HC Deb 09 July 1959 vol 608 cc1742-63

F.—(1) The provisions of this Part of this Act shall have effect in relation to land which—

  1. (a) is land designated by a development plan as subject to compulsory acquisition, or
  2. (b) is land allocated by a development plan for the purposes of any functions of a government department, local authority or statutory undertakers, or of the National Coal Board, or is land defined in such a plan as the site of proposed development for the purposes of any such functions, or
  3. (c) is land indicated in a development plan (otherwise than by being allocated or defined as mentioned in the last preceding paragraph) as land on which a highway is proposed to be constructed or land to be included in a highway as proposed to be improved or altered, or
  4. (d) is land authorised by a special enactment to be compulsorily acquired, or land falling within the limits of deviation within which powers of compulsory acquisition conferred by a special enactment are exercisable, or
  5. (e) is land on or adjacent to the line of a highway proposed to be constructed, improved or altered, as indicated in an order or scheme which has come into operation under the provisions of Part II of the Highways Act, 1959, relating to trunk roads or special roads, being land in relation to which a power of compulsory acquisition conferred by any of the provisions of Part X of that Act may become exercisable, as being land required for purposes of construction, improvement or alteration as indicated in the order or scheme, or
  6. (f) is land shown on plans approved by a resolution of a local highway authority as land comprised in the site of a highway as proposed to be constructed, improved or altered by that authority.

(2) Where the whole or part of a hereditament or agricultural unit is comprised in land of any of the specified descriptions, and a person claims that—

  1. (a) he is entitled to an interest in that hereditament or unit, and
  2. (b) the interest is one which qualifies for protection under this Part of this Act, and
  3. (c) since the relevant date he has made reasonable endeavours to sell that interest, and
  4. (d) he has been unable to sell it except at a price substantially lower than that for which it might reasonably have been expected to 1743 sell if no part of the hereditament or unit were comprised in land of any of the specified descriptions,
he may serve on the appropriate authority a notice in the prescribed form requiring that authority to purchase that interest to the extent specified in, and otherwise in accordance with, the following provisions of this Part of this Act.

(3) The last preceding subsection shall apply in relation to an interest in part of a hereditament or agricultural unit as it applies in relation to an interest in the entirety of a hereditament or agricultural unit:

Provided that this subsection shall not enable any person—

  1. (a) if he is entitled to an interest in the entirety of a hereditament or agricultural unit, to make any claim or serve any notice under the last preceding subsection in respect of his interest in part of the hereditament or unit, or
  2. (b) if he is entitled to an interest only in part of a hereditament or agricultural unit, to make or serve any such claim or notice in respect of his interest in less than the entirety of that part.

(4) An interest in the whole or part of a hereditament shall be taken to be an interest qualifying for protection under this Part of this Act if, on the date of service of a notice under this section in respect thereof, either—

  1. (a) the annual value of the hereditament does not exceed the prescribed limit, and the interest in question is the interest of an owner-occupier of the hereditament, or
  2. (b) in a case not falling within the preceding paragraph, the interest in question is the interest of a resident owner-occupier of the hereditament.

(5) An interest in the whole or part of an agricultural unit shall be taken to be an interest qualifying for protection under this Part of this Act it on the date of service of a notice under this section in respect thereof, it is the interest of an owner-occupier of the unit.

(6) In the following provisions of this Part of this Act. 'the claimant', in relation to a notice served under this section, means the person who served that notice, and any reference to the interest of the claimant, in relation to such a notice, is a reference to the interest which the notice requires the appropriate authority to purchase as mentioned in subsection (2) of this section.

(7) In the application of this section to Scotland—

  1. (a) for any reference to the provisions of Part II of the Highways Act, 1959, relating to trunk roads or special roads, there shall be substituted a reference to the provisions of the Trunk Roads Act, 1946, or the Special Roads Act, 1949;
  2. (b) for any reference to any of the provisions of Part X of the said Act of 1959, there shall be substituted a reference to section thirteen of the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, 1935, as read with any of the following enactments, that is to say section 1744 four of the Trunk Roads Act, 1936, section five of the Trunk Roads Act, 1946, and sections nine, ten and fourteen of the Special Roads Act, 1949; and
  3. (c) for any reference to a highway there shall be substituted a reference to a road."

Read a Second time.

Mr. Mitchison

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, in line 35, leave out "or agricultural unit."

