Ham, but it is used mainly by people from outside West Ham. The same is true of other services, such as electricity, which have been transferred. Many ratepayers, in addition to those who previously owned the undertaking, have shared in its benefits after the transfer of authority. Although in some ways this case is different from the transfer of these other undertakings, there is a very strong case for handing over estates of this kind after a reasonable period—and I suggest that ten years is reasonable—to the authority on the spot.
This is a matter upon which feeling in a community long established, like Dagenham, is becoming very strong. Although we are prepared to acknowledge the work that the L.C.C. did in originally building the estate, we are not a colony. For twenty-five years, we have been a growing community and we have a right to be masters in our own house and to run our own show. There being limited room to build new houses, we have a right to acquire the L.C.C. houses for the future.
Before the war, part of the Becontree Estate at Scrattons Farm was not built 109 on, but was kept for future development by the L.C.C., either housing or industrial development. Barking Council offered to buy the vacant land from the L.C.C. for building houses and offered a price. The L.C.C. refused to accept and Barking went ahead to try to acquire the land compulsorily. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South, then Leader of the L.C.C., very wisely suggested a discussion and eventually the estate was handed over for development by Barking Council. That is a very good precedent which might be followed with the Becontree Estate as a whole. It is important to take a commonsense view in the matter.
The Labour Party has, very rightly, drawn up a policy for local authorities to take over private non-owner occupied houses in areas which are largely built up. In Dagenham, we feel that that policy should be applied to estates of other local authorities inside our boundaries as well as to private owners, and we see no reason for differentiating between the two. If the situation has not changed by the time that policy is introduced, we shall certainly want to take over these estates on those lines. We think the Labour Party policy desirable and we think it particularly desirable in this case. It is much better that we should get the matter settled and reach a conclusion here and now and not wait for a few years to have an argument about party policy when we are in power, as we hope to be within a year or two.
The L.C.C. should do something about the Becontree Estate forthwith. This is the area where the issue is most alive, especially in the exceptional way I have mentioned, where, in my constituency, two-thirds of the houses belong to some other authority. The problem applies not merely to Becontree, but to many other L.C.C. estates, although the L.C.C. houses in the other estates form a smaller proportion of the total housing than is the case in Dagenham. In many cases, those estates have been built since the war, but the issue will become a live issue in a few years.
We should deal with the Becontree Estate now and enter into negotiations on other estates to work out a policy that in a reasonable time, say, ten years, after an estate has been completed, it should 110 be handed over to the local authority on the spot.
Finally, I appeal to the Government, when considering housing policy in future, to deal with this problem on a national level, and not merely in regard to London, and to see that all council estates outside a council's boundaries should be transferred at a particular date to the local authority on the spot. I think that is the only reasonable solution to that problem.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
I think that this is the third time that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) has raised this question on the London County Council (General Powers) Bill, and I must confess that I find it a little unreal. What the hon. Gentleman would do if he succeeded in persuading the House—though he is not moving anything which would bring it about—is to split a very large estate into the control of at least three authorities.
One of the difficulties of the Becontree Estate—incidentally, it was not built by the Labour Party, but by the Tories when they were in control of the L.C.C. —is that it spreads over into the areas of three different local authorities, and if the hon. Gentleman had his way it would be split into three different sets of landlords, whereas at the moment there is one.
I do not think that even the hon. Gentleman himself will argue that the L.C.C. has not been a good landlord there, that rents have not been kept at a very reasonably low figure, that the houses are not very decently maintained, or that repairs and decorations have not been regularly carried out. I know, because for years I was in Dagenham almost every day in the week, and I have not myself sensed any violent revolutionary desire for the change for which the hon. Gentleman suggested.
The fact is that the Becontree Estate was built to house Londoners, and I should like to know what some of the East London families, who are still waiting and have been waiting for many years, will have to say about this attempt to take away nearly 16,000 of the houses on the Becontree Estate, on which at present they have some slight chance when a vacancy occurs of getting into more or less modern houses and living 111 under much better conditions than those in which they are living at the moment.
This is not merely a question of Dagenham, which I know has its own housing problem. There are 240 people a year waiting to be housed.
§ Mr. Gibson
But the London County Council has a waiting list of 170,000, over 50,000 of which are very urgent cases, much more urgent, from many points of view, than the kind of case which occurs on the Becontree Estate. Many of them live in slum houses, which must be pulled down as soon as possible.
I should have thought that a member of the Labour Party would have said that we should deal with the worst cases first, if we can. It is difficult enough, in any case, in face of the policy now being pursued on the benches opposite, but let us make an attempt to deal with the worst cases first—the slum clearance cases, the gross overcrowding cases, which still exist in London—and where vacancies occur let us give them to these people.
The L.C.C., I know, is always the cockshy for anybody who does not belong to London—although I notice that Dagenham claims that it is a part of the London area, as, in fact, for all practical purposes, it is—but it is quite unfair to suggest that because this estate has been in existence now for twenty-five years, it is time it was handed over—because that is what is involved in this suggestion —to the ownership and legal management of the local authority.
The reference to the new towns is really beside the point. In any case, the terms of transfer of the new towns to the local authorities of the areas in which they have been built have not yet been settled, and nobody is suggesting that they should be settled, because we want to get the new towns built up, not only in regard to houses, but in regard to the creation of virile social communities.
My hon. Friend referred to the community life of Dagenham, and I would admit that even ten years ago it was very difficult to get community life going in Dagenham, but the authority to provide community centres and opportunities for social activities is the local council. The L.C.C. could not do it, except, perhaps, 112 by providing sites on which club rooms, and so on, could be built. I know of the efforts that have been made to provide additional sites on which club rooms and social centres could be built, and many of them have in fact been built. I therefore suggest that, from every point of view, it would be wrong to split this very large estate into the control of three different local authorities and three different legal ownerships, and, in the process, probably create tremendous difficulties in management.
The hon. Member for Dagenham also referred to transfers. It is quite true that up to a year or two ago the sons and daughters of tenants on the estate received priority in lettings when vacancies occurred. The only reason why that has been stopped is the tremendous and urgent needs of the rest of London—people in Poplar, who are still living in overcrowded and slum conditions, people in Stepney, in Bethnal Green and in Shoreditch. Some have gone from my own part of south London to get decent housing accommodation. I suggest that the hon. Member is advocating something which will be impracticable, which would be to the disadvantage of the tenants on the estate, and which would create all sorts of managerial difficulties if it was carried out.
There is only one other thing I want to say. The hon. Member suggested that we should get together and agree about paying the cost. The L.C.C. has spent many millions of pounds in building this estate. It has probably paid a great many millions of pounds in interest since it started to build the estate. Is all that burden to be left to be borne by the London ratepayer? I suggest that in view of the enormous expense to which London has been put in building not only this estate but other estates outside the L.C.C. area, it is very unreasonable to expect that the London ratepayer should lose the benefit of that when he begins to reach the time when there might be a balance of the account. That time has not yet arrived at Becontree, and it will not arrive for a good many years yet, and that is a factor to be taken into consideration in fairness and justice to the people of London.
