HL Deb 09 December 1965 vol 271 cc403-15

3.39 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Mitchison.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Payments to owner-occupiers of unfit houses

1.—(1) Paragraph 4(1) in Part II of Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1957 (payments to owner-occupiers of unfit houses purchased or vacated in pursuance of certain compulsory purchase orders, demolition or closing orders or clearance orders) shall have effect in relation—

  1. (a) to any such order made before 13th December 1965, and
  2. (b) where the date on which the owner-occupier acquired his interest fell in the period of five years beginning with 13th December 1950, to any such order made within fifteen years beginning with the said date on which the owner-occupier acquired his interest,

and in the said paragraph 4(1) the words "at any time before 13th December 1965" (which restrict the paragraph to cases where the compulsory purchase or vacation of the house took place before that date) shall be repealed.

(2) In this section the references to the date on which the owner-occupier acquired his interest are references to the date of the acquisition of the interest in the house referred to in the said paragraph 4(2).

LORD NEWTONmoved, in subsection (1), to leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and to insert: to any such order made before 13th December 1970,".

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the first of the two Amendments standing in my name. The second is consequential upon the first, and therefore it may be convenient to your Lordships if we discuss them together. This Chamber is appreciably fuller this afternoon than it was on Monday last when the Bill received a Second Reading. It is possible that some of your Lordships who are here now, but were not here then, may have done me the honour of reading inHansardwhat I said on that occasion. I do not know. I do not flatter myself that many of you will have thought the task sufficiently rewarding. Therefore, I am afraid that I must recapitulate some of the points that I sought to make then. I apologise in advance to those of your Lordships, of whom probably the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, is one, who may think that repetition is tedious.

Between 1919 and the end of 1955 all Governments in this country applied the rule that when an unfit house is compulsorily purchased by a local authority, demolished or closed, only site value and not market value is payable in compensation to the owner. There is usually, although not always, a considerable difference between the two values. In 1956, however, Parliament passed the Slum Clearance Compensation Act and that Act instituted market value payments to owner-occupiers of unfit houses who had bought those houses between the outbreak of war in September, 1939, and December 13, 1955—and I ask your Lordships to be good enough to keep those dates in mind because they are important. The relevant part of the Act was given a life of ten years, and it will expire at midnight next Sunday.

There were two reasons for the introduction in the 1956 Act of these market value payments. The first was that during the war and its aftermath many people had to buy unfit houses because there were nothing like enough fit houses. Secondly, with the outbreak of war, slum clearance stopped in this country and did not start again until the end of 1955, and therefore the owner-occupiers of unfit houses who bought them during that period, 1939 to 1955, had no reason, when they bought, to anticipate that those houses would be compulsorily taken away from them, at any rate in the foreseeable future.

The position to-day is that after next Sunday market value will no longer be payable to anybody. Therefore the Government have had to decide, as any Government would have to decide at this time, whether to leave matters there or not. In fact, and at the eleventh hour, the Government have introduced this Bill, which provides that market value shall continue to be payable to some, though not all, of the 1939–55 class of owner-occupiers, and in the Bill the Government propose that market value shall be payable to those owner-occupiers who bought their properties between December 13, 1950, and December 13, 1955, and who have not had those houses for longer than fifteen years.

This, of course, is a discrimination against those owner-occupiers who bought their houses between 1939 and December 13, 1950. As I said the other day, I think that this discrimination is unfair and unkind, and will create deep grievances and deep feelings of bitterness in the minds of those who will be affected by it. Your Lordships may agree with me—and I hope that you will—that it is precisely those owner-occupiers at the 1939 end of the 1939–55 time scale who are the most deserving of consideration and sympathy, because they had to buy their unfit houses at a time when fit houses were in the shortest supply, because of the bombing and so on, and when virtually no new houses were being built.

