HC Deb 12 February 1964 vol 689 cc431-48

Order for Second Reading read.

6.10 p.m.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Maurice Macmillan)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill is, I hope, non-controversial although somewhat technical. Its only object is to wind up the scheme of compensation for war damage which was introduced during the Second World War. It also transfers most of the remaining administrative responsibilities for this scheme to the Inland Revenue Department in order to effect administrative economies.

In view of the work done by the War Damage Commission, and to set the Bill in its proper place, it is only right for me to say a short word about the original war damage scheme and the Commission's work. The war damage compensation scheme was one of the success stories of the war and the immediate post-war period. In October, 1940, when Britain stood virtually alone and the Battle of Britain was being fought in the air, the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) announced that a comprehensive war damage scheme would be inaugurated at once.

As a result, in December, 1940, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the late Sir Kingsley Wood, introduced the Bill which became the War Damage Act, 1941. As Sir Kingsley Wood said at the time—as reported in HANSARD, 17th December, 1940; Vol. 367, c. 1125—the Bill was an instrument of justice and an Act of social solidarity spreading the burden of the war damage over the whole community. Incidentally, it reflected confidence in ultimate victory.

The War Damage Commission, under the able and energetic leadership of its first chairman, Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve—now Lord Silsoe set about its formidable task—and it was quite a task—with a will. Arrangements were made to deal with the various notifications of damage which came flowing in. There were about 4 million claims in respect of about 3½ million proper- ties altogether. Sixteen regional offices were set up and technical staff in local offices, supplemented at the peak period by the use of private professional firms, assessed the extent of war damage and classified properties according to whether payment could be made for rebuilding or repair—which was a cost-of-work payment—or whether compensation should be paid for a total loss—which was a value payment. In due course the technical staff dealt with the specifications which were put in for repair work and assessed the proper cost of making good war damage.

We should reflect that under Part I of the Act, dealing with damage to property, the Commission paid over 4 million claims in respect of 3½ million separate properties, and the total so far paid approaches £1,300 million. Against this, £200 million was collected by the Inland Revenue Department for 1941–46 in the form of war damage contributions from property owners.

I should say a word about Part II of the War Damage Act, which dealt with goods and chattels. Part I dealt with properties in two ways, either value payments or cost-of-works payments. Part II of the Act dealt with goods and chattels, which were covered under two insurance schemes administered by the Board of Trade, one for business chattels and one for private chattels. On these alone large sums were paid out. About £117 million has been paid out in claims on private chattels. There are virtually no claims outstanding under this Part of the Act, with the possible exception of one or two arising from the erroneous inclusion of chattels in property.

This will give some measure of the work which has been done by the War Damage Commission and the compensation paid under the war damage scheme. But the House will agree that in 1964 it is high time that this scheme was wound up. The vast majority of the cases of war damage have already been disposed of, but there is a residue, and the outstanding liability—it is difficult to be precise—is estimated at about £20 million, mainly comprising cases in which a cost-of-works payment will be due if and when the damage is made good.

By and large the delays have been caused by waiting for the convenience of owners through difficulties of site development, and so on. The trouble is that unless action is taken to impose a time limit there is the possibility that such cases will drag on indefinitely, and meanwhile it is becoming harder and harder to distinguish between war damage and the ordinary dilapidation, and the provision of administrative machinery to deal with these cases is becoming increasingly wasteful.

For these reasons, in August, 1961, the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, now my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, announced in reply to a Question that the Government intended to wind up the war damage scheme and to transfer the staff and responsibilities of the War Damage Commission to the Inland Revenue. Hon. Members who wish to look this up will find it in HANSARD, Vol. 645, c. 207. The details of the proposal were published in a White Paper, Cmnd. 1583, in December, 1961.

I do not want to weary the House with the full details of the scheme in the White Paper, because it is not precisely the scheme put forward in the Bill. Broadly speaking, the scheme outlined in the White Paper provided for the registration within a limited period of outstanding claims in respect of damage to land and buildings. In general, compensation would take the form of a value payment—that is to say, a payment based on the depreciation in value of the property—unless it could be shown that the damage could and would be made good within four years from the commencement of the scheme, subject to a possible extension for a few cases of exceptional magnitude, in which case the damage, when made good, would qualify for a cost-of-works payment.

At that time the outstanding liability for war damage compensation was put at about £40 million, but since then good progress has been made in reducing the volume of outstanding work, largely due to the announcement of the decision to wind up the war damage compensation scheme, which, I think, had something to do with persuading people to get on with the job.