The point which I want to emphasise to the House is that the only reason why the L.C.C. has secured powers from Parliament to build outside its own area 113 is that we in London have a housing problem which is unique, both in size and complexity. Without this power to build within a reasonable distance of London we should never see the end of our housing problems. Whether he realises it or not, if my hon. Friend got his way it would merely result in stopping housebuilding in London, because we are running to the end of the available sites. I am sure that he does not want that.
What may happen in future is another matter, but in the meantime there is no doubt that, on the facts of the situation and the needs of London people for housing accommodation, Becontree is doing very well, and ought not to be interfered with. I hope that the House will for many years refuse to interfere with it.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
I have a very high regard for the members of the London County Council. My relations with them have been very friendly. They have not always given me what I have asked for, but I have continued to ask. I want to speak very strongly in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and later to reply to some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson). Before doing so, however, I want to do what neither of them did—to refer to the Bill.
In particular I want to draw attention to Clause 79, which deals with the provision of garage accommodation. The London County Council seeks to delegate to borough councils the power to provide, to let and to maintain accommodation for garaging and parking cars. This is very thoughtful of the county council, and I have nothing whatever against it. What is less thoughtful of the members of the council is that they have made precious little provision for the parking of cars in those areas for which they themselves and not the borough councils are responsible.
In the estate of Belhus Park, in Aveley, several hundred motorists are obliged to park their cars in the streets—a proceeding which is severely frowned upon by the police, as many residents of that estate have found to their cost. I am very happy to know that during this year a parking space will be made available 114 by the county council, and we are grateful for that. But the need is much greater; the need is urgent. Surely none of us wants to see scores of people hauled into the courts and fined for offences which they cannot possibly avoid—and fined very reluctantly by the local magistrates, who have no option in the matter. I urge my friends who have influence with the London County Council to use it to see that their colleagues act with great speed in this serious matter.
I now turn to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham. I agree with him that before another London County Council (General Powers) Bill is considered in this House the most serious consideration must be given to the exercise of the powers which it already possesses. My hon. Friend referred to this very thorny problem—much more serious than my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham seems to realise—of the future administration of these estates. My constituents are in an even worse position than those of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham. In certain circumstances, provision is made in his constituency for the transfer of tenancies to the sons or daughters of former tenants—sons and daughters who have grown up in those houses. In Thurrock, Belhus Park and Aveley, however, no provision whatever is made for the transfer of these houses to the sons and daughters of tenants who may have left them as a result of death or of removal.
These persons, who are Londoners, are then immediately placed upon the list of the local authorities and, whereas there are only 2,500 applications for houses in the Dagenham constituency, there are upwards of 4,000 in mine. Due to the silly policy of this Government, whereas my local authority was building 350 houses a year it is now building only 100. The problem is becoming quite insoluble. Already we have to house 4,000 people, and now the list will be swollen by these men and women who vacate houses which are the property of the London County Council.
I am not tremendously impressed by the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham. In reply to the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham, he says that one reason this transfer to the local 115 authority cannot be made is that we are dealing not with one local authority but with three. He has not got that difficulty in regard to Thurrock. He is dealing with one authority only and, therefore, as far as we are concerned, that first argument of his falls to the ground.
He also says that the county council has been a very good landlord. I would not say that it has been a very good landlord; I would say that it has been a fair landlord. He referred to the county council providing club rooms and social centres. There is no club room on the enormous estate at Aveley and no social centre there whatever. In Aveley we have a very young population. It was the policy of the London County Council—an admirable policy—to transfer younger people to this estate, and one can see there more young people than can be seen in most parts of Great Britain. They are very healthy children, growing up in these quite healthy surroundings, but no provision is made for their interest or entertainment.
§ Mr. Delargy
Some public-minded citizens have got together and have interested themselves in these children. They have laid on courses and healthy recreation for them, but the accommodation they have is pitifully inadequate, and the rent they have to pay for this pitifully inadequate accommodation is far too high. I do not know whether London will assist us. I know that my local authority would co-operate with the county council, and so would private citizens, for the provision of halls, or at least one hall, for these children, who would otherwise be apt to run wild.
Similarly, there has been a discussion in my constituency about the provision of a club room. It has been suggested that a sum of money might be raised by private sources, from the Thurrock Urban District Council and also possibly from the London County Council. So far the reply from the London County Council has not been too encouraging.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham pleaded quite rightly for the London ratepayers. He represents them. But his last argument for the transfer 116 of these houses was that at long last they are showing a profit.
§ Mr. Gibson
My hon. Friend has already made two misstatements of fact. First, the County Council has no powers to provide community centres outside its county, although it can help with the provision of sites. On the question of a balance of profit, I said that there will come a day when there will be a balance of profit in these accounts, but that day has not yet arrived—not even in Becontree, where we have been building for twenty-five years.
§ Mr. Delargy
I do not think that statement has changed the argument very much. I think that the county council built those houses to make provision for its people. Where the authorities secured their sites they were also interested in providing houses for the people. I do not think that either one authority or the other ever sought to build these houses or grant permission for them to be built, in order to make a profit. Therefore that argument should not be used.
Even though we may not oppose the Bill—which, incidentally, is supposed to deal with the Strand, Westminster and a few other insignificant places—before we grant further general powers to the London County Council this very important problem, concerning so many different districts in the south of England, should seriously be considered by this House.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
I am sure that my hon. Friends the Members for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) are acting in the interests of their constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham suggested that the Government should reconsider their policy and that out-county estates were a problem to be considered by the Government. I agree that the Government should consider their policy in relation to housing generally. This apparent tug-of-war between out-county estates and the London County Council arises in some measure from the general housing policy of the Government.
Here there is a clash of interest between the housing needs of the people in the county council area and those in the out-county areas. In both places it is a 117 difficult problem. The question is where lies the greatest need. It is the duty of the London County Council to consider the housing need of the people within its area. I hope that these discussions will not create in the public mind the idea that the London County Council is a great, powerful body—
§ Mr. Evans
Yes, it is, but I hope that a picture will not be presented of a great and powerful body opposed to the people of Dagenham and Thurrock. It is nothing of the kind. It is a question of which need is the greater.
As the representative of one of the areas of London, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock that although, as he said, there are in his constituency 4,000 people on the waiting list for houses, in my area there are 15,000. He may have his point of view, but I, too, have mine.
§ Mr. Delargy
There is one difference between us. I am not seeking to rehouse my constituents in Islington, but my hon. Friend is seeking to rehouse his con-constituents in my constituency.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)
The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) would not have a constituency were it not that Londoners have moved out to Thurrock.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.118
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Captain F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
I beg to move,That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill that they make provision that, in the exercise of the powers extended by Clause 36, the compensation payable where the London County Council compulsorily acquires land in pursuance of notices to treat issued, or contracts completed, prior to 1st July, 1948, shall be not less than that which would have been payable had the date of such notice to treat or contract been the date on which the Bill comes into force.I wish to emphasise that it is neither my intention nor my wish to indulge in any form of vendetta, political or otherwise, against the London County Council. My object is to call attention to something which appears to me to be a grave defect in the law relating to the compulsory acquisition of land by local authorities and I hope to find some form of equitable relief. In view of the fact that last Session I introduced a Private Members' Bill designed to substitute current market values for the present criteria as a basis for the calculation of compensation, I think it also right to emphasise that tonight that is not my object.