I would again ask your Lordships, as I asked the few of your Lordships who listened to me on Monday, to consider the case of two identical and adjacent houses in the same street in a clearance area. Under this Bill as it stands at present, the owner-occupier of one will get market value for his house; the owner-occupier of the other will not, because he bought his house a few months, a few weeks or even a few days, earlier; and the difference to that man in value may be anything up to £1,500. Your Lordships may think that would be a difference sufficient to determine whether that man will be able to buy another house for himself to live in or whether, after perhaps anything up to 26 years' ownership of his house and living in it, he will have to become a council tenant. Surely this is wrong if it can be avoided; and it can be avoided by the sort of Amendment which I am now commending to your Lordships.

Moreover, there will be cases, under the Bill as it stands, where some people will lose the market value compensation which they have been expecting. And the reason, the only reason, for this is that the local authority have not got round to making a clearance order or a compulsory purchase order before Monday next. A striking example of this was given in another place the other day by an honourable Member who is, in fact, a supporter of the Government. A widow whose late husband bought their house in May, 1950 (which was, of course, before December, 1950), will, as a result of this Bill if it is not amended, get only site value, because the local authority concerned is going to meet on Monday for the purpose of making a compulsory purchase order. That is one day too late. If the council were going to meet tomorrow, or Saturday or Sunday, it would be all right, and the widow would get market value— a difference, I understand, in this case of something of the order of £1,000. How can one possibly justify that sort of situation, if it can be avoided? And it can be avoided by an Amendment such as the one I am moving. I would submit that that sort of situation cannot be justified by quoting the old maxim, that "Hard cases make bad law". This, in my view, is an instance of bad law making hard cases.

What explanation have the Government offered for this discrimination? The other afternoon, on Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, offered us, in effect, four explanations; or four excuses. The first one was that after fifteen years' beneficial occupation of an unfit house the owner does not deserve to get anything more than site value. As I said on Monday, that, to me, is quite unacceptable, because I do not think that the length of occupation has anything whatever to do with it. But if it has something to do with it, and if it is a relevant factor, I would put the argument like this: that the longer a person has lived in his own home, the greater the hardship when he is turned out.

The second excuse offered by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, was that on Second Reading of the 1956 Act, the then Minister, Mr. Duncan Sandys, said: Clause 1 is temporary, because we feel that when an owner-occupier of a slum house has had ten years', or, perhaps, up to 26 years' occupation, he has probably had good use from the house and there is no reason why he should have special treatment after that time."—[OFFICAIL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 550, col. 2275; 28/3/56.]

And as the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, reminded us on Second Reading, the then Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Enoch Powell, said very much the same. Yes; but, with all due deference to distinguished right honourable friends, what matters nine and a half years afterwards is not what they said but what they wrote into their own Act. And what did they write into the Act? The 1956 Act provided in effect that market value would be payable for anything from 10 to 26 years, according to date of purchase of the property. So no deliberate discrimination against any sub-group in the 1939 to 1955 group of owner-occupiers was written into that Act in the manner it is at the moment written into the Bill we are now debating.

The third excuse offered by the noble Lord was that the market value provision in the 1956 Act was temporary and that there was no word or intention of renewing it after it expired. There might be a grain or two of validity in that point if the Government had not decided to renew the 1956 Act. But they have decided to renew it, although in a limited and discriminatory manner; but at any rate they are renewing part of it and it seems to me, for that reason, that that particular excuse of the noble Lord is not really a very good one.

The fourth excuse offered by the noble Lord was that the Bill as it stands is a tidy tapering off of the intention and provisions of the 1956 Act. If it will be of any help to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, I will gladly concede tidiness, but I should not like your Lordships to think that because of that concession I equate administrative tidiness with fairness.