I am sure that the House will be relieved by one consideration. This minor Amendment carries with it all the Amendments on the Order Paper with the exception of two groups. For the convenience of hon. Members who no doubt wish to follow the proceedings with increasing attention, the two groups are as follows: In line 71, leave out "the prescribed limit" and insert "one hundred pounds." In line 76, leave out subsection (5) and the consequential Amendment to new Clause "J," leave out lines 75 to 79.

That is the first group. The second group relates to the new Schedule "A" and consists of the Amendments in line 151, leave out "in respect of a hereditament." In line 154, leave out "hereditament "and insert" land in question "and the Amendment to leave out lines 157 to 164. With these two groups of exceptions, all the other Amendments on the Order Paper follow the one which I have moved.

The point raised by the Amendment is that there was a Clause in the Bill relating to what is commonly called "planning blight," that is, to cases where the planning authority makes plans for the development of an area, or comprehensive plans of that sort, some time in advance and the plans become known. On the basis of compensation as it has hitherto existed, those in the area affected think, rightly or wrongly—it does not matter for these purposes—that they will not get sufficient compensation and do not know what compensation they can get, and that view is shared by other people in the district.

The result is that properties in the area, and particularly houses, are very likely indeed to become unsaleable. Taking the provisions shortly, they amounted in the original Bill to this, that in a case of that sort a resident owner-occupier was entitled to say to the council "You have got to buy my house" if he could show that he had tried to sell it and either could not do so or could not do so except at a price substantially lower than it would have been if there had been no planning blight.

In that form the Clause went through all our proceedings with general acceptance, and a great many of my hon. Friends from Welsh constituencies were particularly glad of it. We welcomed it in Committee. There was a short discussion on some minor Amendments, but, from our side at any rate, no more was said at that stage.

The right hon. Gentleman was on one or two occasions asked to extend it from resident owner-occupiers to another type of owner-occupiers, people who were not in residences at all but yet owned and occupied some other building in the district. I will refer the House in a moment to what the right hon. Gentleman said, because he produced such convincing reasons against what he is now proposing to do that I should feel at this late hour that it was almost impossible to improve on him, and that—if he will not take the analogy too literally—I definitely prefer Philip sober to what I now see—Philip rather drunk—because Philip has, after all, in this instance added a new part to the Bill instead of the one Clause and a mass of new Clauses that we have now to consider.

What do the new provisions amount to? Without going into them in any detail, they amount to this, that the previous right of the resident owner-occupier in respect of a house is extended to any other owner-occupier on the same conditions with one, and only one, addition, and that is that the rateable value of his property must be not above the prescribed limit. The Government announced in another place that the prescribed limit was to be £250. There is an Amendment tabled about that; I will not refer to it at the moment beyond saying that I think it is a very high prescribed limit.