My action is directed solely to correcting an anomaly which appears to me to amount to a direct contradiction not only of the principles upon which more recent Conservative legislation was founded in 1953 and 1954, but also of the principles upon which the party opposite built their own Act, the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947.
Clause 36 of the Bill seeks to extend the time during which certain land must be compulsorily acquired by the London County Council. Powers to acquire that land were originally contained in a similar Bill in 1937, twenty years ago, and from time to time they have been extended by quite a number of enactments culminating in the London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1954, which extended them to 1st October this year. Clause 36 seeks to extend them to 1st October, 1960, so that even if the present Bill is not passed, or even if this Clause were excluded, these powers would have been in force for twenty years.
As with so many matters of this nature, the delay in acting upon these powers has been due to the war, and certainly nobody would wish to blame the L.C.C. for that. Nevertheless, acting in perfectly good 119 faith, and certainly with no prior knowledge of the disruption of the powers which was about to happen, the London County Council issued notices to treat as far back as 1939. As hon. Members will be aware, the date of the notice to treat is absolutely crucial in these matters. It is with regard to the conditions upon that date that the compensation payable is calculated. Because these powers have so often been extended, and because so much time has intervened, we find that although some of this land is not actually acquired, compensation is and will be tied to 1939 values by virtue of old notices to treat.
I do not need to elaborate upon the transparent injustice of a situation of that nature, of a system which decrees that compensation be paid on values twenty years out of date, when the intervening period has been one of constant inflation. I am quite certain that that injustice is obvious to all hon. Members and I believe it to be more than obvious to the public. It is true that over the whole of the law relating to compulsory acquisition there is a somewhat similar element of injustice relating to claims under Part VI of the 1947 Act. Although I hope that my hon. Friend may be able to give some assurance on that general problem, it is of course a quite different one from that we are reviewing tonight.
In the first place, in cases under this procedure the intervening period has been very much longer. Therefore, the effect of inflation has been proportionately greater. In the second place, those 1939 values go to the root of the whole claim, whereas in the Part VI procedure the passage of time and inflation normally affect only a part of the claim. We have an entirely anomalous result where 1939 values, in those cases, are perpetuated ten years after Parliament has thought fit to reject them by repealing the relevant provisions of the 1944 Act and passing the Act of 1947.
There is a further anomaly in that, although notice to treat is in no sense a contract, by the procedure we are considering it can be kept alive long after it would cease to be operative under the Limitation Act, 1939. That is a very difficult position to justify. Apart altogether from the purely legal aspects of this question, I think it very questionable whether a situation of this sort is in the interests of sound administration by 120 local authorities, because that administration must depend to a large extent on the relationship of local authorities to the inhabitants of the areas for which they are responsible. That relationship must be very gravely prejudiced when the law of compensation forces a local authority into action which is manifestly unjust.
I have no doubt that local authorities as a whole, including London County Council, resent finding themselves in that position as much as would anyone else. In my constituency an otherwise thoroughly desirable development was rejected by the local council for the sole reason that it did not feel justified in offering the compensation which the law required it to offer and which seemed to it utterly unreasonable from the point of view of the vendor.
It is perfectly true that this problem is not confined to the L.C.C. It no doubt exists in many other cities and counties throughout the country. It will no doubt be argued that for that reason the proper way of tackling this problem would be by a public Act affecting the whole country. There is a great deal of force in that argument, but its weakness is the inevitable delay before a Government Act could find its way to the Statute Book, and meanwhile injustices continue. For my part, I see very little virtue in suggesting that, because we cannot cure those injustices simultaneously throughout the whole country, we should do nothing about them when we get the chance. If injustices are perpetrated in other areas, the plight of the victims will be no whit better if they know that similar injustices are also occurring in London. On the contrary, if we abolish them in London, London, with its unique position, affords an example and offers hope that that example will be followed speedily. I trust, therefore, that hon. and right hon. Members will not be deceived into the idea that, whatever the injustices, nothing should be done because we cannot remedy them universally throughout the country.
I wish to say a few words about the terms of the Instruction. Its object, primarily, is to abolish forthwith 1939 values as a basis for compensation. I would be the first to admit that there is some difficulty in deciding upon the exact dates at which it is desirable to decide that a particular notice to treat becomes 121 out of date. There is the attraction of taking the analogy of the Limitation Act and saying twelve years, but if we do that we shall produce the result that in these restricted classes of cases we are denying a certain small number of vendors even the advantages of the 1947 Act after ten years. That does not seem to me to be a very justifiable proposition. I have, therefore, selected the date at which the 1947 Act as a whole came into force, but there again it is arguable that the date on which Part V of that Act came into force, 6th August, 1947, would be equally applicable.
To the ordinary person who approaches this for the first time, as I did, the obvious solution would appear to be to make null and void these old notices to treat, but I understand that would create very considerable administrative difficulties for London County Council. I do not think it is unreasonable, however, that where we have notices to treat which have not been acted upon in ten years, in effect —and the effect of this Instruction will be that—negotiations as to price should start again from scratch.
It is fair to say that this situation does not arise directly from this particular Bill. Even if the Clause were not in the Bill, old notices to treat, I understand, would remain alive even if the actual powers of acquisition had died, provided that the powers to carry out the work remained. Nevertheless, the fact remains that because this Clause is in the Bill we are given the opportunity in this House to rectify what I think almost all hon. Members would agree is an obvious injustice. I hope that all hon. Members, on both sides of the House, will agree that, where we have such an opportunity to rectify injustice, we should be failing in our duty if we neglected to take it.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Am I to take it that the hon. and gallant Member for Gloucestershire, South (Captain Corfield) has moved the Instruction in the form in which it appears on the Order Paper?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
Perhaps I could deal with that question now. The intention is that the Instruction be moved and seconded and, directly after that, there is a manuscript Amendment which Mr. Speaker has approved. I propose to 122 call the manuscript Amendment as soon as the Instruction had been moved and seconded.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mr. G. B. H. Currie (Down, North)
I beg to second the Motion.
I have pleasure in seconding the Motion, which has been so clearly proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Captain Corfield). I appreciate that in this matter grave delay has been inflicted on London County Council in carrying out its schemes and following up its notices to treat, which grave delay came through the war. As a result of the 1939 Emergency Regulations and the necessity for turning the effort of this country to warlike matters instead of following our peaceful pursuits, London County Council, with many other local authorities, had to abandon for the time being major development schemes. Many of those schemes were most desirable for the citizens of this great city and the area of London County Council.
I should not like any word I said this evening to be considered as being in any way a reflection on the work of London County Council, but I think that the council might possibly itself be anxious that the apparent injustice which many citizens are to suffer if matters remain as they are should be remedied at the earliest possible moment. They can be remedied if this Instruction receives the approval of the House.
