§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Further considered on Report (according to Order).
§ Second Schedule [Acquisition of houses as being unfit for human habitation]:
LORD SILKIN moved, in paragraph 3 (2), after "Subject to" to insert:
paragraph 1 (1) of this Schedule and to".
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move Amendment No. 77 on the Marshalled List. Your Lordships may be relieved to know that so far as we on this side of the House are concerned these three Amendments are the only Amendments to which we attach importance, regarding the rest as being mainly of the order of drafting, and when the House has disposed of these I do not think we need take up a great deal of your Lordships' time on the remainder of the Amendments.
§ I attach a great deal of importance to these Amendments which relate to the compensation to be paid to an owner occupier of slum property. If anyone had told me ten years ago that I should be standing up in this House and claiming more compensation for an owner of slum property, I should have thought that he was a fit subject for the measure that we have just been discussing. But times have changed. In those days the owner of slum property was a perfectly well-known character who bought up large numbers of dwellings in order to 150 let them at the highest possible price; who did no repairs; who exploited the tenants to the fullest possible extent; who, while the going was good, made large profits and who deserved, and generally received, no sympathy from anybody. It was perfectly right at that time, when there were the two classes of persons, the owner of slum property and the tenant, that the slum owner should be dealt with strictly and severely, and there was no difference of opinion that the compensation payable should he merely the value of the site and nothing more—that he should receive nothing as compensation for the dwelling itself.
§ But times have changed. There has been a complete change in the type of ownership of this class of property. Whereas in the period that I am speaking of it was unheard of for a person to be living in and owning a slum house, to-day, I regret to say, it is a fairly common thing. To an increasing extent people have been forced or persuaded into buying this type of property in order to live in it. There are a variety of reasons which I would mention briefly. There is the fact that people have rather more money in their pockets to-day than they had, say, before the war. That, I suppose, is the result of the rise in the standard of living. There is also a much greater shortage of accommodation and a greater pressure for accommodation; and the rise in standards means that people who were formerly satisfied to live in overcrowded conditions to-day want more accommodation.
§ There is the fact that it is easier to raised money to-day on mortgage for this class of property than it was years ago; and there is the effect of the recent Rent Act which, without being controversial—this is not the occasion—has resulted in the rents of decontrolled properties being substantially increased and tenants of those properties sometimes finding themselves unable or unwilling to pay the increased rents and thinking that they would do better by buying a house of their own. There is a good deal of persuasion, too, sometimes unscrupulous, on the part of estate agents, sometimes even by members of my own profession, who have not given prospective purchasers the advice which they should give—that they should have these houses surveyed and should take all precautions possible to ensure that the house that they are 151 purchasing will not become a slum house. These are the factors which have created a substantial change in the position.
§ To say to a person who is owning property and is making as much money as he can out of it that his house is worth nothing, it is a slum, and that therefore he will be paid nothing for it, is one thing. To say to an owner who is living in the house, who very often has invested the whole of his savings in it, who has also undertaken the responsibility of a mortgage which he may be paying off over a number of years, that his house is a slum property and that he will get nothing for it except the value of his site or the annual value of the property, is inflicting, in most cases, a grave hardship.
