§ 5.3 p.m.
§ LORD MESTON had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether, on the de-requisitioning of properties, such as private houses, they will take as speedily as possible all practicable steps to restore the properties to the condition in which they were in before being requisitioned or pay adequate compensation for damage sustained during the period of requisitioning, as the case may be.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to ask the question which stands in my name. This question has nothing whatever to do with any of the problems which may arise under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945. I am also aware of the fact that, under the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939, the amount of compensation, in cases of this description, is limited to the value of the property. This question refers to what you may call the straightforward case, where a building, such as a private house, has been requisitioned by a Government Department, and then, subsequently, derequisitioned. I am sorry to say that, 921 in a great many cases, the damage done during the period of requisition is fat in excess of any ordinary fair wear and tear. Banisters have been cut down and used as firewood, walls have beer used as dart boards, parquet and other exquisite flooring has been burned, fixtures and fittings, such as kitchen ranges baths and basins, have been removed and lost, the plumbing system has beer deranged, the electric light and gas systems have been deranged, and garden:, have been ploughed up, or allowed to become a wilderness.
§ A schedule of conditions is always made of the property and contents at the beginning of the requisitioning. Therefore theoretically, there should be no difficulty in arriving at the measure of damage done. In point of fact, however, owners and occupiers meet with a great deal of difficulty in agreeing the damage with the appropriate Government Department or Departments. An aggrieved owner or oceupier has the right to put his case before a tribunal, but, in the ordinary course of events, this costs money, such for example, as solicitors' and surveyors fees, and also entails a certain amount of delay. I may say that this question involves no criticism of the Government' at all. I am not suggesting, for a moment that the Government would ever authorize, or acquiesce in, any excessive a improper use of property. But there has been a great deal of excessive and improper use of property. In some cases the Government Departments who did the requisitioning actually carry out the repairs themselves. I should like to know, in those cases, whether the repairs carried out are substantial repairs, or whether-they are merely designed to cover up obvious defects. For example, if a house requires to be painted, is the house painted, or is it merely covered up with some inferior kind of distemper?
§ I understand that the owner or occupies sometimes left to carry out the repairs himself. In the latter event, I sincerely hope that the owner or occupier will receive his compensation without any unnecessary delay, and without having to have recourse to the tribunal. Where art owner or occupier does the repairs himself, I would ask whether there is any chance of his receiving compensation by instalments, or is it necessary for him to complete the rep-airs before he receives a single 922 penny piece of compensation? If his property had been damaged by enemy action, and he had become entitled to a cost-of-works payment under the War Damage Act, 1943, he would, in a proper case, have received that payment by instalments. I would respectfully ask the Government whether such a procedure—being paid by instalments—could be applied in the case where an owner or occupier has to carry out repairs to derequisitioned property.
§ 5.8 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Meston, for his kindness in letting me have beforehand a clear statement of the main points he wished to raise. It is most helpful. He referred to various other matters of which I have not had notice, and, if he desires, those might receive fuller reply on a subsequent occasion. As I understand him, the noble Lord is not dissatisfied with the statutory provisions governing the making good of damage to requisitioned property. He is, rather, concerned with the possibility that the owner may, in one way or another, either be put to unnecessary trouble or expense, or may not get his full rights. On this general proposition, I can only assure him that Departments are approaching the problems which arise on the quitting of requisitioned property with a full sense of their responsibility to owners. The House may like to be reminded of them. The hour is late, and I will try to do it quickly.
Compensation, in respect of the making good of damage done during requisition, is governed by Section 2 of the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939, and Section 52 of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945. The former provides that the compensation payable in respect of the taking possession of any land should include a sum equal to the cost of making good any damage to the land which may have occurred during the period for which possession was retained, except in so far as the damage has been made good during that period. This section, however, limits the compensation payable to a sum not greater than the value of the land at the time when possession thereof was taken, no account being taken of appreciation in value thereof due to the emergency. Section 52 of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act provides that if, in the opinion of a 923 Minister, it is expedient, in the public interest, that the land should be restored to its original condition, the Minister may make good to any person interested in the land any expenses incurred by that person in restoring it, in so far as those expenses exceed the compensation payable under the Compensation (Defence) Act.
In the case of properties such as dwelling-houses (in which Lord Meston is particularly interested), the practice is to pay compensation rather than for the Government themselves to make good the damage. Payment of compensation is, however, not delayed until such time as the owner has made the damage good. The procedure is that, as soon as practicable after the date of derequisition, the Department endeavours to arrive at an agreement with the owner as to the estimated cost of making good the damage at current prices, and as soon as the agreement is reached the agreed amount is paid to the owner in settlement of his claim. He is then left to do such repairs as he thinks fit in his own time and in his own way. No doubt, in any case in which difficulty is experienced in reaching agreement on any particular item of a claim, the Department concerned would be prepared to make a payment on account. That, I think, particularly helps the noble Lord.
As regards the adequacy of the payment made by Departments under these provisions, some thousands of claims have been settled by agreement, and in only a very small portion of cases has the claimant applied to the tribunal to which any dissatisfied claimant has a right to appeal. Moreover, where it is reasonable for a claimant to employ a surveyor to assist him to negotiate his claim, it is the practice of Departments to refund to the claimant the fees of any surveyor so employed. As I have said, it is not the; practice of Departments to make good damage done to dwelling-houses, but if in any case the Department attempt to do so, the owner would have the right to claim monetary compensation for any defects not, in fact, made good. It should perhaps be mentioned that small dwelling-houses—that is, those with twelve rooms or less—are placed in Group I for priority of release, and where building work on dwelling-houses will provide new dwellings of the small type the work is given the same priority as new houses. I hope Lord 924 Meston and your Lordships' House will feel satisfied that these arrangements provide for a reasonable meeting of the just claims of the owners of properties which have been requisitioned.