§ 3.13 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VisCOUNT KILMUIR)
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to signify to the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Northern Ireland Bill, has consented to place Her Majesty's interest, so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Crown, at the disposal of Parliament for the purpose of the Bill.
In moving that the Bill be read a third time, may I suggest to your Lordships that you allow that to take place formally, after which I shall move the Privilege Amendments, and any discussion on the Bill can take place on the Motion that the Bill do now pass? I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a, —(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Bill read 3a.
§ Moved, That the Privilege Amendments be agreed to.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, could the noble and learned Viscount tell us what these Privilege Amendments are? I am sure they are quite harmless, but many of us have not seen them.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the Privilege Amendments relate to Clause 5, at page 7, line 13, to leave out subsection (5); Clause 8, page 11, line 45, to leave out subsection (5); and to Clause 26, at page 21, line 36, to leave out subsection (3).
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, may I ask the noble and learned Viscount, who is always so kind, to say whether these Amendments are of any substance? We have not seen them—at least I have not—and we are unable to offer any opinion about them at the moment. May we take it that they are quite formal?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I am sure the noble Earl can take them as quite formal. This is the usual procedure, as the noble Earl is aware—and it is one he has no doubt carried out—when Bills are introduced in your Lordships' House. But if the noble Earl will look at the subject-matter of the first of these Amendments, subsection (5) of Clause 5, at page 7, line 13, he will see that it says:For any period during which a person who does not hold office as a judge of the High Court or the Court of Appeal or as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary sits and acts under this section, there may be paid to him, out of moneys provided by Parliament, such remuneration and allowances as the Treasury may, after consultation with the Lord Chief Justice, determine.The noble Earl will recall that I have drawn his attention to the fact that under the Parliamentary procedure when Bills are introduced in this House, we leave matters involving direct payment of money to another place.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD KILBRACKEN
My Lords, it is only with great reluctance that I rise once again to address your Lordships and to consume your Lordships' time on this Bill, but certain new facts have come into my possession since the Report stage last week. I believe it is my duty to bring them to your Lordships' notice, and I therefore ask your indulgence in listening to me for just a few minutes. Your Lordships will recall that the only real opposition to the passage of this Bill through your Lordships' House has been in connection with Clauses 13 and 14. I myself have been principally concerned with Clause 14, which removes the prohibition on making laws taking property without compensation which is imposed under the Government of Ireland Act, on the Parliament of Northern Ireland, although I have supported the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in his opposition to Clause 13 which resulted in an Amendment to that clause.
On each occasion that I have raised the question of compensation the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack 1034 has sought to reassure me—and he could not have done so with more patience and consideration—by stressing that there was, in fact, no danger of any action of a confiscatory kind or of any expropriation. I have now received a communication from a solicitor in Belfast, Mr. F. J. Lavery—he is well-known in the city; he is a justice of the peace, and I have no reason to doubt what he writes—giving me particulars of 19,133 houses for which vesting orders are now being sought by the Belfast Corporation. Compensation will indeed be paid. Mr. Lavery informs me that in respect of the great majority of these 19,000 cases the compensation will be in the neighbourhood of £1 per house; and this princely sum is divisible between the head landlord, the intermediate landlords and the lessee.
In one particular case, which I should like to present as typical, and of which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack is, I believe, already aware, two spinsters invested their late mother's life savings of £2,045 in purchasing the lease of 28 houses in Broadbent Street, Belfast. That was in 1948. I would mention here that there is no question of any religious discrimination; these ladies are Protestants and the question of discrimination does not arise. These two good ladies are now in their late 60's, and one, unfortunately, is confined in a private mental hospital. The profit rental from this investment is virtually their only income. The total compensation payable for an investment of £2,045 in 1948, as I am informed, will be £28, of which approximately £5 will go to these spinsters; that is 50s. each as the sum total of their wordly goods after compensation has been paid.
That seems to me to be bad enough; but what makes it more pernicious is that I understand that, although there is no question of demolishing these houses until 1968, the vesting order is being sought immediately. This means that these ladies will be dispossessed of the property at once, and the Belfast Corporation, in return for an outlay of £28, will be entitled to the entire profit rental, which I understand is £405 a year, for the next six years for an investment of £28. I think that is "Nice work if you can get it ".
1035 If this were an isolated case I should not trouble to bring it to your Lordships' notice, but, as I have mentioned, I am informed by Mr. Lavery that there are some 10,000 to 15,000 houses which are being acquired in a comparable way. I hold no brief whatever for slum landlords. There is nothing I should like more than to see all slum lands abolished, in this country as well as in Ireland. But how can action of this kind be justified? In this case, notice of the intention was first given to these ladies in December, 1959, before this present Bill had ever been heard of. If such confiscatory proposals were possible—and it seems clear to me that they are in contravention of the 1920 Act, although these good ladies, of course, cannot afford to litigate—before this Bill, with the safeguard with the Government of Ireland Act, I can only wonder what kind of action is expected if Clause 14 is allowed to stay in the Bill.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, before we had the Report stage the noble Lord who has just addressed us told us that he had just been to Northern Ireland and had come back with some useful information for us. Since the Report stage he has been again, and he has brought back further information. But whatever one may feel about this matter, it has nothing to do with this Bill at all. The Northern Ireland Government is acting on powers. If it is acting improperly, then these ladies have their remedy. They can appeal and have their compensation properly assessed. It is not unusual for a local authority, or a Government, to offer a low figure and hope that they can get away with it. That happens, even in this country. But these ladies have their remedy. But to bring this up as a reflection on this Bill seems to me wholly irrelevant.