The Instruction is quite simple, as hon. Members will see. All that is being sought is that present-day values shall be substituted for those of 1939. One realises that, where a notice to treat is served, negotiation as to price follows between the professional representative for the person whose property is being compulsorily acquired and the district valuer on behalf of the local authorities. I must say that I have never found district valuers to be warm-blooded, kindhearted gentlemen who offer any price that is in any way greater than they can get away with, but perhaps there is not much relevancy in that observation since, even under the proposed Instruction to the Committee, the price would no doubt be negotiated by the district valuer. But it may be, of course, that hon. Members, having that in mind, will be satisfied that 123 there is a safeguard, and that a further inflation in price will not take place in consequence of a new negotiation.
I have had brought to my notice an instance which may illustrate this difficulty. It concerns two spinster ladies, the Misses Lyon, who own property in the area which falls within the ambit of this Bill. On 4th February, 1939, they had served on them notices to treat. The price which was negotiated—it has never concluded—was the sum of £700. The value of that property today, as valued by a professional valuer, is over £2,000. In the meantime, of course, these ladies have had to provide for the upkeep of the property.
One knows that rent incomes have been controlled over the years—almost twenty years in this case—whereas, during that interval, the cost of repairs, of maintenance and of rent collection have gone up by between three and four times. Today, if the Bill goes through without an Instruction, these ladies are faced with a situation in which the property is liable to be taken from them at the value at which it stood in 1939. I suggest that that is unjust and inequitable, and is something which should be remedied.
When, same time ago, I introduced the Northern Ireland (Compensation for Compulsory Purchase) Bill I had support from both sides of the House, because its purpose was simply and solely to bring values up to present-day levels. It was an enabling Bill, enabling the Northern Ireland Government to introduce appropriate legislation. Its object was merely to bring the legislation into line with that passed in 1947 by those who now sit on the Opposition Benches, with great wisdom and with a certain degree of generosity, and which they re-enacted for Scotland in the same year in the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act.
I do not want to labour this point. I should have thought that there would have been agreement on it throughout the House. What is sought is the barest equity, and I think that we would all go home feeling much happier if we knew that these little people who are to be affected by this Bill were to receive adequate compensation for the properties which are being taken from them.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
To the Instruction, a manuscript Amendment has been 124 handed in by the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Partridge), and approved by Mr. Speaker. It is, in line 5, after "1948" to insert:except where the terms of acquisition have been agreed".
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, it may be that the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Partridge) will put it right, but I understood that, in addition to the words to be inserted after "1948," it was proposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite to omit the words "or contracts completed." I did not understand you to read that out, but perhaps that is my fault.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Such an Amendment is not in my hands. If the hon. Member has such a proposal to make it can be considered, but just now I call the hon. Member for Battersea, South to move his manuscript Amendment and, please, to read out exactly what it is.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Partridge (Battersea, South)
It is exactly as you have read out, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The manuscript Amendment that I submitted was approved by Mr. Speaker. I therefore beg to move, in line 5, after "1948," to insert:except where the terms of acquisition have been agreed".I must say that I did not find myself quite in agreement with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Captain Corfield) and my hon. Friend the Member for Down. North (Mr. Currie). My experience of the London County Council has evidently not been as happy as theirs. I regard the London County Council as a rather hard-hearted body, very often dictatorial, sometimes a little unscrupulous—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]—and not very honest when it comes to the demolition of the "pre-fabs" on Wandsworth Common; but we must not go into that today.
In order to overcome a difficulty that was seen by my hon. Friends and oneself, one was prepared to make it a little easier for the London County Council to deal with the outstanding and longstanding cases. I do not think the London County Council could grumble very much because in the brief, which I understand has been circulated to all London Members, the L.C.C. states quite 125 definitely that there are few cases outstanding in which notices to treat were served before August, 1947, and in which the compensation has not been agreed or assessed. Therefore, we start with the fact that there are very few cases involved.
Then the London County Council says that the Instruction is not limited to cases where a notice to treat is outstanding and where terms have not yet been agreed. It applies also where agreement has been reached but where, for one reason or another, completion has not taken place. If that is a legitimate complaint, it is remedied by the Amendment which I am moving. It is quite wrong for the London County Council to bring about a position such as has been outlined by my two hon. Friends, where they are seeking to take possession of land and buildings now but in respect of which the notice to treat was served many years ago, and to pay only the price that was ascertainable in 1939.
The London County Council says that if this is wrong, it is not wrong only in London. [Interruption.] There is an awful lot of competition going on in the Chamber; I hope it will cease. The L.C.C. says that it is not only in London that these injustices are found, if injustices they be, but that this applies all over the country, and that to alter the situation in respect of this Bill would be to discriminate in favour of certain London property owners. It is suggested that the whole of the present law should be amended.
It is probably right that the law should be amended, but when we get an example such as we have before us now, in which we are asked to extend the period until 1960, this is a time when we should say, "We do not give that extension unless the London County Council is prepared to mete out a certain measure of justice to those people from whom the property is to be acquired". When the L.C.C. says that it would not be right without the fullest inquiry to interfere with contracts which have been completed but under which the property has not been conveyed, possibly by agreement for the benefit of the owner, that is a reasonable statement to make and it is overcome by the Amendment.
126 As there are many Members who wish to speak and I have made my point, I shall say no more.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Bell (Bolton, East)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I am delighted to see that hon. Members opposite are interested in this matter, which is apparent from their little unofficial discussions which sometimes disturbed my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Partridge). A little more money may be asked from the London County Council. Those cases in which contracts were completed, the price agreed and notice served will not be disturbed at all. A lot of people made contracts in 1939 and wish they had not. They wish they had put it off until 1940. But if a contract was made with the London County Council for acquiring land in 1939, it is too bad and we must stand by it. The Amendment suggests that we should stand by it and not complain. What happens when a compulsory notice is served and negotiations are hanging fire—
§ Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)
What is puzzling hon. Members on this side of the House is that while the words "or contracts completed" remain in the Motion it makes nonsense of the words which are sought to be inserted, namely:except where terms of acquisition have been agreed.So far as I can see, it makes nonsense of what the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. We should like some elucidation of the point, because we understood that with the insertion of the new words the old words "or contracts completed" would be deleted.
§ Mr. Bell
I am sorry that the hon. Lady should think that what I am saying is nonsense. It may be that there is some nonsense wrapped up in these words; I have not got the manuscript Amendment before me. The Amendment does not intend to disturb contracts. There is a lot of difficulty in the case of contracts completed as to whether there has been a conveyance at all, but we are not concerned about that. The contract is made when the price is agreed, and everything has to go through a formality. As I understand this Amendment, it says "Do not upset the contract". I am supporting the Amendment which I understand has 127 that meaning. If it has not that meaning, I am supporting it as if that meaning were attached to it.
The wordsexcept where the terms of acquisition have been agreedrelate to the contract. I appeal to hon. Members opposite to consider the case which was cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea South (Mr. Partridge) of the two old ladies with the one property in which case the price was never agreed. Therefore, the door was never open. All they say is that no notice was served on their neighbours by accident, that a notice will be served on them after this Bill is passed, and they will get different compensation.