The estimated outstanding liability is now down to about £20 It is possible to break this figure down in very rough terms. I would not like the House to think that I am giving a precise estimate, because these things are not easy to quantify exactly. In round figures this amount comprises about £1 million for dwelling houses, about £2 million for churches, about £5½ million for local authority and public buildings—libraries, public baths, and so on, of which £1½ million represents the claims in respect of County Hall and the Guildhall—and about £9 million for commercial property—such as public houses, hotels, offices and shops. In addition to this £17½ million, an estimate of £2½ million is made for contingencies and for the remaining few claims that might come forward on the Board of Trade side, the Part II claims on chattels, bringing the total probable liability to about £20 million.

During the last two years the outstanding liabilities for war compensation have been about halved. It is because of this reduction that we are putting forward in the Bill a simplified version of the scheme originally set out in the White Paper. The Bill proposes to dispense with the requirement of registration of claims. It simply provides that claims for payment must be presented within specified time limits.

The most important time limit is that contained in Clause 1. This provides that a claimant must make good war damage and claim a cost of works payment, or, alternatively, apply for a value payment for damage not made good, within a period of four years from the commencement of the Measure, when enacted, on 1st October, 1964. Clause 1(5) and Clauses 4 and 6 ensure that the time limit also applies to claims for other forms of war damage compensation payments, including the payments for the cost of clearing war damaged sites and the payments under the special arrangement for churches.

All claims in respect of the cost of temporary repairs to war damage should have been made a long time ago, and Clause 3 puls an end to any dormant claims of that sort as from the commencement of the Bill when enacted on 1st October, 1964. So the time limits in the Bill, basically four years from the proposed commencement of the Measure, when enacted, on 1st October, 1964, are continued in Clause 1; and Clauses 4 and 6 extend them to the rather smaller compensation payments.

In Clause 7 a final time limit is laid down, which is ten years after the commencement of the Measure when enacted. Thus a time limit is laid down for the completion of all cases. Claims which have not been brought to a conclusion by then will be extinguished unless—the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) will realise that this is most improbable—the Inland Revenue has itself been responsible for the delay.

The concentration of most of the remaining war damage work into the next four or five years as a result of the Bill will itself produce administrative economies and so will the rationalisation of the distribution of the remaining work between the Government Departments which the Bill brings about.

Under Clause 2 the functions of the War Damage Commission are transferred to the Board of Inland Revenue. The Revenue has been associated with this work in the past through its Valuation Office, and progress has already been made towards the integration of the Inland Revenue and the War Damage Commission, both of which are under the chairmanship of Sir Alexander Johnston. The Revenue will take over the staff, as well as the functions, of the War Damage Commission, so there will be continuity of knowledge and experience. It will thus be seen that the transfer proposed in Clause 2 will go through with the utmost smoothness.

Clause 2 also transfers to the Inland Revenue the remaining functions of the Board of Trade in relation to the payment of compensation for war damage to business and private chattels. This work has virtually come to an end, except for a few cases which the War Damage Commission already handles as agent for the Board of Trade where a new claim in relation to chattels has arisen because the claimant has mistakenly regarded the chattels as being part of the land or buildings for the purposes of war damage compensation.

There is one small section of war damage work which will not be taken over by the Inland Revenue. That is the compensation payable under the special arrangements for highways. This is covered in Clause 5, which provides that the work shall be carried out by the Minister of Transport in England and Wales and by the Secretary of State in Scotland. They are already closely associated with these arrangements.

Clause 8 extinguishes rights to payment of moneys out of the War Damage (Mutual Insurance Fund Unclaimed Balances) Account, which consists of moneys which have remained unclaimed since 1941.

I do not think that the other provisions of the Bill call for special comment now. They are consequential upon those main provisions and can more suitably be dealt with at a later stage.

A word is necessary about damage from any new incidents arising out of the past war which may occur in the future. Damage to land and property still occurs from time to time from the disposal of unexploded bombs and washed-up mines surviving from the last war. This damage has been very small in recent years. At present, it is dealt with under the War Damage Act, 1943, but the power to make payments under that Act is limited by the Bill to damage occurring before 1st October, 1964—that is, the vesting date of the Bill when enacted.