What I am more concerned with are the merits of the Clause, and I will now do what I said I would do. I think I might begin with the Parliamentary Secretary, for both he and the right hon. Gentleman are involved and each is as bad as the other. On Second Reading the hon. Gentleman said: It may be wondered why this principle"— that is, compensation for planning blight— is not being extended to owners of investment house property or industrial premises. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland have given this problem a good deal of thought"— This—I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not take it amiss—is quite a common phrase of his, and whenever I hear it I wonder what the result of the thought is going to be, because as a rule it is something which hardly merits the amount of wet towels which they have put round their heads— and they believe that Clause 31"— that was the Clause in question— will probably cover about 95 per cent. of the hardship cases which arise. There is no doubt that this hardship falls mainly upon owner-occupiers. Where, however, hardship occurs and the provisions in the Bill do not apply, we are asking local authorities to help by buying ahead of requirements."— There are provisions in the Bill, so far as I remember. The local authority associations have indicated to us that they could have dealt with the whole of the problem in this way, provided that loan sanction and any appropriate grants were forthcoming. I should add that we ought not to give the owners of commercial and industrial properties, regardless of hardship, a statutory right to unload on to local authorities at any time they think fit. That would be wrong, and unreasonable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th Nov., 1958; Vol. 595, c. 592.] That is what the Government have done. That was what the Parliamentary Secretary said, and now let us turn to the Minister himself. Last November, on the Second Reading of this Bill he said, I now come to the question of planning blight. I am grateful for the approval which both sides of the House have given to these provisions. The statutory right to claim that the local authority shall purchase is limited to owner-occupiers because we believe that they suffer the principal hardship. The owners of property for investment purposes are not under the same compulsion to sell and to realise cash as is the owner-occupier who needs to move elsewhere". I fully agree. The right hon. Gentleman went on, I would point out, however—since this has not been fully appreciated either in this debate or outside the House—that there is a change in Government policy which will affect this whole field Outside the statutory provisions local authorities and public authorities generally will have discretion to purchase in advance other types of property besides the residential owner-occupied property. Hitherto the bias of Government policy has been against their doing that. Loan sanction has been grudgingly given, and Exchequer grants have not been available until the actual development took place ". Then, leaving out a few words, the Minister went on, … all that is being reversed, and the Government will in future be encouraging local authorities to meet cases of hardship by purchasing in advance. Again, leaving out a few words, the Minister said: I would only ask hon Members"— as I ask them now, not to put local authorities in a position where they will have to take over the property of any industrial or commercial firm which chooses its time for unloading upon them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November. 1958; Vol. 595, c. 693.] Those are very wise words which met with general approval at the time. But, on 3rd March last, during the Committee stage, the Minister said: It is extremely difficult to know where the best line should be drawn between a statutory obligation to purchase and a discretionary power. I wish to be frank with the Committee and to say that no point in the preparation of this Bill gave the Government more cause for anxious thought than this definition in Clause 31. That is, the definition of resident owner-occupier. Later the Minister said: After a great deal of thought we came to the conclusion that the right course would be to apply a statutory obligation on the public authority to buy blighted property when that was residential property in the personal occupation of the owner. Then he referred to the 95 per cent. and the 5 per cent. and said: Secondly, there can be no doubt about the existence of hardship in such cases. An owner-occupier does not suddenly want to sell his house and go away. He does not do that unless he has a good reason. I heartily agree. The Minister went on: An owner-occupier does not put his house in the market unless he has a substantial cause for desiring to dispose of it and realise the value. Though it might be assumed that others who were not owner-occupiers also had substantial cause, it would depend on the circumstances of the case with them, whereas in the case of an owner-occupier one could always be sure that there was a cause for his wishing to sell. Thirdly, in the case of the owner-occupier there is no question about good faith. He would not simply want to unload his house on the market. Here, I would point out, we have the same point again. The Minister went on: He would not decide that the time was ripe to move and that he might be able to get a good price for the house and take advantage of the provisions of the Clause."— Hon. Members will recall that they were the same provisions about being able to sell or unable to get a reasonable price. He went on: He would not decide that the time was ripe to move and that he might be able to get a good price for the house and take advantage of the provisions of the Clause. Other owners—I am thinking particularly of owners of industrial or commercial property—might consider it a good moment to realise the business and to try to get the cash value of the property from a reluctant local authority. On those grounds it seemed to us that the crucial case was that of the owner-occupier."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 3rd March, 1959; c. 1150–l.] 12.30 a.m.

He went on for some time, but there was no concession at all to the suggestion which came from his own back benchers that something ought to be done in the case of owner-occupiers. The same reasons, to my mind most convincing reasons, were adduced against doing anything of the sort.

There has now been a great deal of re-drafting made necessary by this extension. To put the matter quite shortly, what has been done is to extend the resident owner-occupier provisions to the owner-occupiers of commercial, industrial or farm property with no safeguard other than the limit of £250 as the rateable value for the whole of the hereditament or agricultural unit in question.

I repeat that I could not improve on the right hon. Gentleman's eloquence and reasons unless, perchance, I were to prefer those of his hon. Friend. For the reasons which he and his hon. Friend gave on all the occasions when the question arose during the Bill's passage through the House, I trust that he and his hon. Friends will now withdraw their very extensive Amendments which this change has necessitated in the House of Lords, and will not ask us to support them.

Mr. MacColl

I beg to second the Amendment.

I do with the sense of doom of one whose last train has just gone. Why is it necessary to have the Amendment? The last new Clause which we were discussing was a case where the Government had to act quickly because the nature of the circumstances made it impossible to insert the Clause at an earlier stage. Although we criticised the way in which it was handled, the House recognised the need for that.

In this case, as my hon. and learned Friend has pointed out, we were told as early as Second Reading that this had already been the subject of anxious and careful thought by the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State for Scotland. They had spent long hours discussing precisely this point and they had concluded, after balancing the pros and cons, that the right place to draw the line was at the resident owner-occupier.