§ I will not weary your Lordships by giving a large number of examples of what has happened, but I should like to mention one or two concrete cases. There is the case of a person who, in 1957, bought a house in Birmingham. He bought it for £500; he paid £300 deposit, and £200 was left on mortgage. He spent a little money on improving the house. Within a few months of his having bought the house it was included in a compulsory purchase order by the local authority. The compensation offered was £10. Under this Bill that is the compensation to which he would be entitled, or something of that kind—either the site value or the annual value, which ever is the greater. In these cases the annual value is very small and in most cases the site value is not very valuable. If that has been the position, the owner would have parted with his £300 and he would still find himself liable to pay off his mortgage of £200 over a period of years. Admittedly, he would be provided with accommodation by the local authority but he would have lost £500 which, to him, must be a serious matter. I could quote many other cases; there are many similar cases of that kind and the sums involved are even larger. Admittedly, the Amendment that I have moved would not greatly improve the position; it would give such an owner three times the amount of the gross annual value as against once the annual charge. But since we are dealing with quite small values. £10 or £15, at best it could make a difference of £30 to an owner-occupier of slum property.152
§ My purpose in raising the matter is not to press the Amendment—I should not feel that it was worth while pressing it in that form. Frankly, I put the Amendment down in order to raise the matter, I hope seriously. But since the date upon which I put the Amendment down, my attention has been drawn to the provisions of, I think, the Second Schedule of the Housing Act, 1957. The noble and learned Viscount is no doubt familiar with that. A provision of a temporary nature was made for the payment of compensation in Part II of the Second Schedule of the Housing Act, 1957, which in fact is a consolidation measure, but the actual provision that I am referring to was passed in 1955.
§ At that time it was recognised that a number of people had bought houses in this way for occupation after the outbreak of war and that if their houses were condemned as slums they would suffer great hardship; and, broadly, provision was made that they should be paid the actual value of the house—that is, its value on the assumption that the house was not subject to a compulsory purchase order. Unfortunately, that provision applied only to houses which had been bought before December 30, 1955, the date of coming into operation of the Housing Act, 1956, and therefore it does not affect similar persons who have bought their houses since 1955. I would submit that a great many, an increasing number, of people have bought and occupied these houses since that time, and I would submit therefore, that those people are equally deserving of the sympathetic consideration which was given to those who had bought their houses up to December 30, 1955.
§ I do not think I need enlarge upon the case. I hope I have established that we are dealing not with the slum owner as such but with the unfortunate person who, for one reason or another, has found himself compelled to buy such a house, very often investing the whole of his savings and, in addition, burdening himself with a mortgage, and who now finds himself expropriated at compensation which in most cases is derisory. I am sure that there is no desire on the part of anybody, however enthusiastic one may be in the cause of slum clearance, to want to clear slums at the expense of this kind of sufferer. Under 153 this Bill as it stands the compensation, even the increased compensation is derisory. I do not ask the noble and learned Viscount to accept my Amendment but I hope that even at this late stage of the Bill it will be possible to improve the position of these unfortunate persons of whom there are a very large number.
Page 83, line 48, after ("to") insert ("paragraph 1 (1) of this Schedule and to").—(Lord Silkin.)
§ 6.13 p.m.
My Lords, I wish to support this Amendment, and I am only sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, does not intend to press it to a Division. I thought we were all here in shining armour to "go the whole hog", but I appear to have been under a misapprehension. There is one point on which I wish to differ from the noble Lord, Lord Silkin; that is in regard to the owners of slum property who are not occupying a house in that property. I have heard the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, speak about these gentlemen before, and he always seems to regard them as disciples of Satan—I do not know why. In fact that is a rather unfair view to take of these individuals. In consequence of the introduction of the Rent Restriction Act, 1915, over a period of forty-four years a large number of properties have deteriorated, year by year, for the simple reason that the landlords, whoever they were, were not in a position to charge an economic rent or anything approaching an economic rent: and therefore there are quite a number of owners of slum property who are by no means had men.
So far as this Amendment is concerned I feel that it is a great improvement on the existing provision in the Bill. I understand that under the Bill as it stands to-day the amount of compensation which the owner of slum property can hope to obtain for his premises is the gross value of the dwelling; and that, of course, is not a very generous gesture, because in a majority of cases the gross value of such property would be in the region of £10 or £15. To multiply that by three, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is undoubtedly an improvement, and in all fairness to these unfortunate people sincerely hope that Her Majesty's Gov- 154 ernment will give this Amendment further consideration. As to the position of certain people who have bought properties since 1955, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, put the matter so clearly and fairly that there is nothing I can say on that particular branch of the subject. I strongly support this Amendment, and I am only sorry that we are not "going the whole hog".