What we are suggesting is that these old ladies should be put upon the same footing as the other people in the same street who have not had their notices—not those who agreed the price, but those who have not agreed the price. This is a particularly hard case because it was, to a certain extent, open to the London County Council to clarify the position. There was, in this case in 1939 and 1940, a dispute as to whether there had been a binding contract, and that dispute was never resolved by any action being taken at all. It looks from Clause 36 as if the L.C.C. is endeavouring to avoid getting that dispute decided by basing itself upon these compulsory powers.
I am sure hon. Members opposite do not want to take advantage of a situation which has arisen accidentally and in which it is a small matter for the L.C.C. to say—and this is the intention which I construed in the Amendment—that where the price was never agreed in 1939 it should be open to agreement now on the basis of the new compensation values which apply now and not those which applied in 1939.
There is no party point about this. This is a question of individual justice which, I like to maintain—when I can get their minds round to seeing it—hon. Members' opposite are just as ready to accept as are we on this side of the House.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)
I will, if I may, put very shortly the attitude of the London County Council on this 128 matter. The hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Partridge) feels that the London County Council has a hard heart, but I assure him that it has not. The London County Council is a law-abiding body, and it is the law that the basis of compensation shall be the 1939 price where the notice to treat has been served before a certain date in 1947.
The County Council has, of course, no option but to pay compensation on that basis. Were it to do otherwise, its members would be surcharged and the Minister of Transport would not pay Road Fund grant on the extra moneys involved. As a corollary to that, should the law be altered at any time in the future, the London County Council would comply with the provisions of that law as it has always complied with the law in the past.
We have before us tonight a proposal that the law which is now a general law. applying to the whole country, shall be altered in respect of one part of the country only and that, therefore, there should, in the future, be one law for London and another law for the rest of the country. In fact, the result would be to discriminate in favour of London property owners as compared with property owners elsewhere.
We take our stand on that. We say that it is most unfortunate that, when the London County Council comes to this House and asks for an extension of time to enable it to carry out vital improvements—road improvements which hon. Members opposite constantly agitate for—and when there is not involved in the General Powers Bill any consideration or proposal whatever as to the basis of compensation, it is not right or proper that hon. Members opposite should seek to alter the law on such a vital matter on so flimsy a pretext.
§ Mr. Partridge
The hon. Lady says that all the London County Council is asking for is an extension of time for improvements. That is not so. The Council is asking for an extension of time for powers of compulsory purchase of land. We object not to improvements but to an extension of the time for compulsory purchase.
§ Mrs. Corbet
I have no quarrel with what the hon. Gentleman says. It is necessary to renew the powers to purchase in future. What I am saying is 129 that the London County Council requires those powers to enable it to carry out these necessary improvements, and in this General Powers Bill there is no proposition whatever about payment of compensation.
Were the L.C.C. coming to the House and asking that it should be permitted to pay less or pay more than is paid elsewhere, it would then be material and relevant to any such Bill that somebody should seek to move an Instruction to the Select Committee to throw out such a proposal. But that does not arise here. While I realise that people like to talk about the things nearest to their hearts, it is a little hard upon the London County Council that, in seeking to carry out the improvements and asking that it might have these powers quickly, it should be forced to worry about time and things of that kind when it comes to this House. However, that is a little beside the point.
Were there just a few outstanding cases which could be taken in isolation, so that the justice which all hon. Members, no doubt, wish to see could be met, we would see no difficulties. But there are, in fact, many difficulties and there are many considerations to be weighed. Those considerations should be weighed by the Minister if the House desires that the basis of compensation in these cases should be altered. He ought to be able to take the best possible advice and have all matters before him. I assure the House that there are many things to be considered. For instance, to give one example which arises often in these cases, property changes hands when the notice to treat is in operation, the price thereby being lowered, and the persons then in possession have got the property at a very low price indeed. As a result of a changed basis of compensation, the public purse would have to pay on an enhanced price to a totally undeserving person. There are those who have already been dealt with on the other basis. Hardship cases, no doubt, would have to be considered. There is also the consideration that this House ought to refuse to enact retrospective legislation in respect of the basis of compensation.
I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell hon. Members about the difficulties in the way. I feel that I should leave it to him, particularly as most hon. Members who seem to think that the 130 thing is so simple are on his side of the House. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will listen to what he has to say. I assure the House that the London County Council will faithfully carry out any changes in the law which Her Majesty's Government and Parliament may think fit to introduce.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I was getting a little anxious, during the hon. Lady's speech, that we were getting away from the small point of the manuscript Amendment. Would it be convenient to the House that we should deal with the manuscript Amendment now, and then come back to the main Instruction?
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I am wondering whether it would be better, if it be permissible under the rules, if the debate could comprise both the original Instruction and the manuscript Amendment. If I may say so, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, it has been a little inconvenient to have an Amendment obviously coming from the same quarter, indirectly, as the original Instruction, and it has made matters rather confused and a little more difficult to follow. If our discussion were broadened to cover both the Instruction and the Amendment, I think that would be useful. In fact, I thought that it was in that sense that my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbett) was speaking, legitimately.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think that we all have the same intention. I had thought that it might be easier to get this small Amendment dealt with and then come back to the main Question on the Instruction, if that were agreeable to the House.
§ Mr. Morrison
The question is, whether, for our part we would be agreeable to the Amendment being made now.
§ Mr. Morrison
Then I would be in favour of letting it go. I do not think that it improves the situation, but it would improve the debate.
§ Mr. A. Evans
The manuscript Amendment seems to contradict the Instruction. I suppose, that for procedural purposes, if the manuscript Amendment were made, we could get on better, but it does not add to the clarity of the debate.
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
I am loath to take part in a debate on anything to do with the London County Council, but the trouble which is being debated affects us in the countryside—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
May I interrupt the hon. Member? We are held up by a small manuscript Amendment. If I put the Question of the manuscript Amendment for a decision by the House, we can come back to the main Instruction and the hon. Member will be in order in saying what he wants to say.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I was going to beg the representatives of the London County Council, a very honourable body, to accept this small Amendment and give a lead to the country. I beg hon. Members opposite to accept this small Amendment, which would right many grievances that might arise.
§ Question, That those words be there inserted in the proposed Instruction, put and agreed to.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
We have now accepted the Amendment of the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Partridge). What worries me about it is this. We understood from what he said that he did not want the London County Council to be in a position to have to pay more where the contract had actually been completed.
§ Mr. Stewart
Let us get it clear. There are three things: notice to treat, contracts completed and terms of acquisition having been agreed. I presume that those occasions occur in this order of time: notice to treat, agreement reached on the terms of acquisition, and completion of contract. Apparently, by the manuscript Amendment, the L.C.C. is not to be required to pay any more if things have gone beyond the first of those three stages. If the second has been reached—agreement on the terms of acquisition—the L.C.C. is not to be asked to pay more.
§ Mr. Partridgeindicated assent.