What happened to change that? What has happened to lead us at this late hour to have to consider it? I do not know. I am not in a position to know. I imagine that the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) has had something to do with it, but I do not know. It is a very odd thing that the hon. Member for Crosby can sometimes lift his little finger and have the Government cower in terror, but when it came to compensation for redundancy for new town officials, somehow he did not seem to have that effect. Perhaps he was not so persistent.

If the Government are going as far as this, so as to include the owner-occupier who is not resident, why do they not go further? Why draw the line here? What is the characteristic of this class of persons which makes it necessary that they should be included? Let us take the hypothetical case of the widow who owns a house and lets it to a tenant and where the tenant moves out and where, because of planning blight, the widow, dependent on letting the house for a living, cannot let it to another tenant.

Why should she not get some protection? Why is she not in the same sort of position as the businessman who wants to unload his undertaking because the situation here—and I hope the House appreciates this—is not one where wholesale development is taking place and houses are being demolished all round and the shop is being deserted by its good will and its clientele. That is not the situation. That is different and can be dealt with, as it is constantly done, by development authorities.

This is the case where nothing has happened. There has been no material change in the situation. The blight is due entirely to an intending activity in the future. If, therefore, one considers the shop as an illustration, the customers are still there to go into the shop. There is all the opportunity for the trade to go on in precisely the same way.

Mr. H. Brooke

On a point of order. Are we discussing the two or three groups of Opposition Amendments together? When we are discussing farm land, one does not normally speak of terms of trade, as the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) is doing.

Mr. Speaker

The same point was troubling me. The Amendment proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman is, in line 35, leave out "or agricultural unit". That was the one I thought we were on and in that context I could not understand the speech of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl).

Mr. Mitchison

On a point of order. I think it was probably my fault. I hoped that we could discuss all the Amendments, with the exceptions that I mentioned, which raised two other points. It was with that in mind that I said what I had to say on the general question. The new Clauses that now appear in the Bill, to all of which I was referring with the exception of one, cover the matter in some detail.

I took it very shortly but the effect is to introduce, in addition to the resident owner-occupier, any owner-occupier of a hereditament or agricultural unit provided that the hereditament or agricultural unit is not above £250 rateable value. That is the effect of the whole thing and it was to that that I directed what I had to say. I thought we were taking them all together.

Mr. Speaker

When we come to it, does the hon. and learned Member not desire to move the Amendment to line 71, leave out "the prescribed limit"?

Mr. Mitchison

That was one of the two exceptions. The other, if I put the effect of it, was the point about severance and disturbance, which I hope at this late hour of the night we shall not be to long about, which occurs in Schedule "A". With those exceptions, every Amendment was intended to be covered by what I said.

Mr. Speaker

Very well.

Mr. MacColl

I am relieved to think that it was only in that context that my speech was difficult to understand and not in the development of the general argument. I am sorry if I have gone too far, but I have been carried away by my hon. and learned Friend's eloquence.

The main point that I wanted to deal with was the problem of the commercial undertaking, because there is no case for including the commercial undertaking which happens to have an owner-occupier, and an undertaking or a house or anything else where the difficulty is that it cannot be let.

Mr. Speaker

Can the hon. Member help me by indicating what words in the Amendment refer to a commercial undertaking? I do not quite follow that. I see only "or agricultural unit," and the group of Amendments to leave out "or unit." I do not see anything about a commercial undertaking. I may be wrong.

Mr. MacColl

I am sure you are not wrong, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that I am wrong. Again, I was trying to avoid making another speech dealing with the new Clause.

Mr. Speaker

We have not come to that yet. I hope that we may hear the hon Member when I put the Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

Mr. Mitchison

I think that the critical Amendment is in the new Clause "F," in line 69, leave out from "thereof" to second "the" in line 73.

Mr. MacColl


Mr. Speaker

I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman is doing his best to help the House in this matter, but I think that the old-fashioned way of getting on with this particular Amendment in line 35, leave out "or agricultural unit" might be quicker in the long run. If there is any other Amendment which the hon. and learned Member would like to move I will gladly let him do so. When I last heard the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) he did not seem to be applying himself to the question of an agricultural unit. I will put it to the House. Amendment proposed: In line 35, leave out "or agricultural unit."