Any claims arising from damage which occurs after that will be dealt with by the War Office on the same basis as it deals with claims for damage to property arising from its training activities. Most of these payments are based on the cost of making good the damage. It is only exceptionally, where there is a great deal of damage and repair is uneconomic, that payment is limited to the depreciation in value.

I hope that the House will come to the conclusion that this is a useful Bill. It will bring to an end the existence of a body which has done useful and great work in the past. The proportion of work outstanding, as the figures I have quoted show, is remarkably small. I hope that the administrative economies and changes which the Bill introduces and the time limits it places on the payment of compensation will be considered reasonable. As the outstanding claims have been halved in the last two years, I think that the House will agree that a period of four years is reasonable and adequate in which to settle the final claims.

I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

6.30 p.m.

Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)

This seems to be a workmanlike and sensible Bill. The position can be gauged in one sense by contrasting the total sum paid out—I understand it to be about £1,300 million—with the claims outstanding, amounting, I understand, to about £20 million. One can further reinforce that consideration by remembering that the number of claims now outstanding is only half the number outstanding in August, 1961.

It is clear, therefore, that this gigantic and rather grim relic of the wartime period is now coming to a close and that, with a word of tribute and gratitude to the War Damage Commission and the excellent work it has done, we can all be glad to say "Goodbye" to this memory of the destruction and havoc wrought by the war in our country. It is high time that we should think of bringing the whole of this unhappy memory to an end. The Bill is adequately designed for this purpose, although there are a few comments I would like to make and questions I would like to pose.

The total amount of outstanding claims is about £20 million, but I do not know how many individual claims that figure represents. It may be difficult for the Financial Secretary to answer this and if he cannot give me an answer now I will understand. I ask this question because the work of the War Damage Commission is being transferred to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. I understand that they are taking over the former staff of the War Damage Commission, including the valuation department which, I suppose, will supplement the Valuation Office which at present operates within the framework of the Inland Revenue.

Had we not been told that, the question would have presented itself whether an undue burden was not going to be placed on the Commissioners if they have to deal with a large number of individual claims, aggregating in all to about £20 million, in addition to the heavy burden they already carry. Before I heard the Minister's remarks it had been my intention to ask how this matter would be dealt with. I wondered whether there would be the necessary expert advice, either within the present framework or whether the Commissioners would need to resort to outside sources. Apparently they will have adequate resources within the framework of the existing staff to obtain the necessary expert opinion about whether a claim is allowable and the amount at which it should be allowed.

I suppose that a prominent feature of the outstanding claims and the reason in many cases why they have been delayed for so long is that buildings may, after many years, show weakness or strain which expert advice can connect with a shock received from war damage. It is, I understand, a common feature of these claims that a building can be severely shaken during the war but that the damage is not discernible for some years, when the building begins to subside or show indications of weakness or strain.

Expert opinion can establish clearly that such damage was derived from injury not known at the time but caused to the structure by concussion of falling bombs. Wren that situation arises no doubt the ground of claim may not be known for many years; and the older the building gets the more serious is the damage when it ultimately emerges. I apprehend that that is the kind of situation in which these claims have been for so long delayed, up to 19 years after the war.

I was somewhat surprised at the Minister's comments about the contrast in respect of outstanding claims for private dwellings, amounting to about £1 million, and the amount estimated to be outstanding for commercial property namely, £9 million. I do not know why there should be that contrast. One would have thought that those who use commercial property would be as alive to the claims they may have as those who occupy private dwellings. Is the reason because the total aggregate of damage done to commercial property was much in excess of that done to private dwellings? That may be the reason, but it would be difficult to suppose that the ratio is nine to one, as it appears to be in terms of the outstand ing claims. I understand that the claims in respect of chattels have almost entirely dried up. There are few outstanding and that can be said to be an aspect of war damage which has already, by the process of time, finally been brought to a close.

I would like to know how much is in the account described in Clause 8 as the "unclaimed balances account". The Minister said that that related to claims which have not been pursued since 1941. I suppose that many unfortunate people who might have had claims either perished during the war or have since died and that their descendants or heirs, or other personal representatives, cannot now be ascertained. Thus a sum of money slumbers in this unclaimed balances account. How much is it?

We should all be anxious not accidentally to put an end to a claim which is really a live one—that we do not, by the stroke of a pen in an Act, deprive some one of a claim which, had he known it existed, he would be only too glad to assert. I hope that adequate steps have been or will be taken to make known the existence of these claims. There may be children or grandchildren who would be glad to find that they were entitled to receive a few hundred pounds, which might be a relief to them in difficult circumstances. It would be in the public interest, and a measure of elementary justice, to see that the widest publicity is given to the existence of claims which have not been preferred. We should ensure that legitimate claims are not merely extinguished.