§ Mr. Stewart
That is the sense of the Amendment. By the Instruction, however, the L.C.C. is to be required to pay 132 more if the third of those stages has been reached and contracts have been completed. If the hon. Member wants to prevent that, why did he not omit the words "contract completed" in his Amendment? The difficulty for the L.C.C. as the position now stands is that to a layman the Amendment would appear to say two totally contradictory things. A layman might think that the words "contracts completed" are made meaningless by the Amendment which has just been accepted on the suggestion of the hon. Member for Battersea, South.
§ Mr. Partridge
The hon. Member is putting too narrow an interpretation on "contracts completed". My understanding is that if a contract is completed, it is finished and done with.
§ Mr. Partridge
The hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) is a half-wit wherever he is. If he would leave me alone, it would help matters. If "contracts completed" is not construed narrowly, there is, in my view, no ambiguity. If the contract is completed, it is finished and done with.
§ Mr. Stewart
In that case, there seems to be even less reason why the words "contracts completed" should be included. What worries me is that at the moment those words are included and that if that Instruction were carried out, the L.C.C. might for all I know—I am not a lawyer—be required to pay more money even if the contract has been completed. Surely, that is not the intention of the hon. Member for Battersea, South. He would have made his intention clearer had he accepted the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) and drafted an Amendment which cut out the words "contracts completed". That is with regard to the minor Amendment, which is, after all, only a secondary issue. However, the L.C.C. could not be expected to regard with favour an Instruction affecting "contracts completed".
The only other thing I would say is this. As I understand it, after a notice to treat has been served it is still open to the owner of the property to sell that property to somebody else. It may have happened that that property has in fact 133 been sold and that the benefit of this Instruction is supposed to confer will not be conferred on the person who originally owned the property but on some other party, who has bought the property at a price made low by the fact that there was a notice to treat on it.
§ Mr. Partridge
Has the hon. Gentleman knowledge of actual cases? There are very narrowly stated circumstances in Clause 36, and it really is not quite fair to quote hypothetical cases when we have actual examples set out in Clause 36. Have these cases the hon. Gentleman is now putting to the House occurred in any of the circumstances set out in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) in Clause 36? If not, he is being a little unfair.
§ Mr. Stewart
Not to my knowledge. However, I am working through all the possibilities.
Let us suppose no such cases exist. We are still left with the fact that the owner of property, if notice to treat is served, is in a position, if he wishes and is able to do so, to sell that property to somebody else. What happens then when the notice to treat is served? The notice to treat is served at a given date. The date at which it is served under the existing law determines the basis on which compensation is to be fixed, and a not unreasonable estimate—not a precise one but a not unreasonable one—can be made by the owner of the property of the sum of money he is likely to get for it. It is open to him either to keep that property until it finally passes into the ownership of the public authority or to sell it to somebody else.
The owner who has not sold it to somebody else is simply in the position of somebody who has either decided or for some reason been obliged to keep his property in the form of a certain sum of money. Everybody who has done that has suffered from inflation, and it really cannot be justified that this group of people should be drawn out of the general effects of the movement of prices since 1939.
In 1939 I was obliged, owing to the way in which the war affected my circumstances, to sell the motor car I owned, and I was not able at that time to obtain a particularly good price for it. My motor car was transformed into a given sum of money, just as the piece of property is 134 transformed into a sum of money by the service of a notice to treat on it. I felt rather hard done by at the time. I was not responsible for the war or the fact that motor cars were a drug on the market in 1939, but I did not come to Parliament asking it to put into my pocket the money that I should have got had I been in the position to hold on to my motor car and to sell it after the war.
§ Mr. Currie
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that his liabiliity for the upkeep of his motor car ceased when he made that sale in 1939, whereas in the case of the property owner liability for repairs under agreements and so on remained?
§ Mr. Stewart
I am pointing out that that was so.
What I am saying is that when a notice to treat is served the value of £x is put on the piece of property by the notice to treat. It becomes impossible for the local authorities to say that the sums of money they have had to pay out for property compulsorily acquired, having been once fixed by law, should be altered retrospectively. I think it would be an extremely doubtful principle in general, and if it is to be applied, as proposed in this Instruction, to one local authority and not to the rest, it really will create an impossible situation of injustice, and I do not think either the L.C.C. or any other local authority to which such a proposition were made could be asked to accept it.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. R. Bevins)
We have had an interesting though short discussion on the Motion in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Captain Corfield). I know that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) will forgive me if I do not follow him in some of his theorising on inflation and its cause and effect, with which I was not very deeply impressed.
I have listened with a great deal of sympathy to both my hon. Friends in the case that they put forward and to the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) in support of the attitude of the London County Council. What I have to say I will say very briefly, but 135 I should like to put the right balance on those arguments.
Clause 36 of the Bill extends, as my hon. Friend said, until October, 1960, the powers of acquisition for certain street works given to the L.C.C. by Acts of 1937 and 1939. Without the successive extensions granted by later Acts the powers would have lapsed some time ago. As I understand, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South, supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Currie) based their objection to this Clause on the fact that in a number of cases—I think that to be precise there are 13—notices to treat were served as long ago as 1939 and for various reasons no progress was made in those cases, and even now the acquisitions have not yet been completed by the L.C.C.
Since compensation on compulsory acquisition is assessed, as has been very rightly stated, in accordance with the statutes and at the values which prevail at the date of the notices to treat, in those cases in 1939, the owners of those properties are liable to be bought out either now, or perhaps next year, the year after, or at some future date on the basis of pre-war prices.
My hon. Friend has complained—and I certainly think with just cause—that this in itself is unjust. I am advised that, in law, the position is that once notice to treat has been served it is open to either party to have the compensation assessed, if necessary by arbitration, and thereby compel completion of the purchase. In the cases that we are discussing tonight, notices to treat were served before November, 1944, and compensation would, therefore, be at the market value current at the date of the notices, as my hon. and gallant Friend rightly said.
This problem is not confined to the 13 cases which concern the London County Council. Quite recently, the Blackpool Corporation announced its intention—it has been published, I think, in one of the periodicals or newspapers—to proceed with the compulsory purchase of properties in pursuance of more than 100 notices which were served before the last war. It may well be that the same sort of situation arises in other parts of the country.
136 I want to be perfectly candid with the House tonight. At the moment, my right hon. Friend does not know the extent of this problem and the evidence which is before the Ministry at present on this subject is rather sketchy. It may well be—I put it no higher than that—that there are outstanding notices to treat going back many years, not only under local Acts such as we are discussing this evening but also under some general Acts of Parliament as well.
The problem here, as I see it, is essentially one of compensation. It is not a problem of town and country planning. It is a problem of what is the fair amount of compensation which ought to be paid in these cases. As such, it impinges on the wider issues that arise in connection with compensation for compulsory acquisition, issues which are constantly exercising the mind of my right hon. Friend. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend the member for Gloucestershire, South is concerned that the general position, as opposed to the London position, should be carefully considered, but today he wants to secure some remedy for these particular cases involving the London County Council and members of the public in London. These, of course, arise under local legislation, and if the House thinks it right to make some special provision for these cases my right hon. Friend will have no objection.
