HC Deb 24 April 1968 vol 763 cc246-9

3.58 p.m.

Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to compensation for land acquired compulsorily. The object of my Bill would be to ensure that everyone whose house or land is taken away compulsorily should receive fair compensation in the form of the full market value, that market value to be assessed on the basis of a willing purchaser paying a willing vendor. More than 1,500 authorities now have the power of compulsory purchase. One of them is the Land Commission, potentially the most powerful of all.

This Parliament has clothed the Land Commission with authority to acquire any land which, in its own opinion, is suitable for building. We on this side look forward to the abolition of the Land Commission and that power, but we agree, none the less, that the principle of compulsory purchase must continue. Indeed, if it did not, there could not be motorways, and neither could there be slum clearance.

It is in respect of slum clearance, however, that great hardship is caused to thousands of individuals, many of them owners and occupiers of poorer properties. There can be scarcely a constituency where there are not at least some such individuals affected. At present, as the House knows, site value only is paid in compensation, plus a small "well maintained" allowance if a house is kept in good repair, but this allowance cannot be more than twice the rateable value. Thus, it can often happen that someone who has purchased a house for £2,000 in an area which becomes subject to slum clearance will receive only 10 per cent., and sometimes even less than that, of the purchase price when the property comes to be compulsorily acquired.

In such circumstances, it is impossible for an owner to purchase another similar property in the area. Moreover, if his house was acquired on mortgage, as such houses usually are, there is real hardship for him in repaying the money once he has lost his house. Thus, the owner-occupier is often driven to become a local authority tenant, and sometimes he is driven also to receiving Supplementary Benefit.

The Housing Acts of 1957 and 1965 have gone some way to alleviate the position, and yesterday, spiking my guns today somewhat, the Government published their White Paper "Old Houses into New Homes", in which they propose that full compensation should be given to owner-occupiers of property becoming subject to compulsory purchase order yesterday or thereafter. It is proposed in the White Paper also to double the "well-maintained" allowance. This is an improvement, but it still would not enact the principle that, if someone's house or land is taken away compulsorily, he should receive full market value. In my submission, there should be no exception to that rule.

In every case, when a citizen is deprived of his home, he should receive not a penny less than full market value for the property. Any compensation less than that cannot be just, and for that reason I ask the House to give me leave to introduce my Bill.

4.5 p.m.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)

I oppose the Motion, but I do not intend to divide the House against it. For many years, under several Governments, I have pressed for more adequate compensation, especially for owner-occupiers. There are many anomalies and injustices, some of which the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) has outlined. He was not quite right in describing some of the features of our compensation provisions. For example, it is not merely site value now, but is annual gross value, and people who bought their houses between 1940 and 13th December, 1955, are entitled to full market value as compensation. None the less, many injustices remain. There is the question of the basis of assessment of site value, which may be completely different in the case of the individual owner-occupier from that in the case of someone who owns a block of property. There are other questions, too.

I am glad that the Government intend to tackle all these problems, as they have stated in their White Paper. Paragraph 46 of the White Paper specifically——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must oppose the Bill.

Mr. Silverman

I am opposing the Bill, Mr. Speaker, on the ground that it is now unnecessary in the light of the Government's White Paper, and it is for that reason that I wish to refer to paragraph 46: The Government consider that the site value basis of compensation should be retained as a general rule. But they propose that additional payments should be made to owner occupiers of unfit houses dealt with under slum clearance powers, subject to the conditions indicated below; in the case of unfit houses acquired for clearance, this will have the effect of bringing the total payments up to full market value". That, I understand, is what the hon. Gentleman wants. It is what I have sought for a long time. It has always been my view, however, that this is not a proper subject for private Member's legislation but that, in view of the financial implications for both local authorities and the Government, it should be dealt with by the Government. I have pressed the Government, as other hon. Members have, to introduce suitable legislation. According to the White Paper, the Government intend to introduce such legislation, and it will, so far as I can see at present, meet all the demands for adequate compensation which we have made over the years.

The Government go on to say in the White Paper that, unfit tenanted houses should qualify for larger payments". This will not merely be of benefit to the owners, but can be of benefit to tenants as well, though I must say that there are certain anomalies still outstanding in the present legislation which we shall have to go into when the White Paper is debated.

In the circumstances, as the Government are proceeding with the matter, I hope that it will not be necessary for the hon. Gentleman to introduce his Bill, especially as the legislation, when introduced, will have retrospective effect, operating in relation to any clearance order initiated as from yesterday. I hope that this will be an element of retrospective legislation which all hon. Members will accept.

In so far as the hon. Gentleman's Bill is a propaganda effort to bring the injustice to owner-occupiers before the House, I applaud it. But I applaud still more the measures proposed in the Government's White Paper, which will, I hope, remove a long standing injustice to owner-occupiers and small men who have invested their life savings in property.

Although there has been a good deal of publicity about the Government's proposals generally as set out in the White Paper, Old Houses into New Homes, with particular reference to the renovation and improvement of our older areas, many newspapers have not noted the important and radical alteration in the law relating to compensation to which I have referred. I welcome it, and I hope that it will never be necessary for the hon. Gentleman to introduce his Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at the commencement of Public Business), and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Body, Mr. Eyre, Mr. Percival, Mr. Gurden, Miss Quennell, Mr. Grieve, Mr. Biggs-Davison, Mr. J. E. B. Hill, Mr. Clegg, and Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine.

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