Are the amounts in the unclaimed balances account small or large ones? Is the sort of problem in Clause 8 one of claims of wide variety, with several claims worth many thousands of pounds, or is it a problem of claims by small people in respect of many dwelling houses concerning sums of £50, £100 or £200? If so, it is very important that a great effort should be made to seek the identity of the potential claimants so that what is rightfully theirs can be paid to them.

Those are the general comments that I wished to make. It is surprising in a sense that not less than £5½ million is estimated to be the amount of the outstanding claims in respect of public buildings. One would have thought that public authorities would not only have been alive to the possibility of obtaining reimbursement for damage but would have had at their disposal the means necessary to prefer the claims and the necessary advice and legal assistance to make certain that claims due in respect of public buildings—claims, therefore, due to the public—were adequately and promptly preferred.

No doubt there is a very good reason for that. It may be that the £5½ million is attributable to damage which has only barely begun to manifest itself. I should like to know the basis on which the figure is estimated. If it can be said that an estimated amount of £5½ million is outstanding, there must be some basis on which that figure has been arrived at. In other words, in some way damage approximating to that amount must have made its presence known. The Minister stated that a large amount of the claims was attributable to the fact that cost of works payments had not yet been made. Therefore, the figure in respect of public buildings must be attributable more to the cost of works payments side than the value side. Perhaps we could have some more explanation of how that happens to be the case.

This is a necessary and sensible Bill. Its provisions seem to be businesslike and likely to achieve the desired end. When the whole matter has been adequately and properly wound up, we shall all be glad to forget the existence of war damage legislation and hope that the occasion for it will never recur.

6.42 p.m.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton. Itchen)

I am sure that the whole House will profoundly agree with the last remark of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice). I should like to say how much I appreciate the fact that the Economic Secretary opened his speech in the way he did rather than contenting himself with a mere formal recital of the contents of the Bill. He referred to the original War Damage Act, and paid tributes to which I hope to refer later.

My right hon. and learned Friend has said that this is an unhappy memory that we are recalling tonight. It is also a very proud memory. One might be pardoned for quoting Milton and saying: Nothing is here for tears…". We are looking back for a moment on a very significant aspect of the last war.

I want, first, to take the opportunity provided by the Bill of expressing the thanks of Southampton, which was a great town until yesterday and today is a great city, for all the good that has been done to it and the other blitzed cities of England by the War Damage Act, 1943. To me, this debate has something of a touch of nostalgia. My maiden speech was a plea for the blitzed cities which had borne the brunt of the Second World War. We had some help, but not enough, we thought then, and still feel, from post-war Labour Governments as well as post-war Conservative Governments.

The cities which had been destroyed, or half destroyed, were battling against the problems of reconstruction, problems of reconstruction common to all other places as well as ours but made much more severe by their war losses, including the loss of thousands of houses. In Southampton, a quarter of our schools were damaged and one-third of our docks and factories, and we suffered the destruction of hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of property and lost thousands of pounds of rateable value.

It is interesting that it should have been the Economic Secretary who opened the debate. I remember taking to his father, when he was the Minister of Housing and Local Government, a deputation of Parliamentarians from blitzed cities and having really sympathetic and considerate treatment from the former Prime Minister, even if we did not get all we asked for.

What saved Southampton citizens, as distinct from Southampton city, was that individual citizens in the blitzed cities were covered by the War Damage Act. Under that Act, by a piece of specific national insurance, Britain as a nation underwrote the grievous loss sustained by individuals or businesses, and even communities when churches, houses and schools were damaged and destroyed. Every British citizen paid his insurance premium, and the lucky people were those who did not have to cash the policy at the end. I am glad that the Economic Secretary pointed out that embarking on this insurance scheme in 1943 was a declaration of faith that Britain would survive the war.

Claims were handled fairly and efficiently, and most, but not all, of the claimants also claimed fairly. Those who had lost their homes got, wherever possible, not a cash value for their house, but a replacement. Those who suffered severe damage had the damage made good. Those who lost their belongings were compensated for the loss. It is worth remembering, however, that very few of the citizens who lost their homes really got back what they had lost.