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, I should like to put one point in connection with the submission of my noble friend Lord Silkin. If Her Majesty's Government feel moved to make any adjustment on the lines of his Amendment, or otherwise, I hope that they will also bear in mind the fact that the obligation to pay the extra compensation will fall upon local authorities who are already carrying a pretty heavy liability in regard to slum clearance. Even though the person in question may lose the remainder of the money he has put up to acquire this particular property, under the clearance proposals and the obligation to re-house he will nevertheless, in most cases, be re-housed on the basis of a subsidy running from £1 to 25s., or even, in some cases, in congested areas, up to 30s. per week. If Her Majesty's Government feel able to do something in the direction suggested by my noble friend Lord Silkin I think there is a case for adjusting the State subsidy, which is now the only subsidy given for housing, so that the burden of this increased cost of acquisition does not fall wholly upon the local authority.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, if your Lordships will allow me to say so, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has moved this Amendment in a most attractive and restrained manner, and I feel very hard-hearted at having to point out the difficulties that arise. But the noble Lord, Lord Latham, has pointed out some of them, and we have discussed them in the previous stages of the Bill. The real difficulty is that this particular method of compensation goes beyond what is appropriate in the Bill, and (although this does not apply to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin) I believe that a number of noble Lords who have been attracted by the suggestion have not fully understood the cases of hardship under the present law.
155 The first point I want to make, because I think it is a real difficulty, is that it is no part of the intention of this Bill, despite its progressive enlargment, of which the noble Lord, Lord Latham, reminded me yesterday, to re-write other legislative codes. The legislation governing slum clearance, and particularly the basic principle that a house unfit for human habitation has no value beyond that of its site, is well established, and successive Governments have reaffirmed it. It would be wrong to seek, as it were by a side wind, to depart from that basic principle in a Bill the primary purpose of which is something much different.
Of course, there is a major difference between the Government's "floor" of once the gross value and the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to treble that amount. A "floor" of once the gross value is intended as a compassionate payment to ensure that an owner with a stake in his property, however small, should, even though the site on which his house stands is worthless or heavily cumbered with other liabilities, at least receive something more than a purely nominal payment when his house comes to be demolished. It is for this reason that the definition of "owner-occupier" is drawn as widely as possible to include anyone with more than a year's interest in the house he occupies; and, secondly, the payment is made personal to the owner-occupier so that he will receive it, even though there is, as I mentioned in earlier stages, an annual ground rent on the land which would absorb any other compensation payment. When one gets to three times the gross value it is too high to be regarded as purely compassionate, and yet it has no element of logic which would make it a reasonable substitute for the principle of site value. Therefore, it does not fit in.
I should like to elaborate a little on the question of the people who are involved, because I think there has been some misunderstanding about the hardship which arises. There are three categories of owner-occupiers. First, there are those who bought their houses before 1939 at a purchase price related to pre-war values and who have had the use of the house for at least twenty years. That is a period in which a house already ageing before the war may well 156 have become unfit; and accepting that site value should remain the basic principle of slum clearance it cannot be said that an owner in these circumstances is suffering from grave hardship. This is particularly so if he has looked after the house and, in consequence, receives a payment in recognition of the fact that it has been well maintained, because in these circumstances such a payment now amounts to nine times the annual rateable value and is therefore an appreciable sum.
As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, mentioned, there are those who between September 1, 1939, and December 13, 1955, at a time when houses were scarce and prices high, bought worn-out houses for their own accommodation, not realising that they would soon be threatened by the resumption of slum clearance. These were exceptional conditions and an exception was accordingly made in the Slum Clearance Compensation Act, 1956, to provide such owner-occupiers with the full market value of the house.