Mr. Mitchison

May I make an even simpler suggestion, Mr. Speaker? Let us not move this Amendment at all. Let us take the matter on the first of the Lords new Clauses. Would it be possible, consistent with the rules of order, to regard the speech that I have just made as having been made on that occasion? If I move it formally my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) can no doubt second it.

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps I can accommodate the hon. and learned Member. What would be the Motion that he has moved?

Mr. Mitchison

I imagine that at some stage or another the Government propose to move new Clause "F," or a paving Amendment. When they do I will make the speech I have just made in opposition to it. That is exactly the same point.

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps we can now pass to the hon. and learned Member's Amendment, in line 71. There is a special point on that, is there not?

Mr. Mitchison

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, in line 71, leave out "the prescribed limit" and insert "one hundred pounds."

I must assume, for the purposes of this Amendment, that I have not succeeded in persuading this crowded House to reject the new Clause "F." That being so the question is, ought that to be the right limit in the case I indicated just now? This is a matter upon which we must form our own judgment, and form it quickly. There is not much argument about it. To have a rateable value as high as £250, which is what the Bill provides, will let in a great deal of property that is particularly open to the objections that the right hon. Gentleman made in the course of the passage of the Bill through this House.

12.45 a.m.

If we really want to protect the small shopkeeper and small farmer, and so on, and particularly the small shopkeeper—I should have thought that the extent to which this affects farms was much less—then a limit of £100 is plenty. When we get to the range of between £100 and £250 we shall be protecting people who are far more likely to offload on to the local authority at a time convenient to themselves—I am paraphrasing the right hon. Gentleman—and who really deserve no particularly favourable treatment.

One has to remember in the whole of this argument that this is not a question of the amount of compensation which anyone will get. There is no question of that at all. The Bill is supposed to provide fair compensation. Whether it does or does not, these Clauses do not affect it. The only question is whether anyone is allowed to offload property, residential or otherwise, on to the local authority when the decision has been announced and before the local authority wishes to buy.

What I have said about this Amendment covers all that I would wish to say on the Amendment to line 76 and the further Amendment to new Clause "J," on page 2711 of the Notice Paper, to leave out lines 75 to 79, for these last lines merely contain the definition of the prescribed limit.

Mr. MacColl

I beg to second the Amendment.

I am bewildered and puzzled. As an earnest student of Parliamentary procedure, I find it a most extraordinary thing to grasp. I understand from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) that he knows from having read something somewhere else that the Government are going to present to the House an Order fixing a limit of a certain amount. The Bill, of course, does not say anything at all about what the limit will be. It simply calls it a "prescribed limit."

My first point is that there ought to be something in the Bill fixing the limit. It ought not to be left to an Order, because this is a point covering a good deal more than just making minor adjustments by a Statutory Instrument. This gives the Government power to raise the figure to whatever they like, and, in fact, to bring in all types of property.

I am not arguing whether it is right or wrong to do that, but the effect of this would be that, having got the Bill through in this form at this late stage, if subsequently the Government do some more earnest thinking and decide that there are many banks which are badly affected because their branches are suffering from planning blight and therefore that the banks ought to be bought by the local authorities, there is nothing to stop them raising the rateable value limit to cover property of that sort. The matter will just have to be discussed on the Statutory Instrument without any power to amend on a straight vote.

The first point I wish to make about this Amendment is that there ought to be a specific figure in the Bill. It ought not to be left to the discretion of the Government either to introduce an Order altering it or not, according to their whim.

My second point relates to the limit of £100, as it was put by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering. I am not disposed to argue about shillings, and £100 seems to be an accurate sort of guess. We are examining this matter quickly and late in the history of the Bill, and it represents a reversal in the attitude of the Government. We discussed the matter of market value during the debate on an earlier Amendment which was moved on the basis that there should be a rateable value limit placed on the operation of the Bill. At the beginning of our proceedings the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary were so sure of themselves that they were contemptuous of any suggestion of that sort. But if that is valid in this narrow context it is equally valid in the wider context, because the principle is very much the same. It is an attempt to use rateable value to allocate for special treatment people who are of reasonably moderate means.

This is all rather difficult, because we are discussing what is not in the possession of the House, except in so far as we accept what has been said by my hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Mitchison

It is a little more than that; it is what the Government said in another place.