It is also worth recalling, if only for a moment, the courage and devotion of those who stuck it out in the London blitz, the Coventry blitz and the Southampton blitz—the housewives as well as the factory workers; the children of Britain; the 1 million evacuees; the children who came home from evacuation because the blitz happened much later than we thought; the teaching of children under terrible conditions in the blitzed cities; the civilian courage which equalled the courage of men in the fighting line. No War Damage Act could hope to compensate for. That courage and that grim loss of life.

I hope that it will not be considered a constituency speech if I recall my own city, which was blitzed to bits and yet was the foal point through which more than 2 million Americans passed on their way to Europe; with its civic and industrial life continuing right through the war, and for 10 years after it—and only those who lived in our blitzed cities after the war can know how depressing it was to live in them then. It is not too much to say that during all that time the sympathetic treatment of the War Damage Commission was like a beacon light to the citizens of our blitzed towns and cities. Tonight, we are winding up what I regard as a great national, humane and socially just enterprise.

One of the distressing features of war damage was that very often it did not reveal itself until years after the war. It was very difficult for blitzed persons to claim correctly, and it was difficult for surveyors to estimate correctly. All the estimation and the claiming, or much of it, was done under war conditions, in the earlier stages. I know from the experience of many of my friends in the blitzed cities that very often a house which, apart from a few broken windows or shattered roofs, looked all right, years later would reveal severe structural defects caused by the shaking it had had during the war which were not evident at the time. In the first impact of disaster, many people were happy enough to have just a home or a shelter over their heads or first-aid repairs, and, in spite of all that the Government did to make the work of the Commission widely known, they did not claim all that they were entitled to.

Therefore, hon. Members who, like myself, have been representing the blitzed areas have been presenting year by year and month by month to the War Damage Commission late claims. In my own city the latest was last year, in respect of the famous Church of St. Mary—the church of the Bells of St. Mary—which sustained very grave damage which had escaped notice until about three or four years ago.

I pay tribute to the War Damage Commissioners for the way in which they handled the monumental first task that we gave them of the distribution of more than £1,000 million and also for the very careful and sympathetic consideration that they have given to all the tricky cases which hon. Members have put to them in later years.

I realise how difficult it must have been to separate the wheat from the chaff; to separate those who in genuine ignorance failed to claim their entitlement, those who later genuinely discovered damage of which they were unaware in 1945 or 1946. from those merely trying to scrounge from the insurance fund every penny they could get, including money to which they were not entitled. I am sure that those connected with St. Mary's Church. Southampton, would particularly wish me to thank the War Damage Commissioners for their very sympathetic treatment of this latest claim, possibly the last that will be made from Southampton.

The time limits provided in the Bill are reasonable, and the Bill itself is drafted in the fair and sympathetic way that has marked the whole of this episode in the life of our nation. It is, perhaps, wise now to wind up the Commission, and to transfer its functions to the Inland Revenue and the Board of Trade, as this Measure does, but I hope that, as we wind up the Commission, the whole House will echo the tribute paid by the Economic Secretary—a tribute that I have tried to underline—to successive chairmen of the Commission, to the great chairman who started it, Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, and to the Commission's staff, for a piece of work well done.

All those connected with the Commission have had a very complex, a very difficult and very thankless task. They have acquitted themselves well. I am sure that I speak for all the members of the old non-party blitz committee, consisting of hon. Members fighting for the blitzed cities, when I say how much we have appreciated the courteous, sympathetic and just way in which all our requests were treated.

I would, finally, underline what my right hon. and learned Friend has said. In this Bill we enact that after four years no further claims can be made, and I hope that as a result of this debate the date of the time limits which we are fixing will become widely known throughout the country and that the Government will see that, as far as is humanly possible, no citizen is deprived through ignorance of what is his due.

6.53 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

I want to reinforce the final words of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King). I represent the Burgh of Clydebank, which was badly bitzed in 1941. For the first two or three years after I first came to this House in 1951 it was my regular function, week after week, to support claims to the War Damage Commission for damage done in that burgh. Many of the domestic claims were very serious, some heartrending, but I always felt that some of the most unfortunate claims were those made on behalf of churches used by small congregations, who very often found it very difficult to claim enough to replace their buildings.

This is the second time today that the House has been debating the Second Reading of a Bill in which Scotland has an interest, in which the Secretary of State for Scotland has an important part to play, and his Department in Edinburgh is involved, but no Scottish Minister has been present to answer questions that Scottish hon. Members might wish to put. It is, perhaps, fortunate that I have no purely Scottish question to ask.