Then, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, there is a third category: those who have bought houses since December 13, 1955. That there are cases where there is hardship, I do not deny. But since 1955 widespread publicity has been given to the slum-clearance campaign, and local authorities were asked both to publicise their own proposals and to give information about individual properties to prospective purchasers; and in all but a handful of cases these measures have been adequate. Very few complaints of this character have reached the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, whereas other longstanding owners of slum houses frequently complain that they are unable to effect advantageous sales of their houses because prospective purchasers have been warned by local councils that these houses are to be represented as unfit. Admittedly, one cannot always protect the unwise purchaser, but we have done our best, and the Government are prepared to consider what further steps can be taken.
I hate rejecting the sursum corda appeal by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. He has asked me to consider it again. I will do that. I will see my right honourable friend about it. But I wanted your Lordships to know that this is not 157 just meanness on my part; it is a difficulty that arises with regard to the problem of slum clearance. Therefore I am glad the noble Lord has said that he will not press the Amendment. But I shall look at it and, of course, when I look at it I shall also bear in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Latham, said. I think, if one can put it quite bluntly, the noble Lord, Lord Latham, does not object to this if the Government pay for it in one way or another. That is not an unnatural or uncommon point of view, and I shall bear it in mind.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I was not concerned with the division of the cost between the local authority and the Government; I was concerned with a simple act of mixed justice and charity. I do not think anyone wants to carry out slum clearance by the imposition of grave hardship on a section of the community which is least able to look after itself. The fact is that, although warnings have been given—and I do not dispute it for a moment—large numbers of people have bought their houses on the sort of basis I have referred to. They did so to a large extent through ignorance, but I would submit it was due also to desperation. When you have a family and are desperate for accommodation you hope against hope that it will be all right. And while we who are, I hope, comfortably housed can look on this matter dispassionately, to the person who puts his life savings into a house it is a very, grave matter.
There are difficulties. I know, but I am sure that there would be no difficulty in including a suitable provision in this Bill, because already a change has been made in the nature of compensation. Even this paltry one of providing the gross annual value makes a change in the compensation position; and all that I was suggesting was that the change should be more generous. It may be that a Town and Country Planning Bill is not the best place to do it, and that it should be done in a housing measure. If the Government chose to put through a one-clause Bill, even at this late stage in the Session, I am sure that there would be no objection on the part of anybody. Especially with forthcoming events foreshadowed, I cannot imagine anyone, in any section of the 158 community, wanting to be so mean as to be antagonistic to this improvement.
I hope that it may be possible, and that something will be done. I would ask the noble and learned Viscount to bear in mind that something was done in the 1956 Housing Act. It was done then, and I see no inherent difficulty in doing the same thing again; because, in spite of the warnings, the fact remains that a large number of people did buy their houses, and I should hope that they will get the same generous treatment as those who bought their houses before the end of 1955. Having said that, and having also in mind what the noble and learned Viscount has promised, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, Amendments Nos. 80 to 86 are all drafting Amendments, including consequential drafting after changes in the Bill, with the exception of Amendment No. 81, which is a "carry-over" provision in a perfectly straightforward way. Therefore, with your Lordships' approval, I shall put these Amendments together. I beg to move.
§ Amendments moved—
§ Page 85, line 3, after ("of") insert ("this Part of")
Page 85, line 17, at end insert—
(". () Where a local authority have before the commencement of this Act made and submitted to the Minister an order under paragraph 9 of the Fifth Schedule to the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944 (which contains provisions similar to those of paragraph 2 of this Part of this Schedule), but the Minister has not confirmed that order before the commencement of this Act, sub-paragraphs (2), (4) and (5) of paragraph 2 of this Part of this Schedule shall apply in relation to that order as if—
() Any reference in paragraph 1, paragraph 3 or paragraph 5 of this Part of this Schedule to an order made and confirmed under paragraph 2 of this Schedule shall be construed as including a reference to an order—
() In this paragraph any reference to the said paragraph 9 includes a reference to the provisions of that paragraph as extended or applied by or under any other enactment.")
§ Page 85, line 36, leave out from ("acquisition") to ("being") in line 37.