Mr. MacColl

I repeat that what the Government said in another place is not in the possession of the House. It may be known to some hon. Members who have been surreptitiously reading in the Library the Official Report of the proceedings in another place. But it is not something which we have been told, except by my hon. and learned Friend. He has been assiduous in his researches and made a careful study of the proceedings in another place so that he is able to tell us what is the figure. We do not know from anything that the Government have told us. I am assuming a figure which is likely to be too high. I do not know how the Government have selected the figure which they are going to choose. I do not know what mental operations have gone on to produce it. It does not seem to me to be related to any particular test. The figure of £100 has a certain sanctity about it. It is a figure which may be found in the Rent Restriction Acts. I should have thought it a reasonable test with which to ascertain the small man who, I imagine is the person we are trying to help.

As the right hon. Gentleman said earlier, there is nothing to stop local authorities buying if they want to. We are not dealing with permission for the local authorities to buy in the higher case where at present they are prohibited from buying. It is a compulsion. They have to do something, and that is odd, because a large part of this Bill is designed to remove restrictions on local authorities. Here we are putting a compulsion on them and extending that compulsion, and I suspect that we are doing so without there having been any consultation with the local authorities. It is unlikely that the right hon. Gentleman has consulted the local authorities. It would not be according to his usual form if he had.

Mr. H. Brooke

Some hours ago, when our debate was better attended, the Government were charged with being in a state of mental confusion over the Bill. I must say that the hon. Members opposite seem to have been wandering in a veritable maze of their own Amendments recently, and I literally have no idea now to what Motion the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) was addressing himself in his last speech but one. In his last speech, I quite understand that he was addressing himself to the rateable value issue in regard to which the Amendment has been moved and seconded. I hope that I may enjoy a similar liberty to explain what is in the Government's mind, because it is necessary to go a little afield in order to answer the points which have been put.

Mr. Mitchison

Lest there is any confusion about this in future, though I do not want to take up time about it, I should point out that there is an Amendment on page 2703 of the Notice Paper, in line 69, to leave out from "thereof" to the second "the" in line 73, which is one of the ones I was discussing on the first of the whole linked batch of Amendments. I think that it covers the point to which I was trying to direct the attention of the House. The point will be equally well covered when we can discuss the new Clause, as we no doubt soon shall.

Mr. Brooke

I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned page 2703, which I do not have in my Paper. I am still in a state of uncertainty, but I think I should continue with my speech because I do not want to put the Opposition into further confusion.

The Government felt it desirable to introduce the new Clause to bring within the blight provisions the owner-occupiers of small businesses and farms because there seemed in such cases no risk of unloading at a chosen time, which might well be the case with some big concern, and there seemed to be a risk that the working proprietor might lose his livelihood. In passing, I should explain that, of course, the rateable value limit applies only to business premises and not to farms. It would be extremely difficult to apply a rateable value limit to farm lands since farm land is wholly derated. But that is the concept which, in the event, appealed to the Government, that one should, by these blight provisions, attempt to deal with personal hardship.

There has been general agreement that personal hardship might arise where the owner-occupier of a house wants to go and cannot sell his house. That is the obvious case. But a similar hardship might easily arise if an owner-occupier of a business found himself in difficulty because of blight and yet could not dispose of the business except at a sacrificial price. The same might well apply to a farm. The provisions in the new Clause are closely defined. It is not possible for anybody to do exactly what he likes. But on this particular issue of the rateable value limit, the Opposition are now arguing that it should not be left to be fixed by Order, subject to Prayer in the House, but a figure of £100 should be inserted in the Bill.

The first point I put in reply to that is that, if one were to fix as low a rateable value limit as £100 for business premises, one would be excluding all but the very smallest shops and businesses. If the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) doubts that, I would simply ask him to look at some valuation lists, where he will find that quite small shops and business premises have a valuation of over £100. Therefore, if one is to do this at all one ought to do it in a realistic way.

1.0 a.m.

Moreover, it appears to the Government that this is a case where it would not be unreasonable to take power to fix the limit by Order. One might not get it right the first time, and it would be a pity if, in circumstances that made it appear to be the wrong limit, legislation should be required to amend it in the light of experience. There will, of course, be Parliamentary control, as any Order of this character can be prayed against.