I support everything that has been said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen. Those of us who lived and worked in bombed cities during and after the war can wholeheartedly support the Economic Secretary when he says that this insurance scheme was a great act of faith in Britain's ultimate success. It was drilled into me as a boy that saving, the act of preparing for the future, was not just a speculative act., or one taken for easy or quick gain, but an act of faith in oneself and in the society in which one lived.

The war damage scheme was a great act of faith which gave a great deal of confidence to people, and lifted their morale in those difficult times. It is unfortunate that only now, 19 years after the end of the war, are we able to wind up this tremendous enterprise of collective compensation of people for their individual losses. Nevertheless, it is an example of what a well-organised community with faith in itself can do.

We have, with reasonable equity and justice, repaired the material losses suffered by a large section of the community, and it is a wonderful achievement. Unfortunately, there are some losses that we can never repair, but it is a great compliment to the nation that we can now rest assured that, in the main, we have replaced for individuals the material things lost as a result of enemy action.

Let us hope that we never have to reintroduce a war damage insurance scheme again, though we know that, if we had to, our people could again carry it through with success.

6.58 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Alan Green)

I must, first, express my thanks, and those of the War Damage Commission, for the way in which the Bill has been received, and for the extremely well-earned and agreeable phrases used about the work of the Commission.

When the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) asked how many claims remained outstanding he was good enough to say that if I could not answer him he could understand why. However, I understand that the total number of claims outstanding is about 4,500. What I cannot do is to relate, so to speak, the size to the claims. I can do that in one case, which I shall use later to illustrate another point.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also asked whether the Inland Revenue Department will have adequate staff and, with his usual perspicacity, was able almost to answer his own question. The Inland Revenue will have adequate staff because it will take on the necessary numbers from the Commission itself. It will continue to have what it most certainly needs—and needs, perhaps, more now in the closing stage than at the opening—an I that is really expert guidance, so that good and proper distinction can be made between what is due to old age and what is traceable to war damage. That distinction gets progressively more difficult to make, and is one of the most substantial reasons for this Bill. It will continue to have precisely the same form of expert advice that the Commission has received up to date. I believe that this is a perfectly satisfactory and good arrangement.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman drew attention, quite correctly, to the difference between the remaining claims on houses and the remaining claims on commercial premises. There is a very good reason for this. A good many of the commercial premises, for example, were public houses. It by no means follows that it is desirable that a badly damaged public house should be rebuilt. Some other decision may ultimately be taken about its fate. This is really the reason why those claims hung fire longer than the claims on houses. Much the same consideration goes to claims lodged on behalf of public authorities.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

Is it not a fact that there is still a very large stock of public houses held in abeyance under the licensing planning system? If so, will the Bill have any effect on that?

Mr. Green

It will not have any effect on that system. The plain point that planning permission would be required under certain circumstances is a further reason why some of these claims hold on for longer than others. All the claims are known. This is the main point. There is no real dispute about their existence. All that we are seeking now is to secure a point in time, not too far removed, at which they will be determined. I cannot see any special grounds for dispute.

I said that I would give one illustration of the public authority case. The Guildhall and County Hall, I understand, are responsible for about £1½ million, which goes a long way to explaining the apparent imbalance between outstanding claims on different classes of property.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman made a good point about the unclaimed balances account. The total, I understand, is about £6,000. I also understand—I should like to check this—that no claim has been made since 1946. This does not invalidate the point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman made. I do not believe that I can carry what he said further, except to say that I entirely accept the propriety of his observations about this, and that we must do our level best to make sure that there is nothing unclaimed through ignorance, for example, which is something no one would want to have on his conscience. Perhaps the later stages of the Bill will permit a further examination of this point. It is not a very large one in terms of money, but I could not agree more that in terms of principle it is very important.

I trust that covers the points which the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised as well as I can deal with them at the moment. I cannot do better than end my own short contribution to this debate by saying how much I appreciate what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King). He put the matter very well indeed. It was a very richly deserved tribute to the people of this country as well as to the War Damage Commission. I believe that the words he used will give all the more pleasure because they have been so well earned. I am sure that they were proper observations to make as we start the final legal process of winding up what was a very large, a very rewarding and a very inspiring operation in this country.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. R. W. Elliott.]

Committee Tomorrow.

  1. WAR DAMAGE [MONEY] 203 words