§ Page 85, line 41, leave out ("section thirty-seven or section thirty-eight") and insert ("Part IV")
§ Page 86, line 21, leave out ("provision of that Act") and insert ("enactment")
§ Page 86, line 23, leave out ("section thirty-seven or section thirty-eight") and insert ("Part IV")
§ Page 86, line 35, leave out ("or in that Schedule").—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Amendments agreed to.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the next Amendment, No. 87, is the one which, as your Lordships will see if you look at page 89, line 8, deals with the Scottish point. I think, again, it is merely a necessary adaptation of procedures that have been introduced in the Act. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 89, line 8, at end insert—
("() Where a local authority have before the commencement of this Act made and submitted to the Minister an order under paragraph 8 of the Fifth Schedule to the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1945 (which contains provisions similar to those of paragraph 1 of this Part of this Schedule), but the Minister has not confirmed that order before the commencement of this Act, sub-paragraphs (2), (4) and (5) of paragraph 1 of this Part of this Schedule shall apply in relation to that order as if—
() Any reference in paragraph 2 or paragraph 4 of this Part of this Schedule to an order made and confirmed under paragraph 1 of this Part of this Schedule shall be construed as including a reference to an order—
() In this paragraph any reference to the said paragraph 8 includes a reference to the provisions of that paragraph as extended or
applied by or under any other enactment.")—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Third Schedule [Application of section eighteen to special cases]:
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, this Amendment is the Scottish application of certain Amendments which I moved in Committee dealing with the position of mortgages and settled land, and introduces them into the Schedule. Your Lordships may remember that I then intimated that the Scottish applications would be put down at this stage of the Bill. I beg to move.
Page 92, line 32, at end insert—
§ Application to Scotland
§ ("12. In the application of the foregoing provisions of this Schedule to Scotland—
- (a) for any reference to a mortgage there shall be substituted a reference to a heritable security, and for any reference, in relation to such a security to the mortgagee there shall be substituted a reference to the heritable creditor;
- (b) any reference to a settlement shall, notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this Schedule, be construed as a reference to a trust within the meaning of the Trusts (Scotland) Act, 1921; and
- (c) any reference to settled land shall be construed as a reference to land subject to such a trust.
§ 13.—(1) Where in a case falling within paragraph (c) of subsection (9) of section eighteen of this Act, or that paragraph as extended by subsection (1) of section twenty-one of this Act, the consideration under section one hundred and eight of the Lands Clauses Consolidation (Scotland) Act. 1845 (as read with section sixty-two of the Scottish Act of 1954) was paid to the trustees of a trust within the meaning of the Trusts (Scotland) Act, 1921, any reference in the said paragraph (c) or on subsection (7) of section nineteen of this Act to the person who has received the consideration shall be construed as a reference to the trustees for the time being of the trust.
§ (2) Where the preceding sub-parargaph applies, paragraph (d) of subsection (9) of section eighteen of this Act shall not apply.
§ (3) Any additional consideration paid to the trustees of a trust by virtue of section eighteen of this Act, or by virtue of the provisions of that section as extended by section twenty-one of this Act, in respect of a compulsory acquisition or sale by agreement, shall be applicable by the trustees as if it were consideration received by them under section one hundred and eight of the Lands Clauses Consolidation (Scotland) Act, 1845, as read with section sixty-two of the Scottish Act of 1954.
§ (4) This paragraph shall apply to Scotland only.")—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.161
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Your Lordships will see that Amendments Nos. 89 and 90 are to leave out the Fifth and Sixth Schedules. Amendment No. 91 introduces the new Schedule, which is the interpretation of what is now Part IV of the Act. I put the contents of that Schedule before your Lordships yesterday, and I am sure your Lordships will not want me to repeat it to-day. I beg to move that Amendments Nos. 89, 90 and 91 be agreed to.
§ Amendments moved—
§ Leave out the Fifth Schedule.
§ Leave out the Sixth Schedule.
§ Leave out the Fifth and Sixth Schedules, and insert the following new Schedule—