HC Deb 26 June 1969 vol 785 cc1852-7
Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 107, in page 41, line 11 leave out from 'circumstances' to end of line 37 and insert— (2) The Minister may by order apply the said Schedule also to a person who has an interest in a house described in paragraph 1(1) of the said Schedule but who is not in occupation of that house at the relevant date and for that purpose may specify in the order a later date than 23rd April 1968. The Bill gives market value compensation to the owner-occupier on the compulsory acquisition of his dwelling-house. It does not give the same compensation to the owner of a tenanted house. I will not go over the arguments adduced in Committee, where this matter was thoroughly debated. Suffice to say that my hon. Friends see no justice in refusing to the owner of tenanted property compensation for that property.

In both cases the acquiring authority is depriving a person of property. To distinguish between the person who happens to be in residence in the property at the time when the compulsory purchase order is made, or the property is in any form acquired, from the owner of it is a false distinction. Property is being taken away for the benefit of the community and full market value compensation should be paid.

The Parliamentary Secretary may use the same argument that he deployed in Committee: that this has not been done before by any Government and that the present Government are going further than any previous Government in giving full market value compensation to the owner-occupier. That is no argument for placing an injustice on the owner of tenanted property who has that property taken from him and who is entitled only to the site value plus, possibly, a well-maintained payment.

10.45 p.m.

This is a discouragement to owners to let their property. I should have thought it important at present to encourage owners of properties to let them. The tenanted population in privately let houses has been decreasing over the years. There must come a stage when this will affect the desirable mobility of population in areas where people have to move by reason of their work, and so on. An owner who lets his property instead of selling it may find that it is subject to a compulsory purchase order and all that he can receive in return for the property taken from him is the site value, which cannot be less than—and is, therefore, usually equal to—the gross value. This for the sort of properties we are talking about is £30 or £40, plus well-maintained payment of about £150 in compensation for a property around the £800, £1,000, or £2,000 range. This leads to a sense of injustice and unfairness for the owner.

While the Government were tidying up one part of the law by giving full market compensation to the owner-occupier, we hoped that they would tidy up the other part in respect of tenanted property. The Government are considering the whole question of compulsory purchase. Maybe that consideration is not yet complete enough for definite introduction into this Bill of full market value compensation for the owner of tenanted property. This Amendment gives the Minister power to bring that into operation at some future date. This is a very reasonable compromise arising from our previous debates on the subject. We are not urging the Government to say that at once they will give market value compensation to the owner of tenanted property, but that when the deliberations on this matter have been completed they could use power under such an Amendment to bring that compensation justice into operation.

Mr. MacColl

As the hon. Member said, I will adopt the arguments he kindly put into my mouth. I add three to them. The first is that there is more here than merely the question of doing justice all round. There is a great difference in principle between the owner-occupier who has sunk his savings into a house which is his home where he lives, and the landlord who has either inherited or brought a house for someone else to live in, which is a commercial operation.

We are talking about unfit property. Anyone hearing the hon. Member would think that we were debating whether or not market value for acquisition should be paid in general terms.

Mr. Graham Page

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that in those cases where market value can be given it may be £1,000 compared with £30 for the house next door which is in exactly the same condition. He knows that we are taking very large sums from owners under the present law.

Mr. MacColl

I do not want to get involved in a discussion on value. I am not sure how far in the illustration the hon. Member has made he is taking into account vacant possession. This is a case of a landlord with a tenant in occupation. I am not sure whether the figures the hon. Member quoted are correct. When a landlord is concerned, the important point is that there should be good maintenance of the property before there is a settlement. If there is to be a supplement for the acquisition of his property, it should be property which has been well maintained. It will be an incentive to him, because if he has neglected the property he does not get it. We are doubling the well-maintained payment.

The third point—I was surprised to hear it from the hon. Gentleman—was that we should use delegated legislation and, not only that, but delegated legislation subject to the negative Resolution procedure to make this very great change in the law of compensation. I do not think that the Chairman of the Committee on Statutory Instruments would take kindly to that.