The House must appreciate that if it seeks to make special provision for these cases it cannot avoid creating certain anomalies. The result might well be, for example, that neighbouring owners of land would be compensated on quite different terms. Some owners by way of compensation could receive benefit for betterment resulting from improvements already carried out at the public expense, and some of these anomalies might be very difficult to remedy at a later stage. It is in the nature of things that once we start to remedy injustices of this kind—and I do not deny that there are injustices—it is difficult to decide now far we should go.
I do not know whether my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South wishes to press this Instruction as it stands in its amended form, or whether he would be content that the Committee, knowing the views expressed by the House, should look at the matter and consider what provision 137 it is best to make in the context of the Bill. I agree that we have no easy task to balance all the conflicting considerations. I emphasise that this is not a simple issue and, although there is in these cases demonstrable injustice, there is a wider aspect to which the House should devote some attention.
So far as the general question goes, and this is part of a general problem, my right hon. Friend—
§ Mr. A. Evans
The hon. Gentleman said that the Minister is considering this matter. Can he say when the Minister will deal with the admitted anomalies and injustices?
§ Mr. Bevins
I cannot give the House any indication of the time that is likely to elapse within which my right hon. Friend would be prepared to make a statement on the general problem.
I said that I wanted to be completely frank with the House on this occasion, as indeed on all other occasions. It may seem strange to hon. Members, but cases of this sort have come to the attention of my right hon. Friend only in most recent times. During the last few weeks, however, we have come across these cases not only in London but in Blackpool and in other parts of the country. My right hon. Friend and I are not in a position to know the extent of the problem at the moment, but so far as the general question goes, and these London cases form part of the general question, my right hon. Friend is very willing to look into it to discover both the extent and the character of the problem and later to inform the House of his conclusions.
As I have said, this is not an easy matter and I have tried on behalf of my right hon. Friend to put it to the House in a balanced form.
I summarise it in this way. My right hon. Friend accepts that it is an injustice in the case of this limited instance in the London area. We accept that it happens in the country. It is liable—I put it no higher than that—to inflict hardship on those concerned. This may well prove to be a general rather than a London problem, and although we are perfectly happy that the House should come to its own decision on this matter tonight we shall see that the general matter is considered.
§ Mr. Partridge
Is my hon. Friend advising the House that there is anything wrong in stopping these injustices now before us, or that there is anything wrong with dealing with them tonight while the matter is being considered by my right hon. Friend and legislation introduced, if necessary? Is he saying that we should not deal with it tonight?
§ Mr. Bevins
No, I am saying nothing of the sort. What I am saying is that my right hon. Friend accepts that hardship has been demonstrated in these London examples and that, as this is private legislation, it is a matter obviously within the competence of the House of Commons to decide, either to accept or to reject the Motion. Whatever decision is reached tonight, it will be the intention of my right hon. Friend to do what he conceives to be his duty, to look at the general problem on which this case has focussed attention.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
A fair amount has been said on the general issue and it is not necessary for me to deal with it at length, but I ought to mention one or two points which are material to the Motion and to what the Parliamentary Secretary has said. I will come to the Parliamentary Secretary presently. I think that he said something he ought not to have said about the proceedings upstairs.
The delay in this matter is not the fault of the London County Council. There are two reasons for it. One was the outbreak of war, which obviously put paid to this sort of thing for the time being, and the other was that the Minister of Transport, for reasons which could be controversial, but about which I do not wish to start a controversy, has been holding up public improvements because of the Government's desire to restrict capital expenditure.
The ratepayers of London are worth a word of sympathy now and again and I am bound to say that they do not get it from hon. Members opposite, who seem on this, as on the last occasion, determined to put a burden on London ratepayers. When their friends fight the next London County Council election, they will try to make out that they want to get the rates down. We shall have an answer
139 If the argument of hon. Members opposite were accepted, the ratepayers of London would be forced to pay more for the two reasons I have given and which are outside their control, and the delay by the Minister of Transport would have put an added burden on the ratepayers of London—that is, if the value of the property had increased. Moreover, the London County Council took its action in good faith, yet it is now sought to introduce an Instruction to the Committee upstairs to take retrospective action altering the law on this matter, although the Council has proceeded on the basis of the law as it existed and is in the middle of the process of moving towards the improvements. Such action would be unfair and improper.
Moreover, this will create inequity. It will create the most alarming differences. Under the law as it is, once the notice to treat has been given, that fixes the date of the basis upon which the compensation takes place. That is the law, and the L.C.C. did not make the law. It was made by this House, and this House has to observe it. Under the terms of this Motion, there is provision for compensation payable where the L.C.C. compulsorily acquired land—in pursuance of notices to treat issued, or contracts completed,"—and those words are still there—except where the terms of acquisition have been agreed.So we get a series of classes of cases treated on a somewhat different basis. That is not equitable to the individual on the other side of the fence nor to the council on this side of the fence—nor is it in the public interest.
The Amendment to the Motion makes the situation even more ridiculous and absurd than it was in the first instance. That is why I did not object to the Amendment being made to the Motion. I thought that it would be easier to defeat the Motion in those circumstances than otherwise. These inequities will arise. Some of this land or property will have been sold since 1939, presumably on the basis of a restricted value under the existing law. What is to happen about compensation? All sorts of things may have happened. An increase in the rent received may have occurred and, on the other hand, there may be circumstances in 140 which there was no change of ownership and no increase in rent.
Although there may be points to argue as between one case and another, the House really ought not to go in for an Instruction which, if anything, increases the inequity of treatment. We have a situation in which the general law is as has been stated. With great respect, I say that the House of Commons has no right to jump in and amend the law against a particular local authority, not even the L.C.C.—even if it may not be as popular with hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite since it has had a Labour majority as it was when it had a Conservative majority—though it was not very popular then.
This sort of thing ought to stop. The last time a Money Bill was before the House, I said that the House was trying to transform itself into the Finance Committee of the L.C.C. Tonight, the arguments were so thin and the Instruction so silly that I began to wonder whether we were not in danger of transforming ourselves into a speakers' class. Really, the House of Commons ought to take this matter seriously, and not go in for a kind of half-larks, have a bit of a night out and a bit of fun, when we are interrupting a debate on a really important and serious subject.
I submit that this is the general law, and that neither the House nor a Committee upstairs has a right to amend it against a particular local authority, and that, therefore, this ought not to be done. There are arguments of equity, and I am not necessarily accepting—neither are the promoters—the assumption of the Parliamentary Secretary that there is such grave injustice here that we have a prima facie case to amend the law. We have to consider the public purse as well. I agree that we must consider the financial interests of individuals, but I do not assume as the Parliamentary Secretary does, that there is an argument for a general amendment of the law.
§ Mr. Bevins
I did not say that at all. I made it clear that I thought it had been demonstrated that probably in this particular case of the L.C.C. there had been hardships to the individuals involved. I also added that there was evidence that the same sort of thing is going on in different parts of the country, but I certainly did not say as a generalisation 141 that it was established throughout the country that what was going on led to hardship.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am sorry, but I do not understand the hon. Member. If he is arguing that in the case of the Misses Lyon, who were mentioned in the course of the debate, and in the case of somebody in the County Borough of Blackpool—which case was reported in the newspapers—compensation has to be adjusted, either because it has been brought to the notice of the House of Commons or because there has been publicity about it, he is creating more trouble. We cannot adjust cases for compensation in that light, under the law.
