HC Deb 26 June 1969 vol 785 cc1868-73
Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 139, in page 59, leave out lines 17 to 29 and insert—

  1. (a) if compensation is payable for any reason other than the compulsory purchase of the house, the date upon which the house was first vacated after the order giving rise to that compensation was made;
  2. (b) if the house was purchased compulsorily, the date of service of the notice to treat under section 5 of the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965 or the date of the payment of compensation into court under Schedule 2 of that Act (as the case may be);
  3. (c) if the house was acquired by an authority by agreement at a time when they were authorised to acquire it compulsorily, the date of such agreement.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we are to take the following Amendments: No. 142, in page 61, line 26, leave out "the relevant date" and'.

No. 143, in page 61, line 29, leave, out 'the date when and'.

No. 144, in page 61, line 33, leave out 'the date when and'.

No. 145, in page 61, line 37, leave out 'the date when and'.

No. 146, in page 61, line 40, leave out 'the date when and'.

No. 147, in page 61, line 43, leave out 'the date when and'.

No. 148, in page 61, leave out lines 45 to 48 and insert— 'and "the relevant date" has the same meaning as in paragraph 3(3) of Schedule 4 of this Act'.

Mr. Graham Page

As frequently happens when we rolic along through a Schedule at this time of night making formal Amendments, we suddenly come to a vital Amendment which goes to the root of at least a major part of the Bill.

We have already discussed the principle embodied in the Amendments when we had a short debate on an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands). He was concerned about where the line should be drawn in giving the new market value compensation to the owner occupier. He suggested a certain point at which the line could be drawn.

We suggest what we think is the practical date for drawing the line. That line is when the owner-occupier shall be entitled to market value compensation if something happened after a certain date, something in relation to the compulsory purchase of his property. The Government have chosen for that line a certain stage in the compulsory purchase procedure. We feel that that stage is wrong and that it will cause hardship and confusion.

The point in compulsory purchase procedure when the owner of a property feels that some irrevocable decision has been taken is when he is served with a notice to treat, and the law recognises that a notice to treat is some form of contract, perhaps a fictitious contract, but a contract in law between the acquiring authority and the owner.

As from the date of the service of a notice to treat, if the local authority changes its mind, it has to pay compensation for any expenses to which the owner has been put, and it is on the date of the service of the notice to treat that the property is valued for the purpose of compensation.

We propose that if the notice to treat was served after the date of the White Paper announcing to the public that it was the intention of the Government to give market value compensation to owner-occupiers whose property was taken from them, the owner of the property should have compensation on the new market value basis.

That cannot apply when a notice to treat has not been served, and so, in paragraphs (a) and (c), we have dealt with two other cases. Paragraph (a) provides that the date should be the date when the house is vacated. That is where compensation is payable for any reason other than for the compulsory purchase of the house. I need not go into details about how that could occur, but the date would be when the house was first vacated after the order giving rise to the compensation.

11.30 p.m.

In the other case where, although the acquiring authority may be acting under compulsory powers, the owner has been prepared to agree, without going through the elaborate procedure of a notice to treat and arguing out the value on that basis, the date should be the date of the agreement. In those three cases—if the house was first vacated after 23rd April, 1968; if the notice to treat was served after that date; or if the agreement was made after that date—then the owner should be entitled to market value compensation.

It is difficult to draw a line, and there is bound to be bitterness felt by those who are on one side or the other of the line, but we do not feel that the Government have given proper consideration to the point at which the line should be drawn. We must look at both sides of the picture; the local authority on the one side and the owner on the other.

The local authority has made its plans for compulsory purchase. It has entered into commitments, at some far off date perhaps, to carry the scheme through, and we should not lightly alter the liabilities and responsibilites of the acquiring authority. In a normal compulsory purchase where a notice to treat is served, the acquiring authority can always withdraw from those commitments before serving the notice to treat, so it is not unfair to say that the local authority shall be bound from the date of the notice to treat. We should not be unfair to the local authority in using the date in Amendment No. 139.

We should be unjust to the owners of property if the date in the Bill were retained. It would be unfair on owners of adjoining houses which were subject to compulsory purchase if, because the local authority passed resolutions on different dates, the owner of one house received £30 or £40 whereas the owner of the other received £1,000 or £1,500. The date of the service of the paper which starts the proceedings for the bargaining on the price, and shows that the local authority is in earnest in acquiring the property, is a date which can be understood by the public.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give further consideration to the point, even at this stage. Our Amendment may not be correct in form, but I am sure that it is correct in spirit. If the form is not right, I hope that he will assure us that he accepts it in principle and will see that it gets into the Bill at a later stage.

Mr. Greenwood

The hour is late, so I hope that I shall be forgiven for not fighting again the battles which we had in Committee on retrospection. It is perhaps a lesson which all Ministers should learn—never to make anything retrospective, because they are always criticised for not having made it retrospective enough and get few thanks for making it restrospective at all.

The fact remains that, in the Bill, we are giving the most generous treatment ever afforded in respect of both well-maintained payments and compensation for owner-occupiers. It is against that background that one should view the criticisms that we have back-dated this to St. George's Day, 1968. I think that is the right date and that it was right to decide that the declaration of the clearance area must be the operative happening. It would be a great mistake to try and back-date it beyond that time. It would not remove the sort of dis- parities between next-door neighbours. Whatever date is suggested, it will not get rid of the inconvenience and the sense of injustice to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

We have to take account of the cost which could be involved in this, especially in the case of owner-occupiers, for example, where it is not only a question of considering the fact that local authorities will have to face expenditure for which they could not have budgeted at the time, but that the Exchequer itself has an interest in the payments which local authorities will be making.

The amount is not inconsiderable. The extra cost of slum clearance as a result of the Bill's provisions is likely to work out, on the basis of present prices, at about £5 million or more in a full year. I am certain that that is a price well worth paying for the faster slum clearance which is expected to result once this sort of injustice to owner-occupiers has been removed. However, the further cost of the Opposition's Amendments could add up to more than £6 million, which would nearly all fall to be met immediately or in the very near future.

I know the Opposition's passionate desire to cut back public expenditure and, for that reason, I am sure that they will not wish to force the House into taking a decision which will place heavier burdens upon the Exchequer.

Mr. Graham Page

I did not quite understand whether the £6 million was in addition to the £5 million, or whether it would increase to £6 million.

Mr. Greenwood

In addition.

Mr. Page

It shows the measure of the justice which should be done to owners, in those circumstances.

Mr. Maddan

We are considering the last of the non-Government Amendments, and we have had a sad reply from the right hon. Gentleman. The logic of his case is not very strong, otherwise he would not have had to pray in aid the £6 million. Of course, £6 million is a considerable sum, but, if that is hard on the Treasury, considering the resources involved, the loss to owner-occupiers is just as bad, if not worse.

I will not weary the right hon. Gentleman with the details of the case to which I alluded briefly when his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) raised a similar issue. There are many such cases, and I hope that he will think again before the Bill completes its passage through the other place.

Amendment negatived.

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