Mr. Clegg

I do not apologise for taking up the time of the House at this late hour, because this question leaves much bitterness in the minds of those involved. The Parliamentary Secretary's arguments were fallacious. He drew a distinction between the position of the owner-occupier and that of the owner of a tenanted house. He said that the landlord's position was a commercial one. How can that be when the rent has been controlled to a point where it is uneconomic? He said that the owner-occupier had put his savings into buying his own home. We learn from the famous speech the Minister made on Second Reading that we are talking, in the main, about many people who put their life savings into property in the hope that it would supplement their pension on retirement. These people are just as worthy of consideration as are owner-occupiers. The House is in danger of saying that there is justice for one section of people and injustice for another.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: No. 108, in page 41, line 12, leave out 'paragraph 1 of'.—[Mr. Ifor Davies.]

Mr. E. Rowlands

I beg to move Amendment No. 109, in page 41, line 20, leave out 'begun' and insert 'not completed'.

This is my last fling on the Bill. I hope that I, like hon. Members opposite can have one triumph. Whether or not my Amendments would achieve the purpose I intend, I have at least declared my intention, which is to give the compensation terms set out in the Bill to people who are not covered by the dateline 23rd April, 1968. Since Second Reading all my prophecies have come true. To give one graphic illustration, in my constituency, consequent upon a slum clearance order which was begun in June, 1967, having been confirmed two weeks ago, we have to tell the people covered by the order that they will be paid compensation which the Bill recognises to be grossly unjust. This is intolerable and will damage the tremendous improvement made by the Bill, which has done more for compensation to people in possession of slum property than any Measure introduced by any Government.

Do we wish to create a new set of hardship cases, in the shape of the people who are excluded? My right hon. Friend will say that we must draw the line somewhere, but we can draw a line that removes from the hardship cases many more householders. Those who have not yet been paid and are occupying their own homes could receive the new compensation terms.

Last Saturday, I saw a constituent who expects only £40 for her house, when she paid about £150 for the freehold two or three years ago. We recognise in the Bill that this sort of thing is grossly unfair and is intolerable injustice to individuals. Am I to tell her that although she has not been paid off and has not yet left the house, and although the Bill will possibly be law before she leaves it, she will still have to be paid the compensation now condemned by Parliament as being grossly unfair?

Some people will have a terrific sense of being done out of their just compensation if we do not pass an Amendment to provide for those cases of hardship that we can identify of those in their own homes who have not yet been paid compensation. They should receive the new terms of compensation in the Bill.

It is not difficult to do this, even if my Amendment may not be a satisfactory way of achieving it. The intention behind it is to bring in many more people who would otherwise suffer hardship as a result of these anomalies.

Mr. Clegg

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) on the way in which he moved his Amendment. What he said makes a great deal of sense.

I would underline the sense of bitterness that will remain with those who are still in their houses, but will move out with much less compensation than somebody across the road in almost exactly similar circumstances will receive. We heard in Committee how many people this would affect. The Government could well make this change in the Bill. There is a great feeling in the North as well as in Wales about this matter. The Government have been generous, and they have a chance here to be even more generous. When Parliament has a chance of taking away real bitterness over unequal treatment, why cannot we put the situation right, even at this last stage of the Bill? I do not know.

Mr. Maddan

When Sir William Teeling was retiring as the Member for Brighton, Pavilion, representations were made to me on behalf of two constituents there who have fallen between two stools in exactly the way suggested here. Because they became owner-occupiers at the wrong time they are being offered a trifling sum compared with what they would otherwise have.

Compulsory purchase exists because of public policy and the carrying out of development to meet a public need. Whenever this happens there are anxieties, fear and resistance—and often long-drawn-out proceedings as a result. Until we make our compensation practice fair, without all the anomalies, there will always be resistance, delay, dissatisfaction and public unease, and there can be no justification for allowing this to continue.

I hope that the Government will listen to these pleas and will take the opportunity of the Bill to put the matter right.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. MacColl

I do not want to appear to be ducking the issue that was put so effectively to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands), but the particular subsection to which he has attached his Amendment is a narrow subsection indeed. There is a later Amendment, No. 142, and subsequent Amendments, which deal more directly with the principle that he has discussed. I feel that it would be more appropriate at that time to deal with the arguments he has put forward.

The particular subsection deals with matters such as the definition of "family" and closing orders which may qualify for special preferences, and a number of points in regard to the regulations. But the principle of the matter will, as I say, arise more properly on the later Amendment I have mentioned.

Amendment negatived.

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