A figure of £100 would clearly be too low, and in another place my noble Friend, the Lord Chancellor, indicated that the figure the Government had in mind was £250. I should like to tell the House that we have shown to various bodies concerned a draft of the Order which, subject to final consideration, the Government have it in mind to make. So far, the representations we have received are that the figure of £250 is too low rather than too high. I cannot prejudge that—further representations may come in—but we shall certainly reach a decision in the light of all the evidence we can collect. I will give very careful consideration to everything said in this House, or by responsible bodies and persons outside, before making the Order, but I must, in all seriousness, say that a figure of £100 would be too low.

Perhaps I might go a little further, and make the point that while the Opposition appear to be anxious here to defend the interests of the local authorities so that the local authorities might not be obliged to buy more extensively than they desire, the Government have not received any representations of that character from the local authorities associations. Indeed, one—the County Councils Association—has indicated that it would not mind if the obligation to buy was made general and without limitation. Therefore, it is not the Opposition who are seeking to work in with the local authorities associations; they are taking a much narrower view than those associations themselves desire to take.

As I say, before making the Order, the Government will take everything into consideration, but I trust that the House will agree that it would be rendering the extension to business premises quite fruitless were we, by Statute, to fix as low a limit as £100.

Mr. Mitchison

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would allow me to give him a small piece of information. The Amendment to which I referred a few moments ago is at the top of page 2709 of the Notice Paper, and not, as I misread it, in page 2703.

Amendment to the Lords Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. MacColl

Perhaps I may resume the speech I was making on the Amendment—

Hon. Members

Oh, no.

Mr. MacColl

A very interesting and important point was brought out about the exact ramifications of this new Clause. I had been a little uncertain of what was to be its range. I had understood that the figure of £250 had been mentioned in another place and that that was what the new Clause was to deal with, but the right hon. Gentleman has now made it clear that that was not by any means an undertaking. Now, he has said openly that he is considering the possibility of a larger rateable value. My fears on that matter have, therefore, been very much confirmed.

My other point is that the Minister accused us of being a little confused. As we have said again and again, the fault lies in the way that this important question has been treated. What has happened since Second Reading and since the Committee stage which has made it necessary for the Government to change their mind? What is the new consideration? Did not the right hon. Gentleman make to himself then precisely the same speech as he made just now? If the arguments are persuasive now, they must have been persuasive then.

The other day, I paid tribute to the right hon. Gentleman being intelligent. I repeat that tribute, even at this late hour, even under the tension of being called confused. There was nothing in what the right hon. Gentleman has just said of which he was not fully aware when he spoke so firmly and resonantly at the earlier stages of the Bill. That is the trouble with the right hon. Gentleman. He can argue a case so well and stick obstinately to it through thick and thin and suddenly argue the opposite case with equal enthusiasm that it is difficult to have much confidence in his judgment.

The right hon. Gentleman quoted the County Councils' Association against us. That was a singularly unhappy association to quote. He paid great attention to its views on this matter, but not the slightest regard to its views concerning the Amendment to the new Clause "E." It is not very impressive to hide behind the County Councils' Association, nor, I imagine, will the right hon. Gentleman get a happy reception from that Association next time he tries to reach some kind of agreement with it.

The great thing about the residential owner-occupier is that he may be the victim of external circumstances, such as change of job, which force him to move and, therefore, force him to realise his assets—his house—because he must get a house in the place to which he moves. The move may well be outside his control and, therefore, as I understand the argument, he is in a special position. That does not apply, except in rare cases, to the ordinary commercial undertaking, with which there is no question of loss of custom, because the blight is purely a planning thing; it is not an actual redevelopment. Therefore, there is not the same stress as there is for the man who has to move.

One case which might receive special consideration is the man who is approaching retirement. The owner of a one-man business might want to retire, but has difficulty in finding anybody to take over his business because of planning blight. That is a strong case and one with which I have a good deal of sympathy. It must, however, have been in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman earlier. His answer was the persuasive argument that we can leave it to the good sense of the local authorities, encouraged by the Minister inviting them to buy in advance of requirements; it could be left to their good sense to treat such cases fairly. That would be a much better way of tackling the matter than, at this late stage in the development of the Bill, extending the Bill in this way.

I have been accused of being confused. I am confused, because I never know whether to accept the right hon. Gentleman's arguments. It is trying if one accepts them and then finds suddenly that he has dropped them himself and gone off on a completely different argument, reversing his position entirely. Anybody who would want to believe in the plausibility of what he said would find it extremely difficult.