I thought I ought to say this because I had hoped that we had come to a reasonable compromise on this Bill; that we had done our best to allay feelings and suspicions that might have arisen, and that the Amendment which the noble and learned Viscount moved on the Report stage would have been acceptable to all sides, even though with some reluctance, and that that would have been the end of it. I very much 1036 deprecate the noble Lord's speech in attempting to reopen what I thought had been settled amicably between all of us
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I think I should be less than honest if I let this matter rest there. The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, spoke to me a day or two ago about this case, and asked me what I should advise him to do. I said that, so far as I was concerned, for the reasons explained by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I had had my say about the present Bill. But I did add that if I were in the noble Lord's position I should raise this shocking case. I would say, with deference to my Deputy Leader, that I am very glad he has done so.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is absolutely right: this has nothing at all to do with the Bill before the House. This action was taken under the existing law of Northern Ireland, and they are all matters, of course, for the Northern Ireland Government. In the ordinary way we should not discuss in this House reserved matters, but in view of the fact that it has been raised I shall, because I do not want the reflection to go out on this Bill or on the course your Lordships have taken.
The payment of site value in cases of slum clearance is a course that has been taken for years in this country, and the Northern Ireland Government have just followed it. But I think, with all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, that he ought to consider this point. The provisions of the Northern Ireland law, which have given rise to the representations of the gentleman he mentioned, are all contained in Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament, including your Lordships' House, passed before 1920. So how the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, can say that they are a breach of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, I cannot see.
The main complaint is related to Section 6 (1) of the Housing (Ireland) Act, 1919, which provides that compensation for houses condemned as unfit for human habitation shall be assessed on the basis of site value. That is an Act of our own Parliament, passed by your Lordships' House. I agree that the noble 1037 Lord has the advantage of youth, and cannot be blamed for not having said anything against the Act in 1919. But, of course, we take the responsibility for what the British Parliament has done, and it was our Act.
The houses owned by the ladies he mentioned have been condemned as houses unfit for human occupation, and the principle of compensation on the basis of site value for condemned houses in slum clearance areas is well recognised and is embodied in Section 10 of, and the Second Schedule to, the Land Compensation Act, 1961. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will remember that we discussed that when that Act was going through.
I think I ought to continue a little further. The houses lie within the Belfast No. 1 redevelopment area. They were acquired in 1948, although they were well known at that time to lie in an area of very old property, Obviously due for demolition sooner or later. That is the position that obtains, and I shall say nothing further about it, except to say that these were the facts. Having been condemned by the medical officer of health as unfit for human occupation, and his decision having been confirmed by the Minister after public inquiry, the houses attract no compensation. But if the 'houses are acquired the sites attract compensation.
May I say a little more about the statutory basis? This principle of site value for slum houses is firmly established throughout the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland the basic Statutes relevant to this subject are the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, Section 6 (1) of the Housing (Ireland) Act, 1919, which I mentioned, and the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919—all Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament, passed before the setting up of the Northern Ireland Government. I think I ought also to say this. The Northern Ireland Housing Acts provide for several types of special payment to persons if they are dispossessed from unfit houses, well-maintained houses, owner-occupied houses, or houses with a trade or business carried on, a resettlement grant of £60. I do not want to be too dogmatic on a difficult subject, but I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, with his vast experience, 1038 which is greater than mine, would agree that these are at least as generous as payments offered in England and Wales for the same position.
That is the position. The Government of Northern Ireland are acting under powers given by this Parliament, and in the same way as action is taken in England. Of course, if there is anything wrong about the action, then the gentleman in question, or his clients, if they believe that the actions have been wrongly taken, can pursue the matters in the courts. That is the basis on which the Northern Ireland Government have acted; as we directed them to act, in the same way as is done in this country; and clearly there can be no complaint about that.
The noble Lord can then put his argument only in this way: that the fact that we, or our predecessors, in their wisdom, selected this method of action it relation to slum property is some reason why we should not give the Northern Ireland Government powers for dealing with housing and slum clearance which would enable them to act in other directions in a way similar to that adopted by successive Governments, of all Parties, in this country. The cause or connection between that premise and that conclusion are, if I may put it most moderately, not clear to me; I cannot see that they exist at all. While I welcome any noble Lord deliberating on a point, I must say that it is rather hard on the Northern Ireland Government that the noble Lord should make what will be construed as an attack on that Government for legislation which this House, as part of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, has chosen to impose upon them, and under which they had to act.
§ On Question, Bill passed and sent to the Commons.