It would be a nuisance if the law were changed so that these matters were dealt with as if they were public assistance cases. We have to have general principles in the law, and they will sometimes produce things which are a little worrying. We may have to consider those next time, but I do not think from the debate so far that a prima facie case for an amendment of the law has been made out.
The Parliamentary Secretary said something else which alarmed me. He will probably tell me that I am wrong, but I understood him to say—as did a number of my hon. Friends—"Please will you be so good as to withdraw the Instruction and leave it to the Committee upstairs to see whether it can amend the Bill in such a way as to meet the point you are getting at?" Is not that an incitement to the Committee upstairs to do the very thing that we are objecting to, namely, make an exception of the London County Council?
If the Instruction is to be withdrawn, or if the House defeats it, whichever it may be, it is not for the Minister then to say to the Committee, "Examine the Bill," almost as if the Instruction had been carried. That is not paving proper respect to the House of Commons, or having proper regard for equity as between one local authority and another. For those reasons I hope that we may now peacefully proceed to the point of hon. Members withdrawing the Instruction, so that we may resume the important debate which was being carried on before tins one began.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) said that hon. Members on this side of the House were trying to create hardship for London ratepayers. On the contrary, we are endeavouring to see that London ratepayers do not treat individuals unfairly in acquiring property at 1939 values. This applies all over the country, and not merely in London. If that property had been acquired in 1939, at 1939 prices, the vendors of the property would have been able to invest their money in equities, and they would have increased in value fairly substantially.
We say that if property is wanted today by the London County Council or any other county council it should pay a fair value for it, and should not go hack to 1939 prices.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)
I cannot add much to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) has said, but it really is becoming common in this Chamber for hon. Members opposite to attack the Labour-controlled London County Council as much as they possibly can. They are doing it mainly because it is Labour-controlled. We find them coming from as far away as Northern Ireland and Gloucestershire.
§ Captain Corfield
If the hon. Member will read my speech in HANSARD tomorrow he will see that I was very careful not to attack the London County Council at any stage. I approach this matter purely upon the general principle of 1939 values. If the hon. Member wishes me to attack the London County Council, however, I will certainly do so later.
§ Mr. Edwards
I listened to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech, so I do not need to read it in HANSARD tomorrow. It was an indirect attack upon the London County Council. It is rather strange that when other county councils bring Bills to this House—especially when they are Conservative-controlled councils—we never have any complaints from hon. Members opposite.
I am rather annoyed at the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, who is trying to sit on both sides of the fence. He 143 has the audacity to say that whatever happens tonight, whether this Instruction be accepted or not, it is the view of his right hon. Friend that the Committee should pay attention to what has been said by hon. Members on the other side of the House, not by hon. Members on this side.
Surely the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend have sufficient power within the Government that if they feel the present compensation law is not good enough for their property-owning friends, they can persuade the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House to introduce legislation and not wait for an attack upon another London County Council (General Powers) Bill.
§ Mr. Edwards
Hon. Members opposite are always too late. They were too late with the Shops Bill. There may be legislation next year.
The Parliamentary Secretary should have been honest and said that his right hon. Friend was so impressed by the case presented by the hon. and gallant Member for Gloucestershire, South (Captain Corfield) and the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Currie) that he felt it should go into the next Gracious Speech; and that not only should the London County Council pay increased compensation, but every other local authority, including those in Northern Ireland, should do so as well.
Most of the debate has been nothing less than an attack on the London County Council from behind a "smoke screen". I hope that the Government will realise that in future when such attacks take place it is their duty to defend local authorities and not provide opportunities for them to be attacked.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Evans
I agree with my hon. Friends that there is a certain amount of prejudice against the London County Council on the part of hon. Members opposite. But I acquit the hon. and gallant Member for Gloucestershire, South (Captain Corfield) of any such intention. He did not suggest that the London County Council was animated by any desire to be unfair. I think that the majority of hon. Members opposite would not accuse the London County Council of wishing to be unfair over such a trivial matter, because the amount involved here is not much.
The Parliamentary Secretary surprised me by saying that this matter was receiving attention and was occurring in various parts of the country. He said that it was a complicated matter, requiring the attention of his right hon. Friend, and that while the matter was under consideration he was advising that this Instruction might be accepted and this local authority dealt with piecemeal, at the same time as his right hon. Friend was dealing with the matter—
§ Mr. Bevins
The hon. Gentleman must not say that. I said that this was private legislation and that it was for the House of Commons to decide whether to accept or reject it.
§ Mr. Evans
It seemed to me that the Parliamentary Secretary said that his right hon. Friend had the matter before him, that there were other cases in other parts of the country, and that, while the Minister was considering them, he had no objection to this Instruction being accepted. It seems a rather irresponsible position for the Minister to accept the problem as being a general one and, at the same time, to have no objection to this being dealt with piecemeal.
§ Question, as amended, put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 75, Noes 76.145
|Division No. 162.]||AYES||[9.10 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Burden, F. F. A.||Farey-Jones, F. w.|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Butcher, Sir Herbert||Glyn, Col. R.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Chichester-Clark, R.||Green, A.|
|Barber, Anthony||Cooke, Robert||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)|
|Barter, John||Corfield, Capt, F. V.||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Currie, G. B. H.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Deedes, W. F.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Bishop, F. P.||Doughty, C. J. A.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)|
|Bossom, [...] Alfred||Drayson, G. B.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Elliott, R. W. (N'castle upon Tyne, N)||Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n)|
|Braine, B, R.||Errington, Sir Eric||Holland-Martin, C. J.|
|Hornby, R. P.||Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Mathew, R.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Mawby, R. L.||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)|
|Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr, S. L. C.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Nairn, D. L. S.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Kershaw, J. A.||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Oakshott, H. D.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Page, R. G.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Linstead, Sir H. N.||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)||Wade, D. W.|
|Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Longden, Gilbert||Pitman, I. J.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|McKibbin, A. J.||Pott, H. P.|
|Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Redmayne, M.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Russell, R. S.||Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Partridge.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Parker, J.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Lianelly)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Baird, J.||Hannan, W.||Pearson, A.|
|Bence, C. R (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Hayman, F. H.||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Blackburn, F.||Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Holmes, Horace||Reeves, J.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Brookway, A. F.||Hunter, A. E.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Short, E. W.|
|Champion, A. J.||Jeger, George (Goole)||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|Coldrick, W.||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St.Pncs, S.)||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||King, Dr. H. M.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Lawson, G. M.||Stones, W. (Consett)|
|Deer, G.||Logan, D. G.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Delargy, H. J.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Dodds, N. N.||Mahon, Simon||Thornton, E.|
|Dye, S.||Mayhew, C. P.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Mikardo, Ian||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Edwards, W J. (Stepney)||Mitchison, G. R.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Moody, A. S.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm,S.)||Woof, R. E.|
|Fienburgh, W.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Pargiter, G. A.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Hastings and Mr. Gibson.|