Mr. Mitchison

Are we to have no explanation of this Clause by the Minister? If the matter has been passed, it has been passed. Has it been? Our arguments were directed to what he said here, but he had said the opposite.

Mr. H. Brooke

I am quite willing to speak on this Clause, by leave of the House.

First, may I just correct the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) on one thing? I think that he gave the House to understand that I was likely, in the Order, to fix the figure about £250. What I said was that representations had been made in favour of a figure of about £250 and that I would take everything into consideration; but I gave no indication that I was going to fix the figure above or below that. I must reserve my own judgment on that. What I do say is that it is most desirable to retain this power of fixing the limit by Order. Surely the hon. Gentlement will realise that. For none of us can tell what revaluation, for example, will do.

Mr. MacColl

The point I was trying to make was that I understood from what had been said that there had been an undertaking or some kind of positive assurance in another place that the figure of £250 was the one the Government were going to put in. I thought the right hon. Gentleman was too liable to pressure by a pressure group and might so go ahead.

Mr. Brooke

My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor indicated that £250 was the figure in the Government's mind, and what I have said tonight is that I will take into consideration everything that has been said here or elsewhere by people who are qualified to express a view on these matters; but it must not be taken for anything I have said today that I have already made up my mind to go either above or below £250. I simply assert, if only because of the contingency of revaluation, that it is desirable to fix these things by order and not by Statute.

The main point which the hon. Member was putting to me was that the Government had taken no notice at all of what was said during the Committee and other proceedings on the Bill. Surely it is one of the tasks of the Government to listen to what is said in Parliament and make up their mind in the light of that. From the outset the Parliamentary Secretary and I stated that in the Government's view there must be some limitation, and I say quite sincerely that our first conclusion was that it would need to be a limitation to the occupiers of residential property, because we saw the danger, if there were no such limitation, that somebody who might be running a substantial business and not doing very well, and who could show that the value of the business as a going concern was rather low, might seek to argue that that was due to planning blight and that he had a right to off-load the whole property on to the local authority at a time chosen by him. I do not think that anybody would approve that as a desirable possibility to which we ought to open the door.

In the light of the debates both here and in another place, it appeared to the Government that there was another parallel type of hardship which could be provided for and provided for in such a way as not to open the door to that kind of risk which I have indicated. That was the case of the owner-occupier of a small shop or business, or the owner-occupier of a farm, who might suffer from planning blight and so be at risk through his loss of livelihood, in that he might need to sell the business. He hight possibly have cause to go elsewhere, just as an occupier of a house has cause, and yet he would be quite unable to dispose of it at anything but a sacrificial price because of the extent of planning blight.

In the new Clauses which were inserted in the Bill in another place, we have extended our original plan for owner-occupiers to those other limited classes of people whose livelihood may otherwise be jeopardised by planning blight. It is not all-embracing. There will be a limitation of rateable value in the case of businesses and commercial premises. In the case of a farm, an obligation to buy will extend only to the area directly affected by the scheme. The Government confidently ask the House to concur in the Amendments believing that by incorporating them in the Bill we shall have extended the provision which Parliament should make so that hardship may be relieved but the door not opened to malpractices.

1.15 a.m.

Mr. Mitchison

The right hon. Gentleman is saying the direct opposite to what he has said previously in the House. On two occasions, on Second Reading, he and his hon. Friend rejected what he is now saying, and on a third occasion, in Committee, the right hon. Gentleman rejected it again. This matter was considered in Committee, but only one Amendment was put down by hon. Members opposite and that related only to hardship. I have just been looking at the record. The only hon. Member opposite who suggested what the Government are now proposing was the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington). Apparently, he is, for some reason, such a persuasive person that he has persuaded the Government to throw aside the fruits of long and anxious thought about which we heard so frequently on earlier occasions. Whether they thought this time or not is not so clear.

Question put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]

Mr. Mitchison

On a point of order. There was one other group of Amendments on the Notice Paper. Neither my hon. Friends nor I think they raise a sufficiently important point to justify keeping the House at this late hour. All the other new Clauses have been really discussed with the last new Clause. Consequently, we on this side of the House—I do not know about hon. Members opposite—should have no objection to the rest of Amendments being put in one solid block.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to. [Several with Special Entries.]

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