The intention of the Amendment which I am moving—and I hope it means what I think it means; I never have very much confidence in my own drafting—is to continue the market value provisions of the 1956 Act for a further period of five years. If your Lordships think this is a good idea, at the end of that time it will then be for the Government of the day to review the position in the light of the circumstances prevailing. That seems to me to be the sensible thing to do now and the fair thing to do, and it would have this added advantage: that it would prevent there being any discrimination against any of those who bought their houses between 1939 and 1955. I do not believe this Amendment, if it were acceptable to your Lordships, would add unduly to the number of owner-occupiers who would stand to he eligible for market value compensation in the next five years, and in holding that belief I rely on an observation made by one of the two Parliamentary Secretaries, Mr. Mellish, in another place, and I would quote what he said: Those who obtained houses in the period the hon. Gentleman has in mind…

that is those who bought between 1939 and 1950— .…are in the main not cases which are coming up now."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 720 (No. 6), col. 856; 15/11/651

I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 1, line 10, leave out lines 10 to 16 and insert (" to any such order made before 13th December, 1970,").—(Lord Newton.)


I need hardly say that I have nothing to complain about either in the form of the Amendment or in the exposition of the law with which we were favoured by the noble Lord, Lord Newton. It was, as one would expect, not only lucid but perfectly fair. There was a certain confusion in his mind between excuse and good reason, but that is perhaps permissible. I think that this is in some ways a minor matter —that is to say, no very large expenditure or no very large number of people is involved—but nevertheless a rather confusing one.

I should like to go back a little to see how we stand to-day. The present position is that on Monday the existing provisions will expire, and they will expire for the reason that no more claims can be made, ten years having elapsed since the date given in the Bill. The date given in the Bill was the date of the statement by Mr. Duncan Sandys, reviving, if I may so put it, slum clearance, which, for the reasons the noble Lord, Lord Newton, very fairly gave, had lapsed during and after the war. Therefore that original provision in itself, unless something else can be said, was in a sense a piece of the grossest discrimination between those who became entitled on the 10th and those who became entitled on 14th December. If that were the only difference between them one might fail and the other might succeed. I think what the noble Lord called discrimination is inevitable if you have to draw a line somewhere. That particular line was drawn by the Government of the day. He would have said, if he had had to examine the matter then, that it involved discrimination, but I am really not sure that this particular word helps very much. Whenever you have to deal with a limited benefit given to a limited number of people you have to define it somehow—in this case by reference to dates—and you get some people on the right side and others on the wrong side. What you have to do is to consider what is fair.

I never for a minute expected to find myself standing up in this place, or in any other, defending Mr. Duncan Sandys and Mr. Enoch Powell from their own Party. I am bound to say I find this a little surprising. These are not political neophytes; these are tough old warriors embattled in the Tory cause over many years. Noble Lords opposite are apparently intending to throw them overboard. I do hope that that will not be done lightly. There is a great deal of talk about splits—in one Party and another, I admit at once—but this looks very bad indeed, because what the noble Lords opposite are throwing overboard is not only one warrior of quality but two of them; and they are throwing them overboard in regard to this particular provision because they are rejecting what both those gentlemen said was a real and sound reason for it; and I think it was indeed a real and sound reason.

I have to go back for a minute to remind your Lordships that the principle of compensation in slum clearance cases was introduced in 1919, by Lord Addison as it happens. It was introduced because there had been very considerable difficulties in previous slum clearance schemes owing to confusion about compensation, and the difficulties, very often financial difficulties, that local authorities found about it.

The ground given—this ground has never been disputed; it has not been disputed to-day, and it was not disputed in another place in connection with this Bill—is that, as a rule, an unfit house is not worth anything, and therefore there should be no compensation for it. I am not concerned with justifying it to-day; it is quite sufficient for what I have to say that it has been accepted by one Government after another for what is now a period of 46 years, and I do not think anyone has ever disputed it. But exceptions have been made to it from time to time. One we are not concerned with to-day relates to well-maintained houses. Another we are concerned with to-day relates to the peculiar circumstances of the war and the years after it, when as the noble Lord, Lord Newton, so clearly explained, people had to buy slum houses because they could not find anywhere else to live, and because at the time nobody could foresee when slum clearance would be resumed. Therefore a sharp line was drawn at the date when the Government of the day resumed its slum clearance plans. December 13, 1955, is the date of the Housing Minister's statement to that effect.

