HL Deb 23 October 1945 vol 137 cc408-11

2.42 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I may perhaps briefly explain to your Lordships what is the necessity for this Bill and our objects in bringing it forward. The Bill provides for an alteration in the machinery which is at present set up by the War Damage Act, 1943, which was the same machinery as was found in the War Damage Act, 1941. In this somewhat complicated and difficult field, your Lordships may like to be reminded that there are no fewer than four values which in certain cases have to be considered. First of all, if a property is damaged, you have to consider the value of the property with the war damage made good. Then you have to consider the value of the property without the war damage being made good. It is the consideration of those two factors which enable you to determine whether the case is one for a value payment or not. Then you have to consider the value of the property immediately before the war damage was occasioned, and the value of the property after the war damage. The consideration of those two factors enables you to determine what the quantum of the value payment should be. All those are on the basis of the market values in 1939.

Now Section 32 of the War Damage Act provided that appeals against the determination of the War Damage Commission should be made to the panel of referees appointed under the Finance Act, 1910. It was thought desirable to avail ourselves of that panel since it had been set up and established for a long time. Further experience, however, led us to think that that is not a desirable course, and for this reason. We find that by far the larger proportion of the war damage cases have occurred in urban areas, very often in the heart and centre of our great towns. Now the panel under the Finance Act, 1910, comprises three classes of valuers; those specially skilled in valuing minerals, those specially skilled in valuing agricultural land—and obviously their special skill will not be suitable for this sort of job—and finally those who are skilled in valuing town property such as is the subject matter here involved.

Those who are skilled in valuing town property find themselves in this position they are almost all eminent people in their profession and they are almost all busily engaged in advising their clients as to what is the appropriate value to put on their property to claim from the War Damage Commission. Now it is obviously most undesirable and unsuitable that people who are professionally engaged in advising as to the value of these properties should, at the same time, sit as judges to determine what the value is. Of course, if the particular property as to which they were called upon to sit was one upon which they had been employed to advise, they obviously would not sit. You may have three properties, belonging to Mr. A., Mr. B. and Mr. C., all similarly situated. The same sort of consideration would apply to each one of the three. How impossible it is for a valuer who is engaged in advising Mr. A. and Mr. B. as to what valuations they should claim and fairly receive, himself to sit in judgment on Mr. C.'s case—a case in which he has, of course, not advised—when he knows quite well that the repercussions of the decisions in Mr. C.'s case may closely affect Mr. A. and Mr. B. For that reason, even this limited class of valuers, who would be normally employed for this purpose, are not suitable. They themselves would feel that they would be in a very embarrassing position.

There is one other difficulty. In all these matters it is very desirable, if we can, to get a uniform basis up and down the country. We want, so far as we can, to avoid the risk of one area of the country having more favourable treatment than another area. Therefore we want, if we can, to get this thing on a uniform basis. I may say that the War Damage Commission have, at the present time, sent out over 200,000 provisional value assessments in order that the owners of property may, if they are so minded, deal with them.

In these circumstances, what is proposed is that a new tribunal should be set tip, a tribunal which is to be composed in part of persons skilled in the law and in part of valuers. I hope we shall be able to arrange that the lawyers will make themselves responsible for the difficult legal problems and the valuers for the difficult problems of valuation. The members of the tribunal are to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor. The tribunal is to be under the general direction of a legal president. What we want to do, if we can, is to try to get together some college of persons, if I may use that phrase, who will apply the same sort of standard and criteria to the very difficult questions they will have up and down the country. Therefore I think the legal president should, as part of his task, collate the various appeals and try to get them into the proper categories, seeing that important questions that raise the same point are dealt with first, and so on. The intention is that these various persons should be appointed as full-time members of the tribunal to begin with. As and when the work tails off—and I have no means whatever of knowing how many appeals there will be, but it is almost certain there will be a substantial number—we shall no doubt be able to employ some of them on a part-time basis. But throughout we should insist that no one who is sitting on these tribunals is himself professionally engaged in valuing or advising as to the value of property.

The Bill does not apply to Scotland. The reason for that is, I suppose, owing to the somewhat less extensive damage in Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland is satisfied that he can get a sufficient number of valuers who are not themselves engaged in advising clients as to war damage claims. But the Bill does apply to Northern Ireland. Having set up this tribunal, we intend also to give it jurisdiction to determine the fixation of global sums which may have to be fixed for various owners together. I think this Bill is a necessary step, having regard to the difficulties which we find, and I move that it be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed, as I was very closely concerned with this matter when I was in the position now held by the Lord Chancellor, to say that I think the proposal he makes is an admirable one, and I hope the House will accept it.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.