Therefore there is a perfectly distinct group of people who, for special reasons, were going to get more than normal compensation; and this was to continue for only ten years, on the ground that if a person had had ten years (or of course more) in occupation of a slum house, he would really have got enough out of it no longer to entitle him to this special additional supplement. That was the ground given quite clearly by Mr. Duncan Sandys at the time, and even more clearly by Mr. Enoch Powell in introducing the Bill on its Second Reading. There is no doubt about this. They made it perfectly clear that it was a temporary expedient. They said nothing whatever about any intention to extend the time later. They said it with a good deal of vehemence, because the Bill had been criticised from some points of view; and there is no difference whatever between what the two Ministers said. I repeated it the other day; I am not going to repeat it now.

There has been a reference to a period of 26 years. That is simply the period between 1939 and 1965. Therefore, the ten years' or more occupation of a slum house, in the view of those two distinguished experienced Conservative gentlemen, entitled the Government of the day to say, "You have had enough, and you are not going to have any more." When this period approached its end, the present Government was left with three alternatives. One was to bow obediently, unlike perhaps some noble Lords opposite, to the wisdom of the Conservative Party of the day, to accept what they said, to accept the reasons for it and to let the whole thing lapse on midnight on Sunday. That was one alternative. I do not suppose your Lordships will accept this now, but we felt that this was just a little hard on people; that it was really rather rough; that it was too sudden, and that the whole question of slum clearance was under investigation from various points of view. We did not want a sharp line of this sort drawn now, and my honourable friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. MacColl, explained in another place what was happening generally about the review of slum clearance at the moment—that the Central Housing Advisory Committee is considering it and so on. I do not think I need go into that.

The second alternative would have been to continue it indefinitely, which is really what this Amendment proposes. Well, we have not quite the courage to do these sudden things. We have too much respect for Mr. Duncan Sandys and Mr. Powell, the Conservative Government of the day, and the Conservative majority who trooped obediently into the Lobby to support them. I do not know how many noble Lords here to-day were part of it. But there they were, and all on this one point: that ten years' occupation of a slum house is reasonably sufficient, and that after that you ought not to get any special additional compensation. That is not the ordinary law. This was a special concession.

We did not do that. What have we done? We, too, propose to remove the terminating date—that is to say, things will no longer cease, or, if they have ceased for a day or two, they will be renewed, in December, 1965. The date goes. What is substituted for it? Simply a provision that not ten, but fifteen years' occupation should disentitle a person to this additional compensation. This will work out in this way. In December, 1965, the people who are qualified will have begun, as it were, in December 1950, fifteen years ago; and next year this date will be taken on to 1951, then to 1952, then to 1953, then to 1954 and then to 1955. Gradually, the present group of people will fall out, and the whole business will be finished in December, 1970. This rests on the social assumption that, in ordinary circumstances, this is a fair thing to do—something fair between the two extremes: the excessive caution, shall I call it, of Mr. Duncan Sandys and Mr. Powell, and the somewhat wilder exuberance of—


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me? I am sorry to interrupt, but I have been most patient. The noble Lord has been trying to say, over and over again, or has tried to get your Lordships to believe, that the 1956 Act provides only that the market value will be payable if the party concerned has not occupied that house for more than ten years. In fact, as I said in my opening speech, it provides that market value could be payable for anything from ten to twenty-six years, according to the date of purchase.


My Lords, I did say this several times, but it is quite clear that I have to say it again. The point I am speaking about at the moment is this. This was an Act relating to a statement made in December, 1955, and its operation was to terminate in December, 1965. The reason given by both Ministers for that was the reason that I have just stated: that ten years' occupation or over ought to be sufficient to disentitle a person to this additional compensation. The minimum which, in their view, would disentitle him in this way would be ten years. They were not going to provide for anything beyond that. That is the reason why the ten-year period ended in December, 1965.

If the noble Lord, Lord Newton, and your Lordships do not believe me, you have just heard Lord Newton quoting Mr. Duncan Sandys and, as that was a rather short statement, I am tempted to add Mr. Powell. If your Lordships are going to say on this matter that not only am I wrong but the two gentlemen who were responsible for the provision in the Bill were also wrong and got away with it at that time, then I think we shall have to accept what they themselves said was the reason for this particular limitation which it is now sought to remove. Here we get Mr. Powell saying: I come to the third qualifying date in Clause 1, the terminal date—ten years after the concession begins to run; namely, up to 13th December, 1965. Clause 1, therefore, is a ten-year temporary provision. As this concession is designed to meet temporary and exceptional circumstances due to war-time and post-war conditions, so it should itself be temporary and exceptional. When ten years have elapsed, even persons who bought such houses as these for their own occupation immediately before my right honourable Friend's statement "— that is the marginal case, of course— will have had a very substantial use and enjoyment of those houses. The Government do not propose, therefore,"— that is to say, for that reason— that the concession should apply to houses dealt with as unfit after 13th December, 1965. —[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 550, col. 2164; 28/3/56.]

What your Lordships are being invited by this Amendment to do to-day is to remove that limitation entirely and say that a provision, which was intended to be temporary and to expire in December, 1965—that is, now—shall continue indefinitely. True it is for the benefit of a limited class, but it will go on indefinitely and therefore will allow people who have had more than ten years' occupation to be entitled now at this stage to get compensation. We say that fifteen years is about right. I have told your Lordships roughly how this works. I admit at once that it is a compromise. I think your Lordships are bound to consider in a matter of this sort that there are two sides. Those two sides are not the two Parties in this House; but they are, on the one side, a group of people who are to receive compensation for slum clearance and, on the other side, the people who will have to pay for it. I was glad to see that this Amendment did not raise—and there is no question of it to-day—whether that compensation should be paid for out of rates or taxes, but one way or the other it has got to be.

The plain fact of the matter is that if the Bill passes in its present form the amount payable out of rates, and partly out of taxes, too, will be about £3 million, but the effect of this Amendment will be to make it somewhere about £8 million. I never thought that I should stand up at this Box and lecture noble Lords opposite about the imprudence of putting heavy burdens on the rates: it is what they have always been accusing us of doing; they go on doing it, and nowadays we are all considering the hardships of the ratepayers. What are the ratepayers going to say if, at this moment of time, when their troubles are so much in the public ear and have the attention of Parliament both here and in another place, they find an additional £5 million slapped on to them by noble Lords (perhaps you will not do it, I hope not) who desire simply to register their complete disagreement with Mr. Duncan Sandys and Mr. Powell? Because that is really all it seems to me to come to. I cannot think that is right.

If there were any real reason for this; if one could do this kind of thing without drawing a line somewhere; if there were any unfairness in this case comparable to the unfairness which Lord Newton is bound to say was inflicted by his Government in 1955—if there were anything comparable to that, I could understand it. But I suggest to your Lordships that between the two extremes offered, this was a reasonable compromise: a very ingenious one and, I think, a fair one.

I hope your Lordships will appreciate that if this Amendment is carried a number of people will be brought in—people from what I will perhaps call "the 1939 and 1950 belts". Whoever is brought in will have one thing, and one thing only, as the sign that marks him out as someone who has benefited by this Amendment and who would not have benefited by the original Bill. That one sign is that he has occupied his house for more than fifteen years. Of course, it is possible to say that the principles of the Tory Party have changed completely, and that what was said on that exact point in 1955 by the two Ministers of the day, carried through the Division Lobby and turned into an Act of Parliament, was dead wrong. But I hope that noble Lords opposite will not betray their former political friends so lightly. I believe there to be no reason for it. I believe that a period of ten years, which looked reasonable at the time, has proved rather short, and that the substitution of fifteen years meets social justice, without inflicting an insult on warriors of the past or a burden on the ratepayers of the present.


For the purpose of taking the Statements, I beg to move That the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.